“Where’s your famous beach ball now?” rang the chorus from the visitors section of The Stadium of Light on Sunday afternoon. There may have been an element of fortune involved in this Liverpool victory over Sunderland – John Mensah’s foul on Jay Spearing which allowed Dirk Kuyt to net the opener from the penalty spot appeared to take place outside the area. But as the old, overused cliché goes, luck can have a funny way of evening itself out.
Liverpool fans may have been left frustrated following the same fixture last season. Darren Bent’s shot finding the back of Pepe Reina’s net via the significant intervention of a stray beach ball for the winning goal on that occasion. But it was Steve Bruce and his Sunderland team who were left to bemoan poor luck this time around.
Bruce would do well to consider his own assertions last season when he philosophically pointed out that “these things happen”. Sunderland’s protestations also bare little weight because Liverpool were the superior team on the day and thoroughly deserving of the three points.
And in Luis Suraez the Reds have a man with a burgeoning reputation. A genuine match-winner who was head and shoulders above the rest in terms of threat. It was the Uruguayan forward who hit the decisive second goal from a seemingly impossible angle 14 minutes from time. Prompting another, even more audible rendition of their version of Depeche Modes 80’s anthem ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’, adapted in homage of the new striker by the visiting fans.
Kenny Dalglish opted for a relatively bold starting line-up. As the anticipated personnel changes were rung in the fallout of the drab performance against Sporting Braga during Thursday evenings Europa League exit.
Andy Carroll partnered Suarez in attack for the first team since the January arrival of both players. Carroll’s fitness is ever-improving and there were some positive early signs to take from the budding partnership. Carroll looked off the pace in possession at times, though, but was ever a threat aerially. The Geordie striker will need time to improve and forge an understanding with his new team mates but has plenty of work to do.
It was Surarez who acted as the Black Cats main tormentor throughout, though. The Uruguayan has history with Sunderland’s trio of Ghanaian’s following last summer’s World Cup in South Africa. And Asamoah Gyan and co will be sick of the sight of him by now. Suarez picking up from where he left off against Man United.
Suarez initially began as part of an attacking trio, alongside Kuyt and Raul Meireles, in-behind target man Carroll. Before moving alongside Carroll in a more traditional attacking pairing in the second period. Dalglish going with attacking intentions in front of on looking owner, John Henry.
Sunderland perhaps began the brighter of the two teams. However, despite playing some neat football at times, the Wearsider’s looked short at the top of the pitch. They seem to be suffering from the January departure of Bent and his goal scoring threat. And the hosts were further hindered by some early injuries to Kieran Richardson and Sulley Muntari.
Liverpool gradually built themselves into the match. And the energetic Jay Spearing – given another start of the ground on which he made his full Premier League debut – was particularly influential. This was perhaps the young midfielder’s finest game to date in a red shirt.
It was Spearing’s craft which gifted the Reds the opening goal of the game on 34 minutes. Mensah was at fault when he misjudged the ball when trying to control with his chest whilst under pressure from Spearing. But the Wirral youngster was alert enough to steal possession and race through on goal.
Mensah tried to recover but his rash challenge brought down Spearing with a clear foul. Relays, however, proving the offence took place outside the penalty area. Referee, Kevin Friend, initially gave a free-kick before being wrongly convinced by his assistant, under protestations from the Liverpool players.
Kuyt was not affected, though, as he coolly sent Simon Mingolet the wrong way from the spot, for his 10th of the season.
Before that, Carroll had seemed to be the Reds main attacking avenue, as they laboured to gather any momentum in the early stages. The striker headed Meireles’ cross down to Kuyt in the 6-yard box. The Dutchman’s effort was kept out by Mignolet. Whilst Kuyt also went close from the resulting corner.
At the other end, on one occasion Sunderland worked some space for Danny Welbeck down the left. Welbeck’s tantalising cross only just avoided the lurking Richardson.
Liverpool had the lead, though, and something to build on. And build they did. Suarez could have added a second even before the interval. He cut inside and hit a low shot, which was well saved by Mingolet.
The Reds looked the most likely team to score and add to their advantage after the break. Spearing going particularly close when his well-struck shot from outside the box was turned over at full stretch by the ‘keeper.
Liverpool had to wait until the closing stages before sealing the victory. Suarez picked up Kuyt’s throw-in close to the right-hand corner flag and set off on one of his typically direct and purposeful runs into the box. A goal scoring chance did not seem on. But this is Suarez and he drove the ball into the far corner of the net from a seemingly impossible angle. Keeping alive the Reds hopes of European qualification and a fifth place finish. Mingolet probably should have done better.
As if Suarez had not tormented the hosts enough, he was at the centre of Mensah’s dismissal with 8 minutes remaining. The centre-half had already been booked for his earlier foul on Spearing. But he saw red for pulling back Suarez with the Uruguayan baring down on goal. Liverpool hitting Sunderland on the counter as they pushed forward.
Liverpool still remain clearly short in certain areas. Most notably in wide areas, where there is a chronic lack of pace and natural width on occasions. However Liverpool are a work in progress. And this performance will having given the watching Henry further evidence that, under Dalglish, it is a project which is moving in the right direction.
Man of the Match
Difficult to over look Suarez, who made the difference. But Spearing put in a very good and important performance in the centre. Perhaps his best in a Liverpool shirt.