Match Analysis: Liverpool 2-1 Sunderland

Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at Liverpool's nervy 2-1 win over Sunderland that sees them climb to second in the table.

Liverpool picked up their seventh consecutive league victory to move to within one point of the top of the table this evening, beating Sunderland 2-1 at Anfield.

The hosts opened the scoring in the 39th minute when Steven Gerrard converted a free kick from 20 yards, while it was 2-0 shortly after the restart courtesy of a fine Daniel Sturridge strike.

Sunderland would not give up, however, pulling a goal back through Ki Sung-Yueng with 15 minutes remaining before pressing hard for an equaliser that ultimately eluded them.

Here, Sports Mole takes an in-depth look at a potentially pivotal night in both the title race and the relegation battle.

Match statistics

Shots: 21
On target: 7
Possession: 61%
Corners: 3
Fouls: 5

Shots: 12
On target: 4
Possession: 39%
Corners: 4
Fouls: 15

Was the result fair?

Yes. Sunderland really threatened to get an equaliser late on and, for the final 15 minutes of the match, they were the better team, but over the full 90 minutes there is no doubt that Liverpool deserved all three points.

The 2-1 scoreline is a fair reflection of how the match went, with Liverpool dominating the first half without really testing Vito Mannone until the opening goal. They started the second half strongly as well, but Sunderland fought their way back into it and almost came away with a valuable point.

It would have been hard to begrudge Sunderland a draw, particularly as most predictions had them losing by three or four goals in this match, but at the same time a point would have flattered them.

Liverpool's performance

They say that champions have to be able to win ugly, and that is exactly what happened today. Liverpool have swept the majority of their opponents aside in recent weeks, particularly at Anfield, but it was evident early on that tonight was not going to be one of those nights.

The first half was very much a case of being patient, and Gerrard's goal was greeted with a mixture of ecstasy and relief from the home fans, who had been frustrated by Sunderland's stubborn defence. It looked as if they would comfortably see out the three points when Sturridge doubled their lead, but they took their foot off the pedal and Sunderland took advantage.

The final whistle was a lot more welcome than many fans would have expected as Sunderland pushed for an equaliser, but they will be happy with the three points as it keeps their title charge on track. In the last two games they have come from behind to beat Cardiff and held on for a win against Sunderland, showing that they have the mettle to handle the nerves of a title run-in.

They are still not the favourites for the title, with Manchester City and Chelsea better placed than them, but seven wins in a row puts them right in the mix and, with those two teams still facing a visit to Anfield, belief will be growing on Merseyside.

Sunderland's performance

It may be another defeat and a fifth straight league match without a win, but Gus Poyet will draw a great number of positives from his side's performance today. They were disciplined and hard to break down in the first half, nullifying the impact of the likes of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

They responded well to going behind initially, while they slowly played their way back into the second half after Sturridge's goal. Poyet brought on Ki and Adam Johnson, both of whom changed the game and made them much more of an attacking threat.

The Black Cats may be thinking what might have been having hit the bar and missed a great late chance to equalise, but if they play like that for the remainder of the season then they should be safe.

Sports Mole's man of the match

Philippe Coutinho: Sunderland's defence did a good job of closing down Liverpool's key players in the first half. Steven Gerrard was afforded very little room wherever he was on the pitch, while Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez were quickly surrounded by yellow shirts.

One man they never quite managed to shackle was Coutinho, however, as he produced some lovely pieces of play to build attacks and look for a way through the Sunderland defence. He provided a valuable link for the Reds when they looked to break quickly and was always there in support of Suarez and Sturridge.

Biggest gaffe

Santiago Vergini had a couple of dodgy moments, including one where he almost turned the ball into his own net, but this dubious honour goes to Liverpool's John Flanagan tonight. The young full-back has been impressive for the Reds since coming into the side, but it was he who was at fault for the Sunderland goal.

He was drawn to the ball as it came bouncing through the area from Adam Johnson's corner, leaving Ki unmarked inside the six-yard box for a simple header into an unguarded net. That allowed Sunderland back into the match and almost contributed to two points being dropped.

Referee performance

Kevin Friend seemed like more of a foe to Liverpool fans tonight as he repeatedly drew Anfield's ire with a series of questionable decisions. The biggest call he had to make was whether to send Vergini off for the challenge on Suarez that led to Gerrard's goal.

The Uruguayan was racing through and was hauled down by his fellow South American, who was the last man, yet the ref only produced a yellow card. It was certainly a borderline decision, but moments later Vergini dived into another challenge on Suarez that should have drawn a second booking, but once again Friend chose to be lenient.

There were a couple of other penalty calls that could have gone either way, but all in all Friend did not have his best game tonight.

What next?

Liverpool: Liverpool will look to keep their remarkable winning streak going when they host Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on Sunday.

Sunderland: Sunderland, meanwhile, face a huge match at the Stadium of Light as West Ham United visit the North East.

Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool celebrates scoring the second goal with team-mate Jordan Henderson during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Sunderland at Anfield on March 26, 2014
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