It was back to the grind for the North East after the dust finally settled from last week’s pulsating derby. Liverpool visited the Stadium of Light desperate for a win to keep what little hopes they had of a Champions League spot alive, while Sunderland’s main aim was to hunt down their visitors for seventh spot and a potential Europa League position.
The home side had three changes enforced on them, with Stephane Sessegnon and captain Lee Cattermole both suspended after red cards last time out. Kieran Richardson was also unavailable due to injury, which gave loanee Wayne Bridge his first start for the Black Cats. Nicklas Bendtner and Fraizer Campbell led the line, while Jack Colback replaced Cattermole in midfield. There were two changes for Liverpool as well after last week’s home defeat to Arsenal, Craig Bellamy replacing Stewart Downing and Sebastien Coates in for Jamie Carragher.
The opening exchanges were tentative with the pitch showing no real improvements from Sunderland’s last home game. Sebastian Larsson’s delivery was the first decent threat either side mustered, his corner headed down by Campbell but didn’t fall kindly for Bendtner and his half volley was tame. Liverpool followed this with a couple of half chances, local boy and former Sunderland player Jordan Henderson’s cross was met by Dirk Kuyt, but it was a difficult chance to take. Charlie Adam then blazed an effort miles over the bar shortly after.
There was very little else to shout about from either team for the remainder of the half, with Craig Gardner firing a long range effort harmlessly wide for Sunderland. Luis Suarez had half a sight of goal, but his effort was quickly gobbled up by Simon Mignolet and Suarez’s effort ended up trickling out for a goal kick. The sides went in 0-0 at the break and it really was the epitome of a goalless bore draw.
Sunderland started the second half with some neat possession, Colback firing in a rasping effort which flew just over from around 20-yards out.
But the home side eventually found the breakthrough. Campbell controlled and turned well and was unlucky to see his low shot from outside the area hit the post, but it turned good for Sunderland as the ricochet hit Jose Reina’s head, then the post and back out to Bendtner who showed the desire to anticipate it. The loanee from Arsenal was never going to miss from five yards and scored his second goal in as many games, possibly a sign that the Dane seems to finally be settling into the red and white stripes.
Suarez and Henderson combined to create Liverpool’s first real chance of a response shortly afterwards, but Suarez dragged his shot wide. Adam followed up by unleashing another wayward long range effort and Kenny Dalglish then looked to Andy Carroll and Steven Gerrard to bring some much needed penetration. This swung the pendulum slightly back towards Liverpool, Gerrard working Mignolet who had so far been an idol spectator, but it was a simple save for the Belgian.
It was to end disappointingly for goalscorer Bendtner as Martin Skrtel’s rash and uncontrolled tackle led to an injury which saw Bendtner stretchered off. The striker didn’t look in too much pain as he was paraded around the outside of the pitch – so maybe he just fancied the attention – but Connor Wickham was his replacement.
Carroll’s cameo appearance was quite comical as he fluffed pretty much everything that came his way. The big Geordie striker nearly had the last laugh in the final moments, but Gerrard’s hooked cross just would not fall for him. That was that and it was another home win for Martin O’Neill’s men.
It was a game dominated by two defences in a drab affair that saw neither side showing any real creativity. Sunderland got the slice of luck with the only goal of the game, however their attack did look suspect without Sessegnon. The frontmen worked hard and with our two midfielders against Liverpool’s three it was tough for them to come forward with any real anger. Man of the match could easily have been any of the back four, but for me John O’Shea looked like a former Manchester United player throughout the entire game and won pretty much everything.
Sunderland now move within two points of seventh place, with that spot looking likely to guarantee Europa League football given the situation in the FA Cup. There’s plenty of optimism around here that we could be finally seeing some much desired European football on our patch.