Thursday, 27 March 2014

Liverpool win ugly on nervy night at Anfield

Liverpool proved they can win ugly with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Sunderland under the floodlights at Anfield last night.

They made it unnecessarily difficult for themselves and were unnerved in the closing stages following Ki Sung-Yeung’s headed goal with a quarter of an hour left to play, but goals from Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge either side of the interval secured three precious points for the Reds, extending their winning streak in the League to seven games and narrowing the gap with table-topping Chelsea to just a single point.

Following three consecutive away matches, Liverpool were delighted to be back at Anfield and the players received a hero’s welcome from the supporters, who were making the most of a rare midweek fixture and hoping to recreate the phenomenal atmosphere experienced on European nights.

The players received a hero's welcome prior to kick-off
Unfortunately, Sunderland spoiled the party, at least for the opening 39 minutes. Gus Poyet’s men clearly came to park the proverbial bus and they succeeded in frustrating the Reds’ attack, as the three centre backs Brown, O’Shea and Vergini kept the SAS relatively quiet.

Despite dominating, Sunderland’s admittedly formidable rear-guard action was proving tough for the hosts to break down, subduing the home crowd as well, as they were given little to get excited about, apart from a few efforts off target from Sturridge, Suarez and Allen.

As half time approached, the crowd were given something to shout about though, as Kevin Friend controversially decided not to send off Vergini after the 25-year old Argentinian cynically felled Luis Suarez when he seemed destined to run through on goal. It was a close but probably correct call because Wes Brown was running round to cover Sunderland’s extremely fortunate number 27, who was only booked.

Captain fantastic crucially broke the deadlock before the break
Thankfully, skipper Steven Gerrard punished Sunderland further from the resulting free kick. The excellent effort he fired into the net from the edge of the box was as clinical as one of his spot kicks and produced the same jubilant response from Liverpool fans relieved to enter the interval with a lead. Many, after all, had quite reasonably foreseen an extremely nervy evening had the score-line been level at the break.

Only three minutes after the restart Daniel Sturridge reminded Sunderland manager Gus Poyet of his qualities. Failing to learn from the mistakes of Cardiff boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Poyet had claimed in pre-match interviews that Liverpool would be in mid-table without Luis Suarez, completely ignoring the considerable impact the free-scoring Sturridge has had on the side so far this season.

Sturridge's 20th League goal was a beauty
In response, the former Chelsea striker let his feet do the talking, curling a beautiful effort into the Kop end net from just inside the box to double the Reds’ lead and start the second half in the best possible manner. It was remarkably his 20th goal in 23 League appearances.

Liverpool seemed all set to go on and rack up yet more goals to boost their already formidable goal difference. However, frustratingly they failed to capitalise on the two-goal cushion they had
developed and the visitors also appeared to come out of their defensive shell, particularly after the arrival of substitutes Adam Johnson and Ki Sung-Yeung on the hour mark.

Lee Cattermole and Daniel Sturridge both smacked strikes against the bar in the space of two minutes, before Sung-Yeung’s shot was deflected over by Agger’s block in the box. From the resulting right wing corner the South Korean escaped the attention of Flanagan far too easily, stooping to head home unmarked at the back post.

The goal renewed the Wearsiders’ confidence and filled the Anfield crowd with dread at the very real prospect of relegation-threatened Sunderland derailing Liverpool’s title challenge. For the final 15 minutes Liverpool defended for their lives, getting men behind the ball and repeatedly repelling the away side’s attacks.

The one golden chance that Sunderland were almost inevitably going to have to equalise came with a minute of normal time remaining when Johnson foolishly conceded a free kick in a dangerous position after fouling Colback. It was a case of hearts in mouths for Liverpool as Adam Johnson’s dangerous delivery flashed across the face of goal and former Manchester United defender John O’Shea almost got on the end of it.

Kevin Friend’s full time whistle was greeted by a relieved roar from a home crowd thankful that their team is still in the title race. It should have been so much more straightforward for Liverpool, whose form was far superior to Sunderland’s heading into the contest.

At the end of the day, though, all that matters is that, by hook or by crook, Liverpool got the three points they needed to keep their dreams of a 19th League title alive.


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