Saturday, 10 January 2015

Magic Markovic strikes in Sunderland win

Lazar Markovic’s scrappy early strike proved to be the only goal in the lunchtime kick off at the Stadium of Light, as Liverpool beat Sunderland 1-0 to extend their unbeaten run to seven matches. The £20 million Serbian summer signing was in top form during an impressive first half, although his performance tailed off in the second half after being moved out of his preferred position on the wing due to a tactical re-shuffle necessitated by an injury to captain Steven Gerrard.

Similarly, the Reds were poor after the break, failing to capitalise on their first half dominance and an early red card to Sunderland’s Liam Bridcutt. As a result, they were holding on to their slender lead in the closing stages, rather than cruising home after bagging a couple more goals that would have given their goal difference a much needed boost.

Sterling sunning it up as his teammates slog it out in Sunderland
The major team news saw former Sunderland striker Fabio Borini start a match for the first time since Liverpool’s trip to the Bernabeu in November, as it was revealed that Raheem Sterling is on holiday in Jamaica after being granted permission to have a mid-winter break by boss Brendan Rodgers.

Although I can certainly see logic in resting Sterling, I have no idea why he has to be sunning it up on a beach in Jamaica and cannot instead be sitting on the bench in Sunderland ready to come on should his employers, who remunerate him handsomely, require his services. His pace in the closing stages against Sunderland’s tiring ten men would have come in handy.

In the absence of one of their best performers this season, Liverpool started well and proceeded to control the first 45 minutes, creating so many chances that they should have been out of sight by the time referee Craig Pawson blew his half time whistle.

Unfortunately, the Merseysiders were on the receiving end of some shoddy officiating after only three minutes, as Pawson, for reasons known only to him, decided not to point to the spot after former Manchester United centre back Wes Brown clearly fouled Markovic at the end of his marauding run into the box.

Thankfully, the ref made a much better call in a similar situation five minutes later. He played the advantage after Borini was fouled on the edge of the box, and Markovic showed his desire and commitment to persevere in the box and fashion a goalscoring opportunity for himself. The move ended with the number 50 unorthodoxly poking home his first League goal for Liverpool.

Markovic appears to be a good signing after all
Markovic nearly scored a more spectacular goal on the half hour mark, showing superb technique to send a shot against the bar from the edge of the box after amazingly jumping into the air. Skipper Steven Gerrard also performed well in a more advanced position, seeing Pantilimon tip his low shot wide and then his dipping free kick over the bar.

Fluid and quick on the ball, Liverpool were by far the better team and, had they had a decent striker fit and available, the Reds would have gone in at half time with an almost unassailable advantage. Coutinho was the creative linchpin once again, clipping a delightful pass to Henderson, who cleverly controlled and then smashed against the post. It wouldn’t have counted anyway as the linesman harshly judged that the former Sunderland midfielder had handled as he controlled Coutinho’s pass.

There was still time for Gerrard and Borini to send strikes into the side-netting before the break, as the Merseysiders wished that half time would never come.

As good as Liverpool were, Sunderland were equally bad, much to the evident frustration of their manager Gus Poyet. Strangely, though, their performance began to pick up after their number 4 Liam Bridcutt was shown a second yellow card following a tame foul on Emre Can only three minutes after the restart.

In the next five minutes, they had 71% of possession, culminating in their best sight of goal. Adam Johnson fired a superb swerving strike against the bar from 25 yards out, completely bamboozling the hapless Simon Mignolet, who fell over like a stumbling drunk. It was only funny after Skrtel, who performed well throughout, responded quickly and crucially reached the rebound just before an opponent.

Johnson's shot was superb and made Mignolet look stupid
That effort aside, Sunderland were short on ideas as to how to get back into the game. In fact, their best hope lay in Liverpool going down to ten men too, as Henderson, Lovren, Borini and Coutinho were all on a booking.

The otherwise excellent Coutinho came closest to stupidly getting himself sent off as, after being booked in the first half for failing to retreat at a free kick, he got away with a very similar offence on the hour mark. Yes, he was retreating, but he foolishly slowly walked in the way of another free kick and gave Pawson an excuse to show him a second yellow; thankfully, he kept his cards in his pocket.

Balotelli came on for Borini for the final 20 minutes and, after immediately hammering a ludicrously optimistic free kick into the wall, did little else apart from hilariously slip up as he bore down on goal on the break with seven minutes remaining.

Liverpool just couldn’t seem to get that crucial second goal that would have killed off Sunderland during a frustrating and nervy second half and, as the game entered the closing stages, the hosts threatened further. The Black Cats' attack wasn’t brilliant, but all they needed to do to trouble Liverpool’s backline was boot it into the box and compete for the knockdown.

The Wearsiders' best opportunity was headed over by substitute Mikael Mandron during the first minute of injury time. The sight of 6’8’’ goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon coming up for a last minute corner was worrying, but Liverpool just about managed to get it clear and, after some pointless handbags with five seconds left on the clock, referee Pawson’s final whistle confirmed that the Reds had secured a win that reduces the gap with fourth placed Southampton to just four points.

It could and should have been so much easier for Liverpool, who made it pointlessly hard for themselves, and, against better opposition, they would have been punished for their lack of a lethal streak in front of goal and the way in which their display deteriorated during the second period.

At the end of the day, a win’s a win, but Liverpool still have a lot of improving to do.


No comments:

Post a Comment