We might have made hard work of it, but Liverpool end 2015 with three-points after an ugly victory at the Stadium of Light saw them draw level on points with bitter rivals Manchester United and heap even more pressure on a Sunderland side looking bound for relegation.
The Black Cats certainly looked improved coming off a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City, but Sam Allardyce’s side looked to be playing for a draw rather than a win and ended up getting neither when Christian Benteke beat Sunderland ‘keeper Vito Mannone less than a minute after the break. At the midway point in the season, the Wearside club have conceded 38-goals and that tally could have easily topped 40 if the Reds would have been able to get their act together.
To be fair, in the first half, much of that came down to Mannone; the Italian shot-stopper was making only his second Premier League appearance of the season and he’d give Allardyce food for thought with a number of fine saves throughout the 90-minutes. Getting fingertips to a curling effort from Roberto Firmino, the 27-year old pushed his goalbound effort on to the post and he’d be alert once again when the Brazilian’s header from a Nathaniel Clyne cross looked likely to break the deadlock.
Adam Johnson lofted in a free-kick over the top and former Liverpool man Fabio Borini sent a shot wide as the hosts looked to snatch an unlikely opener, but their efforts would be in vain as Benteke scored his second in as many matches almost immediately after the break. With play broken up in the middle of the park, Clyne’s pass to Adam Lallana was inadvertently flicked through to the Belgian who had timed his run to perfection to break the offside trap before finishing coolly past Mannone.
Taking the game by the scruff of the neck, the Reds went looking for a second, but a knock to club captain and former Sunderland man Jordan Henderson stunted their impetus in the middle somewhat, though his partner in Emre Can remained superb throughout. The German was a driving force in the midfield and involved in everything, winning the ball back 7-times during a highly impressive 90-minutes.
Despite his side’s dominance of the ball, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp cut an angry figure on the sidelines and it was easy to see why — our inability to turn possession into points won’t be one that he’ll be left ruing today, but with Benteke rushing through on goal with an easy chance to double their advantage, the Belgian was only able to shoot right at the Black Cats ‘keeper.
Pointing out the Belgian’s glaring misstep is potty considering we’ve won our last two on the back of his goals, but there’s no image that encapsulates our problems in front of the net better than that. Honestly, there were far worse offenders today with Philippe Coutinho’s shot accuracy something out of a Steven King novel, but that doesn’t matter at all. Sometimes you have to win ugly and grind out a result and against a team managed by Allardyce, that’s never easy. It’s not the best attitude to take and one that will surely bite us in the butt in the coming weeks, but you get three-points whether you win by one or win by five…