Steven Gerrard put his side ahead with a magic free-kick in the first half before Daniel Sturridge doubled their advantage early in the second period, but Ki Seung-Yeung cut the arrears for Sunderland before the visitors put their opponents under severe pressure towards the end of the game.
Sunderland had frustrated their hosts for much of the first half, with Gus Poyet's robust back five holding out well against Liverpool's front three and Brendan Rodgers' men lacking their usual speed and intricacy in the final third. Yet as Liverpool continued to dominated, eventually a breakthrough was found when Luis Suarez was hauled down when clean through by Santiago Vergini. Although the defender escaped with a booking, much to the fury of the home fans, Gerrard delivered the punishment anyway with the resultant free-kick, curling it home into the top corner.
Vergini was again fortunate to be on the pitch after scything down Suarez afterwards, and Sunderland almost found a goal against the run of play when Emmanuele Giaccherini's shot was nearly deflected past Simon Mignolet, but the hosts made it to the break in the lead. And shortly after the second half began, they appeared to make the points safe through Daniel Sturridge. The England forward darted in from the right and let fly, only for his effort to be deflected and deceive Vito Mannone to make it 2-0.
Yet it was not to be as routine a victory for Liverpool as it seemed. Poyet reacted by hurling on Ki and Adam Johnson, and it had a huge impact. Lee Cattermole almost very belatedly opened his Sunderland account when he struck the underside of the bar, before the two subs combined as Ki headed home Johnson's corner at the back post to leave Liverpool facing a nervy finish.
Liverpool continued to launch counter-attacks, but Sunderland forced them deeper and deeper, and had one last great opportuntiy when Jack Colback was hauled down by Glen Johnson just outside the area. Johnson delivered, and John O'Shea almost repeated his Manchester United heroics by scoring a late goal in front of the Kop, but he could not quite get on the end of Johnson's delivery and Liverpool were able to hold out for a narrow win.
39' - LIVERPOOL OPENER AND VERGINI CARD: Huge moment! Liverpool counter-attack after Lee Cattermole gives the ball away, and Suarez gets away and seems to be clear on goal before he's hauled down by Vergini. The referee has a big decision to make, but he decides to award a yellow card, much to the fury of the home fans. Wes Brown might have gotten back, but it could easily have been a red. And Steven Gerrard steps up and curls it over the wall and into the net. Mannone was oddly positioned there, and just took a step in the wrong direction as Gerrard stuck the ball before reaching out in vain with his opposite hand.
58' - STURRIDGE GOAL: And Liverpool look certain to get all three points here now. Sturridge cuts inside from the right and lets fly, and it takes a large deflection to deceive Mannone and loop into the top corner. It's looking good for Brendan Rodgers' men.
61' - SUNDERLAND SUBSTITUTION: Adam Johnson and Ki Seung-Yeung come on for Sunderland. They'll certainly need something else to get anything here, but will it be enough?
76' - KI SEUNG-YEUNG GOAL: And it's in! Ki heads home at the back post! And now there's a huge chance for Sunderland to claim something - we may have quite a finale here at Anfield.
89' - JOHN O'SHEA MISSED CHANCE: John O'Shea really should have scored there. Adam Johnson's free-kick found him at the back post but he couldn't turn the ball home. Huge let-off for Liverpool.
Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are only the third duo in Premier League history to both score 20 or more goals in a season. Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley and Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard were the other partnerships.
It is now 27 Premier League appearances without scoring for Connor Wickham after he failed to find the net before being withdrawn here at Anfield.
The mark of champions? This showing was far from the kind of performance we have come to expect from Liverpool this season, but they managed to secure all three points nevertheless. And it has been said many times before that to be crowned champions, any pretender must be able to grind out victories on nights like this, regardless of how stylish or convincing their play is.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool): There were few standout performers for the Reds, but on a night where Liverpool's forwards failed to click in their usual manner, he stepped up to provide the quality for the opener when it was needed, and his decisive contribution puts him just ahead of a fine cameo from Ki Seung-Yeung.
Liverpool: Mignolet 7, Johnson 6, Agger 5, Skrtel 6, Flanagan 5, Gerrard 7, Allen 5, Henderson 5, Coutinho 6, Suarez 5, Sturridge 6. Subs: Sterling 6.
Sunderland: Mannone 7, Bardsley 7, Brown 6, O'Shea 5, Vergini 4, Dossena 4, Bridcutt 7, Cattermole 5, Giaccherini 6, Wickham 5, Altidore 3. Subs: Ki 7, Johnson 7, Colback 6.
THE MATCH IN A TWEET
- Sports & Recreation
- Daniel Sturridge
- Steven Gerrard
- Luis Suarez
- Adam Johnson
- Lee Cattermole