Liverpool looking up after Sunderland win
Sunderland 0 - Liverpool 1
Liverpool, who changed their manager in October and have won two of their last five games, moved to within six points of third place in the Premier League last night. Nothing summarises the present campaign much better than that.
A second successive 1-0 victory, given to them at Sunderland through Christian Benteke's goal 22 seconds into the second-half, moved them level with Manchester United. They are a point off fifth.
They did not look like a Champions League side in the making, but they could end up there. West Ham are up next.
Manager Jurgen Klopp could at least point to three excellent saves from Vito Mannone for the margin of victory not being greater. He excelled twice to deny Firmino in the first-half and then Benteke at the death.
The Belgian was sent clear from the halfway line to bear down on Mannone, but he blocked the effort with his leg.
That had Klopp hopping out of his technical area in frustration. That said much. It was not dominant, but it could have been far more commanding and impressive.
Klopp still celebrated with his players at the finish, in front of the travelling Liverpool supporters, and as the league table showed, with good reason.
A goal in the first-half would most likely have made the victory more emphatic. However, the closest Liverpool came was in the 25th minute.
Sunderland again marshalled their back lines well but Firmino was patient and let fly from 25 yards with a finely struck right-foot shot that fizzed past Yann M'Vila.
Initial viewing suggested the ball had simply crashed off the near post. Only after watching replays did it become apparent that Mannone had produced a superb save.
The former Arsenal goalkeeper had to excel again in the 36th minute. This time Nathaniel Clyne found the unmarked Firmino 10 yards from goal. He headed to Mannone's right but again the Italian reacted to parry the ball away.
There would be further opportunities for the visitors. Jordan Henderson saw a goal-bound shot blocked.
Not that Sunderland were without opportunities of their own. Their boss Sam Allardyce had admitted before the match that the first target was not to concede before half-time.
They did that thanks to Mannone, but there was a fine save from Simon Mignolet after 15 minutes, when Jermain Defoe was allowed to slide across the edge of the Liverpool penalty area before unleashing a left-foot shot.
Fabio Borini spun well, following good work from Patrick van Aanholt, and hit a low drive narrowly wide. He looked like a player with something to prove, given how long he waited for an opportunity at Anfield before agreeing to move permanently to the Stadium of Light.
Those saves from Mannone, and the effort that Allardyce had demanded to get to half-time without conceding, were forgotten within just 22 seconds of the second-half.
Clyne played an angled through ball which Adam Lallana clipped into the path of Benteke. From 10 yards the centre forward shot low into the bottom corner.
How Sunderland, without their two first-choice defenders in John O'Shea and Younes Kabul, could have done with a more commanding presence.
They have agreed a deal with Lorient to sign 26-year-old Ivory Coast centre-half Lamine Kone, with the player expected to agree terms. He will be busy. Sunderland had won three of their previous 34 Premier League games when the opposition have finished with 11 men. That put Liverpool's performance in context.
Coutinho drew another save from Mannone in the 71st minute, cutting in on his right foot and shooting from 20 yards, before Benteke's late miss.
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Jones, Coates (Yedlin 72), Brown, Van Aanholt, Cattermole, M'Vila, Rodwell (Watmore 30), Johnson (Lens 63), Defoe, Borini.
Subs not used: Pantilimon, Graham, Toivonen, Beadling.
LIVERPOOL: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno, Henderson (Lucas 61), Can, Lallana, Firmino (Toure 90), Coutinho (Ibe 83), Benteke.
Goal: Benteke 46
Subs not used: Bogdan, Smith, Teixeira, Randall.
Man of the match: Mannone (pictured)
Match Rating: 6/10
Referee: Kevin Friend