Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard pulled a rabbit out of the hat... again

Unbridled joy: Steven Gerrard enjoys the moment with team-mate Luis Suarez after his goal against Sunderland last night

The Liverpool juggernaut rolls on. Make that chugs on. The Red machine's championship charge almost stopped stone dead at an anxiety-filled Anfield last night.

But despite starting slowly, never reaching top gear and stumbling over the line, Brendan Rodgers and his team somehow got there in the end.

Approaching the final laps of a fascinating race for Premier League glory the Kop continue to believe that with the Ulsterman in the driving seat Liverpool can push on to the title.

Carnlough's favourite son will know though that, with a fired-up Spurs side – sensing that with Arsenal fading the final Champions League spot is up for grabs – visiting on Sunday, the Merseysiders will have to produce much better than what was on offer in their 2-1 victory over a determined Sunderland outfit.

After that it'll be hey big spenders, with Manchester City and Chelsea wading in to a sea of red.

Liverpool are in between them now, just one point behind Jose Mourinho's men and two in front of Manuel Pellegrini's side who have two games in hand.

It's easy to forget given the run the team have been on –they've won their last seven league matches – and the fantasy football they have been playing lately just what an achievement that position is in itself.

Nobody expected Liverpool to be title challengers this season. At best Rodgers was supposed to have them making a move for the top four.

Yet here they are in with a genuine opportunity of winning a first league crown since 1990.

Few want that more than captain Steven Gerrard. In his Liverpool career he's pulled more rabbits out of the hat than Paul Daniels and he was at it again last night.

With Sunderland playing a disciplined game at the back, Liverpool found it difficult to penetrate a yellow wall. Then, up stepped Captain Marvel to smash home a thunderous free-kick to give the Reds a half-time lead.

They should also have had a numerical advantage with referee Kevin Friend being just that to Sunderland's Santiago Vergini when he should have red carded him on two occasions for fouls on Luis Suarez.

Daniel Sturridge's deflected strike sailed into the net moments after the break and it seemed it would be a case of how many Liverpool would net to improve their goal difference.

Instead Liverpool were wasteful and Sunderland resilient. Defensively sound for large parts of the game they became an offensive threat when Gus Poyet threw on Adam Johnson and Ki Sung-Yueng from the bench.

Lee Cattermole smacked the ball against the bar, and while Sturridge did the same at the other end, it was the visitors who carried more danger.

Dismal defending from a corner led to Ki scoring from close range and for the remaining 15 minutes, it was nail-biting time as the Black Cats, purring with belief they could secure a vital point in their relegation fight, poured forward.

They should have equalised through John O'Shea, who once scored a late winner for Manchester United in front of the Kop, but his header slid wide.

Relief and joy for Rodgers and the Reds. The title dream remains alive.

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