Sunderland 0-1 Liverpool: Christian Benteke goal puts Reds level on points with Manchester United
Christian Benteke was Liverpool's match-winner for the second time in five days as he plunged Sunderland deeper into relegation trouble.
The Belgium international, who scored the only goal against Leicester on Boxing Day, did it again at the Stadium of Light when he took advantage of some flat-footed defending 22 seconds into the second half to clinch a 1-0 victory.
That left the Reds level on 30 points with sixth-placed Manchester United, but the Black Cats seven points shy of safety at the halfway stage.
Liverpool might have won more comfortably had it not been for the first-half heroics of Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone, who produced a string of fine saves including one breathtaking effort to deny Roberto Firmino in front of a crowd of 45,765.
Black Cats boss Sam Allardyce had vowed to get back to basics after seeing his side lose the last three games long before half-time with both Chelsea and Manchester City racing into 2-0 leads and Watford securing a 1-0 victory on Wearside with just four minutes gone.
In the circumstances, he will have been delighted to reach first the 20-minute mark and then the break all square at 0-0, although he was indebted to Mannone.
The home side got men behind the ball, allowing old boy Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Philippe Coutinho to dominate possession in the middle of the field, and the visitors created several chances from which they might have taken the lead.
Mannone had to beat away Nathaniel Clyne's 30-yard piledriver with just five minutes gone and was then relieved to see Firmino miscontrol Coutinho's pass inside the penalty area after he had picked off Sebastian Coates' lose pass.
Coutinho then curled an effort just wide before landing a 17th-minute free-kick on the roof of the Italian's net as the Reds pushed for the opening goal.
But it was Firmino who almost broke the deadlock twice inside 11 minutes, first forcing Mannone to tip a long-range effort on to the post and then testing him once again with a firm header.
For their part, Sunderland created a series of half-chances with striker Jermain Defoe causing all kinds of problems for central defender Mamadou Sakho.
The former England striker called upon keeper Simon Mignolet to make a good eighth-minute save after spinning away from Sakho, and the Belgian was rooted to the spot as Fabio Borini curled a 33rd-minute shot just wide of his far post.
But all the good work was undone within 22 seconds of the restart when Adam Lallana managed to get a toe to Clyne's ball into the box and divert perfectly into the path of Benteke, who beat Mannone with ease to put his side ahead.
The home side responded in determined fashion and Borini thumped a 54th-minute shot into Mignolet's midriff after forcing his way into the box, and the Belgian had to make an important block from substitute Duncan Watmore's 78th-minute strike to cement the win.
However, substitute Jordon Ibe and Benteke both wasted glorious late opportunities to put the game to bed.
No Origi for Reds
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is without striker Divock Origi for Wednesday's Barclays Premier League trip to Sunderland.
Klopp has admitted it would have taken a "miracle" for Origi to recover from the hamstring injury he suffered during the 1-0 Boxing Day victory over Leicester.
Jordon Ibe has returned to training after illness but fellow midfielder James Milner is still out with a calf injury.
Squad: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno, Can, Henderson, Lallana, Firmino, Coutinho, Benteke. Subs: Bogdan, Toure, Lucas, Ibe, Randall, Smith, Teixeira
Sunderland without O'Shea
Sunderland are without central defender John O'Shea.
O'Shea damaged a calf muscle in the 4-1 Boxing Day defeat at Manchester City with Younes Kaboul (hamstring). Veteran Wes Brown and youngster Tom Beadling - 36 and 19 respectively - are standing by.
Jack Rodwell is available after sitting out the trip to the Etihad Stadium through suspension, but fellow midfielder Sebastian Larsson (knee) remains on the casualty list.
Squad: Mannone, Jones, Coates, Brown, PVA, Cattermole (C), M'Vila, Rodwell, Johnson, Borini, Defoe. Subs: Pantilimon, Yedlin, Beadling, Watmore, Lens, Toivonen, Graham.
Henderson backs Allardyce
Jordan Henderson is backing Sam Allardyce to keep home-town club Sunderland in the Barclays Premier League - but is determined to pile on the misery on his return to the Stadium of Light.
The 25-year-old Liverpool skipper and his team-mates head to Wearside on Wednesday evening determined to build upon their 1-0 victory over leaders Leicester by condemning the Black Cats to a fifth successive defeat.
Henderson came through the ranks at Sunderland before earning a £16million switch to Anfield in June 2011, but he will have only one aim in mind this week.
Asked about Allardyce, he said: "He's a good enough manager to keep them up, but the only thing that will be on my mind will be to get the three points."
Liverpool's win over the Foxes was their first in five attempts in all competitions and followed a shock 3-0 defeat at promoted Watford.
Henderson admitted the Reds had to play clever football to see off Leicester, and he is expecting to have to do much the same at Sunderland if they are to prosper once again.
He said: "We need to be more clever. With the conditions at Watford and the wind, we tried to over-play at times and that sort of killed us.
"We need to play more clever football, which is what we did against Leicester by playing in behind their defence more, and that gave us a platform.
"We will have to be clever again at Sunderland because it will be a difficult game for us, so we need to make sure we do the same as we did against Leicester.
"We need to find different solutions in games and make sure we win the battle."
The Boxing Day victory was secured by striker Christian Benteke's first league goal since October after he came off the bench to replace the injured Divock Origi.
With Daniel Sturridge, like Origi, recovering from a hamstring problem, the Belgium international could get the nod this time around, and Henderson is hoping the end of his drought will provide a welcome boost.
He said: "All strikers want to be scoring goals and I am sure that one will give him confidence."
Belfast Telegraph Digital