Liverpool squeaked past a committed Sunderland to reclaim second spot and move a point behind the leaders Chelsea
Liverpool survive! I'm not quite sure how, Sunderland were all over them towards the end of that second half. But they've got the three points they needed, and now they're only a point behind the leaders Chelsea! Brendan Rodgers punches the air more in relief than delight, while his players have the good grace to depart the arena looking somewhat sheepish. They were hanging on by the end there, but that's seven wins in a row now. As for Sunderland, they stay stuck in the relegation zone, but that performance should give them heart for their own battles. Here, a 2-1 scoreline involving Liverpool. That's almost normal, isn't it?
90 min +2: Liverpool are in cup-tie mode now. This is desperate stuff. Johnson and Suarez combine down near the right-hand Sunderland corner flag to pin the away side back.
90 min +1: There will be three added minutes, and the first is up. Suarez and Coutinho have both had chances to break clear into the Sunderland area down the left channel, but their nervous play causes hesitation, allowing the away team to regroup on both occasions, when a calming goal looked a very real possibility.
90 min: Anfield is living on its nerves. Johnson dances down the left and enters the Liverpool box, but his low fizzer isn't anywhere near a yellow Sunderland shirt, and Skrtel can hack clear. Liverpool are all over the shop!
89 min: Dear oh dear! Johnson dinks the free kick, just outside the penalty box by the byline, onto O'Shea's head. O'Shea's effort slides across the face of goal. Any touch will result in an equaliser, but Altidore can't reach it! What a chance!
88 min: Liverpool are playing at a fast-paced panic right now. Allen and Henderson both have opportunities to calm things down for Liverpool, but hesitate, and Sunderland are pressing well. Colback twists and turns down the left, and buys a cheap free kick from Johnson, who is all over his back in the clownish style. This is a very dangerous free kick for Sunderland!
85 min: Sunderland are by far the better team now. Allen wangs a laughable crossfield pass high into the Centenary Stand. Altidore makes good down the right, and his cross is only just cleared by Agger with Ki lurking.
84 min: Bardsley is in acres down the right, romping towards the box. A rather clueless shot hits Flanagan on the arse. "Isn't this a very Kenny Dalglish era Suarez performance?" asks Mark Garcia, who makes a good point. "He wants it for himself too much, and as a result he is trying far too many silly things."
83 min: Colback replaces Dossena, who looked awfully knackered.
82 min: Liverpool are sitting deep, and Anfield is a very tense place now. This is what title run-ins are like. The home support haven't experienced many of late. Sunderland push the home side back but Altidore releases the pressure with a witless foul in the box.
81 min: Suarez turns Cattermole down the left and is obstructed by the Sunderland midfielder before the striker can make off for the box. Suarez takes the free kick himself, looking to whip one up over the wall and back down into the top-left corner. There's just too much on it.
78 min: Suarez looks to float a chip over Mannone from 25 yards, but that's easy pickings for the keeper. The effort came at the end of a minor stramash in the Liverpool area, Ki again making a nuisance of himself. The home side are looking extremely nervous all of a sudden. What would this team be like with a dependable back line?
77 min: Sturridge makes way for Sterling.
A corner's flung in from the right. Liverpool's entire defence falls akip, allowing the ball to fly straight through the six-yard area. Ki is on hand to gently guide a header into an empty net from a couple of yards! What a defence! This is Liverpool.
75 min: Ki has caused quite a bit of bother since coming on. He takes a whack from the edge of the area, level with the right-hand post. Agger throws himself in the road of the ball, deflecting the shot out for a corner. From which ...
74 min: Coutinho claims a penalty kick after slipping as he enters the Sunderland box down the left. The referee isn't going to be giving any cheap decisions today, that's long been clear. "It’s an odd state of affairs when the immortal Shankly is the best looking person in a group photograph," argues Mark Lunt. "The only one without the comb-over." A handsome man in any context, Mark. David Beckham, nay Johnny Depp, has nothing on old Shanks.
72 min: Well, that luck's levelled itself up pretty damn quickly! Sturridge, on the edge of the Sunderland D, opens his body and batters a shot towards the top right. It twangs off the crossbar and out! As unlucky as Cattermole! We've just been denied two absolute screamers by some very stubborn Anfield woodwork! Bah, football fans! Bah!
71 min: Cattermole makes matchsticks of Mignolet's crossbar! What an effort! He latches onto a Ki knockdown from the left. He's running to the left of the Liverpool D, and belts an unstoppable riser towards the top right. It hammers the underside of the bar at a ludicrous velocity and comes back out! So unlucky!
69 min: Coutinho nips in from the left and sends a low shot straight at Mannone. The game's gone a little flat all of a sudden, and there was me talking it up, too.
66 min: Ah, this is great end-to-end stuff at the moment. Johnson takes a hammer from 25 yards. It's straight at Mignolet. Then Suarez is sprung clear down the right. His pitching wedge into the centre is headed out by Vergini for a corner, which comes to nothing.
65 min: Suarez dinks a delicious pass down the inside-left channel to release Coutinho into the area. Coutinho flicks an insouciant boot at the ball, his chip floating harmlessly into Mannone's hands. He's rather more animated while booting the hoardings behind the goal in frustration.
63 min: The two Sunderland substitutions nearly combine to great effect, Johnson lifting a clever pass down the inside-left channel, the ball an inch or so from finding the toe on the end of Ki's outstretched leg. A fine pass and a smart run. Liverpool want to watch these two, they are excellent.
62 min: Johnson fizzes another low cross into the Sunderland area from the right. Vergini nearly slices the thing into the top right. Comedy corner. Gerrard, presumably rocking inside with mild amusement, whistles the corner straight into Mannone's hands.
61 min: A double change by Sunderland. Ki and Johnson, two of the club's best players, trot on for Giaccherini and the abysmal Wickham. "Never thought of you in a clown suit and no need to play the ingenue about your brave product placement," quips Tom Clark of my brazen half-time messages. "Shame's got nothing to do with it."
59 min: Liverpool come straight back at Sunderland. First Suarez zips in from the left and flashes a shot, meant for the top right, into the Kop. Then Johnson makes good down the right, and his low cross is only just snaffled by Mannone before Suarez can latch onto it.
57 min: Sunderland show upfield for the first time in a while, Altidore thinking about having a lash, just to the left of the Liverpool D, but opting to roll a pass down the channel towards the offside Giaccherini instead. Hmm. A bit better, I suppose.
54 min: Suarez stops a certain Sturridge goal! Brilliant play by Coutinho, down the inside left channel, to slide Flanagan into the area. Flanagan's low cross finds Sturridge cutting in from the right. He meets the ball first time and guides it towards the unguarded bottom left, but Suarez can't contort his body out of the way. (Think Milan Baros attempting to get out of Vladimir Smicer's shot in Istanbul in 2005, but not managing it.) He tries to rectify the situation by chasing after the ball he's deflected, and backheeling it home at the right-hand post, but Mannone is all over that one. The resulting corner comes to naught. Sturridge and Suarez have one of their little tiffs, but you know what they're like, they'll be all hugs in the morning.
53 min: A stunning run from Suarez, slaloming down the centre of the park before rolling the ball out right for Sturridge, whose cross is only just hacked clear by Vergini amid a forest of red shirts in the Sunderland area. Liverpool have their tails up now.
49 min: Pretty much immediately from the restart, Suarez races towards the Sunderland box and is lightly clipped just outside the area by Cattermole. Liverpool claim the penalty, though, and perhaps rather karmically don't even get the free kick. In fairness to the referee, there seemed to be minimal contact there, it wasn't as outrageous a decision as it first looked.
Sturridge picks up the ball just to the right of the Sunderland area. He takes a touch inside, drops a shoulder, and curls a stunner into the top left! There's a slight deflection, but let that take nothing away from a superlative effort! Liverpool finally have some breathing space.
46 min: A strange static moment as Johnson and Dossena stand admiring the ball as it sits politely on the byline, to the right of the Sunderland goal. Dossena eventually takes charge of the situation and whips the ball back upfield, but only straight at Suarez, who, ten yards out on the right edge of the box, attempts a whipper into the top left. It's nowhere near going in.
And we're off again! Fans of pictures, photos, looking at stuff, etc., can peruse our ever-growing Gallery of tonight's action from Anfield. I'll keep going with the old words, though, I'll not let you down with those. Well, I will, but there will be more words. No changes, and Liverpool get the ball rolling again, kicking towards the Kop, as is their second-half preference.
Self-serving half-time announcements: Fans of retro Liverpool chat should get on Anatomy of Liverpool, the latest tome by Jonathan Wilson (and some other clown). Meanwhile, fans of retro World Cup action (and Twitter) should get following @gazzabook immediately, if not sooner.
A nervy performance by Liverpool, but they're leading. Sunderland will feel slightly hard done by to be losing - they've been very impressive defensively - but then Liverpool will feel aggrieved by the lack of a red card for Vergini. Emotional swings and roundabouts, then. All of which makes for an intriguing second half!
45 min: Kevin Friend is aptly named, certainly when it comes to his dealings with Vergini. The clumsy defender is very late as he slides in on Suarez, the striker looking to break clear down the left. That really should be a booking, as Suarez was romping into lots of space, and it'd have been the end of Vergini's involvement. But it's just a stern chat. Vergini could easily have picked up a red and a yellow, but all he's been shown so far is the one yellow.
43 min: But Sunderland are soon coming back at Liverpool, Giachherini raking a cross from the left which Flanagan is forced to head out for another Sunderland corner. Which leads to another corner. Which leads to nothing much for the visitors, but if anything it's Liverpool who will be happy to hear the half-time whistle in the wake of that goal.
42 min: Sunderland have responded well to falling behind. They've seen plenty of the ball. And suddenly Wickham is given all the time in the world, just in front of the Liverpool D. After a painfully slow decision-making process, he opts to take a shot. His low drive, looking for the bottom left, deflects off Skrtel, forcing Mignolet to tip the ball out of play to the right. Corner, which is wasted.
40 min: Bardsley is booked for a narky foul on Flanagan down the Liverpool left. He can have few complaints.
... their captain Steven Gerrard steps up and hammers a shot into the top right! Well, it's not quite in the top-right corner, but near enough, and hit with such pace that Mannone can't get a hand on it. Anfield erupts!
37 min: A decision here for the referee to make! Suarez is about to scamper clear towards the area, after robbing the ball off Vergini. On the edge of the D, Suarez is hacked down by the defender. Free kick, but is it a red? Well, no, yellow's flashed, with Brown a couple of yards away from the incident to the right. But it's at least debatable as to whether Brown would have got there in time, and whether Vergini was last man. You've seen red cards given, put it that way. But Liverpool aren't too fussed, because, from the free kick ...
35 min: Suarez takes matters into his own hands with a determined scamper down the right. He cuts inside and hoicks a shot high and wide left. Decent, but not brilliant. Liverpool are, pretty much to a man, severely under-performing here.
33 min: Very many Liverpool triangles down the right, Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho, Henderson, Allen and Johnson all involved. After what seems like an age, Gerrard steps up and whips a cross into the danger zone. It's easily cleared by Sunderland. There's still a lot of noise in Anfield, but frustration and nerves are very much the top notes. Sunderland will be delighted with how this is panning out so far.
30 min: Liverpool ping it around hither and yon, all around the Sunderland box, but go nowhere. Difficult to say whether Sunderland could cope with this sort of stuff all evening, or if Liverpool will eventually find a way to unlock the puzzle. Their first equaliser at Cardiff last week, a move of very many passes, suggests the latter is possible. Sunderland's determined display so far is an argument for the former outcome, too.
27 min: Allen goes on a progressive wander down the middle of the park, drifting to the right, dropping a shoulder and then looking for the top-right corner from 20 yards. It's over the bar, but not by miles. Mannone takes a year and a day to restart the game with his goal kick, a tactic that results in plenty of pantomime booing from the home support.
25 min: Suarez goes down, 20 yards out, after latching onto a loose ball and zipping past Vergini, only to be lightly brushed by Dossena as he makes for the box. He could have stayed on his feet, but opts to buy the free kick instead. Unfortunately, the referee is in no mood to allow him to cash it in, and waves play on. It would have been a soft free kick, but there was contact and you've seen them given. Suarez has a face on, much as you'd expect, and embellishes the look by throwing semaphore shapes in frustration.
24 min: Johnson finds himself in a bit of space down the right, but hits a woeful cross-cum-shot into the stands to the left of Mannone's goal. A wee bit early for the old desperation-cum-frustration to be setting in, you'd have thought.
22 min: Anfield is a bit quiet right now. So much for all that pre-match work. Sunderland will be very happy with the opening quarter of this match. Liverpool have been given plenty of possession 30 yards out, but nothing's coming off for them near the box, with the Sunderland back five looking pretty damn solid.
20 min: Bardsley is on the floor in his own penalty area, rolling around in pain. Who's clattered him? Ah, that renowned hard man, the Graeme Souness de nos jours, Joe Allen. Oh Phil! Reputations have been lost for a lot less! In fairness, the full back gets up quickly enough, and has the good grace to look a bit embarrassed.
18 min: Allen flips a clever reverse ball down the left for Suarez, who whips a cross to the far post with the outside of his boot. There's too much on the first-time cross, forcing Sturridge to stretch high. He brushes his eyebrows on it, but can't guide it goalwards, and looks to have strained his neck. He rubs it awhile, grimacing theatrically. He looks to be OK, though, writes Dr Murray, who is a quack, because less than 60 seconds later he's bustling around down the left, trying one of his fancy backheels. Unlike at Cardiff, this one doesn't come off.
15 min: Sturridge slips a ball down the inside-right channel to release Johnson into the Sunderland area. He finds Suarez, ten yards out, with a crisp pullback, but the linesman's hair-trigger flag has popped up, and the chance is void. Liverpool have cause to feel a bit irritated by that.
13 min: A chance for Bardsley to take a snapshot at a dropping ball on the edge of the Liverpool area. He doesn't connect properly, allowing Allen to bustle the ball away from danger. A few hearts in mouths in the home stands there. Sunderland look well capable of fashioning a few chances here.
12 min: Suarez is very close to making Brown look incredibly daft down the right wing, dropping a shoulder to double back past him at ridiculous velocity from a standing start. But Brown isn't so green as he's cabbage looking, and the experienced defender manages to haul himself back into the battle and stick with the striker, eventually forcing him into flicking a pass down the channel for Sturridge that's too strong and flies out of play for a goal kick.
10 min: Coutinho jigs down the inside-left channel, then slides the ball infield for Henderson, who in turn shuttles it on to Sturridge, on the right-hand corner of the area. The striker takes a touch back infield and lets rip a riser which clears the bar easily enough. Mannone hasn't had anything to do yet. Sunderland will be happy enough with this start, they're holding their shape very nicely and look confident on the ball.
8 min: Bridcutt takes a couple of steps into the Liverpool half, and decides he's been given enough time to take a shot. His rising, swerving blooter isn't bad, though sails over the bar. He should have had a corner, as the ball took a slight deflection off Gerrard's boot, but the referee's seen nothing, and Liverpool get lucky. An open feel to this game, and if the space Bridcutt was allowed then is anything to go by, we could have another daft scoreline on our hands here.
7 min: Free kick to Liverpool, as O'Shea shoves Sturridge lightly in the back just to the left of the Sunderland D. Sturridge doesn't need asking twice to go down. Suarez takes the set piece, and whips a sidefoot with the intention of planting the ball into the top left. It's not far away at all, but Mannone assumed the no-sweat air of a man who had it covered were it on target.
5 min: Coutinho glides in from the left and looks to curl one into the top right from 25 yards. He's given it a good belt, but that's sailing into the stand behind the goal, always too high and wide right.
2 min: Johnson comes in from the right and looks for the top-left corner, but no no no. That's a long way off, high and wide left of the target. "Liverpool have managed in the last decade to draw this type of match so often that to be honest a win would surprise me," admits Patrick Crumlish. "It's the hope that kills you." Yes, hope's got no place in football. Prolonged exposure to it defeats everyone eventually, like gin, or Twitter.
1 min: Sturridge loiters down the right, and eventually lifts a cross into the Sunderland six yard box. There's nobody in red in attendance, though Vergini makes a rare old song and dance of trapping the ball, then letting Mannone hack clear. Just for a second, it looked like he'd let the cross clank between his legs, and was in danger of turning the thing into his own net. A nervous start by the third centre back.
A quick romp through the Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook - and we're off! Sunderland get the ball rolling, and they'll be kicking towards the Kop in the first half. "What are the chances that Dossena comes back to haunt Liverpool for letting him go?" wonders Bryan Tisinger. "95%? 30%? 1%? 0%?" I'm an easily confused man, and for a minute I misread those numbers as scorelines. 1-0. 3-0. 9-5. None of it's beyond the realms, is it?
The teams are out! Liverpool are in their famous all-red strip, which means Sunderland, they of the renowned red-and-white stripes, must wear their yellow shirts and blue shorts. Anfield really is giving it plenty here, plenty of noise pinging around the stadium as the players do the polite pre-match thing and shake hands. "I fondly recall the returning Andrea Dossena's audacious chip over Edwin van der Sar in the 4-1 destruction of Manchester United at Old Trafford back in 2009," swoons Peter Oh. "I also remember Fergie saying in the post-match that United were 'the better team'. Well, may Sunderland be the better team today, as long as Liverpool win 7-4." Dossena also scored a late fourth goal in Liverpool's 4-0 evisceration of Real Madrid four days earlier. A strange week that was all right.
Expect a crackling atmosphere at Anfield tonight. The place is always louder in the evenings, with fans having had more opportunity to lubricate their vocal chords with a liberal application of Yellow Entertainment Generator. But extra effort appears to have been made from the get-go tonight, with supporters lining the streets to welcome the team coach in the grand style. Encouragement is very much the order of the day. Sunderland meanwhile will be looking to start quickly, a la Cardiff, to give the away section something to work with. Eardrum-bothering end-to-end classic, please! It's on!
Liverpool name the same XI sent out at Cardiff: Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Flanagan, Gerrard, Henderson, Allen, Coutinho, Sturridge, Suarez.
Subs: Jones, Aspas, Moses, Sakho, Cissokho, Lucas, Sterling.
Sunderland throw the recalled Connor Wickham into the team, with Fabio Borini ineligible against his parent club: Mannone, Brown, O'Shea, Vergini, Bardsley, Cattermole, Bridcutt, Dossena, Giaccherini, Altidore, Wickham.
Subs: Ustari, Ki, Larsson, Johnson, Colback, Roberge, Scocco.
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)
A cursory glance at the form guide, and this really does look like a home banker. Sunderland are struggling in the relegation zone, and have lost five of their last seven games, scoring only three times during a miserable run. Liverpool, on the other hand, are making a leftfield title challenge, having won six league games on the spin, scoring 24 goals in the process (while letting in nine, admittedly, but that's part of their charm). It should be a shoo-in. It's surely a shoo-in?
Ah, but hold those horses! Sunderland might be 16-1 shots to win tonight at Anfield – a ground where they've not tasted victory since October 1983, when Gary Rowell stuck a penalty past Bruce Grobbelaar - but they've caused trouble at Liverpool often enough. Sunderland have visited Anfield 12 times in the Premier League era, and have come away with a point on six occasions. They may have lost heavily here last season, 3-0, but their two previous visits were draws, 1-1 in August 2011, 2-2 in September 2010. Sunderland also have a couple of recent wins under their belts at the Stadium of Light, courtesy of N Bendtner in 2012, and B Ball in 2009. In summary: Liverpool don't always like it when the Black Cats cross their path. The form guide says it should be a shoo-in. But it surely isn't a shoo-in.
A test of Liverpool's title credentials, and relegation haunted Sunderland's nerve, begins at: 8pm GMT.