Cats humbled at Anfield
STEVE BRUCE has the Liverpool fans to thank for giving him something to smile about at Anfield after witnessing Sunderland destroyed in an encounter that should have embarrassed his players further. The Reds were sublime, and almost ridiculous, in the way they put a campaign of misery behind them with a display that reminded the rest of the Premier League what they are still capable of. It took Sunderland until ten minutes after half-time to record a shot on target and by that time Liverpool had secured the points with a first half masterclass in which Fernando Torres, with a breathtaking strike, and Glen Johnson both scored. Matters hardly improved after the interval for Sunderland either, when Torres cleverly crafted his 18th league goal of the season over and beyond goalkeeper Craig Gordon. It was the sort of Sunderland display, even if their opponents were brilliant, which had led to them dropping nervously close to the bottom three before embarking on a run of just one defeat in nine prior to their trip to Anfield. And, drawing on the memories of a large red inflatable defeating Liverpool in October, Bruce was reduced to laughter and applause when the Kop aimed a new chant in his direction: "he has a head like a beach ball." But with just eight points separating the Black Cats from third from bottom Hull, with six matches remaining, Bruce knows this morning that there is still work to be done before he can totally relax. When Liverpool lost at the Stadium of Light earlier this season, they did so without Torres or Steven Gerrard. Yesterday the pair turned up and turned it on along with their team-mates to leave Sunderland chasing shadows for 90 minutes. It meant that Kenwyne Jones' appearance against the club he was tracked by in January was just a foot-note after he was introduced from the bench early in the second half. In truth, though, it would have been harsh on Fraizer Campbell, after scoring three in his previous four appearances, to miss out at the Trinidadian's expense even if Rafael Benitez would have preferred another opportunity to watch him at first hand. It was not so much Jones' role that will have frustrated Bruce, that honour went to Alan Hutton. Hutton missed out through injury and Phil Bardsley had an opportunity to remind the manager that he deserved to be in the staring line-up in recent weeks. And while Bardsley was not totally to blame for Torres' early opener, the goal arrived down the defender's side. Pepe Reina's deep punt into the Sunderland half was misjudged by both Ryan Babel and Bardsley. The prolific Spaniard took control near the far touchline, turned inside Michael Turner and curled a perfect right-foot shot high in to Gordon's top left corner. It was simply unstoppable and was the start Sunderland were keen to prevent. Even before that strike Gordon had to be alert to punch away a back post volley from Danish defender Daniel Agger when he was left unmarked on Gerrard's free-kick inside the opening sixty seconds. Sunderland had no answer to Liverpool. Kieran Richardson, filling the hole at left-back in the absence of John Mensah replacement Anton Ferdinand, was unable to cope with the driving runs and link up play of Gerrrard and Maxi Rodriquez. Javier Mascherano had already gone close with two from distance before the understanding down the right kicked into gear and Sunderland should have been three down before half an hour was up. When Maxi played a delightful return pass for Gerrard into the box, the England midfielder cut his pass back for the onrushing Torres and, despite his best efforts, side-footed just wide at the near post. Maxi was also instrumental in another terrific chance, this time the South American's pass between Ferdinand and Lorik Cana created Gerrard the space to strike a low shot towards goal, which deflected wide off Turner. Time and time again Sunderland were cut open; they simply had no answer to Liverpool's creativity that was perfectly illustrated by the way Lee Cattermole and Cana struggled to deal with Gerrard and Mascherano. The only surprise was that it took until the 32nd minute for Liverpool to add to their slender lead. Gordon had already been forced into an incredible save from a close-range Maxi header before Sunderland caved in. Gerrard's corner was cleared as far as Johnson. The England full-back knocked the ball on to his less preferred left foot and his well struck shot deflected off Turner and flew beyond the Sunderland goalkeeper. Any glimmer of hope that Sunderland fans might have had of seeing their team claw themselves level had gone and it would have been worse before the half-time whistle had even blown had they known enjoyed a slice good fortune. Emiliano Insua's deep cross was brought down and rolled in to the path of Torres by Kuyt. Torres' first shot struck the foot of the post and from the rebound he volleyed first time wide. If there was anything positive to take from the defeat it was that Sunderland actually had a shot on target after the restart, although Jordan Henderson's tame effort rolled comfortably in to the hands of Reina. That, after the introduction of both Paulo Da Silva and Jones for Cattermole and Malbranque, encouraged Sunderland to push forward more, but there remained little threat to the Spaniard's goal. And, after Darren Bent's rare touch inside the Liverpool half was badly controlled, Liverpool attacked and added their third just before the hour. Babel's delivery from the left was nodded down by Maxi into the path of Johnson. The full-back had the presence of mind to roll to Torres instead of shooting and the former Atletico Madrid man executed a delightful finish over Gordon. It was a scoreline which was harsh on Gordon, but hardly harsh on a Sunderland display that failed to conjure up a serious effort on the Liverpool goal until Bolo Zenden forced Reina down to his right in injury-time. By that time Gerrard and Torres had departed; the damage done. Sunderland had been given another lesson on the Anfield stage they are still yet to win on in 27 years.
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