Bendtner grows in self-belief as Carroll's confidence ebbs
Sunderland 1 Liverpool 0
This was the story of two six feet four inch centre-forwards and their respective backsides; one, Nicklas Bendtner, carried from the field on a stretcher after a match-winning goal, sitting up and waving to Sunderland fans as if he was royalty. The other, Andy Carroll, sat on a substitutes' bench like a caged animal for 70 minutes, before he was once more introduced too late to effect any change to a dismal game.
Perhaps it is only in the North-east now that there remains the memory of a rampaging young English striker who looked like he had the world at his feet, the player Liverpool paid £35m of their Fernando Torres money for. By the time he was given another cameo, there was so little momentum in Kenny Dalglish's side it would have been a footballing miracle if there had been a dramatic conclusion.
Bendtner, the frustrating and supremely confident on-loan Arsenal forward had scored for the second successive game by then, tucking away a Fraizer Campbell shot that struck a post, struck Pepe Reina's head, struck the same post before the Danish forward won the match and took the gap between Sunderland and their opponents to just two points. He was felled late on, damaging a knee that will be scanned once the swelling has gone down, and then carried from the field. If his body (he is wearing a mask because of a broken nose) is taking a battering then his robust ego, as Martin O'Neill alluded too, is unbreakable.
"That will have given him a boost in confidence, although I've chided myself because that's the last thing he needs," he said. "He's done well. We have a few jokes at his expense but when he's strong and fully fit he is a handful. I know that the crowd get a wee bit irked at times, but he is fine and strong and gives us a presence and fans might like that. The mask is a pitiful sight. I'm surprised he can see out of it, there's so much insignia on it, but he's done well."
Confidence. Carroll at times does not even look like he remembers what that was and there is so much more to Carroll than he is currently showing. A return to his home area – some of his family are Sunderland supporters – where he was jeered relentlessly, as he warmed up, as he entered the field and as he struggled in this ordinary Liverpool side, seemed a good opportunity for a statement to be made.
Another chance had been missed, and that has happened too often in the past 14 months with Liverpool.
Sunderland: MIGNOLET 6/10; BARDSLEY 7; TURNER 7; O'SHEA 7; BRIDGE 6; LARSSON 7; GARDNER 8; COLBACK 7; McCLEAN 6; CAMPBELL 7; BENDTNER 7
Liverpool: REINA 6; ENRIQUE 6; COATES 5; SKRTEL 5; KELLY 5; BELLAMY 6; ADAM 6; SPEARING 6; HENDERSON 6; KUYT 6; SUAREZ 7
Scorer: Sunderland Bendtner 56. Substitutes: Sunderland Vaughan 6 (Campbell, 75), Wickham (Bendtner, 84). Liverpool Gerrard 6 (Bellamy, 69), Carroll 5 (Adam, 69), Downing (Henderson, 80). Booked: Sunderland McClean. Liverpool Skrtel. Man of the match Gardner. Match rating 5/10. Possession: Sunderland 45% Liverpool 55%. Attempts on target: Sunderland 1 Liverpool 5. Referee A Taylor (Cheshire). Attendance 41,661.
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