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Premier League

Bendtner opportunism finds Liverpool flat-footed

Sunderland 1 Liverpool 0

Much will be made of the nature of the goal that did for Liverpool yesterday; a strange affair, that saw a shot hit a post, hit Pepe Reina, hit the same post before Nicklas Bendtner scored. Similarities will be drawn to the beach ball goal from 2009, of which far too much was made at the time, certainly by Rafa Benitez.

Then, he found a hiding place for failure as a stray inflatable thrown from his own fans helped Darren Bent puncture Liverpool's season. It was a nice excuse for a woeful display. Three years and more than £100 million later, the same club still require such places to hide from their inadequacies.

On this showing, progress is not taking place. By the close, Liverpool's top four aspirations looked slightly ridiculous, losing a third successive Premier League tie for the first time since the 2002-2003 season; their only comfort in recent months has come from the Carling Cup and the penalty shootout victory over Cardiff City.

Kenny Dalglish referred to that win as soon as he was asked about the difficulty he faces in getting Liverpool into a top four finish. The gap when the final whistle blew yesterday was 10 points. With 11 games to go that seems an almost insurmountable target to reach.

Thus much has to be made of the Wembley success and the FA Cup quarter-final that looms, not the fact his side lacked direction with Steven Gerrard on the bench for much of the game in anticipation of the derby with Everton on Tuesday.

"Obviously if we could get fourth spot it would be fantastic for the football club," said Dalglish. "But winning the Carling Cup was fantastic for the football club, getting to the sixth round of the FA Cup was fantastic for the football club. I don't think the performances we've had, especially at home, have merited the points we have. I don't think it was much of a game. It was always going to be a bit of fortune and not a bit of brilliance to win the game. We matched all the attributes Sunderland have. A bit of luck was the difference between a draw and a victory."

There was a slight oversimplification there, although this was certainly no thriller. Sunderland's industry and momentum, however, has been such in recent weeks that it was not overly derailed by the absence of key figures such as Stéphane Sessègnon and Lee Cattermole. They just about deserved their victory, scoring in the 56th minute when Fraizer Campbell's shot set in motion the elements for Bendtner to score, before he was carried off after damaging his knee.

Phil Bardsley had cleared a Dirk Kuyt header off his line, but both teams fed from scraps. Only the industry of Craig Gardner and Jack Colback and the resolution of John O'Shea and Michael Turner made Sunderland more purposeful. "I'm delighted with the effort," said their manager, Martin O'Neill. "Again, with the changes we had to make, I couldn't ask for much more it was a great effort from the team."

Sunderland (4-4-2): Mignolet; Bardsley, O'Shea, Turner, Bridge; Larsson, Gardner, Colback, McClean; Campbell (Vaughan, 75), Bendtner (Wickham, 84).

Liverpool (4-1-4-1): Reina; Kelly, Skrtel, Coates, Enrique; Spearing; Kuyt, Henderson (Downing, 80), Adam (Carroll, 70), Bellamy (Gerrard, 69); Suarez.

Referee Anthony Taylor.

Man of the match Gardner (Sunderland).

Match rating 5/10.