Gerrard takes direct action to save Red faces

Liverpool 2 Sunderland 2

When it comes to direct action, nobody does it like Steven Gerrard. In the scheme of his career, scoring an equaliser against Sunderland, a club that last won at Anfield when he was a toddler, would not count very high. Nevertheless, had he not headed home Fernando Torres' cross, the demonstrations against the club's American owners – billed as a day of direct action – would have resembled the storming of the Winter Palace.

Just before his intervention, Liverpool had looked as rudderless on the pitch as they are financially stricken off it. After falling behind to a goal that belonged to the old "You are the Ref" cartoon strip, Sunderland had so completely seized control of the game that it seemed the only question was their margin of victory.

Thereafter, Liverpool pressed and battered Sunderland ever deeper into their own area until the breath was all but squeezed from their lungs. The occupation of the stands by several thousand supporters after the final whistle seemed, after all this drama, like something of an afterthought.

Roy Hodgson, who had stood soaked on Wednesday night as Northampton knocked Liverpool out of the League Cup, described what had gone before Gerrard's goal as a "cold shower".

Darren Bent cancelled out Dirk Kuyt's ludicrous effort with a penalty after Christian Poulsen had thrown up his hands to a cross from Ahmed Al-Muhammadi and the same player met Nedem Onuoha's beautifully-delivered cross to add a second after 48 minutes.

Anfield looked shocked but not entirely surprised and minute by minute, until Gerrard's equaliser, confidence seeped away. Cries of "Hodgson, get on your feet," rang around the stadium as if the sight of their manager gesticulating would have sparked a revival.

His opposite number, Steve Bruce, reflected that not since he had come here as a player with Manchester United had he been involved with a side that enjoyed such easy possession at Anfield. It was a telling comment.

Now to Liverpool's opener. This time last year Bent had scored a winner at the Stadium of Light that deflected off a beach ball. This, in its way, was just as debatable.

Sunderland had been awarded a free-kick on the centre circle. Michael Turner seemed to roll it back towards his goalkeeper, obviously with the intention that Simon Mignolet would take it. However, the ball was dead, the kick had been "taken" and Torres seized on his opportunity. Mignolet stopped on the edge of his own area and, suddenly panicked. Torres passed smoothly to Kuyt and Liverpool were one up.

"Everybody in the ground bar none knew Michael Turner had not taken the free-kick. He was standing 35 yards from where it was awarded," said Bruce, trying manfully to avoid being fined for criticising the referee, Stuart Attwell. "This is the second time it has happened to me. The first was at Arsenal in the FA Cup years ago when a throw-in back to our goalkeeper after a stoppage went to Marc Overmars, he ran down the wing and crossed it for a goal. That match was replayed and the proceeds were given to charity."

The referee was technically correct, but his decision was hardly in the spirit of the game.

Attendance: 43,626

Referee: Stuart Attwell

Man of the match: Gerrard

Match rating: 8/10

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