Sunderland 0 Liverpool 2: Gerrard lifts 10-man Liverpool to fourth spot

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The Independent Football

Peter Crouch's inability to banish the scoring demons remains just about the only thing of concern to Liverpool right now. It is now 21 games and counting without a goal for Crouch, whose disappointment at a missed opportunity was palpable when he was substituted 11 minutes from time.

It could have been very different. Steve Caldwell's pseudo-assault on the Liverpool forward went unpunished as he was about to apply the finishing touch to a point-blank effort that had been clawed out by Ben Alnwick just after the start of the second half.

Crouch's sub-plot remained the only issue of any mild interest once Liverpool had cruised into a two-goal interval lead en route to fourth place in the table on the back of five consecutive wins and seven straight clean sheets. They could even cope with negotiating the final 25 minutes a man light after Mohamed Sissoko earned a second yellow card for a crude challenge on Dean Whitehead.

The deficiency hardly told. Indeed, Steven Gerrard, the contest's outstanding performer, came close to doubling his tally after scampering 60 yards to send a shot against the bar 15 minutes from time.

Goals from Luis Garcia and Gerrard were more than enough to do for the hosts, whose supporters were left calling for the heads of the chairman, Bob Murray, and the manager, Mick McCarthy.

Djibril Cissé was denied an opportunity to fill his boots, the Frenchman dropped for his petulant reaction to being substituted at Manchester City.

Rafael Benitez, Liverpool's manager, refused to reveal if the striker will be reinstated for Saturday's visit of Wigan. "I know you need to ask me about it," he said. "But there's no problem and we have a lot of games to play and we have a big squad."

It took Liverpool 30 minutes to deliver the telling blows before half-time. It was worth the wait as Sunderland were unable to live with two moments of inspiration. Both were fashioned by Xabi Alonso, who first provided a 40-yard through ball to die for, which Garcia matched with an unflustered finish from the edge of the area.

The Spaniard then played Gerrard in on the stroke of half-time with a neat pass inside Danny Collins, allowing the Liverpool captain to surge into the penalty area, lift the ball over Alnwick and apply a simple finish from six yards.

"It was a job well done," said Benitez. "The most important thing now is to keep doing the same things. You can talk about it all you like, but you have to keep winning."

McCarthy's assessment of an eighth consecutive defeat was frank. "You look at the two teams and it's not really a fair fight.

"Up until the first goal, when we went to sleep from a clearance, I was very happy. In terms of work-rate I admire my players for having a go. It's tough when you keep getting done but you have to keep coming out to scrap and believe we'll get a result.

"Garcia's was a fantastic finish for the first goal, and for the second Gerrard showed why someone was going to pay £30m for him."

Sunderland (4-4-2): Alnwick; Hoyte (Nosworthy, 76), Breen, Caldwell, D Collins; Lawrence (Gray, 86), Bassila, Whitehead, Miller (Welsh, 56); Stead, Brown. Substitutes not used: Davis (gk), Leadbitter.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise (Warnock, 90); Garcia, Gerrard, Alonso, Sissoko; Crouch (Traoré, 79), Morientes (Kewell, 61). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Sinama-Pongolle.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).