Sunderland vs Liverpool match report: Lazar Markovic breaks his Premier League duck to give Reds unconvincing win over 10-man Black Cats

Sunderland 0 Liverpool 1: Markovic struck inside the first 10 minutes to give Brendan Rodgers' side the three points

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The Independent Football

Sometimes it goes for you. Raheem Sterling spent Saturday on a beach in his shorts in Jamaica. His manager Brendan Rodgers was victorious in the bitter cold of the north east.

There will be many who never quite get their heads around the concept of footballers taking mid-season jollies, but yesterday it worked, and it worked far more comfortably than the scoreline suggests.

Rodgers knew it was a dangerous situation. It was not helped by the picture of his most skilful young player in sunglasses and a hat 24 hours before his side travelled north.

“Raheem will be back next week,” said Rodgers. “It was something that was already planned from the summer. In my time here in two-and-a-half years he has gone from the youth team through to becoming a full international player. He is one of the best young players in European football. If I was selfish I would maybe have him here with me every single minute. He has been brilliant and I need to think of the kid.

“He has played over 100 games and he has just turned 20. I just felt this was a good period for him to have a rest. He missed the FA Cup tie and he missed the Sunderland game and he will rejoin us next week fresh and fit for the second part of the season.”

He will be coming back to a happy camp. For that he might thank Steven Gerrard who, in his farewell to the North-east, was outstanding. He only played for 45 minutes before a hamstring tightened, according to his manager.

Liam Bridcutt was dismissed in the 49th minute

But that was more than enough to give a reminder of why there has been such a reaction to his decision to leave English football at the end of this season and head off to America. If he leaves Liverpool in the Champions League it will be some parting gift, and do not bet against them just yet.

It is one defeat in nine now and a season that was disintegrating a couple of months ago has life. They are just four points behind fourth placed Southampton and within five of their old rivals Manchester United.

Victory came in a dominant first half. Within three minutes the excellent Lazar Markovic was fouled inside the Sunderland penalty area by Wes Brown. For that referee Craig Pawson did nothing.

Gerrard celebrates with Markovic

He was instrumental in the game-winning goal that came in the ninth minute. Liverpool swept forward down the right and Gerrard dumped cleverly to Fabio Borini, who fell. Pawson allowed the play to keep moving and Markovic pounced to poke the ball through the legs of Costel Pantimilon.

Markovic, like much of what Liverpool created in the first half, was a problem Sunderland could not solve. He smashed a superb volley off the Sunderland crossbar on the half hour. Pantilimon, for all his size, was nowhere near it.

By the time the half had finished, and the jeers had fallen on those in red and white from the home supporters, Gerrard had smashed a fine strike into the side-netting and Borini, after rounding the keeper, had done the same from a tight angle.

Raheem Sterling in Jamaica

Then Gerrard went off injured and his absence was of more significance to anyone lying on a beach. Liverpool lost control, Liam Bridcutt picked up a second yellow card, for clipping the heels of Emre Can, and from there the game became disjointed.

Mignolet still did not have a save to make, but Adam Johnson crashed a shot off the crossbar. Gus Poyet was jeered for taking Johnson off in the 86th minute.

“The fans need to accept reality,” Poyet said. “It’s been going on for the last four or five years. They need to be more patient.”

Liverpool finished strongly. There were two chances for Philippe Coutinho and even Mario Balotelli, who was dreadful, forced a save from Pantilimon from a narrow angle.

Lucas clashes with Vergini

“We were outstanding,” Rodgers said. “We had real control in the first half. “Defensively the players were excellent as well. It showed how strong we are. It was a very good result and a very good performance.”

Sunderland: (4-1-4-1) Pantilimon; Vergini, O’Shea, Brown, Aanholt; Bridcutt; Johnson (Mandron 86), Larsson, Gomez, Giaccherini (Buckley, 77); Wickham (Graham, 77).

Liverpool: (5-3-2) Mignolet; Markovic, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Moreno; Henderson, Gerrard (Lovren, 51), Leiva; Borini (Balotelli, 67), Coutinho.

Referee: Craig Pawson

Man of the match: Markovic (Liverpool)

Match rating: 5/10