Liverpool’s title challenge in tatters

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles

Liverpool's Lucas Leiva

Liverpool have endured a torrid week of bad fortune. The loss of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres during the international break proved a major blow for Rafa Benitez.

Subsequently Saturday’s for the trip to the Stadium of Light, the Anfield boss was forced to reshuffle his midfield. Lucas Leiva and Jay Spearing provided defensive cover in front of the back four while Yossi Benayoun played in the attacking role vacated by the missing skipper.

Daniel Agger returned at the heart of Liverpool’s defence with the visitors reverting to three at the back while Glen Johnson and Fabio Aurelio were deployed as wing backs. Meanwhile Ryan Babel provided support for Dirk Kuyt up front.

However the unorthodox formation couldn’t be blamed for the only goal of a tense and tight affair.

A stray beach ball, thrown onto the pitch by an away supporter, played a key role in defeating the Pepe Reina.

Darren Bent’s shot flew towards the Spanish keeper but the striker’s effort collided with the Liverpool themed beach accessory, wrong footing Reina and bobbling into the net.

According to the rulebook if ‘an outside agent’ interferes with play than a drop ball should be awarded. Steve Bruce remarked after the game that you would have to be a ‘saddo’ to be aware of such a rule.

Nevertheless the away side failed to take the game by the scruff of the net. Indeed Sunderland capitalised on their original fortune.

Bent had further opportunities to increase the home side’s lead. He glanced Phil Bardsley’s cross past the post while striking the post from a narrow angle on another occasion.

Bruce suffered a double blow in the second half when Kenwenye Jones and Lee Cattermole were forced off with injuries. Liverpool started to exert more pressure on the Sunderland rearguard with the clock against the visitors.

Scottish number one, Craig Gordon, produced an athletic double save with ten minutes remaining.

Dirk Kuyt’s right-footed shot was saved by Gordon low to his right. The rebound was pounced upon by substitute David N’Gog. However the keeper managed to block his rebound to ensure Sunderland maintained their narrow lead.

A lengthy seven minutes of added time provided Liverpool with some hope. But without Gerrard and Torres, the Merseyside club were unable to conjure up an equaliser.

Inevitably another inquest will be held into how last year’s runners-up managed to succumb to a fourth loss of the season. Sunderland leapfrog the Reds into seventh position.

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