Liverpool stroll sends Sunderland crashing to earth

Posted by Colin Randall

Laurence Griffiths/Getty ImagesLiverpool's Luis Suarez (two goals) leaves Sunderland's Matt Kilgallon behind

Well, Sunderland had a little run, three wins in five to ease though not eliminate relegation worries. Successive defeats, at home to Tottenham Hotspur and now Wednesday's at Anfield, have again exposed the limited, threadbare nature of Martin O'Neill's squad.

Liverpool's 2-0 half-time lead could have been greater. But it can also be argued that neither of those goals would have been scored had Sunderland defenders not offered such pitiful resistance.

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The slow, ponderous play of Matt Kilgallon and Carlos Cuellar in central defence stuck out like a sore and swollen thumb that Liverpool took delight in applying an occasional painful tweak. And each Sunderland advance on the home goal merely led to a dangerous counter-attack.

Those defenders were culpable in both goals, however neatly Raheem Sterling lobbed over Simon Mignolet for the first and Luis Suarez took the second a few minutes later.

By the time the lead was doubled, other failings must have been as obvious to O'Neill as they were to visiting fans. James McClean, with the most straightforward of chances to equalise, contrived to slot the ball past Pepe Feina's far post. Seb Larsson missed another decent opening later in the half and Kilgallon squandered an opportunity to atone for his defensive frailties.

As a pal at Anfield put it with the game slipping away from Sunderland, "we've had our chances, they've taken theirs."

The match restarted after the interval with no sign of Stephane Sessegnon, who may have picked up some sort of first-half knock, and the game was up.

To absolutely no surprise, a sublime pass from the masterly Steven Gerrard set up Suarez for a simple third on just 53 minutes and the serious thrashing I had quietly feared seemed inevitable.

Again, Sunderland's defence might as well have been off the field enjoying a tea break. "Where was Carlos Cuellar, where was Matt Kilgallon?" asked an exasperated Gary Bennett, once a decent Sunderland defender himself and now happy to serve local radio in the North East as an adopted Mackem. He may be as passionate as most of the Sunderland faithful, but he is also a realist.

In the search for a positive aspect, the Sunderland supporter is reduced to clutching at straws. The wins against Reading, Southampton and Manchester City were commendable enough but emphatically not evidence of a corner properly turned.

It is hardly controversial to conclude that a high Premier League finish looks some way beyond O'Neill's reach. It leaves him with the task, in the transfer window, of strengthening the side with the modest aim of achieving safety, a task complicated by glaring quality gaps in as many as half a dozen positions.

And the reason Wednesday's 3-0 thumping did not develop into a humiliation is that two tight offside decisions denied Liverpool further goals. "This is painful to watch," Bennett said just before Phil Dowd's final whistle ended Sunderland's ordeal.

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