Liverpool vs. Sunderland: 6 Things We Learned
Steven Gerrard's fine free-kick settled nerves and gave the hosts the lead in the 38th minute, with the goal coming after Gus Poyet's side had managed to repel the early onslaught that Liverpool have produced in so many home matches this season.
A deflected effort from Daniel Sturridge doubled the advantage and gave the forward his 20th league goal of the season early in the second period, but from there Sunderland refused to go away.
Lee Cattermole hit the crossbar, before Ki Sung-Yueng halved the deficit and then John O'Shea came close to levelling the score only for his late header to pass wide of the post.
The Reds held on, though, and here are six lessons learned from a tense night.
Liverpool Have Got Another Way of Winning
It’s easy to admire Liverpool when they're hitting six goals past Cardiff, five past Arsenal and three or four against pretty much everyone else in the division, but this was different.
The Reds were required to dig in, demonstrate some resolve and ride their luck on the way to victory, a win which still adds three points to their season's tally, but did so in a manner not seen since the three 1-0 wins that kicked off their 2013/14 season.
Then, as now, Daniel Sturridge was on the scoresheet, and the forward's strike early in the second half turned out to be one of the more crucial of Liverpool's campaign.
The late miss from O'Shea could well prove to be one of the most important moments of the Reds' run-in too, and at least as they embark upon it, they know they can win ugly.
Reds Fans Are in for More Heart-Stopping Moments
As Sunderland pressed for an equaliser, Anfield was gripped with a kind of vice-like tension not witnessed at the ground since Liverpool's Champions League heyday in the reign of Rafael Benitez.
The award of a late Sunderland free-kick led to many supporters turning away with the inability to watch, missing the moment O'Shea's free header rolled along the face of the goal and wide. Fans with longer memories might have recalled Chelsea's Eidur Gudjohnsen dragging a shot across goal at the death of stoppage time in the 2005 Champions League semi-final. Hearts were in mouths again.
This is what a Premier League title race is like, and as a raucous atmosphere both before and in the opening moments of the game reminded Liverpool, that is exactly what they are in.
Seven more potentially heart-stopping fixtures await.
Steven Gerrard Can Still Ride to the Rescue
Just at the height of the frustration, at the apex of the tension and as worry was beginning to set in, Steven Gerrard stepped up to a free-kick.
The fact the Santiago Vergini had only been booked for hauling down Luis Suarez when he was the last man was filling Anfield with anger, and that anger could have spilled over into half-time had the Reds not been able to break the Black Cats down.
The skipper's pinpoint free-kick brought Anfield to its feet, with the wild celebrations coming more out of relief than anything. Suddenly, everything was back on track again.
Gerrard could be seen shouting words of encouragement (and a few angry ones too) at Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel as the clock ticked down, with his clenched fists at full-time telling the story of just how important this win was.
A win he'd done more than most to earn.
Philippe Coutinho Can Launch into Space
We all know that he's wonderfully skillful and deceptively quick, but it was Philippe Coutinho's ability to find space where there seemingly was none that most impressed here.
The Brazilian could make standing in an elevator look like he wandering the Sahara judging by his ability to drift into useful green spaces for his team, a crucial aspect of this game when the Reds were under the cosh.
Not only did he buy space, he also bought time with his clever runs. Undoubtedly, Brendan Rodgers have been delighted with the display of a player who had looked a little jaded recently, but not so here.
Johnson and Ki Can Open Door to Sunderland's Survival
The marked difference in Sunderland following the second-half introductions of Adam Johnson and Ki Sung-Yueng was there for all to see, and they will have left Gus Poyet wondering just what would have been possible had both started.
The visitors' solidity was a sign that the Uruguayan had got things right defensively at least, but up front, the static Altidore and Connor Wickham weren't causing the Reds any problems.
Some visiting fans even booed when Wickham left the field and Johnson and Ki came on, but it ultimately proved to be an excellent attacking move from the Mackems boss.
The movement of the fresh duo caused Liverpool all sorts of problems that they hadn't faced all night, as suddenly there were players available to feed off Altidore's holdup play.
Johnson buzzed around and worried Liverpool, while Ki was composed on the ball and, of course, scored his side's goal.
Both should have big parts to play in their side's survival fight.
This Version of Sunderland Should Stay Up
And if Sunderland keep playing like this, that is a fight they should win.
Just four days on from what was by all accounts an insipid display in a 2-0 loss at Norwich, here they were strong, committed and comfortably put in one of the better performances from any team beaten at Anfield this season.
With his three central defenders, Poyet was able to disrupt the Suarez-Sturridge partnership at least until the Englishman grabbed what proved to be the winner, a goal that signaled that the shackles could come off the away side.
Lee Cattermole was desperately unlucky not to get his side on the scoresheet with his effort that hit the crossbar. Then after Ki's goal came the O'Shea chance, which could have put a hugely different slant on the top and bottom of the table.
On this evidence, there have to be three teams in this season's Premier League who are worse than Sunderland, but Poyet will need the Anfield version of his team to overcome the Carrow Road one for the rest of the campaign.
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