Monday, September 17, 2012

Match Report: Sunderland 1 - 1 Liverpool

Luis Suarez snatched just a second Barclays Premier League point of the season for Liverpool as Sunderland was denied victory.

The Uruguayan, who had earlier been booked for diving, struck 19 minutes from time to cancel out Steven Fletcher's first-half opener and give manager Brendan Rodgers a little breathing space after the club's worst start to a season in half a century.

On a day when the victims of the Hillsborough disaster were at the forefront of minds - Liverpool's players walked out wearing tracksuit tops with the number 96 on the backs and flags at the Stadium of Light flew at half-mast - both Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard had earlier hit the woodwork.

Fletcher's third goal in two league starts looked like it was going to be enough to deepen the Reds' woes to the delight of the bulk of the 41,997 crowd, but Suarez ensured Liverpool did not return home empty-handed.

At the end of an emotional week off the pitch, Liverpool arrived on Wearside hoping for much-needed points on it, but as so often during the opening weeks of the season, they headed for the dressing room at half-time frustrated.

For the best part of half-an-hour, they dominated possession, but were unable to make the pressure tell.

Raheem Sterling threatened repeatedly down the right, but with Sunderland debutant Danny Rose giving as good as he got, the winger's efforts went largely unrewarded.

It started in promising fashion for the Merseysiders as Jonjo Shelvey fired just wide with four minutes gone after combining well with Suarez, who then also missed the target seven minutes later.

Shelvey played striker Fabio Borini into space on the right with a well-weighted 13th-minute pass, and his cross was deflected goal-wards, but straight to keeper Simon Mignolet.

The Belgian came to the Black Cats' rescue five minutes later when Borini ran on to Carlos Cuellar's woefully weak header and fired in a shot from a tight angle which the keeper managed to block.

Sunderland almost took the lead when they were awarded a 20th-minute free-kick which Sebastian Larsson curled into the box and just wide of the far post with Pepe Reina flat-footed and no one able to get a touch.

The game changed in an instant with 29 minutes gone when Sunderland full-back Craig Gardner slipped all too easily past Johnson and crossed for Fletcher to get in front of his man and turn the ball home from close range.

Liverpool's confidence visibly drained away as the home side started to take control, and the response from Rodgers' men was tepid.

Their afternoon took a turn for the worse when Suarez surged into the box eight minutes before the break and collapsed under John O'Shea's challenge, earning a yellow card rather than the penalty for which he was hoping.

Cuellar failed to re-appear after the break and was replaced by Titus Bramble, and the newcomer found his defence stretched within two minutes when Gerrard and Suarez combined to set up Shelvey, whose skidding drive was saved.

The visitors had once again started confidently and Johnson deserved better when he sent an inviting ball across the face of goal, but found no-one there to meet it.

Johnson opted to go it alone with 51 minutes gone when he cut inside and went right-footed for the top corner, only to see his effort come back off the crossbar with Mignolet beaten.

The Reds were desperately unfortunate not to be back on level terms on the hour when, after Mignolet had beaten away Sterling's cross, Shelvey squared for Gerrard to clip the outside of the post with a guided attempt.

Rodgers replaced Borini with winger Stewart Downing four minutes later, but it was defender Martin Skrtel who went close after Gerrard's deflected shot sat up nicely for him, but his header was well-saved by Mignolet.

Liverpool eventually made the breakthrough with 71 minutes gone when Sterling rounded Rose to cross from the right and Bramble could only block the ball to Suarez, who gleefully smashed it past the keeper from close range.

Shelvey might have won it 10 minutes from time when he cut inside on to his left foot and went for goal, but Mignolet got down well to save and Suarez could not climb high enough to head the rebound on goal.

Rodgers Happy With Liverpool's Draw

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers was content with the draw at Sunderland after a difficult week for the club.

Luiz Suarez's 71st-minute equalizer denied the Black Cats victory at the Stadium of Light on a day when the 96 Reds fans who died at Hillsborough 23 years ago were poignantly remembered.

They and their fellow fans were this week cleared of blame for the disaster, with a number of apologies issued ranging from the prime minister to Football Association chairman David Bernstein as a result.

And Rodgers, whose players wore the number 96 on the back of their tracksuits before kick-off, was full of praise for them.

"They have been terrific. It's been a difficult week, of course, as you can imagine for the city and everything surrounding it," said Rodgers.

"Some of the players have been involved in the tragedy in terms of relatives, so it's been a really emotional week.

"But when you sign for Liverpool, that's part of the contract. As a player or manager, you sign an agreement and a contract with the supporters, an emotional one, and that's all part of the journey of Liverpool.

"We wanted to give hope for two reasons: one, for ourselves, because we have shown really good progress over the course of the weeks - we haven't quite got the results, but the performance level at times has been very good.

"And to end the week for the supporters, because it has been very difficult for them.

"It was a good point all round. We will go away from the game really pleased with the performance."

Flags flew at half-mast at the stadium as Sunderland paid their respects to the Hillsborough victims, a move Black Cats boss Martin O'Neill felt was only right.

He said: "It was the least we could have done in terms of our part of proceedings.

"It's been a pretty harrowing 20-odd years, but justice has been done and I think they will draw some comfort from events in the past couple of days."

On the pitch, Sunderland took the lead against the run of play when Steven Fletcher got ahead of his marker to turn Craig Gardner's 29th-minute cross past keeper Pepe Reina for his third goal in two league starts.

Liverpool lost momentum in the immediate aftermath, but fought back strongly after the break and was twice denied an equalizer by the woodwork when Glen Johnson's curling 51st-minute effort came back off the bar and then Steven Gerrard clipped the post on the hour.

However, salvation arrived 19 minutes from time when substitute Titus Bramble was only able to stab Raheem Sterling's cross to Suarez, who fired home to claim a point.

Rodgers said: "The performance was outstanding, both our creativity and our movement, and there was a really good tempo and rhythm to our game.

"We went behind and we were disappointed with the goal, it was a soft goal from our perspective and it went against the run of play.

"But in the second half, we showed a real reaction and continued what we were doing in the first half, but really upped the tempo and the penetration in our game and by the end of it, I am sure Sunderland were probably happier with the point than ourselves.

"But overall, the performance was outstanding and it's a big credit to the players."

Martin O'Neill Felt A Draw Was Fair

Martin O'Neill wants Sunderland to learn how to take the sting out of games following the 1-1 home draw with Liverpool.

Sunderland extended their unbeaten start to the season in their first home match of the campaign, but O'Neill's side is also still to win in the Premier League.

New signing Steven Fletcher opened the scoring in the first half, but Luis Suarez earned Liverpool a deserved point with a 71st minute equalizer.

O'Neill accepts Liverpool merited a draw at the Stadium of Light and he is anxious for his players to learn lessons from the game.

"It was always going to be difficult with Liverpool searching for that equalizing goal," said O'Neill. "Not many in the stadium would say that they didn't deserve it.

"We gave the ball away a little bit in the second half and I think that is something we must improve on.

"When we're under pressure in games we need to be able to take the sting out of matches.

"It was disappointing to concede the goal, especially at a point where we were just getting back into the game in terms of possession."

The Sunderland boss is confident his team will improve as the season progresses and praised Craig Gardner for his performance against Liverpool.

He added: "It was a terrific effort considering we had a number of members of the squad who are still not properly fit. As the weeks go on we'll get stronger.

"Craig Gardner did exceptionally well in the build-up to the goal, he earned that little bit of luck.

"He managed to get past two players and drove a great ball in for Fletcher to put it in the back of the net to get his third goal in two matches. That will be a big boost for him.

Signs Of Promise

Liverpool are still looking for their first Premier League win of the season, but there were some signs of promise in their performance at Sunderland.

The visitors dominated the game and with a bit more luck and better finishing would have come away with all three points as Brendan Rodgers looks to implement his style of play on this Liverpool side.

Rodgers stuck to his preferred 4-3-3 tactics and the side almost picked itself due to Liverpool's lack of attacking resources.

Raheem Sterling again started for the Reds and the teenager was arguably Liverpool's most dangerous player on the pitch when he got in the final third.

Luis Suarez started wide on the left of the front three and he became more effective when he was moved to the central spot after Fabio Borini was replaced by Stewart Downing.
Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen look like they are building up a good understanding in midfield and they dictated the game in the engine room.

Glen Johnson was again preferred at left-back ahead of Jose Enrique with Martin Kelly starting at right-back.

Sunderland was missing Adam Johnson as he failed to recover from injury to face Liverpool and the England man was sorely missed in the Sunderland attack.

Danny Rose replaced Johnson in the side from the last time out with the Spurs loanee being used in a left-back role with James McClean and Sebastian Larsson providing the width on the flanks.

Lee Cattermole and Jack Colback worked hard in the centre of midfield with Stephane Sessegnon playing behind Fletcher in attack.

There was no change in tactics from Rodgers, but there looked to be a better balance to the side when Downing was introduced for Borini, allowing Suarez to play down the centre with Sterling and Downing down the flanks.

The fluidity of the system with Allen and Gerrard playing quite deep allowed the likes of Glen Johnson to get forward from full-back and he was unlucky not to score in the second half.

Martin O'Neill is a traditional 4-4-2 man and there was no change to his tactics with two wide men trying to provide the service for new signing Steven Fletcher, but McClean and Larsson were unable to have an impact on the game.

Titus Bramble came on for the injured Carlos Cuellar and he slotted fine into central defence although he was partly at fault for Liverpool's equaliser. The big defender deflected Suarez's shot straight back to the Uruguayan who slammed the ball home at the second attempt.

Fraizer Campbell and Louis Saha were introduced late on as Sunderland looked to up the tempo as they struggled to get out of their half for long periods of the second half.

Liverpool only made one change with Downing coming on for the ineffective Borini and although the England winger did not create many chances his introduction allowed Suarez to switch to a more central role and the striker started to get the ball more in better positions for the visitors.

Martin Atkinson had a relatively quiet day at the office, but he may have got a penalty call wrong in the first half. Suarez went down in the box under a challenge from John O'Shea with Atkinson booking the Uruguayan for diving. TV replays showed there was contact between O'Shea and Suarez with possibly the striker's reputation going against him on this occasion.

Apart from the Suarez booking Atkinson cautioned Martin Skrtel and Larsson for routine fouls.

Liverpool need to take their chances when they are in the ascendancy otherwise they will continue to throw away points.

After dominating the opening half hour at the Stadium of Light they found themselves behind thanks to Sunderland's first noteworthy attack of the game with the side being punished for some carelessness in defence.

Next up is the small matter of Manchester United at Anfield and Liverpool will need to be more clinical in front of goal if they are to take anything from the clash with their bitter rivals.

Gerrard: Draw Fully Deserved

Steven Gerrard accepts change at Liverpool will not happen overnight and felt a 1-1 draw at Sunderland was the least his side deserved.

Liverpool controlled the game at the Stadium of Light for long periods, but fell behind to Steven Fletcher's first-half goal.

Luis Suarez earned the Reds a merited point with 19 minutes to go, but the result still leaves Brendan Rodgers waiting for his first Premier League win as manager.

Gerrard was pleased with the performance on Wearside and the Liverpool captain believes the changes Rodgers is trying to implement will take time.

"We knew change wouldn't happen overnight," said the midfielder.

"We have tried hard and even though we drew, we completely controlled the game. No-one watching can say we didn't deserve it."

Reds full-back Glen Johnson echoed his skipper's sentiments and believes the team having been playing well, despite only collecting two points from four games.

Johnson said: "We kept pushing for that second goal.

"Their goal was a disappointing goal to concede but the lads dug in and fought hard.

"We tried hard, we came out in the second half and got better. We never stopped working hard.

"We have played well in the majority of our games this season."

Rodgers To Be Careful With Suarez

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers admits Luis Suarez will have to be 'careful' with his discipline but does not want him to change his style of play.

Suarez picked up his third booking of the season in Saturday's draw at Sunderland after referee Martin Atkinson adjudged the striker to have dived in the box to try and win a penalty.

Suarez is now just two bookings away from a suspension, but Rodger insists he cannot look to temper the 25-year-old's fire and passion for the game.

"You are always trying to educate players and talk to them," said Rodgers. "That is part of what makes him and he is on to three now so he'll have to be careful.

"I have no complaints, I read from the outside all these reports about Luis Suarez but he has been an absolute pleasure to work with from the first day I came in here and he is a good guy who works very hard every day and gets his rewards on the field.

"He is an emotional guy, he runs on emotion, as some players do."

Rodgers is also keen to manage expectation levels surrounding Raheem Sterling after another eye-catching performance from the youngster at the Stadium of Light.

The Reds chief is trying to keep the winger's feet on the ground and he has hailed the 17-year-old's attitude to learn and improve.

"I am sure it is difficult for him to take it all. You get a lot of adulation for playing well but him and I communicate which is part of me trying to keep him level-headed and making sure the whole situation does not distort his reality," said Rodgers.

"The reality is he is an exceptional talent, we want to nurture and make sure he is around for many years, not just for a few months and he is a good kid, he is a good listener which is important, he is a really, really good lad.

"It is our job to manage him and manage the expectation and just let him concentrate on his football.

"He is a very level-headed boy. He doesn't waste his time doing stupid things, he comes into work with the first team and listens to the senior professionals, he is happy to listen to the coaches and it has been quite straightforward with him, and his performances have done the talking and he has come in every day to work and worked well.

"We know he still has a mountain to climb to be a top player but what we are seeing at 17 years of age is the early stages of his career and he is going to be a real talent."

Man Utd And Liverpool To Meet To Relieve Tensions

Manchester United chief executive David Gill is expected to hold talks with Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre in an attempt to calm tensions between fans before the clubs meet in the Premier League next weekend.

The build-up to United's visit to Anfield on Sunday has been marred by anti-Liverpool chanting heard at Old Trafford during last Saturday's 4-0 victory over Wigan.

United fan groups were quick to state that the chant of "Always the victims, it's never your fault" was not related to the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool supporters died.

But the airing of the chant, days after an independent report into the 1989 tragedy cleared Liverpool fans of any blame and revealed a huge police cover-up, has caused concern at both clubs.

It is understood preliminary talks between the two took place following the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel's findings on Wednesday.

At this stage, no plans have been made for a minute's silence to be held on Sunday in memory of those who died in the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough.

The possibility of wreaths being laid by officials from both clubs is also yet to be fully discussed.

There are also fears over a potential flashpoint involving Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez after the latter snubbed the former during the pre-match handshakes in February.

The Uruguayan's actions followed his eight-match ban for racially abusing Evra, and it has been reported that, when Gill and Ayre meet ahead of this weekend's game, they will discuss how best to avoid further controversy.

After the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and his Liverpool counterpart Brendan Rodgers called for an end to the unsavoury chanting that has marred matches between the two clubs.

Chants about both Hillsborough and the 1958 Munich air disaster have been heard from a minority of fans.

Luis Suarez Told To Shake Hands With Patrice Evra

Liverpool's Luis Suarez has been told to shake hands with Manchester United's Patrice Evra when the two clubs meet in the Premier League this Sunday.

Last season when the teams met at Anfield Suarez ended up being banned for eight games for racially abusing the French player, and the Uruguayan refused to shake his hand in the re-match at Old Trafford.

This Sunday's game will be Liverpool's first home league match since the disclosure of evidence clearing their fans of any blame in the Hillsborough disaster, which left 96 of their number dead.

But that did not stop sections of the crowd at United's Old Trafford ground singing anti-Liverpool songs on Saturday, despite pleas by manager Sir Alex Ferguson for them not to do so.

United chief executive David Gill will talks to his Liverpool counterpart Ian Ayre this week in an effort defuse tensions ahead of Sunday's game, and to ensure the passion of the rivalry stays the right side of fierce and does not descend into all-out hostility.

Possible gestures of respect include a minute's silence, although it may be replaced by a less risky minute of applause, and United laying a wreath before kick-off.

Then-Manchester City manager Sven Goran Eriksson did that when his team met United in a similarly fiercely-fought battle of rivals on the 50th anniversary of the Munich air crash four years ago.

League Unlikely To Act On Chants

The Premier League are unlikely to take action following brief anti-Liverpool chanting during Manchester United's Barclays Premier League win over Wigan.

United's biggest win of the season was marred by a short burst of anti-Liverpool chanting from a small minority of home fans following this week's damning report on the handling of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, in which 96 people died.

The report laid bare a shocking cover-up which attempted to shift the blame for the tragedy on to its victims, revealing that South Yorkshire Police had instructed officers to change or amend their statements relating to the tragic events.

One clearly audible chant at Saturday's game at Old Trafford was "Always the victims, never your fault", believed to be in reference to the report findings.

However, the song has been sung since Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was found guilty of racially abusing United defender Patrice Evra last season, which saw the Uruguay international given an eight-game ban and a £40,000 fine.

It is understood the Premier League deem the chants to be unacceptable but believe it is a matter for the clubs themselves to deal with.

There is a history of sour relations between the two sides. A minority of United fans have directed chants to Liverpool fans regarding Hillsborough and a Liverpool minority have chanted in reference to the Munich air disaster of 1958 in which 23 people died.

A United spokesperson said the club “deplores" such songs and, in a statement, the club said: "The manager has made the club's position very clear on this matter. It is now up to the fans to respect that."

The Football Association declined to comment on the matter on Sunday.

The tension between the two rival clubs is sure to be heightened when United travel to Anfield this Sunday.

Manchester United's Supporters' Trust echoed Ferguson's statements.

MUST chief executive Duncan Drasdo said: "We enjoy a fierce rivalry but these issues transcend that rivalry.

"We agree 100% with the statement made by Sir Alex Ferguson - this is the time for supporters of these two great clubs to represent their clubs with the integrity and honour that our glorious history demands.

"Following this week's developments and release of revelatory information on the Hillsborough tragedy, MUST wishes to make it absolutely clear that just as we condemn chants mocking the Munich air disaster we also condemn any chants relating to Hillsborough or indeed any other human tragedy.

"We did hear the usual anti-Liverpool chants at the match today but we're pleased to say, despite some reports to the contrary, there was nothing that was specifically referencing Hillsborough."