Liverpool strong contenders for title

2014-03-27 08:44

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Liverpool – Liverpool moved to within a point of Premier League leaders Chelsea with a nervy 2-1 win over Sunderland that was sealed by goals from Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge.

Ki Sung-yeung’s 76th-minute header for relegation-threatened Sunderland ensured a tense finish at Anfield with Liverpool forced to hang on to stay in strong contention for a first league title since 1990.

Gerrard’s 25m free kick in the 39th minute gave the hosts a 1-0 lead at the break. It looked like they would saunter to victory after Sturridge’s deflected goal in the 48th minute, but it did not turn out that way.

Liverpool’s seventh straight league win lifted the team two points above Manchester City, who have two games in hand over the sides above them, but this was not as convincing as their previous six victories – when the Reds had scored at least three goals in each game.

Hopes have turned into expectations at Anfield in the past few weeks with Liverpool – the dominant side in England in the late 1970s and 1980s – reviving their glory days to launch a title challenge against all the odds.

So it was understandable that as half-time approached, the home fans were gripped with nerves that their team was going to waste a great chance to close in on Chelsea.

Then Gerrard stepped up, like he has done so often.

Santiago Vergini escaped with just a yellow card when he hauled down Luis Suarez when the Argentinian defender was the last man. Sunderland hadn’t escaped though, as Gerrard curled the resulting free kick into the top corner for his ninth goal this year.

Relief spread around the ground with Liverpool previously having been restricted to long-range efforts in the face of Sunderland’s sturdy five-man defence.

Given Liverpool’s effervescent attacking play this season, it was no surprise when the second goal arrived less than three minutes into the second half. Sturridge collected a short ball from Jordan Henderson and curled a shot that deflected off Sunderland defender Wes Brown and into the corner.

“We’re going to win the league,” was the chant roared out from The Kop.

That goal ensured two Liverpool strikers have scored at least 20 times in the same season for the first time in 50 years when Roger Hunt and Ian St John were prolific in leading the line for the Reds. Suarez’s current haul stands at 28.

It also took the Suarez-Sturridge partnership to 48 goals this campaign – and it almost became 49 in the 72nd minute when Sturridge crashed a shot against the crossbar. Lee Cattermole had done the same for Sunderland moments earlier, as Liverpool’s defence slackened for the first time in the match.

Sunderland was starting to get more possession as Liverpool sat back and there was a sense of inevitability when the deficit was halved. Adam Johnson whipped in a free kick that crept through a crowded area for Ki to stoop and head in at the far post.

In yesterday’s other game, West Ham ended a three-game losing streak as an own goal by James Chester secured a 2-1 win over 10-man Hull in a match between two mid-table teams.

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