It was a day of returns at the Stadium of Light. Luis Suarez made his return from a ten-match ban incurred for biting Branislav Ivanovic. Simon Mignolet returned to his old stamping grounds after a summer move. Sunderland returned to playing football without boring everyone else to tears. The most successful of the three was, unsurprisingly, Suarez, who picked up a brace to secure a 3-1 win for the visitors.
The first half was captivating. Both sides were on the attack, with an early Martin Skrtel goal ruled out for offside before Sebastian Larsson rattled Mignolet's crossbar with a beautiful free kick. Kolo Toure was then summoned to the rescue after an errant backpass from Jose Enrique looked to have set Emanuele Giaccherini free on goal. Sunderland were looking a completely different team, and were giving Liverpool's three-man backline some seriously problems.
But despite the Black Cat's surprising reunion with competence, it was the visitors who struck first. A Steven Gerrard free kick was flicked on by Toure before being guided in by Daniel Sturridge's forearm. Sunderland didn't protest the goal, but replays showed that it shouldn't have stood. There was more controversy when Mignolet gathered up what looked suspiciously like a backpass -- it's safe to say that by that point the home support wasn't particularly pleased with Howard Webb.
There was no controversy about the second goal, however. Gerrard picked up Sturridge with a phenomenal crossfield pass, and the striker drove at Kieran Westwood's near post, beating Carlos Cuellar with ease before providing a low pass in front of goal for Suarez to tap home.
We're used to Sunderland capitulating whenever they go behind, but this time the hosts showed plenty of spirit. Lee Cattermole, back in favour under interim manager Kevin Ball, could easily have gotten them back in the game when he played right back Craig Gardner through on goal with a beautiful diagonal, but Mignolet was able to beat his old teammate's shot away. He'd have been able to do nothing about Adam Johnson's curler seconds later, but fortunately for Liverpool the shot flashed over the bar rather than dropping into the top corner.
And within minutes of halftime, Sunderland had a goal back. Ki Sung-Yeung had been struggling to find the target with his long-range shots, but this time, after a long spell of Black Cats possession, he managed to fire through Skrtel's legs, forcing Mignolet to parry in front of goal. Giaccherini was on hand to follow up, flicking over the stricken goalkeeper to make it 2-1.
Mignolet was called into action again shortly thereafter as Liverpool's defence went into full-on meltdown mode. Gardner found himself free on the edge of the box, and his angled effort was just about clawed behind for a corner. But although Sunderland were doing plenty of attacking, the visitors were showing their teeth too, seeking the goal that would put the match beyond doubt.
Westwood saved well from the increasingly influential Victor Moses before the winger played in an inviting cross which no Liverpool player managed to latch on to (and it nearly spun into the corner of the net of its own accord). Suarez came close but couldn't quite bring down Enrique's delivery, smashing just wide moments later. Even Toure was getting in on the act -- his fantastic effort from 20 yards was met with a fantastic flying save.
By this point, the game could have gone either way, but the onus was on Sunderland to make something happen. They'd lost a bit of their momentum, however, and it was Liverpool who killed things off, with Sturridge squaring to Suarez on the counterattack to finish things up.
Sunderland starting lineup (4-3-3): Kieran Westwood; Jack Colback, John O'Shea, Carlos Cuellar, Craig Gardner; Ki Sung-Yeung, Lee Cattermole (Ondrej Celustka 74'), Sebastian Larsson (Charalampos Mavrias 85'); Emanuele Giaccherini, Jazy Altidore, Adam Johnson.
Goals: Giaccherini 52'.
Goals: Sturridge 28', Suarez 36' 89'.