Liverpool shrugged off their nightmares of the past week to keep alive their Premiership title hopes today at Roker Park. Goals by Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman secured the points although they were forced to play out a nervous last half hour after Paul Stewart had reduced the arrears.
Liverpool are now level on points with Arsenal and three behind Manchester United, although the situation could change by the weekend.
Liverpool face Everton on Wednesday and Alex Ferguson's United on Saturday morning in one of the most crucial games of the season.
Sunderland, meanwhile, are locked in the relegation battle after only one win in 12 games and face a crucial match at Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Liverpool, who lost to Coventry last Sunday in the Premiership and followed that with a 3-0 defeat by Paris St Germain in the Cup Winners' Cup on Thursday, were anxious not to make it three in a row.
Manager Roy Evans made two enforced changes with Jason McAteer being ruled out through suspension and Stan Collymore unavailable because of a hamstring injury. Rob Jones returned for his first Premiership match of the season while Bjorn Tore Kvarme was also recalled to the side after missing the Cup Winners' Cup game as he was ineligible for the competition.
Sunderland manager Peter Reid , who had seen his team drop into the bottom three following yesterday's results, stuck with the side that drew 1-1 at Newcastle.
Liverpool dictated the pace of the game, especially in the first half, and it needed a sliding tackle from goalkeeper Lionel Perez to rob Fowler after Jamie Redknapp had pushed the ball through.
The England international was not to be denied however and put Liverpool ahead after 33 minutes when Bjornebye swung the ball over, Wright headed back and Fowler nodded the ball home for his 30th of the season.
Liverpool should have extended their lead by the break with Perez saving McManaman's weak shot after Fowler had put him clear.
Then Jones fired a 20 yard effort wide of the post following a long ball from Mark Wright.
Sunderland were limited to a couple of half chances in the opening period, with Lee Howey heading wide after Richard Ord had nodded on a cross from Waddle.
Ball also went close, heading over the top following a corner from Waddle after keeper David James had lost his bearings.
Liverpool extended their lead two minutes after the break when Fowler latched onto Bjornebye's ball down the line. He got away from Howey and delivered a precise cross which McManaman side-footed home for his 10th goal of the season. Sunderland, however, showed their fighting spirit and pulled a goal back in the 53rd minute when Stewart got up well to power home a header against his old club following a Waddle corner.
Liverpool continued to look dangerous on the break and Perez stretched to fingertip away a 20 yard thunderbolt from Fowler and then robbed the England striker as he again broke clear. Sunderland had enough chances near the end to get the point that would have taken them out of the bottom three but Allan Johnston saw his shot flash by the post and then Howey missed a sitter in front of the posts after sub Niall Quinn had headed on Waddle's cross.
Sunderland: Perez, Hall, Kubicki (Quinn, 66), Howey, Ord, Johnston, Bracewell, Ball, Gray, Waddle, Stewart (Bridges, 77).
Subs not used: Woods, Agnew, Williams.
Liverpool line-up on LFChistory
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