Liverpool claim fourth place
Liverpool claimed fourth place in the Premiership after comfortably beating bottom-of-the table Sunderland.
After a subdued start, Liverpool went ahead on 30 minutes when Luis Garcia collected Xabi Alonso's pass and slipped a shot past Ben Alnwick.
Alonso produced an even better pass for Liverpool's second goal, freeing Steven Gerrard who rounded Alnwick and then prodded the ball into the empty net.
The only black mark for Liverpool was Mohamed Sissoko's second-half red card.
Sissoko was dismissed on 65 minutes following two yellow cards for a couple of bad tackles, first on Liam Lawrence and then on Dean Whitehead.
However even when Liverpool went down to 10 men, Sunderland were so poor they were unable to force Jose Reina to make a save until the closing stages of the game.
Indeed Liverpool contrived to produce the better chances, notably John Arne Riise's remarkable run from inside his own half, an attack that saw the Norwegian strike the bar with a thunderous shot.
The win was Liverpool's fifth successive Premiership victory and leaves Rafael Benitez's side 12 points behind leaders Chelsea with a game in hand.
Those five wins have all been achieved without a goal being conceded, enabling Reina to equal David James' Premiership cleansheets record set in the 1996/1997 season.
Benitez had left striker Djibril Cisse out of his squad following the Frenchman's petulant reaction at being substituted at Manchester City on Saturday, pairing Peter Crouch and Fernando Morientes in Liverpool's attack.
Before Liverpool went ahead, Crouch was played in on goal by Gerrard, but Alnwick did well to clear the danger.
With Liverpool 2-0 ahead Crouch had the goal at his mercy again following a goalmouth scramble but he collapsed after Stephen Caldwell's tackle, claiming a penalty.
Crouch did better to head the ball into Riise's feet following a Gerrard free-kick, but the Norwegian's shot was well blocked by Justin Hoyte.
Sunderland's defeat was their seventh league loss and leaves them seven points behind fourth-from-bottom West Bromwich Albion.
The home side's play was riddled with mistakes and Chris Brown's horrendous miskick and another woeful shot from Whitehead summed up the poor quality of their attacking play.
It was Alonso who shook Liverpool out of their own early torpor, the Spaniard swivelling and hitting a half-volleyed pass from his own half.
The pass went between Gary Breen and Hoyte to free Garcia, who rolled his shot past Alnwick.
Another clever turn and pass, this time from Garcia, provided space for Gerrard, whose shot clipped the post as Liverpool tried to press home their advantage.
Alonso having explored the space on the right of the Sunderland defence for the first goal, produced a pass to embarrass Caldwell and Danny Collins on the other flank.
The Spanish international midfielder's pass left Collins chasing Gerrard's shadow and the Liverpool captain finished in style, skipping his way past Alnwick, before slipping the ball into the net.
Alonso capped a fine performance with an outrageous attempt to score with a long-range free-kick after Sissoko's dismissal.
Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy:
"We've worked hard and tried to play and I've no qualms about our play. It was a bit of an unfair fight given the quality of their team.
"What impressed about Liverpool was that despite their quality they work extremely hard and that was highlighted by both Steven Gerrard and Luis Garcia.
"What annoys me is we should have got points against Villa and Birmingham."
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez:
"The team is working really hard, we are now scoring goals and we've got another a clean sheet.
"The team has a clear idea of what we have to do in each game.
"It's a pity about Mohamed Sissoko. I told him not to go to ground."
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