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Gerrard benched as Liverpool fire blanks

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GERRARD-SUNDERLANDLIVERPOOL, December 6- Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers’s decision to rest captain Steven Gerrard backfired as his side were held to a disappointing 0-0 draw by Sunderland in the Premier League on Saturday.

Gerrard was brought on after 67 minutes at Anfield as Rodgers desperately sought what would have been a third league victory in eight days.

But the former England captain could not inspire his team to victory, leaving Liverpool at a low ebb ahead of Tuesday’s must-win Champions League group game at home to Swiss side Basel.

The draw left Liverpool four points below the Champions League places and 15 points shy of leaders Chelsea.

There was a Rickie Lambert header from an Adam Lallana cross mid-way through the first half that cleared the crossbar by some distance.

Philippe Coutinho made room for himself with some quick footwork on the edge of the box, but his low shot presented visiting goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon with no problems.

Those half-chances aside, Liverpool enjoyed ample possession outside the Sunderland penalty area without ever unleashing the decisive pass that could have unlocked the route to goal.

It was the same sort of well-drilled and highly organised defensive display that had earned the north-east club a deserved goalless draw with leaders Chelsea a week earlier.

Gus Poyet’s players were content to try and hurt Liverpool on the break and in fact procured the best chance of the first half, with the unmarked Wes Brown heading over from a Sebastian Larsson corner.

There were also a couple of half-hearted penalty appeals for Sunderland, first after Martin Skrtel clashed with Adam Johnson and then when Connor Wickham claimed he had been tripped by Lucas.

On both occasions, it appeared that referee Neil Swarbrick had been correct to dismiss the visitors’ appeals.

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Buoyed by Brown’s attempt, Sunderland started the second period in slightly more adventurous mode.

Jordi Gomez surged from midfield to the edge of the area, from where his on-target shot deflected just wide off Skrtel.

The same Liverpool defender was soon required to concede another corner, after a dangerous header from John O’Shea flew into the six-yard box.

From that set-piece, Wickham’s left-foot volley flashed menacingly across the face of the home goal.

Wickham, operating wide on the left, was becoming an increasing threat and found himself in another promising situation after 55 minutes, with his shot deflecting behind off a Liverpool defender once more.

With the home crowd growing increasingly frustrated, Jordan Henderson had the chance to lift the tension, but his free-kick landed on the roof of the goal.

Moments later, Lucas made a 20-yard attempt that was easily fielded by Pantilimon.

Rodgers threw on Gerrard and the Liverpool captain immediately won a free-kick on the left wing that he took himself. Pantilimon dropped the ball but was granted a reprieve, with Swarbrick ruling he had been fouled.

The chances continued to come for the home side, with Liam Bridcutt required to throw his body in the path of a Coutinho shot.

An electrifying run by Raheem Sterling, covering half the length of the field, culminated in another sight of goal for Coutinho, whose crisp shot was well held by the goalkeeper.

Sunderland substitute Will Buckley livened up proceedings for the visitors, but with the home side continuing to press, it required a huge defensive effort from Poyet’s players to secure a hard-earned point.

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