LONDON, January 10 -Lazar Markovic claimed his first Premier League goal as Liverpool continued their recent upturn in results with a deserved 1-0 win at struggling Sunderland on Saturday.
The £20 million close-season signing from Benfica scored the only goal in the ninth minute to consolidate Brendan Rodgers’s side in eighth place in the table.
Liverpool have lost just once in their last 13 games, renewing hope of a sustained challenge for a top-four finish in May and with it a return to the Champions League.
However, Liverpool are still 10 points behind their tally from this time last year, when they came close to winning the title before being edged out by Manchester City.
Any hope Sunderland had of mounting a comeback disappeared four minutes into the second half when midfielder Liam Bridcutt saw red after being shown a second yellow card for fouling Emre Can.
The closest they came to troubling ex-Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet came just after Bridcutt’s departure, when Adam Johnson’s long-range effort struck the bar.
Otherwise, the hosts could have no complaints after a defeat that left them with just one win from their last 11 league games, keeping them in danger near the foot of the table.
Sunderland coach Gus Poyet had urged home supporters to come to the Stadium of Light to see Steven Gerrard’s final Premier League appearance in the north-east before his move to Major League Soccer side the LA Galaxy.
Poyet claimed that seeing the Liverpool captain in action was worth the admission fee alone, and despite being withdrawn at half-time after sustaining a knock, Gerrard did not disappoint, playing a part in the goal.
– Markovic scissors kick –
Rodgers’s side had a strong early penalty claim turned down when Markovic was upended in the area by Wes Brown, but they did not have to wait long before making their early dominance tell.
Liverpool were allowed time and space to play the ball out from the back, with Markovic advancing down the visitors’ right flank and finding Gerrard, whose mis-control allowed the ball to reach Fabio Borini.
Referee Craig Pawson played a good advantage as Borini was felled in the area, with Markovic bundling home the winner from 12 yards for his second goal of the season in all competitions.
The Serbian came close to adding a spectacular second on the half-hour as Brown’s clearance under pressure from Borini fell to him on the edge of the area.
The 20-year-old quickly adapted his body position to fire in an acrobatic scissors kick that beat Costel Pantilimon, only to crash back off the crossbar, hit the Romanian goalkeeper and bounce to safety.
Gerrard could have twice added to the lead before the break; first when he fired into the side-netting, and then when he shot tamely at Pantilimon from 15 yards, with Borini the provider on both occasions.
Former Sunderland loanee Borini conjured up an even more glaring miss as half-time approached, hitting the side of the net from a narrow angle after sprinting onto Can’s sublime 40-yard through ball and rounding Pantilimon.
Sunderland adapted well with 10 men, although Philippe Coutinho, with a shot from the edge of the area, and substitute Mario Balotelli, with a close-range effort from a narrow angle, both went close for Liverpool.