Christian Benteke leaves Sunderland in relegation trouble

Sunderland 0 Liverpool 1: The final Premier League game of 2015 didn’t necessitate any hasty re-writing of the most memorable matches of the past 12 months.
Christian Benteke leaves Sunderland in relegation trouble

The new year is almost upon us, but it’s unlikely this contest will linger in the memory much after Big Ben has struck its dozen chimes to usher in 2016.

Neither of these clubs will look back with much relish on the past year, one which has seen Liverpool in transition or upheaval depending on your point of view, while Sunderland’s high point was to successfully accomplish their now annual fight against relegation.

Whether they can repeat the Houdini act again in May looks increasingly unlikely after a fifth successive defeat, courtesy of Christian Benteke’s seventh goal of the campaign, which arrived within 22 seconds of the restart.

It leaves Sam Allardyce’s side second-bottom, and seven points adrift of safety, contemplating the prospect of facing Burton Albion in the league next season.

For Jurgen Klopp’s men, back-to-back victories lifts them to seventh, level on points with Manchester United.

“Three points, really hard work. This time of the year is really intense, the players have to fight really hard with games every few days,” Klopp said.

“It is not the best we can do, we know this, but we had to fight. We knew about Sunderland’s situation. Everyone wants to end the year positively, we can and Sunderland can’t but we take these points, go home, sleep two times and onto the next game.

“Football is a lot of things. You have to develop your style but at the end you need results. It is a good day.”

It promises not to be much of a happy new year for the hosts, who at this rate will soon be playing for little more than pride, and the avoidance of the wooden spoon along with Aston Villa, who are the visitors here on Saturday in a contest that promises to offer little cheer on either side.

Allardyce said: “Some encouragement, seeing the lads battling and fighting for themselves and trying to get a win or at least a point but a bit of misfortune just after half-time took it away from us.

“I thought the lads tried their best and you can’t ask for more than that.

“We need to try and strengthen the squad. That work has already started but it is very, very difficult. Hopefully we will be successful sooner rather than later in January.”

When in prelude to his 11th game in charge Allardyce launched a withering attack on several un-named members of his squad he claimed had already burned their bridges in terms of having a long-term future at the club, it was widely assumed Vito Mannone was one of them.

Having returned to the side to concede four at Manchester City, taking to eight the number he had shipped in two appearances this season, the Italian appeared to be on borrowed time.

However, he made the most of an unexpected stay of execution with a string of stunning saves, Roberto Firminio the unwanted recipient of most of his outstanding moments.

The Brazilian, who has scored just once this season, could have entered the dressing room at half-time with a hat-trick to his name but for the busy Sunderland keeper.

After warming up by halting a ferocious 30-yard effort from Nathaniel Clyne, Mannone excelled in the 25th minute when applying the slightest of touches to deflect Firminio’s long-range shot onto the post after the Liverpool forward had been afforded the freedom of the Stadium of Light by some less than breakneck closing down by Patrick van Aanholt and Yann M’Vila.

To their credit, Sunderland at least halted their alarming propensity to concede early on to render them out of games by the interval, as the reintroduction following injury of Lee Cattermole added brawn, if not brain to a midfield which was shorn of Jack Rodwell before the half hour as the England international limped off with the latest ailment of an injury-ravaged 18 months on Wearside.

Mannone was again to the fore as he flung himself full length to his right to divert a Firminio header from Clyne’s inviting cross, and when Liverpool’s number 11 saw a purposeful snap shot from a quick corner routine blocked en route to goal, he perhaps sensed this wasn’t to be his night.

Sunderland posed a sporadic threat. Jermain Defoe, restored to the side as one of four changes, forced Simon Mignolet to tip a 20-yard shot over on the Belgian’s return to his former club, while Fabio Borini, whose two goals in the previous two matches constitutes a prolific run for the Black Cats’ class of 2015, fired narrowly wide on the turn after accepting a pass from van Aanholt, a full-back who remains much more suited to attacking than defending, which is somewhat missing the point.

The only goal arrived when Clyne’s ball into the area was helped on by Adam Lallana for Benteke to produce a composed close-range finish past Mannone. The Belgian clearly enjoys facing these opponents. It was his sixth goal against Sunderland, more than he has managed against any other top flight opposition.

The gaping hole in the hosts’ backline suggested the arrival of Lamine Kone can’t come too quickly. Sunderland have agreed a £5m (€6.8m) fee with Lorient for robust centre-back, who was last night on Wearside to undergo a medical and finalise personal terms on a move from the French side.

The Ivory Coast international hasn’t got a hard act to follow.

The sight of Sebastian Coates joining the list of their defensive walking wounded as the Uruguayan was substituted midway through the second-half compounded the growing sense of despondency among another impressive turn out of home support, who continue to provide the kind of weight of numbers the performances of their team simply fails to merit.

Liverpool ensured a fruitful trip for their hardy band of travelling fans, as victory was secured with few further alarms.

Substitute Jordon Ibe should have embellished the winning margin from close range, but the miss mattered little.

Sunderland had not so much run out of ideas, it was more that they didn’t have any in the first place.

SUNDERLAND (4-3-3):

Mannone 7; Jones 5, Coates 4 (Yedlin 72, 5), Brown 5, van Aanholt 5; M’Vila 4, Cattermole 5, Rodwell 4 (Watmore 29, 6); Johnson 4 (Lens 63, 5), Borini 4, Defoe 4.

LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1):

Mignolet 7; Clyne 7, Lovren 7, Sakho 7, Moreno 7; Henderson 6 (Lucas 61, 5), Can 7; Lallana 6, Firminio (Toure 90, 5) 7, Coutinho 6 (Ibe 83, 6); Benteke 7.

Referee:

Kevin Friend 7

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