Liverpool 1 Sunderland 1
Striker Luis Suarez gave Liverpool the perfect start to their season but they wasted the opportunity to press home their advantage as they were pegged back by Sunderland.
With £49m worth of new signings on the pitch there was a feeling of optimism around Anfield and it was therefore fitting Suarez, the January acquisition who ignited the second half of last season, should score the first goal of the new Barclays Premier League campaign.
Having missed a fifth-minute penalty the Uruguay striker made amends by heading in a free-kick from Charlie Adam one of three summer signings in the starting line-up.
Suarez’s fellow January arrival Andy Carroll had a goal disallowed and another July new boy Stewart Downing rattled the crossbar with a long-range shot as Sunderland struggled to keep themselves afloat in the opening half-hour.
But Liverpool’s flowing, passing football evaporated well before the break and they failed to rediscover it as the Black Cats sensed their chance and seized it, securing a point thanks to Sebastian Larsson’s brilliant equaliser 12 minutes into the second half.
It somewhat pricked the pre-season bubble which had begun to develop at the club after owners Fenway Sports Group spent more than £50million in bolstering the squad.
Of those acquisitions, Adam impressed, Jordan Henderson began brightly before fading, Jose Enrique was solid at left-back while Downing was quietly effective having been employed in a number of roles.
But it was former Ajax forward Suarez who had honour of scoring the first goal of the season in the Barclays Premier League.
The star of the Copa America, which his nation won, only returned to training on Monday but showed no ill-effects of having a short lay-off.
His only blemish was that missed spot-kick but after eventually opening his account his goal is likely to be the first of many.
Recent fixtures between these two teams have not been without controversy, with Darren Bent’s beachball-assisted strike two years ago and last season a mistaken backpass which led to Dirk Kuyt scoring at Anfield and a dubious penalty for Liverpool’s first at the Stadium of Light.
The 2012 edition was no different as after just five minutes the hosts were awarded a penalty when Suarez charged down Kieran Richardson’s clearance, with a slight suspicion of an arm, on the halfway line only to go down in the area under the challenge of Richardson after rounding Simon Mignolet.
Referee Phil Dowd showed the left-back a yellow card but Suarez blazed the penalty over.
But the £22.8million striker was not to be denied and when Adam whipped in a low, inswinging free-kick from the right in the 12th minute he nipped in at the near post to head in off the legs of Mignolet.
Carroll thought he had opened his account for the season when he chested down Adam’s left-wing cross before smashing home but the flag had already gone up for the slightest of touches on Anton Ferdinand.
Adam had Mignolet clutching his 35-yard shot at the second attempt while Downing was even closer, crashing a shot off the crossbar after a driving run down the inside-right channel from five yards inside his own half.
But somehow, from a position of dominance, Liverpool appeared to lose their way and the interval certainly put paid to their dwindling momentum.
Sunderland seized their opportunity to gain a foothold in the game and should have equalised in the 53rd minute when John Flanagan’s mistake at right-back allowed Sebastian Larsson, one of Sunderland’s new signings, to get forward and cross but Asamoah Gyan headed straight at Jose Reina from close range.
If that was a warning to Kenny Dalglish’s side they did not heed it as just four minutes later they conceded an equaliser.
Ahmed Elmohamady hung up a deep cross to the far post and Larsson found himself in enough space to superbly volley back across goal and past Reina
From that point it appeared Sunderland were the most likely winners.
Liverpool regained more control late on as they pushed for a winner but with Suarez having been replaced it was left to Carroll to lead the line.
The £35million club-record signing huffed and puffed a lot but could fashion only half-chances as his side laboured.
It is, of course, early days but these are the sort of matches Dalglish knows his side have to win this season if they are to haul themselves back into the top four.