LIVERPOOL 1-0 SUNDERLAND
Champions of Europe they may be, but Liverpool cannot be satisfied with this disjointed display against a 10-man Sunderland who more than embarrassed the Anfield men.
Xabi Alonso struck a sweet free kick to give Liverpool a first-half lead, but when they should have hit top gear and put the Barclays Premiership new boys in their place.
But it was the Wearsiders who showed all the fight, refusing to throw in the towel despite losing winger Andy Welsh to a debatable red card.
Reds boss Rafael Benitez took off Steven Gerrard on the hour, and the collective Anfield audience held its breath.
And once again Liverpool showed they can be rudderless without their leader - and they were relieved to hear the final whistle, which was followed by Sunderland boss Mick McCarthy making his views on two denied penalties known to referee Barry Knight.
Former Everton skipper Alan Stubbs made his debut for Sunderland after his summer move away from Merseyside, and he was at the heart of a defiant Sunderland defence which did not wilt under pressure.
Liverpool had Djibril Cisse in the starting line-up, but he played for long spells like a man who had other things on his mind.
The Frenchman, linked with a move away from Anfield despite Benitez's assurances that he is going nowhere, was a peripheral figure for long spells.
He lacked the industry of Gerrard, certainly. It was match number 11 already for the Anfield skipper, and he was in the fray from the off.
In the opening minutes the England midfielder picked up possession on the left, cut inside and unleashed a swerving 25-yard effort which cracked against the far post, hit Stubbs, and flew behind.
And it was Gerrard taking the corner, curling the ball in for Fernando Morientes to send a header flashing just wide from 10 yards.
Sunderland played primarily with Andy Gray on his own up front, and the Stadium of Light new boy managed one glancing header which went wide from 10 yards.
Gary Breen was booked for hauling back Fernando Morientes, before Bolo Zenden headed a long angled cross from Steve Finnan wide of a post against a Sunderland side who fought for everything and were capable of breaks from deep.
In the 23rd minute Carl Robinson was next into the book for a trip on Zenden, and when Xabi Alonso stepped up to take the free-kick 20 yards out, he curled a beauty into the top corner of the net, although goalkeeper Kelvin Davis got a hand on the effort.
Sunderland hit back when Welsh's fine through-ball sent Dean Whitehead racing into the box to fire a low cross into the six-yard area, where Finnan hurled himself in front of Liam Lawrence to scoop the ball from danger virtually under the bar.
Mohamed Sissoko was next into the book for a late foul on Tommy Miller, before Robinson's cross from the left bounced on top of the bar.
Within minutes Stubbs caught Xabi Alonso late and got another lecture from Knight before Luis Garcia replaced Gerrard, who played most of the 90 minutes for England in Copenhagen in midweek.
Liverpool then took off the erratic Zenden to allow John Arne Riise to take over on the left - but still there was no flow about their play and it took the Kop to remind them they were European champions.
Sunderland produced a double substitution, sending on Stephen Elliott and Chris Brown for Lawrence and Whitehead, sensing there was still something in the game for the Black Cats.
Then in the 73rd minutes Welsh was harshly dismissed for bowling over Luis Garcia as he ran into the action following a challenge on the Spaniard by Julio Arca.
Knight again consulted his assistant and produced an instant red card, to Welsh's amazement, with television replays showing very little contact and even less intent.
That was the point when Milan Baros was introduced for Cisse to a warm welcome from the Kop, who were maybe seeing the Czech for the last time.
Knight then turned down a couple of debatable Sunderland penalty appeals for challenges on Brown and Elliott which had McCarthy hopping up and down on the line in fury.
He sent on Chris Brown and Stephen Elliott to try to salvage a point, while Nosworthy was also booked late on for fouling Riise.
Liverpool Reina, Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Warnock, Sissoko, Alonso, Gerrard (Luis Garcia 55), Zenden (Riise 63), Morientes, Cisse (Baros 75).
Subs Not Used: Josemi, Carson.
Booked: Gerrard, Sissoko.
Sunderland Davis, Nosworthy, Breen, Stubbs, Arca, Lawrence (Elliott 66), Miller, Whitehead, Robinson (Woods 81), Welsh, Gray (Brown 66).
Subs Not Used: Caldwell, Joe Murphy.
Sent Off: Welsh (74).
Booked: Breen, Robinson, Nosworthy.
Ref: B Knight (Kent).
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|Match Report filed: 21 August 2005|