Sunderland AFC 1 Liverpool FC 3: Stuart Rayner's big match verdict

As job interviews go, it was not one which screamed for Kevin Ball to be given the Sunderland manager's job permanently

Sunderland v Liverpool at the Stadium of Light
Sunderland v Liverpool at the Stadium of Light

As job interviews go, it was not one which screamed for Kevin Ball to be given the Sunderland manager’s job permanently, but he must hope there was enough to ensure he is called back for a third interview at home to Manchester United on Saturday.

Ellis Short, watching on from the director’s box, seems determined not to repeat the mistake he made with Paolo Di Canio and rush into an appointment.

Holding off for another seven days would ensure the Black Cats go into the Wear-Tyne derby with a new man in the helm.

When Ball was first put in caretaker charge in 2006 his mission was basically a forlorn one.

Yesterday his side put up a good effort of fighting a lost cause.

Ball’s side produced two spells of decent football without the cutting edge to capitalise.

Given how they defended, that was never going to be enough against a side of Liverpool’s quality.

There was, though, enough spirit to hopefully ensure Ball did not have to spit water in his own face in the dressing room afterwards. This team had given its best, but its best had not been anywhere near enough.

Ball is good at winning Wearside popularity contests, less so first-team matches. His record now stands as two wins and two draws in 12 matches, one of those victories against League One Peterborough United.

The first time he was asked to take over as caretaker Ball looked out of his depth but he has not hidden the fact he wants another crack it.

Now, as in 2006, he has been given a pretty weak hand.

He has been so unimpressed with the signings Roberto De Fanti made this summer only three made his starting line-up.

Ki Sung-Yeung looked lively in the first half but Emanuele Giaccherini was unable even to take a throw-in properly.

Mind you, when he scored the 52nd-minute goal which briefly reignited the contest, few were complaining about that.

Not that Ball necessarily made the best use of the players bequeathed to him.

Giaccherini’s tap-in apart, Sebastian Larsson’s free-kick on to the crossbar at 0-0 was Sunderland’s best effort but the Swede will never be a No.10.

To his left, Giaccherini was a far better candidate. Soon Larsson was back in central midfield anyway as Ball’s 4-2-3-1 shape became a 4-4-1-1 damage-limitation operation.

Jettisoning Carlos Cuellar looked like one of Di Canio’s better decisions as he floundered in front of Daniel Sturridge before the in-form striker presented Luis Suarez with the first of two tap-ins.

Ball at least had Lee Cattermole, exiled by Paolo Di Canio. The Teessider was as energetic as ever, and threw in two artful passes too.

His last act was to throw himself in front of a Suarez shot. Once the Uruguayan hit the rebound out, Cattermole was replaced, out of puff. He is short of match practice but maybe he was feeling the effects of a night on the sauce. Ketchup does terrible things for your fitness, apparently.

Liverpool started better, pantomime villain Suarez to the fore. It was his first Premier League game since late April – almost as long ago as Sunderland’s last victory in the league. He shrugged off Larsson in the fourth minute, but shot wide.

When Cattermole unwisely put his hands on Sturridge’s back in the D, the striker needed no more invitation to take a tumble.

Martin Skrtel put the ball in the net when Keiren Westwood parried Steven Gerrard’s free-kick to him, but the instant glance at the linesman was a tell-tale sign. He was offside.

Sunderland started to come into the game without – Larsson’s free-kick apart – looking like scoring, despite one of Simon Mignolet’s least convincing performances at the Stadium of Light for some time.

Three times in quick successions shots struck Liverpool defenders, Ki twice dragged wide. Two chances came from Liverpool over-playing, not anything Brendan Rogers would be too critical of.

When former Newcastle United defender Jose Enrique played the ball across his own back four Kolo Toure stepped across Jozy Altidore’s path.

If Sunderland were not going to take their chances, Liverpool had two strikers who would.

Again Sturridge’s instinct was to look to the linesman when he put the ball into the net.

Rather than quibbling about handball – it seemed to hit the stooping striker’s shoulder – Sunderland should have been more concerned about why the Premier League’s most in-form forward was unmarked. Larsson, on the post, sliced the ball in.

Unmolested by Cuellar, Sturridge provided the last pass for Liverpool’s second but Steven Gerrard’s pass from almost left-back to release him down the right deserved most credit.

Sunderland continued to attack. Di Canio always wanted his right-backs to provide thrust, it was just he saw Ondrej Celustka, rather than Craig Gardner, as his right-back. When Gardner burst on to Cattermole’s pass, Mignolet saved with his legs.

Whether encouraged by their strong finish to the half or inspired by a Churchillian speech from Ball, Sunderland restarted determinedly.

Johnson flashed a shot wide and Ki’s latest pot-shot forced a save. Mignolet could only palm it to Giaccherini, who halved the deficit.

Mignolet was soon touching Gardner’s shot around the post.

Liverpool walked through the storm. Westwood tipped over when Victor Moses made the most of a terrible free-kick routine, and from Toure after he rampaged forward.

A minute after the first of those efforts Moses had another go and, while it went wide as expected, it did not land at Toure’s feet as the goalkeeper must have feared.

It was clear if a fourth goal was coming, it would go to the team in the dodgy away strip. Sunderland were blitzkrieged on the counter-attack.

Mignolet fed Suarez, who played a big crossfield pass to Sturridge down the inside-left channel. With Giaccherini doing his best Cuellar impression, Sturridge again laid the ball on a plate for his strike partner.

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