Referee Friend's decision caused controversy at the Stadium of Light
By Saj Chowdhury
A controversial penalty and a touch of brilliance from Luis Suarez handed Liverpool victory over Sunderland.
The Black Cats fell behind to a Dirk Kuyt first-half penalty after John Mensah had fouled Jay Spearing.
Referee Kevin Friend had awarded a free-kick before pointing to the spot after noting the linesman's decision.
Suarez doubled the lead after the break when he powered in from a tight angle before Sunderland's Mensah was shown red for pulling back Suarez.
That was the bitter icing of a tasteless cake for Sunderland, who also lost three players during the match because of injuries.
The Black Cats will not want to look at the table either. Having now lost five of their last six, Steve Bruce's men may now start looking over their shoulder rather than ahead.
Bruce fumes at 'bizarre' penalty
Meanwhile, Liverpool will still be hoping to steal the fifth European spot - although they will not be wholly pleased with their performance.
Sunderland were the livelier of the teams in the opening 20 minutes and first to the second ball against a side who still seemed to be suffering from the exertions and the disappointment of their midweek Europa League exit.
Despite their inability to conjure a threat in open play, Kenny Dalglish's side looked dangerous on set-pieces, especially with £35m giant striker Andy Carroll present up front.
Before the penalty, Liverpool had the best chances to take the lead - with the former Newcastle man involved in the first instance.
Raul Meireles pinged a corner to the back post which the tall forward nodded back into the six-yard area for Dirk Kuyt.
The Dutchman's swept shot goalwards was brilliantly saved point-blank by Simon Mignolet. From the following corner, Kuyt headed over the bar from 12 yards.
The Black Cats found space on the wings and managed to despatch the ball into the Liverpool area but more often than not the visiting defence coped easily with what was thrown at them.
The one moment they relied on a bit of luck was when Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck combined beautifully down the left before Welbeck swung in a delicious ball across the area, which Kieran Richardson only just failed to get a toe to.
Kuyt wants Dalglish role resolved
It was Richardson's last action of significance, as he came off the pitch to be replaced by Steed Malbranque. The home side had already made one enforced change when they replaced the injured Sulley Muntari with Lee Cattermole.
If Sunderland thought their run of bad luck was over, they were made to think again when Liverpool were awarded a penalty.
Mensah's poor chest control allowed Spearing to steal before he was brought down by the Sunderland player.
Referee Friend pointed to a free-kick before changing his mind, much to the fury of Sunderland boss Bruce on the touchline. But the decision had been made and Kuyt duly placed the ball to the left of Mignolet.
The Reds, buoyed by scoring, came close to adding another when Luis Suarez's low half volley had to be palmed away by the Sunderland keeper.
The Uruguayan had better luck after the break, although his strike owed more to audacity than fortune.
The midfielder was picked out by Kuyt's throw-in on the right and drove down the byline before cheekily thrashing the ball over the head of a crouching Mignolet from the tightest of angles.
Liverpool deserved win - Dalglish
Up to that point, Sunderland had only managed a couple of curling efforts from Malbranque and Jordan Henderson that failed to trouble keeper Pepe Reina.
They had also lost forward Welbeck because of another injury during the second period.
And with the eight minutes of the match remaining, Sunderland's miserable day was compounded with the sending off of Mensah for pulling back Suarez, who was through on goal.
81:43 Sent off John Mensah shown a red card for second bookable offence.
81:31 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Luis Suarez by John Mensah. Shot comes in from Luis Suarez from the free kick.
78:48 David Ngog concedes a free kick for a foul on Titus Bramble. Free kick taken by Simon Mignolet.
78:02 Headed effort from close range by David Ngog goes wide left of the goal.
76:29 Dirk Kuyt provided the assist for the goal.
76:29 GOAL - Luis Suarez:Sunderland 0 - 2 Liverpool Goal scored by Luis Suarez from close in to the top left corner of the goal. Sunderland 0-2 Liverpool.
74:29 Unfair challenge on Jordan Henderson by David Ngog results in a free kick. John Mensah restarts play with the free kick.
73:30 Corner taken by Raul Meireles from the left by-line to the near post, clearance made by Asamoah Gyan.
73:09 Jay Spearing takes a shot. Save made by Simon Mignolet.
72:11 David Ngog fouled by Titus Bramble, the ref awards a free kick. Martin Skrtel restarts play with the free kick.
71:27 The referee blows for offside against Raul Meireles. Simon Mignolet takes the free kick.
71:27 Substitution David Ngog replaces Andrew Carroll.
69:54 The ball is delivered by Asamoah Gyan.
69:45 Titus Bramble crosses the ball, Martin Skrtel makes a clearance.
69:30 Phillip Bardsley produces a cross, clearance by Glen Johnson.
67:50 Booking Caution for Luis Suarez.
67:19 Foul by Dirk Kuyt on Phillip Bardsley, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Titus Bramble.
67:19 Booking Booking for Dirk Kuyt for unsporting behaviour.
64:47 The ball is crossed by Andrew Carroll, Simon Mignolet makes a save.
64:39 Dirk Kuyt delivers the ball, save made by Simon Mignolet.
64:13 Outswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Jordan Henderson, save by Jose Reina.
63:52 Corner taken by Jordan Henderson from the right by-line to the near post, clearance made by Martin Skrtel.
62:39 Effort from outside the penalty box by Jordan Henderson goes wide right of the target.
59:50 Substitution (Sunderland) makes a substitution, with Ahmed Elmohamady coming on for Danny Welbeck.
59:19 Asamoah Gyan is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Jose Reina takes the indirect free kick.
59:10 The ball is sent over by Steed Malbranque, Martin Skrtel manages to make a clearance.
Correction - 58:16 Booking Leiva Lucas is shown a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.
58:16 Booking Jordan Henderson receives a caution for unsporting behaviour.
57:45 Raul Meireles sends in a cross.
56:22 Free kick awarded for a foul by Raul Meireles on Stephane Sessegnon. Stephane Sessegnon restarts play with the free kick.
55:35 Shot from just outside the box by Steed Malbranque misses to the right of the target.
55:28 Stephane Sessegnon sends in a cross, Martin Skrtel manages to make a clearance.
53:41 Foul by Titus Bramble on Andrew Carroll, free kick awarded. Luis Suarez shoots direct from the free kick.
53:41 Booking Caution for Titus Bramble.
51:10 Leiva Lucas fouled by Stephane Sessegnon, the ref awards a free kick. Jose Reina restarts play with the free kick.
50:19 Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Raul Meireles, Andrew Carroll takes a shot. Lee Cattermole manages to make a clearance.
47:42 Short corner taken by Jordan Henderson.
47:06 Stephane Sessegnon sends in a cross, clearance by Glen Johnson.
45:01 The second half begins.
45:00+3:08 The half-time whistle blows.
43:57 Lee Cattermole gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Luis Suarez. Martin Skrtel takes the direct free kick.
43:57 Booking The referee cautions Lee Cattermole for unsporting behaviour.
43:04 Centre by Jordan Henderson, Daniel Agger makes a clearance.
41:44 Corner from the right by-line taken by Raul Meireles, Header from deep inside the area by Andrew Carroll goes over the bar.
36:39 Luis Suarez takes a shot. Simon Mignolet makes a save.
36:06 The assistant referee flags for offside against Andrew Carroll. Indirect free kick taken by John Mensah.
34:15 Leiva Lucas gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Danny Welbeck. Jordan Henderson takes the direct free kick.
33:07 John Mensah concedes a Penalty for a foul on Jay Spearing.
33:07 GOAL - Dirk Kuyt:Sunderland 0 - 1 Liverpool Penalty scored by Dirk Kuyt. Sunderland 0-1 Liverpool.
32:05 Booking John Mensah is booked.
31:00 Jay Spearing provided the assist for the goal.
29:13 Steed Malbranque crosses the ball, save made by Jose Reina.
25:52 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Glen Johnson by Danny Welbeck. Jose Reina takes the free kick.
21:34 Substitution Kieran Richardson goes off and Steed Malbranque comes on.
20:43 Outswinging corner taken right-footed by Raul Meireles from the right by-line, Titus Bramble manages to make a clearance.
19:44 A cross is delivered by Anton Ferdinand, Daniel Agger makes a clearance.
18:21 Substitution Lee Cattermole comes on in place of Sulley Muntari.
16:31 Centre by Danny Welbeck.
15:41 Danny Welbeck concedes a free kick for a foul on Dirk Kuyt. Free kick taken by Martin Skrtel.
12:01 Sulley Muntari challenges Luis Suarez unfairly and gives away a free kick. The ball is sent over by Raul Meireles, Daniel
Agger has a headed effort at goal from close in which goes wide right of the goal.
11:16 The ball is delivered by Jay Spearing, Titus Bramble manages to make a clearance.
10:33 Centre by Anton Ferdinand, Jose Reina makes a save.
8:35 Phillip Bardsley delivers the ball, Jamie Carragher manages to make a clearance.
6:46 Phillip Bardsley sends in a cross, Daniel Agger manages to make a clearance.
6:15 The ball is delivered by Raul Meireles, clearance by Titus Bramble.
4:22 Outswinging corner taken by Raul Meireles from the right by-line, Dirk Kuyt has a header from close range and clears the crossbar.
3:50 Corner from the left by-line taken by Raul Meireles, Anton Ferdinand makes a clearance.
2:23 Asamoah Gyan fouled by Leiva Lucas, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick crossed by Sulley Muntari, clearance by Jay Spearing.
0:00 The ref blows the whistle to begin the match.
Live text and data provided by The Press Association.
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