Fletcher strikes again, but Sunderland denied by Liverpool

Steven Fletcher celebrates with Craig Gardner

Steven Fletcher celebrates with Craig Gardner

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Sunderland 1 Liverpool 1

SUNDERLAND made it three draws in three Premier League outings after being pegged back by Liverpool.

Steven Fletcher’s third goal in two top flight outings handed the Black Cats a half-time lead after the Scottish frontman tapped home Craig Gardner’s pull-back.

But Liverpool were the better side after the break and after Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard had both hit the woodwork, Luis Suarez smashed home a leveller with 20 minutes to go.

Sunderland were without £10million summer signing Adam Johnson after the winger failed a fitness on his thigh injury to miss out on a home debut.

On-loan Spurs Danny Rose took his place to make his Sunderland debut at left-back, with Jack Colback moving into central midfield and Seb Larsson switching to the right flank.

Luis Suarez and Jonjo Shelvey both sent shots a couple of yards wide of the post for Liverpool early on as Sunderland made a sloppy start to proceedings.

Carlos Cuellar almost gifted the visitors the lead in the 18th minute when he didn’t get enough on his header back to Simon Mignolet and Fabio Borini pounced.

Mignolet raced off his line to close down the Italian though, who could only fire straight at the Belgian from point-blank range.

Two minutes later, Seb Larsson sent a free-kick from the left beyond the reach of a crowded box and inches wide of the far post.

Borrini again tested Mignolet in the 25th minute when he met Suarez’s knock-down with a cushioned half-volley towards the bottom right corner which the Sunderland keeper had to smartly parry.

But against the run of play, it was Sunderland who took the lead four minutes later after Craig Gardner charged down the right, bundled the ball past the challenges of Suarez and Glen Johnson and fired a cross across the face which was tapped into the empty net by Steven Fletcher from six yards out.

Sunderland were forced into a half-time change when Titus Bramble replaced the injured Cuellar.

Only the woodwork denied Liverpool a leveller six yards into the second half after Johnson made a yard on his right-foot to the left of goal, 20 yards out, and curled an inswinging shot towards the far corner which crashed off the bar.

Sunderland had another let-off via the woodwork on the hour mark when Sterling’s cross from the right was parried out by Mignolet as far as Shelvey.

The former Charlton man played it square to Gerrard who cushioned a shot from 18 yards that rolled wide via the outside of the post.

Mignolet had to be sharp again in the 65th minute when Gerrard’s shot deflected off Stephane Sessegnon, looped into the air and and was headed goalwards from Skrtel, six yards out, only for the Sunderland stopper to pluck the ball out the air, low to his left.

Liverpool’s pressure finally told six minutes later when Sterling went too easily past the fatigued Rose on the right-hand touchline.

Sterling’s low cross was fired at goal by Suarez, blocked by Bramble, but then rolled back into the path of the Urguayan who smashed it home.

Liverpool dominated after the leveller – Shelvey’s shot parried by Mignolet after he was fed by Suarez on the edge of the area.

SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Gardner, O’Shea, Cuellar (Bramble 46), Rose (Campbell 72), Larsson, Colback, Cattermole, McClean, Sessegnon, Fletcher (Saha 86). Subs not used: Kilgallon, Ji, Meyler, Westwood, Booked: Larsson (81)

LIVERPOOL: Reina, Kelly, Agger, Skrtel, Johnson, Allen, Gerrard, Shelvey, Sterling, Suarez, Borini (Downing 64). Subs not used: Jones, Enrique, Sahin, Assaidi, Henderson, Carragher. Booked: Suarez (37), Skrtel (63)

Ref: Martin Atkinson (South Yorkshire)

Attendance: 41,997