Gary Rowell: Liverpool draw a great start for Sunderland

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WHAT a great way for Sunderland to start the season!

When the fixture list first came out in the summer, I appreciated how daunting a game the opening day trip to Anfield was.

And to go there in front of a really fired-up home crowd and deservedly get a point was a tremendous effort which is bound to stand the club in good stead going into the derby this weekend.

Any trip to Liverpool is difficult but perhaps more so this season than usual after their £50m summer spending and the hyper-expectations of their fans as a consequence.

It meant we went into the game as massive underdogs and I expect even Sunderland fans had probably steeled themselves for a likely defeat.

Liverpool got off to the sort of start that suggested they were going to justify all that hype and they threatened to give Sunderland a bit of going over in the early stages but we successfully hung on and for me, undoubtedly the key to the game was going in at half-time only 1-0 down.

The game was an object lesson on the importance of killing teams off when you have the chance because when one team is so much on top but only gets a goal ahead before half-time, the other team can get a real boost from it.

We could easily have been two or three goals down and down to 10 men at the half-way point but the scoreline remained close at the break.

And in the dressing room, Sunderland would have been saying to themselves ‘look, we’re still in this game’, while Liverpool would be thinking ‘we’ve had a great first-half but we’ve still got a real job on our hands here’.

Those two mentalities showed early in the second-half as Sunderland dug in and raised their game while Liverpool struggled to maintain their first-half form and that pattern increased ten-fold once Sunderland equalised.

You could see the anxiety in Liverpool’s play and I remember thinking after Seb Larsson scored that if anyone was going to win this game now, it wouldn’t be Liverpool.

One of the things that pleased me most about the game was that in the last 20 minutes, Sunderland looked the fitter side.

Our energy levels were much better than theirs and that allowed us to be the dominant team. It was important because 1-1 at Liverpool going into the closing stages of the game you’re expecting a battering from the home side as they push for the win.

But it never materialised on Saturday, largely because Sunderland looked fitter and sharper all over the park and that’s something that bodes well for the upcoming fixtures.

READ the full column in Tuesday’s Echo