ANDY Carroll was all smiles as he shared a joke with Kenny Dalglish during his trot to the Liverpool bench.
But the taunts of the Stadium of Light crowd questioning whether he was worth the £35million Liverpool paid to prise him away from Tyneside must still have touched a nerve with the Gateshead-born striker.
Such a price tag is a difficult burden to live with and Carroll was not the marauding monster who Sunderland utterly failed to handle five months ago at St James’s Park.
Admittedly, the 21-year-old is well short of match fitness after three months on the sidelines with a thigh injury and two Europa League outings in dismal team displays are not going to prepare him for the upturn of quality in the Premier League.
But there was redemption yesterday for Sunderland’s defenders, who succumbed far too easily the last time they faced Carroll.
Yes, Carroll caused inevitable problems from corners – knocking down an early chance for Dirk Kuyt and then seeing a second-half header cleared off the line by Lee Cattermole after peeling into space at the far post.
But, other than that, there was precious little to justify such a lofty fee.
He arguably spent more time on his backside than offering a physical presence up front.
Sunderland regularly intercepted balls into his feet, knocked him off balance when dropping deep to link the play or challenged him sufficiently in the air to prevent clean flick-ons.
The pressure of either Titus Bramble or John Mensah breathing down his neck got to Carroll and the needless give-aways only increased.
Carroll thrived at Newcastle because the Magpies played to his strengths.
The balls from deep were played early and with pace onto his chest while there was quality delivery from the right in the shape of Joey Barton.
Liverpool don’t play that way and some decent widemen need to be top of Dalglish’s shopping list come the summer.
Otherwise his slightly cheaper strike partner, Luis Suarez, will continue to get frustrated with Carroll’s lack of finesse, as he was yesterday.
Sunderland didn’t deal too badly with Suarez either.
His first-half shot across Simon Mignolet, which the Belgian pawed away slightly, came when Sunderland were still reeling from the efforts of referee Kevin Friend and bumbling assistant Billy Smallwood.
His goal came after he ghosted past an injured Phil Bardsley and it was another questionable decision from Friend to hand John Mensah a straight red card for minimal contact with his World Cup nemesis.
The problems for Sunderland were not at the back or their frustration with Friend – it was the absence of any cutting edge to their attack.
Pepe Reina couldn’t have wished for an easier afternoon with a routine 86th-minute drive from Cattermole the sum total of his contribution.
Sunderland haven’t scored in 350 minutes now and it showed yesterday.
For all the pretty stuff in the middle of the park, Sunderland were powder puff when it came to the final third.
Far too many balls forward were misplaced, particularly in the second half, and considering Liverpool had Jamie Carragher and Glen Johnson out of position at right and left-back respectively, they were hardly tested.
Liverpool’s well-drilled back four sat dreadfully deep, barely venturing beyond the edge of the area, and challenged Sunderland to break them down.
Sunderland’s attempts to thread the eye of the needle and play through them were doomed and they never had the Liverpool back four scrambling by getting in behind.
Carroll never did anything to suggest he is Britain’s most expensive player.
But he still proved to be more of a threat than Sunderland’s lame attack.