Premier League - Liverpool fall to another defeat
Liverpool's league travails continued with another toothless performance as they lost 1-0 away at Sunderland to remain five points behind Newcastle in seventh place in the Premier League.
Kenny Dalglish's side have now won just one of their past eight games to see their hopes of a top-four finish dissipate, and will have renewed concerns about the potency of their attack after a third defeat in succession - the first time they have suffered such a poor run of form in the Premier League since October 2003 and the reign of Gerard Houllier.
Though the manner in which they conceded was unfortunate - Nicklas Bendtner tapping home after a shot from Fraizer Campbell had hit post, Jose Reina and then post again - Liverpool were lacklustre throughout against a robust and determined Sunderland side.
A victory for the home side saw them return to winning ways at home in the league following a loss to Arsenal at the Stadium of Light last time out, with Martin O'Neill's men moving to within two points of their opponents as a result.
Sunderland's last victory in this fixture witnessed an expert finish from a beach ball in October 2009 and in a dismal first half it appeared as though another wholly unexpected intervention would be required if either side were to score.
The hosts, deprived of Stephane Sessegnon and Lee Cattermole following their derby red cards last weekend, briefly threatened early on through the delivery of Sweden international Seb Larsson, but John O'Shea headed off target from one of his free kicks before Bendtner made a weak connection at a corner.
Liverpool, who handed Sebastian Coates a second league start as Jamie Carragher joined Steven Gerrard on the bench, had converted a league-low 8.6 per cent of their shots this season but Dalglish's side were struggling to even create at the Stadium of Light, let alone finish, with Luis Suarez their most visible threat as he made a number of typically dangerous dribbles into the box.
Strike partner Dirk Kuyt was no more than an intermittent danger, although the Dutchman did produce two headers: the first was gathered by Simon Mignolet and the second, though weak, was cleared off the line by James McClean.
That was the nearest either side came to enlivening an otherwise dreary first half, though Craig Gardner did scuttle a shot wide from 20 yards and Suarez tested Mignolet from a tight angle after driving into the box once again.
The game opened up a touch in the second half, with both McClean and Jack Colback threatening from midfield for Sunderland, and the home side edged in front in rather fortunate circumstances after 56 minutes.
Campbell did well to give Martin Skrtel the slip and drive a shot at goal from 20 yards before seeing his effort strike the base of the post, bounce off the head of Reina and against the post again before dropping into the path of Bendtner, who tucked the ball away.
It wasn't quite a close-range finish from a beach ball, but it was one of the more comical goals seen in the Premier League this season and Liverpool's Spanish goalkeeper would have been distinctly unamused to be on the receiving end again.
Sensing European football slip further from their grasp, the visitors looked for an immediate response and Suarez and Henderson exchanged passes before the former hooked his shot wide.
Charlie Adam, wasteful all afternoon, also fired wide before both he and Bellamy were removed on 69 minutes, with Gerrard and Andy Carroll on their place. The two soon combined as Carroll nodded down for his captain, who saw a meek effort saved by Mignolet.
Though Gerrard later saw a firm drive blocked superbly by David Vaughan, Liverpool continued to struggle to break down an organised home side and their frustration bubbled to the surface when Skrtel was guilty of a very poor challenge on Bendtner that forced the Dane off on a stretcher.
Liverpool's malaise was embodied when Stewart Downing, on as a substitute, fired high into the stands late on, and Sunderland held on for a win that pushed them up to eighth place in the Premier League, two points behind Dalglish's struggling side.