Premier League - Sunderland nick draw as Liverpool fade
Liverpool took the lead through a Luis Suarez header on 12 minutes after the Uruguayan striker missed an early penalty.
But the home side failed to press home their advantage, with debutant Sebastian Larsson equalising for the Black Cats with an acrobatic volley, before the match petered out into a bore draw.
It was hardly the ideal start to a Liverpool campaign laden with expectation after an outlay of around £55 million over the summer, with debutants Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson starting well but going missing in the second half, although Stewart Downing and Jose Enrique impressed.
Seven minutes in, Suarez had a great chance to open his account for the season when he was felled by Kieran Richardson as he rounded Simon Mignolet, although the Liverpool number seven appeared to make the most of contact.
The Sunderland left-back was spared a red card - Mignolet had forced Suarez wide enough that Phil Dowd decided it was no longer a clear route to goal - and he breathed a further sigh of relief as the Uruguayan blasted his spot-kick over.
Suarez compensated for the boo-boo five minutes later as he met a vicious, flat free-kick from Adam with a clever run and flicked header that flew in off the wrong-footed Mignolet.
Strike partner Andy Carroll was impressive with his slick, strong hold-up play although he put several headers wide. He also had one disallowed, controlling on his chest and thrashing the finish home only to be penalised for a shove on Anton Ferdinand.
Downing, almost scored a wonder-goal as he cut inside from the right wing, beat three men and zipped a rising drive off the crossbar: Sunderland, meanwhile, had half-chances as Asamoah Gyan lazily curled one wide and Pepe Reina flapped at a Larsson cross but was unpunished as it bounced wide.
The second half started cagily, with Liverpool unusually sluggish and Suarez unable to really get on the ball.
Still, Sunderland were not asking too many questions so their leveller was something of a surprise: it was a nice surprise though as Larsson met Ahmed Elmohamady’s excellent far-post cross with a frankly incredible volley that flew across Reina into the right-hand side of goal.
Liverpool were fading badly, particularly Suarez and Adam, as the remainder of the second half toiled its way to completion.
Aside from a Carroll header and a sliding mis-hit finish from Dan Agger - both saved by Mignolet and both from Downing corners - Liverpool barely created anything, thanks in part to the excellent marshalling of Sunderland’s defence by debutant Brown.
Indeed the second half was as uninteresting as anything under Roy Hodgson’s ill-fated spell as manager, with the aerial ball overused and only Downing really looking like a footballer of any note.
Carroll - whose headed finishing was poor all afternoon - nodded one wide while unmarked, and there was a late half-chance for Lee Cattermole to win it as he blasted over in injury time.
But it was a turgid end to a match as Liverpool’s season started with a damp squib while Sunderland looked far improved to the team that mildly imploded following the sale of Darren Bent.