TWELVE months ago Sunderland started the new year with a result that was about as good as it gets.
If that particular win over Manchester City will be remembered for all the right reasons, this trip to Anfield in early 2013 is one to forget.
Sunderland fans were subjected to a sorry showing and left wishing they had the attacking prowess of Liverpool's Luis Suarez to watch every week.
After the morale-boosting Boxing Day victory over champions Manchester City, the Black Cats have ended the festive season with back-to-back defeats following a night to forget in Liverpool.
Sunderland have not had the best of times at Anfield over the years – it will be 30 years in October since they last won in front of the Kop – and this latest trip was not worth remembering either.
Suarez, displaying all the quality that has had many already tip him as a footballer of the year contender, was at his best against a Sunderland defence pretty much at its worst.
The Uruguay international sensationally laid on the first of the night for Raheem Sterling and added a second himself when he left Carlos Cuellar sprawled in a heap.
After half-time Suarez, despite Martin O’Neill’s attempts to salvage something, burst through unattended to slot in his 15th Premier League goal this season.
O’Neill has plenty to ponder in this month’s transfer window.
There is a desperate need to have pace, but quite where the priority is up for discussion.
Defensively there is a need for reinforcements, but the squad could do with a lift in midfield and up front before the Premier League returns.
It was always going to be a night when the spotlight would be on the heart of the Sunderland defence. In the absence of John O’Shea, who is sidelined again with hamstring trouble, Matt Kilgallon was preferred to Titus Bramble alongside Cuellar.
With Steven Fletcher asked to play on his own up front, the centre-back pairing certainly had enough navy and green shirts back to help out.
Or they should have done.
The danger signs had already been there when Sunderland failed to stop Liverpool switching play twice before creating an opening for themselves; even if the outcome was a high drive from Andre Wisdom when Steven Gerrard laid it off.
Sunderland had their moments going early on, particularly a Kilgallon back post volley from Adam Johnson’s cross ten minutes before halftime, but Liverpool were already clear by then.
Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet had been forced down to thwart a dangerous Stewart Downing free-kick before the breakthrough arrived in the 19th minute.
When Gerrard’s header bounced off the chest of Suarez on halfway there was no sign of what was to come.
The South American’s speed got him to the ball ahead of Sunderland and he hooked a pass behind the defence.
Kilgallon had been sucked in, full-back Danny Rose out of position, and Sterling was left with Mignolet to beat – and he did so with a deft lob.
After McClean had somehow missed a fantastic chance to level moments later after a neat wall-pass with Fletcher, Liverpool added the crucial second in the 26th minute.
This time Sterling turned provider, with his presence somehow beating Kilgallon in the air and the ball ran kindly for Suarez. The former Ajax man stayed on his feet when he could have won a foul for a shove from Cuellar, darted towards goal and tucked a finish inside Mignolet’s near post.
It was already job done for Liverpool, although Sunderland went in to half-time cursing two fantastic chances by James McClean and Kilgallon.
Sunderland had not been outclassed, but the difference was in the final third. Without a player possessing Suarez’s quality, O’Neill had conjure up a way in the second half of posing more of a threat.
The Northern Irishman, completely changed the way his team set up for the second half. In replacing Stephane Sessegnon with Fraizer Campbell, he switched to two strikers up front.
But in a bid to create more chances he called for Seb Larsson to move out on the right, switched McClean inside and asked Johnson to head to the left flank. Despite the changes, Sterling should have soon added to the lead.
Unlike his first half finish, however, he lacked the same composure and his chip over Mignolet was rolling wide when it was intercepted.
That third goal did arrive.
There was no sign of any of the defenders tracking Suarez’s run seven minutes after the break as he latched on to Gerrard’s long pass.
The Liverpool striker’s first touch was a chest control and his second was a side-footed underneath Mignolet when the travelling support must have started to fear more goals were to come.
Mignolet somehow tipped over a Gerrard volley from Downing’s cross which took a deflection off Johnson, then the Belgian denied Suarez a hat-trick when Joe Allen had picked him out.
This was a night to forget for Sunderland, hopefully the January transfer window won’t be.