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Sunderland's new manager has a mountain to climb
Full-time: Sunderland 1 Liverpool 3
IT was an afternoon when Luis Suarez marked his return to the Premier League stage with a couple of goals and a celebratory message underneath his Liverpool shirt for his newborn son.
But Suarez was not the only one to be wearing a t-shirt – and those adorned by Sunderland's players in their pre-match warm-up carried an appropriate message for the position they find themselves in.
'Visit Tanzania' to experience Mount Kilimanjaro was the recommendation and, after a comfortable victory for Liverpool, it is clear that whoever succeeds Paolo Di Canio already has a mountain to climb.
It would be unfair on caretaker boss Kevin Ball to be judged on a defeat to a Liverpool team now up to second after successfully winning a fourth from their opening six league games.
Just as it would be wrong to be assessed on the outcome of this Saturday's visit of champions Manchester United to the Stadium of Light. Yet the reality is that this is a situation in desperate need of addressing.
Managerless Sunderland started brightly enough and looked more effective than they have under Di Canio this season.
But Liverpool's exceptional strikeforce of Daniel Sturridge and Suarez, though, ensured the Premier League table illustrates that Sunderland will stay in the bottom three even if they surprise Manchester United next weekend.
Just one point from the first 18 available, which could easily become 21 next Saturday despite United's problems, has Sunderland rooted to the foot of the division.
Sunderland are showing more positive signs under Ball. Even after falling two goals down to Liverpool, Sunderland possessed the fighting spirit to make a game of it and deserved Emanuele Giaccherini's second goal since Di Canio's exit.
But Suarez's second goal – again unveiling a top during his celebration to mark the birth of his son Benji – in the last minute completed the win and left Sunderland looking to the future.
Whoever the club's owner Ellis Short appoints in the coming days, he must try to build on the shoots of recovery emanating from inside the Sunderland dressing room since Ball took hold of the reins.
Luis Suarez goes to ground under a challenge from Craig Gardner
Before Sturridge had given Liverpool the lead just before the half hour mark, Sunderland had looked just as likely to score as the visitors.
While a Steven Gerrard free-kick ended up in the net when an offside Martin Skrtel turned in the rebound from Keiren Westwood's save, Seb Larsson's dead ball was just as effective.
Seb Larsson curled a brilliant effort off the top of former team-mate Simon Mignolet's crossbar only for Liverpool to clear. There were a few other shots off target, which increased the noise levels inside the Stadium of Light.
Ball's instructions to change Giaccherini and Larsson around caused problems for Liverpool and Lee Cattermole continued where he left off on his return against Peterborough, displaying the sort of commitment Sunderland will need this season to avoid relegation.
Sunderland, however, were unable to prevent themselves from falling two behind when gaps appeared at the other end to leave Westwood largely unprotected in his six-yard box.
Liverpool's first arrived from a Gerrard corner. There was an unintentional handball, but Sturridge was still given too much freedom to turn in the delivery in the 28th minute for his sixth of the season.
Emanuele Giaccherini (right) celebrates scoring with team-mate Sung-Yeung Ki
The second had a touch of quality. Gerrard, dictating the tempo of things in the middle, played a beautiful diagonal 40-yard pass which was brought down superbly by Sturridge.
Liverpool's striker took on Carlos Cuellar by the touchline before playing it in exactly the spot Suarez wanted it and the South American marked his return to Premier League action with a goal.
Had Mignolet not made a brilliant save with his feet to deny Craig Gardner on the stroke of half-time after a lovely chip from Cattermole, Sunderland's second half task would not have been as great.
Either way Sunderland did not have to wait too much longer for a degree of hope. When Mignolet badly handled Ki Sung-Yueng's hopeful shot from distance, Giaccherini pounced to close the gap.
In the remaining 38 minutes there were opportunities for Sunderland to level, most notably a Gardner drive that was destined for the bottom corner before Mignolet turned it behind for a corner.
Sunderland, though, often struggled to get up in support of lone striker Jozy Altidore and that played in to the hands of a Liverpool defence, which did look shaky occasionally.
At the other end Liverpool did not have such problems. After Westwood had made a flying save to deny Victor Moses, Sunderland's Irish goalkeeper also denied Suarez from close-range when he threatened to turn in another cross.
But when Sunderland pushed on for the equaliser in the closing stages, Liverpool made sure. After a corner dropped in to the arms of Mignolet, the quick-thinking of the Belgian sent Suarez away down the right.
His cross-field pass to Sturridge saw him turn Giaccherini one way and then the other inside the box before rolling to Suarez at the back post to convert his second of the afternoon.
Suarez's perfect return provided further evidence that Sunderland have got an uphill struggle on their hands this season whether Ball keeps the job or not.
Durham CCC captain and Sunderland fan Paul Collingwood and his team-mates show off the County Championship trophy during half-time
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