LIVERPOOL (AFP) - Liverpool got the New Year off to the best of possible starts on Wednesday by defeating Sunderland 3-0 at Anfield to move up to eighth place in the Premier League.
First-half goals from Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez put Brendan Rodgers' men firmly in the driving seat and Suarez added a third in the second half to seal a comfortable win.
For Sunderland it was a second straight defeat and it saw the Black Cats stay just four points above the drop zone.
Liverpool coach Rodgers was back in the dug-out after missing the QPR game on Sunday due to illness and he brought in Andre Wisdom at left-back in place of the injured Jose Enrique, with Lucas Leiva taking over from Joe Allen in midfield.
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill, meanwhile, made one change to the side that lost to Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend, with the injured John O'Shea replaced by Danny Rose in defence.
Liverpool's new signing from Chelsea, Daniel Sturridge, was in the stands watching his new team-mates, who were immediately on the defensive after a lively Sunderland start.
But it was Liverpool who came closest to scoring in the early stages, as Stewart Downing tested Simon Mignolet with a smartly hit drive to the Sunderland goalkeeper's near post after 12 minutes.
Seven minutes later, though, Mignolet was beaten as his goal-kick was collected by Suarez and he hooked the ball over his shoulder, allowing 18-year-old Sterling to break clear and lob over the advancing goalkeeper.
Another seven minutes later and it was Suarez who made it 2-0, pouncing on a stumble by Carlos Cuellar to dart through the inside-right channel and fire a crisp shot past Mignolet.
It was the Uruguayan's 17th goal of the season in all competitions.
Sunderland enjoyed a brief spell of pressure, with Sebastian Larsson and Matthew Kilgallon both having shots blocked, but Liverpool, with Suarez to the fore, were still looking the more dangerous side on the break as they reached half-time with a deserved 2-0 lead.
Liverpool piled on the pressure early in the second half and it was Suarez who effectively killed off the contest after 52 minutes when he again proved too quick for Sunderland's central defenders, collecting a long through ball from Steven Gerrard to fire in from eight yards.
Joe Allen thought he had scored his first goal for Liverpool after 84 minutes, but his effort was disallowed as Downing was adjudged to have been offside when he made his cut-back.