LIVERPOOL (AFP) - Jermain Defoe capped a dramatic Sunderland fightback as the Premier League strugglers recovered from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Liverpool on Saturday.
Goals from Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana seemed to be enough to give Liverpool all three points, but Adam Johnson's 82nd minute free-kick started the revival and Defoe's 89th minute strike stunned a half-empty Anfield.
Thousands of Liverpool supporters missed their team's late meltdown after walking out of the ground after 77 minutes in protest at the club's announcement of ticket price rises in the newly refurbished Anfield.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp was also spared the sight of his team's collapse as he was absent with a bout of appendicitis, leaving assistant manager Zeljko Buvac to pull the strings.
The Reds' insipid 2-0 loss at Leicester in midweek virtually ended their already distant hopes of a top four place this term, but in comparison with Saturday's visitors to Merseyside, Liverpool are having a great season.
Sunderland went to Anfield with just two wins in their last 11 matches in all competitions and seem to be lurching towards an inevitable relegation until this stirring recovery.
Liverpool named Daniel Sturridge on the bench following a prolonged injury absence that has raised questions about his long-term future at Anfield.
And they could have done with Sturridge's talents early on in this match as the opening moments were notable for nothing apart from the loss of Dejan Lovren to injury after 11 minutes.
The match appeared to finally wake up after 20 minutes when an Alberto Moreno shot was impressively blocked by Vito Mannone as Liverpool looked like they had found some fluency.
James Milner squandered one decent opportunity after half an hour as he opted to square the ball into the box rather than shoot when well placed and then Jordan Henderson was next to miss a decent chance when he failed to connect sweetly with a Joe Allen cross.
As half-time approached Firmino came closest to breaking the deadlock but his 25-yard shot just curled over the Mannone's crossbar before Moreno somehow missed a point-blank header when it looked easier to score.
After the break, a Firmino effort went closest for Liverpool after 53 minutes as he tried his luck from 20 yards, but the frustration in Anfield continued to grow as both sides looked listless and short of inspiration.
Finally though, after 59 minutes, Liverpool produced a moment that lifted the home fans.
Milner had few options on the left wing so crossed deep into the box and Firmino did the rest, rising to head past Mannone to give Liverpool the lead.
Sunderland soon had Mannone to thank for two quick-fire saves as Lallana and then Jordan Ibe tested the Sunderland keeper.
Soon after, Liverpool appeared to have twisted the knife and Firmino was again at the heart of the action.
He wrestled the ball from Billy Jones and raced goalwards before finding Lallana unmarked eight yards out and he slotted into an empty net.
The game's most memorable moment though came after 77 minutes when an estimated 15,000 Liverpool fans headed for the exits to demonstrate their disenchantment with the club.
Five minutes later, a Johnson free-kick beat Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet at the near post to make for testing times on and off the field.
That goal inspired Sunderland and in the closing moments Defoe turned Mamadou Sakho 12 yards out and blasted past Mignolet to grab a most unexpected share of the points.