London: Luis Suarez marked his return to Premier League action with two goals to help Liverpool to a 3-1 win at managerless Sunderland that lifted them to second in the table on Sunday.
The Uruguay striker, who returned from a 10-match ban for biting at Manchester United in the midweek League Cup loss, was making his first league appearance since being suspended for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic in April.
He scored Liverpool’s second in the 36th minute after Daniel Sturridge had opened their account eight minutes earlier with a controversial goal that went in off his upper arm after he had risen to try to head in a corner.
Earlier in the day, Jonny Howson struck the first-half winner as Norwich City beat below-par hosts Stoke City 1-0.
Sunderland, bottom of the table with one point, got themselves back into the game early in the second half when Emanuele Giaccherini pounced after ’keeper Simon Mignolet failed to deal with Ki Sung-Yeung’s long-range effort.
Suarez had to wait until the 89th minute for his second goal and it was Sturridge again who set him up for a simple finish that sealed Liverpool’s fourth league victory of the season.
The win put them on 13 points from six games, ahead of Tottenham Hotspur on goal difference and two points behind leaders Arsenal.
Sunderland, who sacked Paolo Di Canio last Sunday after a string of poor results and media reports of dressing-room unrest because of his abrasive management style, started brightly and Seb Larsson hit the bar with a 24th-minute free-kick.
Despite an apparent improvement in both performance and spirits under their caretaker manager and former club captain Kevin Ball, the sign that it was not going to be their day came four minutes later.
Sturridge’s fifth league goal of the season will draw plenty of complaints from Sunderland even if none of their players protested at the time when the England international converted Steven Gerrard’s corner with his arm.
There could be no argument over Liverpool’s second goal as Gerrard’s superb long pass picked out Sturridge on the right and the striker burst into the area to put a perfectly weighted ball across the goal for Suarez to tap in.
Sunderland were fired up in the second half and soon after Adam Johnson shot wide, they finally got on the scoresheet through Giaccherini’s quick thinking after Mignolet could only push Ki’s shot straight to him.
The hosts nearly drew level moments later when Craig Gardner’s shot from range forced Mignolet into a superb save and they continued to press hard.