Byline: James Hunter
ROY KEANE will be praying his Anfield gamble does not come back to haunt him.
The Black Cats boss risked bringing back hamstring injury victim Kieran Richardson early for the trip to Liverpool so he could play a five-man midfield against the Merseysiders.
The move backfired as Richardson limped off with a recurrence of the injury after two minutes and Sunderland ended up losing 3-0.
Second-half goals from Peter Crouch, Fernando Torres and a late Steven Gerrard penalty condemned Sunderland to their ninth successive defeat on the road and gave Liverpool their first Premier League win since Boxing Day.
There was controversy, too, with referee Rob Styles under fire for turning down two cast-iron penalty appeals from Sunderland.
The result was a disappointment, but it was the injury to Richardson which will be the biggest worry to Sunderland fans.
It was a surprise move on Keane's part to bring him back, especially for a game which was never likely to have a major bearing on Sunderland's battle against the drop.
In hindsight, Keane must wish he had delayed Richardson's comeback until this weekend's crunch relegation clash with Wigan when, after a few more days to recuperate, he might have made a real impact.
As it is, Richardson will miss out on that match and could be unavailable for another two weeks after aggravating the injury.
Keane admitted: "It is the same as he had before - a hamstring. He trained well all week, but in a match situation your body changes and he was not up to it."
Aside from the injury, Sunderland could have few complaints at losing - although to say the scoreline flattered Liverpool would be an understatement.
Rafa Benitez's side were awful in the first half and the Kop booed them off at the interval after a half in which chances were few and far between at either end.
Once Crouch put them ahead in the 57th minute, however, they improved dramatically.
Gordon made excellent saves from Torres and Crouch and Phil Bardsley cleared a Crouch header off the line.
Torres made it 2-0 on 69 minutes but Sunderland pushed forward and might have found a route back into the game if Mr Styles had not twice denied them spot-kicks.
First he was unimpressed when Daryl Murphy's shot hit Jamie Carragher's flailing arm, stopping a shot which would have at least worked the goalkeeper.
Then he took no action against Javier Mascherano for raising his foot head-high inside the box, even though the Argentine midfielder almost caught Liam Miller in the face with his studs.
To add insult to injury, he did point to the spot at the other end in the last minute for a debatable foul by Nyron Nosworthy on Jermaine Pennant which gave Gerrard the chance to complete the scoring - although Gordon almost kept the ball out.
Keane added: "Three-nil was a bit harsh on the players, we like to think it was a bit closer than that.
"We did OK in terms of possession without really testing their goalkeeper. We had two penalty shouts and a half-chance from a corner.
"We should have had a penalty, but I don't think we were ever going to get one.
"Carragher lifted his arm and it should have been a penalty. Rob Styles gave a penalty against us at Blackburn last month for exactly the same thing against Danny Higginbotham! …