SUNDERLAND, England (AP) — Lazar Markovic's first Premier League goal gave Liverpool a 1-0 win against 10-man Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
Markovic converted from close range in the ninth minute in a dominant first-half display from Brendan Rodgers' side.
Sunderland had Liam Bridcutt sent off at the start of the second half, yet it almost equalized when Adam Johnson hit the crossbar with a long range strike.
But Liverpool stifled any pressure to take three points that boosts its pursuit of a top-four finish and hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
It remains eighth in the table, but has lost once in its last 12 and is now four points behind Southampton, which is fourth and plays third-place Manchester United on Sunday.
"I think our confidence is returning," Liverpool manager Rodgers said. "When we had to defend, we defended strongly and it's great victory for us that keeps our momentum going."
Defeat leaves Sunderland three points above the relegation zone with the rest of the teams around it still to play on the weekend.
After an energetic start, Liverpool could have had a penalty after three minutes.
Markovic tumbled over under a challenge from Wes Brown, but referee Craig Pawson ignored appeals for a spot kick.
Sunderland's defense was struggling to pick up the positions of Liverpool's three-pronged attack of Fabio Borini, Steven Gerrard and Markovic, and six minutes later Liverpool made its breakthrough.
The lively Markovic took advantage of Pawson's decision to play advantage after Borini was cut down on the edge of the area by John O'Shea, and he was first to the loose ball before tucking it under Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon.
Markovic was denied a second on the half-hour when he met a clearance out of the penalty area with a stunning volley, only for the ball to hit the crossbar.
Striker Borini, who spent last season on loan at Sunderland, was handed a rare start by Rodgers and looked keen to make the most of his opportunity.
His link-up play in the first half was efficient, his movement caused confusion in Sunderland's defense but he missed a superb chance to score just before the interval.
Borini surged past Brown to reach a tremendous through ball from Emre Can and rounded goalkeeper Pantilimon before hitting the post with the angle to the goal shrinking.
Liverpool captain Gerrard was substituted at halftime with a leg problem, as Dejan Lovren came on, but Rodgers' side retained its intensity by moving Can further forward.
Instantly, he caused Sunderland problems with a bursting run down the right in the 49th, before he was abruptly halted when Bridcutt hauled him down.
Bridcutt had been booked in the first half for tripping Gerrard, and was shown his second yellow of the game as Sunderland went to 10 men.
But the dismissal galvanized the hosts into attacking Liverpool, and Johnson's long range shot from 25 yards rattled the crossbar after swerving through the wind and wrong-footing goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
To the dismay of Sunderland manager Gus Poyet, it was as close as his team got to an equalizer.
"Second half, we went for it and created a little bit of nerves for Liverpool," Poyet said. "We were not better than Liverpool in terms of position or possession, we were not better in the first half in terms of desire."