Sturridge keeps Liverpool on title trail
Liverpool's English striker Daniel Sturridge (L) celebrates scoring his team's second goal with English midfielder Jordan Henderson at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England, on March 26, 2014 - by Paul Ellis
The England striker netted Liverpool's second goal of the game at Anfield three minutes into the second half after captain Steven Gerrard had given the hosts a 39th-minute lead with a fine free-kick.
Sturridge's goal meant that he and Luis Suarez have now both scored 20 league goals this season –- the first time two Liverpool strikers have achieved that feat since Ian St John and Roger Hunt in the 1963-64 campaign.
Sunderland pulled a goal back through South Korean midfielder Ki Sung-yueng to ensure a tense finale, but Liverpool held their nerve to record a seventh successive league win.
The victory enabled the Reds to regain second spot in the table, a point behind leaders Chelsea, although Manchester City -- two points back in third place -- have two games in hand on the teams above them.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers named an unchanged starting line-up from his side's 6-3 victory at Cardiff City, while Sunderland counterpart Gus Poyet made five changes to the team beaten 2-0 at Norwich City.
With three centre-backs in a 5-3-2 system, the visitors' intentions were clear as they packed men into the middle of the pitch, restricting Liverpool to efforts from distance in the opening stages.
Striker Luis Suarez curled an early free-kick from a dangerous position over the crossbar, but the Black Cats kept their shape and organisation to reach the half-hour mark without their ranks being breached.
Sunderland midfielder Lee Cattermole, snapping at the heels of anything in a red shirt, was particularly impressive, shielding the defence as the visitors held Liverpool at bay.
- Gerrard makes breakthrough -
Having equalled Robbie Fowler's Premier League record of 28 goals in a season for the club against Cardiff on Saturday, Suarez looked a likely source for the breakthrough.
And after threatening with a shot after a jinking run, the striker won the free kick that yielded Liverpool's opening goal.
The Uruguay international was brought down by Santiago Vergini as he headed towards goal, with the Sunderland centre-back fortunate to escape with just a yellow card.
Gerrard stepped up from just outside the 18-yard box and fiercely bent the ball into the top-right corner of the net, past the despairing dive of goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Sunderland registered their first meaningful effort on goal just before half-time when a deflected Connor Wickham shot forced Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to scramble across goal and push the ball past the post.
But the momentum was all Liverpool's and they doubled their lead three minutes into the second half with a goal from Sturridge, who curled the ball into the top left corner from the edge of the area, via a deflection off Wes Brown's knee.
Sunderland, fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table, showed plenty of heart and the impressive Cattermole rattled the crossbar with a swerving shot in the 70th minute.
Moments later Sturridge did the same for the hosts at the other end, but it was Sunderland who pulled a goal back with 14 minutes left to leave Anfield sweating.
Adam Johnson's corner was allowed to bounce inside the box and fellow substitute Ki bundled the ball into the net with a stooping header.
The nervous tension that had Anfield on edge in the opening half hour returned, and the ground held its collective breath when Sunderland captain John O'Shea got on the end of a late corner, only to flick the ball wide.