The Anfield side twice took the lead at the Stadium of Light but were unable to see the result through, as the former Tottenham forward converted a penalty double
Liverpool failed to make significant inroads into Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Premier League table after two Jermain Defoe penalties earned Sunderland a point in an absorbing 2-2 draw at the Stadium of Light.
Having cancelled out Daniel Sturridge’s opener, the former England striker was again on target from 12 yards after Sadio Mane was penalised for handball having earlier restored Liverpool’s lead.
And Defoe may feel it should have been a hat-trick of spot-kicks, with Emre Can having gone unpunished for an earlier handball in the box.
Mane looked to have snatched the three points when a loose Papy Djilobodji header presented him with a tap-in after 72 minutes, but it was his arm that stretched out of the Liverpool wall from a Sebastian Larsson free-kick to gift Sunderland the equaliser.
The result leaves Liverpool five points adrift of Chelsea, who have a game in hand, while Sunderland are one point adrift of safety.
One point of concern for Liverpool will be that Sturridge, making his first start since mid-October, limped from the field following a Djilobodji challenge 10 minutes from time.
Defoe’s deflected low drive called former Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet into action for the first time in the sixth minute as the hosts showed some promising early signs after their Burnley horror show on Saturday, but Liverpool have scored more goals than any other side in the Premier League this season and the threat at the other end was soon evident.
Vito Mannone got down well to his right to keep out Sturridge, while Georginio Wijnaldum’s curling effort moments later needed palming over the crossbar.
Former Everton man Jack Rodwell has not been on a winning Sunderland side in any of his 33 league starts for the club but was at the centre of much of the early action, forcing Mignolet into another diving save before being booked for a rash challenge on Can.
Sturridge was denied again by Mannone but ensured it was a case of third time lucky when he reacted quickest to Dejan Lovren’s scuffed volley from a corner, rising to head the bouncing ball over the Italian keeper and into the net from close range.
Liverpool’s lead lasted just six minutes, though, with Defoe tucking a penalty inside the left-hand post after Didier Ndong was brought down by a combination of Wijnaldum and Ragnar Klavan in the box.
Defoe then squandered an opportunity to put the home side in front when he failed to navigate a way around Mignolet after being sent through on goal, and Fabio Borini’s attempts to pick up the pieces amounted to a poor strike that went well wide.
Another two Sturridge shots from range kept Mannone busy before the break, but goalscoring opportunities were in short supply early in the second half.
Mane failed to climb high enough when an inviting cross was sent into the box in the 56th minute, before Sunderland saw calls for another penalty ignored.
Can’s arm appeared to make clear contact with the ball in the box, but referee Anthony Taylor waved play on.
It looked set to be particularly costly when Mane put Liverpool back in front, but Defoe once again showed typical composure from the spot to secure a hugely valuable point.
Sunderland 0-1 Liverpool | Daniel Sturridge 20′
Sunderland 1-1 Liverpool | Jermain Defoe (Pen) 25′
Sunderland 1-2 Liverpool | Sadio Mané 72′
Sunderland 2-2 Liverpool | Jermain Defoe (Pen) 84′