The former England captain was named on the bench by Brendan Rodgers with crucial games against Basel and Manchester United coming up next week, but was thrown on after 65 minutes to try to help break the deadlock.
However, Gerrard could do little to rescue a forgettable performance from the home team and Sunderland returned to the north east with a deserved Premier League point.
Indeed, Gus Poyet will feel his side could have gone home with more after seeing a strong penalty appeal turned down in the third minute before Wes Brown headed over the best chance of the game on the stroke of half-time.
The big talking point ahead of kick-off was Rodgers’ decision to leave out his captain for the second Saturday in a row, opting instead to play Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling behind Rickie Lambert.
And without Gerrard, Liverpool struggled to make an impact in the early stages. Midway through the first half, Sunderland boasted 63% of the possession and were the better side for long spells.
They might have had a penalty as early as the third minute when Connor Wickham went down under a challenge from Martin Skrtel, but referee Neil Swarbrick waved play on.
Liverpool’s first real chance came in the 23rd minute when Lallana turned his man inside out and delivered a delicious early ball to Lambert at the far post, but his header was wide of the target.
Sunderland forward Wickham called for another penalty when he went down in the 36th minute, but this time Swarbrick had an easy decision to make as there was clearly no touch from Lucas.
Santiago Vergini picked up the first booking of the game in the 41st minute for a tug on Sterling when the Liverpool man was trying to scamper away and was perhaps lucky not to pick up another – and an early bath – when he tripped the same player three minutes later.
The best chance of the first half came with the final touch of the opening period when Seb Larsson’s corner found the head of an unmarked Brown inside the six-yard box. It looked easier to score than to miss, but the defender headed over the bar and into the Kop.
Sunderland continued where they left off after the break when Skrtel’s attempt to clear Adam Johnson’s corner fell straight to Wickham who unleashed a left-footed volley from 10 yards out, but he fired across Simon Mignolet’s goal and wide of the target.
The Sunderland striker, playing wide of a front three, found more room on the edge of the Liverpool area moments later, but his deflected effort hit the side netting.
Rodgers reluctantly threw on Gerrard for Lallana in the 65th minute and he promptly produced the pass of the game with a brilliant measured ball out to Coutinho, only to see his team-mate waste the opportunity.
Sterling was frustrated for long spells, but looked Liverpool’s best outlet in the closing stages and almost created the first goal when he won the ball inside his own half and raced to the edge of the opposition area.
His square ball found Coutinho on the edge of the area, but his firm shot was pushed away by a good save by Costel Pantilimon. At the other end, Mignolet was also called into action when he pushed away a 20-yard rasping effort from Jordi Gomez.
Sterling called for a penalty with seven minutes left when his mazy run took him into the area and he went down under a challenge from Brown. The England winger might be embarrassed to see the replays, which suggested hardly any contact.
That was the last moment of note in a largely forgettable game, which leaves Liverpool in ninth and Sunderland in 14th.
SOCCER SATURDAY ANALYSIS – Paul Merson
I couldn’t believe how bad Liverpool were. They had no real play about them, they gave the ball away cheaply and didn’t keep it for more than six passes. Sterling was the only player who ran at people. I was really disappointed in Liverpool. Steven Gerrard has to play, tired or not tired. For me, this was a bigger game than Tuesday night [against Basel in the Champions League]. I think Gerrard is still top drawer. He hit one pass that was unbelievable.
Sunderland left Cattermole out and brought Bridcutt in but they were really comfortable. The goalkeeper made two saves, one from Lucas, which I would have saved, and one from Coutinho, which was straight at him. He had nothing to do. Sunderland worked their socks off and thoroughly deserved a draw.
Sunderland: Pantilimon (7), Vergini (5), Reveillere (6), O’Shea (6), Brown (7), Bridcutt (7), Larsson (7), Gomez (7), Johnson (6), Wickham (7), Altidore (6).
Used Subs: Cattermole (5), Alvarez (5), Buckley (5)
Liverpool: Mignolet (7), Johnson (7), Moreno (6), Toure (6), Skrtel (5), Lucas (6), Henderson (6), Coutinho (6), Sterling (7), Lallana (6), Lambert (5).
Used subs: Gerrard (6), Markovic (5)
Man of the match: Liam Bridcutt