Liverpool title so close as Man City slip offers breathing space
City result means Reds can draw against Chelsea as Everton give Arsenal control in race for fourth
WHAT a night to be a Liverpool fan! Wednesday evening provided proof that perhaps this is the Reds' year as one of their title rivals slipped up badly and their Merseyside neighbours suffered a damaging defeat in the battle for fourth spot.
Manchester City's chances of overhauling Liverpool in the title race were already slim after the Citizens lost 3-2 at Anfield on Sunday, but now they are all but out of it after being held to a 2-2 draw at home by lowly Sunderland. "We did not deserve to win," admitted City manager Manuel Pellegrini. "We did not play well but we had in our mind the game against Liverpool."
The result is a huge one as it gives Liverpool breathing space in their hunt for a first title in 24 years. City are now six points behind Liverpool with a game in hand and that means that the Reds can now afford to draw against Chelsea in their massive clash at Anfield at the end of the month and still go on to claim the title.
There were no initial signs of a hangover from the Anfield defeat as Fernandinho put City one up after two minutes but thereafter they struggled to break down the Black Cats. Then in ten sensational second-half minutes Connor Wickham struck twice to stun the Etihad into silence. Samir Nasri salvaged a point for City on 88 minutes, although the French midfielder needed help from Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone. The Italian had Nasri's shot covered but somehow let the ball slip from his grasp and roll agonisingly across the line.
The result has realistically ended City's title charge, but what about Sunderland? If they'd managed to cling on for a win the Premier League's bottom club would have been just four points behind Norwich, who lie 17th, one spot above the relegation zone. As it is, the draw still leaves Sunderland rooted to the foot of the table and odds-on for relegation.
"We deserved better," reflected Sunderland manager Guy Poyet. "We won't stop or give up because the players know how important it is for the fans and the club to keep going until the end."
Asked how he thought the result would be received on Merseyside, Poyet snapped: "We are playing for ourselves, we are not playing for Liverpool."
Another manager left feeling sorry for himself late on Wednesday evening was Roberto Martinez. The Everton boss described his side's shock 3-2 defeat at home to Crystal Palace as "a real disappointment, a result which is hurtful". It could also end up denying his side Champions League football next season as it leaves them trailing fourth-placed Arsenal by one point, with four games to go.
There was nothing lucky about the result. Palace went two up through Jason Puncheon's half-volley and Scott Dann's header four minutes after the break, and though Everton fought back in the second-half with a goal from Steven Naismith the visitors made it 3-1 through Cameron Jerome. Kevin Mirallas pulled one back for Everton four minutes from time but it wasn't enough to bring the Toffees' seven-match winning streak to a shuddering halt.
"We wanted to win so much that we stopped being ourselves and that is what we have to learn from," said Martinez, whose side now lie fifth. "We have had a magnificent season and... we will try and get as many points as we can, it doesn't change anything."
But in reality it does. Before this game Everton's fate was in their hands, but now they must hope that Arsenal, their rivals for fourth place, slip up in the final weekes of the season. The bad news for Toffees fans is that the Gunners have an easy looking run-in while Everton have some tough matches coming up, starting with the visit of Manchester United on Sunday.
"There will be twists and turns because it is that stage of the season," said Martinez. "It is not in our hands, but you have to be as strong as you can be."