Liverpool enhance title credentials by winning ugly

It proved to be a testing 90 minutes for the Kop despite a carnival atmosphere in the build-up, but the Reds have come out the other side still very much in the title race

By Tom Maston at Anfield

Belting out every song in their repertoire, the Kop were in expectant mood ahead of kick-off on Wednesday evening. Supporters lined the streets as the team bus made its way into Anfield, and anyone could have been tricked into thinking Liverpool were about to embark on one of their fabled European nights.

In truth it was Sunderland, a side who have almost set up camp in the Premier League relegation zone this season, who stood in Brendan Rodgers’ side’s way, an opponent of a similar ilk to those that have been regularly brushed aside here in recent months.

But after 90 minutes that flowed from joy to frustration to comfort to downright edge-of-your-seat stuff for the Liverpool faithful, this win may well become as important as some of those Champions League encounters of days gone by. The roar that greeted the full-time whistle certainly suggested it mattered as much.

Coming off the back of three away victories which produced 12 goals, many inside the ground will have been forgiven for believing a routine win was on the cards. However, this was anything but, and could prove to be a timely reminder that they will not have it all their own way as they gun for their first league title in 25 years.

Their rivals for the crown, Chelsea and Manchester City, still have to come here before the season is out, and neither is likely to afford Rodgers’ charges as much room as many have allowed this campaign.

Though they may not cram the defence, as Gus Poyet did with five at the back, they will certainly ask serious questions of Rodgers’ firebrands. The famous Anfield roar will be called into action a few more times before the season is out.

The supporters feel that the club is on the verge of something really special. As former defender Jamie Carragher said prior to the match, everybody involved with the club has gone from hoping for success to believing it will come, and the scenes before kick-off were truly reminiscent of the old days.

But the fact that the party atmosphere evaporated into a sense of dread so quickly was telling of the potentially toxic cocktail of expectancy and anxiety that can hamstring any title charge.

Too many times the home faithful were heard groaning as wayward efforts flew off target and referee Kevin Friend decided against punishing what were deemed by most blatant fouls, and the relief when Steven Gerrard’s free-kick nestled in the top corner was palpable.

Despite an extremely nervy final 10 minutes, Liverpool did what they had to and showed they can come out on top when things get tough, and the fans were once again allowed to dream of what might be.

It must be remembered that Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini currently boast stronger hands, but both sides must travel to Anfield in the coming weeks. It is the ace up Rodgers’ sleeve.

Chelsea and City will provide the ultimate test of this exciting side’s credentials, but Wednesday night should only provide further encouragement that anything is possible at Anfield these days, especially with the fans onside.

“We had to be patient and hope our quality came through. Our work-rate was outstanding, and obviously we scored two excellent goals,” Rodgers admitted, and he wasn’t wrong.

“Teams will be like that between now and the end of the season. We’ve just got to find the touches and combinations to work our way through.”

Poyet remarked that the atmosphere was all set up for a party, and Rodgers too was full of praise for the fans: “Our game started on the coach on the way in here. It filled me with great pride being the manager of the club. They really lifted us and got us over the line.

“It gives you a real boost of energy. The supporters have been absolutely fantastic. Hopefully together we can finish the season strongly.”

Finishing the season strongly is exactly what they are doing, with this victory their seventh on the trot. When you take into account only Manchester City have recorded a longer winning streak (eight), and no other team has managed more than five, it highlights the head of steam Rodgers’ side are building up heading into their most crucial run-in for decades.

They may hit sides for five or six on a regular basis, but wins such as this one might have to become the norm as the campaign draws to a close. The Kop may have to go through the mill once or twice if the Premier League title is to return to Merseyside.

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