Goals from Dirk Kuyt and Luis Suarez provided Liverpool with a crucial 2-0 win over ten man Sunderland, at the Stadium of Light on Sunday afternoon.
Kenny Dalglish's side travelled to the North East off the back of a disappointing European exit at the hands of Portuguese side Braga, and understood that only a top five Premier League finish would be enough for European qualification.
Ahead of the game, it was clear what the intentions of the caretaker manager were, with as attacking a line-up as any selected by the management team at Anfield this season. Luis Suarez was back, after two weeks of ineligibility, whilst Andy Carroll was handed his full Premier League debut. Daniel Agger was also back from injury.
The Reds were the first to create an opening, when Dirk Kuyt saw his shot on the turn kept out by the legs of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet on five minutes. The Dutchman then headed over from the resulting corner, after pressure from his marker.
The hosts looked dangerous in the first half, despite being unable to ever really threaten the Liverpool goal. On seventeen minutes, Asamoah Gyan and Daniel Welbeck combined brilliantly down the left hand side, but the ball into the area wasn't attacked and the danger passed.
Liverpool responded instantly and Suarez linked up with Carroll to tee up Spearing but when the youngster passed up the opportunity to shoot the chance went begging, much to the annoyance of the Uruguayan forward.
Before the interval, Steve Bruce's side had to make two changes through injury; with both Sulley Muntari and Keiran Richardson having to depart. Preparations had been hampered, and Liverpool took full advantage of such problems, taking the lead in the thirty-third minute in controversial circumstances.
John Mensah was caught in possession by Spearing and as the midfielder broke towards the penalty area he was brought to the ground. Kevin Friend initially pointed for a free-kick, but after much persistence from the Liverpool players, and a change-of-heart by the linesman, a penalty kick was awarded. Dirk Kuyt stepped up, and slotted home his fourth goal in just two league games. The team celebrated in honour of Lucas Leiva, who had become a father for the first time on Saturday morning.
In the second half, with Sunderland feeling aggreived and frustrated, the visitors looked to take control of the match, with two chances to double their lead being squandered. First, Glen Johnson was denied an opportunity to score after some last-ditch defending from John Mensah, before a great header from Andy Carroll was somehow stopped on the line by substitute Lee Cattermole.
Luis Suarez then put a free kick inches wide of the post, as the away side dominated proceedings. Then it was Jay Spearing's opportunity to cap a hardworking display with a goal, but his twenty-five yard effort was fantastically stopped by the impressive Mignolet.
It was only a matter of time before a second goal was found though, and it arrived through Luis Suarez. Leaving Cattermole for dead on the right hand side, the recently-instated number seven cut inside before fizzing a rising shot beyond Mignolet from a difficult angle.
The home side were clearly frustrated and their afternoon was summed up just moments later when Mensah was shown a straight red card for a professional foul on Suarez.
With this result, Liverpool now find themselves just four points behind a fifth-placed Tottenham side who still have to travel to Anfield before the season's end.