By Matt Monaghan & Josh Clarke
Manchester United have one hand on the Premier League trophy but nothing is certain between Liverpool and Tottenham in the fight for Europa League qualification.
While Liverpool soared to a 5-0 victory on Saturday against Birmingham City, a 2-2 draw for Spurs at home against West Bromwich Albion left three points and one game between the teams.
Tottenham's slip-ups and the Reds' resurrection under Kenny Dalglish should see them neck-and-neck for the final weeks of the season in the race to finish in fifth place.
That a battle has developed at all between the teams is remarkable. When the Scot took over from Roy Hodgson in January, the 11-point gap seemed insurmountable.
The sense of belief that 'King Kenny' has injected into Anfield was palpable before kick-off on Saturday. The rousing atmosphere absent in a dismal first half of the season had come back with a bang.
A sea of red scarves and wall of noise greeted the Liverpool and Birmingham players as they stepped out onto the hallowed turf. Senses jarred by the racket around them, the visitors were never given a chance to get back on an even keel.
The relentless chants from the stands transferred to the pitch as Liverpool showed no mercy to their relegation-threatened opponents. Maxi Rodriguez was the surprise hat-trick hero, and even the seemingly forgotten Joe Cole got in on the act with a fine goal, but there can be no doubt who is the true darling of Anfield.
Luis Suarez cost less than half the price of £50 million predecessor Fernando Torres, but based on the early months of his English career, no such disparity exists on the pitch.
It takes a great player to shine even brighter than a team-mate with a three-goal haul. The Uruguayan was the inspiration for the rout and the on-field conduit of his manager.
Just like Dalglish - voted the finest player in Liverpool history in 2006 - the Uruguayan loves to cause harm as a deep-lying striker. An exquisite first touch, box of tricks and appreciation of space make him too hot to handle.
He was at the heart of everything that was good about Liverpool and involved in the moves for each of the first four goals. From supplying Jay Spearing to shoot at Ben Foster, getting in behind the cumbersome Martin Jiranek twice and laying off to Rodriguez on the edge of the box, Birmingham could not keep a lid on him.
Rodriguez's seventh minute opener began the scoring and owed much to feeble handling from Foster. While the early breakthrough was vital, Birmingham were like a rabbit in the headlights against a Liverpool side exhibiting championship-winning form.
|THE EVER-DECREASING GAP BETWEEN LIVERPOOL & SPURS
Tottenham (5th) Played 19, 33 points Liverpool (12th) Played 18, 22 points
Gap: Seven places & 11 points
Tottenham (5th) Played 23, 38 points Liverpool (7th) Played 24, 32 points
Gap: Two places & 6 points
Tottenham (4th) Played 27, 47 points Liverpool (6th) Played 28, 39 points
Gap: Two places & 8 points
Tottenham (5th) Played 29, 49 points Liverpool (6th) Played 30, 45 points
Gap: One place & four points
Current league table (April 24)
Tottenham (5th) Played 33, 55 points Liverpool (6th) Played 34, 52 points
Gap: One place & three points
The mantra to take one game at a time and just focus on the performance shone through in his post-match press conference. This message echoed the one that was to be found in the Scot's pre-match programme notes.
"As I have said a few times in the last few weeks, our aim is to finish as high up the table as we possibly can," he wrote.
"All we can do is worry about ourselves, take as many points as possible and see where that leaves us on May 22nd."
Dalglish may not be worried about Liverpool's form but Tottenham's late-season slide has ensured they are now looking over their shoulder.
For different reasons, there was an atmosphere of stunned disbelief at White Hart Lane for both of West Brom’s goals.
The quickfire nature of Peter Odemwingie’s opener was in vivid juxtaposition to the buoyant hopes the majority of Spurs fans had coming into the game, while Simon Cox’s excellent equaliser would have graced any match in the world.
There was a tangible sense of job accomplished when Jermain Defoe fired Spurs ahead, probably bolstered by the landmark nature of the goal – Defoe’s 100th in the Premier League and Tottenham's 1000th in the competition.
Jubilation soon degenerated to exasperation, though, as West Brom clawed their way back into the contest and could have won it at the end.
Spurs paid the price for sloppiness in front of goal - the game could really have been done and dusted after the first half.
Although his finish for the opener was fantastic, Roman Pavlyuchenko was the guilty party. A spurned header from just eight yards out and a relatively straight-forward effort on the rebound being smashed over the bar were the lowlights
Had Spurs capitalised on the waves of pressure in the first half and early stages of the second, then fourth place would have looked a nailed on certainty.
As West Brom looked menacing on the counter, Spurs were desperate for a third goal and you could feel as much from the crowd. The crucial moment was of course Cox’s equaliser but by that point in the game, West Brom had reversed the momentum and thoroughly deserved to get something for their endeavour.
It’s amazing how much can change in 90 minutes. Before kick-off the air was pregnant with belief, with Harry Redknapp struggling to contain his optimism concerning a top-four finish beneath a veil of nonchalance.
After the game, it was a totally different story – Redknapp was convinced Liverpool are a threat to be considered, with the famous race for fourth seemingly now a fight to the finish for fifth.