Champions Manchester City lost more ground in the title race as they were held to a 2-2 draw in a thrilling encounter at home to Liverpool.
Edin Dzeko’s 12th goal of the season put the hosts ahead from close range midway through the first half, only for Daniel Sturridge to smash his fourth in six matches since his move from Chelsea.
An even better trademark Steven Gerrard strike put Liverpool ahead with 17 minutes to go, but Sergio Aguero salvaged a point with an exquisite shot from the narrowest angle.
However, it was not enough on a weekend when rivals Manchester United won and Roberto Mancini’s side However, he insists the Barclays Premier League title race is not over, though admits his side may have to win all their remaining games to retain their crown.
“Two games and the championship is reopened,” he sais. “I don’t think this is finished but probably now we have to win all the games, but if not then 11 or 12 games.Last year we recovered eight points in six games so I don’t know why it can’t happen this year.
“Today we didn’t play like we had in the last month but we are confident.”
After criticising his youngsters following their FA Cup exit to League One Oldham a week ago, Brendan Rodgers selected Liverpool’s oldest line-up (average age 28 years and 18 days) since October 2011. It looked a sensible ploy as City have lost just one of their last 41 home league games, and they made their intent clear from the off. There were just 49 seconds on the clock when Jose Reina was forced to tip over David Silva’s dipping volley.
All the early pressure was with City, but once Liverpool had weathered that storm they started to come into their own. A deft touch by Sturridge took Stewart Downing’s lobbed pass past Hart in one move, but he was denied a goal as Pablo Zabaleta got back to block.
Luis Suarez, busy without being particularly threatening, flashed a shot across Hart and wide of the far post as it seemed the visitors were about to take control.
That notion was dispelled in the 24th minute as, after neat interplay by Silva and James Milner from a throw-in on the left, the latter crossed low for Dzeko to sneak behind Daniel Agger and tap home from close range.
If that goal was founded in simplicity Liverpool’s equaliser was made of pure brilliance, although it was viewed as controversial by indignant City players and fans. Agger appeared to go through Dzeko to get the ball but referee Anthony Taylor saw no foul and with the Bosnia international collapsed on the turf in their own half Liverpool played on.
The boos grew louder as the Reds made their way upfield, but almost a minute had expired – with City momentarily winning the ball back on the edge of their area – before Sturridge scored.
Gerrard rolled the ball forward to the former City striker who smashed a fierce left-footed shot past Hart. It was the first goal the City goalkeeper had conceded since 29 December, 584 minutes in all.
The hosts were furious, but Taylor’s decision not to stop play was proved correct – even if his original one not to award the foul was not – as Dzeko leaped to his feet, declined treatment, berated the linesman and re-started the game.
Liverpool finished the half the stronger and having continued that after the break Mancini made a tactical switch ten minutes in when he replaced Matija Nastasic with Aleksandar Kolarov and went to a back three. That appeared to re-energise City and Aguero threatened to put them ahead again with a blistering 40-yard run only to slip as he entered the penalty area.
Gerrard showed him the way to strike a ball in the 73rd minute with a strike very reminiscent of his goal in the 2006 FA Cup final. Gael Clichy’s poor clearance from Jose Enrique’s cross dropped to the midfielder 30 yards out and the England captain controlled the ball on his chest before unleashing a dipping low volley which gave Hart no chance. It was Gerrard’s sixth league goal – one more than the whole of last season – and his fifth in the last ten games.
Martin Skrtel was introduced for the tiring Enrique and after almost scoring at one end was involved in a mix-up with Reina which allowed City to equalise.
Aguero raced on to Gareth Barry’s pass and the goalkeeper charged out to the left edge of his area, from where the Argentina international turned him and fired in impressively from a narrow angle.
Sturridge forced Hart into a low save late on before departing to jeers from the fans who, only a couple of years ago, cheered him as one of their rising stars.