Much-maligned Connor Wickham instantly became a Liverpool hero on Wednesday night, scoring two goals in a span of ten minutes at Manchester City to give Sunderland an unlikely lead. Vito Mannone's late fumble meant the points were shared, but with City dropping two in a match many expected them to win comfortably, there was an understandable buzz among Liverpool supporters around the result.
When combined with Crystal Palace's impressive win at Goodison Park that same night, however, it underlined an important point for the run-in--little can be taken for granted at this stage of the season, regardless of who's favored or on better form. Everton were flying, winners of seven straight in league, and City have been terrific at home for most of the season, with their only points lost in the narrow loss to Chelsea.
But just like that, Everton's status as frontrunners in the race for fourth evaporated, and many were quick to write City's title challenge off for good. And while that might be overcooking it a bit, it's also a dose of reality for Liverpool, a point Brendan Rodgers was quick to emphasize to his squad as they prepare to visit Norwich on Sunday:
"I said to the players before we started training this morning that if there was doubt about our rivals dropping points, then they should also take last night's results as a warning sign.
"It was a warning sign for everyone that, at this point of the season with four games to go, there is nothing guaranteed and I have said that all the way along. Crystal Palace had an excellent result and Sunderland were within minutes of getting a great victory. That was the biggest message I got from last night. Yes, one of our rivals might have dropped points but that is irrelevant. You have to do your own job. The warning signs are there."
The mantra's been developed--focus on their own work, focus on their own preparation, and focus only on the match directly in front. There's been no deviation from that path other than the odd slip of the tongue from Rodgers himself, and it's a mantra that will hopefully serve Liverpool well this weekend. Enjoyable as dreaming is, there's little room for minds to be anywhere other than the task at hand.