Kenny Dalglish refused to give up on Liverpool’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League despite missing out on an opportunity to close the gap on the Premier League’s top four.
Danish international Nicklas Bendtner’s fortuitous 56th minute winner at the Stadium of Light was enough to lift Sunderland up to eighth and within two points of Liverpool, who lost a third consecutive league game for the first time in eight-and-a-half years.
Dalglish’s side are 10 points from fourth place and the gap will become 13 if Arsenal overcome Newcastle at the Emirates on Monday.
Liverpool, who play Everton on Tuesday, have just 11 matches remaining to bridge the gap, but a defiant Dalglish is not prepared to write off the Champions League just yet.
“It’s up to us to keep going, and keep our mouths shut,” said Dalglish. “As I’ve said all season, we see how many points we have collected by the end of the campaign, and see where that takes us.
“We’ll play all our matches and see where we are. We’d prefer to have taken more points at home.
“If we were to get into the top four, it would be fantastic, just as it was winning the League Cup and being in the sixth round of the FA Cup.”
Dalglish could count himself unlucky that Liverpool lost a lacklustre clash featuring just a few half chances at either end.
It was no surprise that the goal which separated the two was lucky even if there was no sign of the beach ball which helped Sunderland to a 1-0 win over Liverpool in October 2009 thanks to Darren Bent’s never-to-be forgotten effort.
After Fraizer Campbell had turned Martin Skrtel, the Sunderland striker’s shot from 20 yards hit the foot of the post, rebounded off goalkeeper Jose Reina before hitting the post again and falling invitingly for on-loan Arsenal forward Bendtner to turn in.
Dalglish added: “There wasn’t much in the game, it was decided by a bit of luck, that was the difference between a draw and a defeat. I thought we matched them.”
Sunderland, who have an FA Cup quarterfinal at Everton next Saturday to concentrate on, climbed back into the top half courtesy of an 11th win of Martin O’Neill’s 18-game reign.
It was a victory made more special by the fact they delivered it without the suspended Lee Cattermole and Stephane Sessegnon after the pair were red carded against Newcastle six days earlier.
O’Neill, who will keep an eye on the twisted knee sustained by Bendtner in the second half, said: “In a game of very few chances, it was largely forgettable. With the changes we’ve had to make we couldn’t really ask for much more from the players.
“I thought the keeper had saved it initially but I was delighted Nicklas was on hand to put in the rebound.
“The game was always in the balance. I’m pleased with him and it will give him a boost of confidence, but he’s one player who doesn’t need that.”