Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has told his side to forget their faint Premier League title hopes if they fail to win at Manchester United on 14 March.
Benitez saw his team move to within four points of Sir Alex Ferguson's leaders with a 2-0 win over Sunderland at Anfield. Liverpool, who have 10 league games remaining, have played two more matches than United but visit Old Trafford in their next league encounter with confidence sky high following goals by young French striker David Ngog and Yossi Benayoun.
However, Benitez knows that his side's domestic season will be over if they do not win at Old Trafford for the first time in five years later this month. "We will try and win there," said Benitez after Liverpool's first win in three league outings.
"If you cannot win there it will be very, very difficult. We'll have to wait and see what happens with United first," the Spaniard added. "We have to approach each game with confidence and just think about ourselves."
Benitez breathed a huge sigh of relief as Liverpool bounced back from last Saturday's title-damaging defeat at Middlesbrough. Ngog, who does not turn 20 until next month, was the inspiration as he marked his first Premier League start at Anfield with one goal and set up the other for Benayoun.
"We needed that win," added Benitez. "After the defeat the other day we needed the three points. But we have shown character and the reaction of the players was very good.
"Sunderland had a very good chance but after that we controlled the ball and Ngog had a good game. Sunderland were organised and played counter-attack," Benitez explained. "We needed to keep calm and find spaces and gaps to create spaces."
Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia labelled Kenwyne Jones's first-half miss as crucial as his side's four-match unbeaten league run ended. The Trinidad and Tobago international was clean through with only goalkeeper Jose Reina to beat when the match was still goalless. But Jones fluffed the chance as Reina held his nerve to make a vital block.
"Had that gone in it might have been a different game," said Sbragia. "He should have scored. He knows it but he has scored some vital goals for us this season."
Sbragia refused to put the blame for Sunderland's defeat on goalkeeper Marton Fulop who spilled an overhead kick by Ngog which allowed Benayoun to score. "It was a mistake and he won't want to see that back on video," said Sbragia, who has guided Sunderland away from the relegation zone since succeeding Roy Keane after the former Manchester United captain quit before Christmas.
"I was pleased with how we performed in the first half. When we went in at 0-0 we thought we might be able to go on and nick something but we should have done better for their first goal. The second goal just killed the game off for us."