LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Embracing his teammates after a hugely significant win in the Premier League title race, Steven Gerrard looked to the skies and cried tears of joy.
A first championship in 24 years is tantalizingly in sight for Liverpool and its inspirational captain. A 78th-minute winner by Philippe Coutinho earned Liverpool a 3-2 victory over title rival Manchester City and capped a thrilling and emotionally charged match at Anfield on Sunday.
A 10th straight win kept Liverpool top of the standings and means four more victories in its last four matches will ensure the league trophy returns to Merseyside for the first time since 1990. "That is probably the biggest statement we have made so far," Gerrard said, moments after the leaving the pitch to a standing ovation and a pat on the back from City manager Manuel Pellegrini. "That was the longest 90 minutes I have probably played in. It felt like the clock was going backwards."
Driven on by its passionate and frenzied support, Liverpool blew away City in a breathtaking opening, going 2-0 ahead thanks to goals by Raheem Sterling and Martin Skrtel inside 26 minutes. City produced a stirring second-half fightback, with David Silva scoring in the 57th before Glen Johnson's own goal five minutes later looked like giving the visitors a point.
But Coutinho pounced on City captain Vincent Kompany's poor clearance to curl home a low strike, sending the home crowd into delirium. Jordan Henderson's injury-time red card for a studs-up challenge on Samir Nasri came too late to affect the outcome.
An emotional Gerrard rounded up Liverpool's players into a huddle after the final whistle and — with his fist clenched — delivered a rousing speech, imploring his teammates to keep going to the end of the season.
For the title race is far from over. Third-place City is seven points behind Liverpool but with two games in hand. Second-place Chelsea is two points off the lead and also has the title in its own hands, with one of its last four games coming at Anfield on April 27.
"The title does not finish today," Pellegrini said. "A lot of things will happen between now and the end of the season." All the momentum is with Liverpool, however, and it would mean so much to the club and its fans if it can win the league this season, given that Tuesday marks the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans were killed in a stadium crush. Gerrard's cousin was among those to die in the tragedy.
Thousands of Liverpool fans lined the streets outside Anfield hours before kickoff to cheer the team bus into the ground — "the game started on the way in," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said — and the sea of flags, scarves and banners in the iconic Kop stand harked back to the days in the late 1970s and '80s when the club dominated English and European football.
A string of tributes to mark the upcoming Hillsborough anniversary added to the gravitas of the contest and City's players simply failed to deal with it in the first half. By the 26th minute, they had fallen two goals behind, lost midfield driving force Yaya Toure to a hamstring injury and their defense was being undone by the pace and movement of Luis Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and the excellent Coutinho.
The Liverpool crowd also played its part, following Rodgers' orders to "unleash" themselves on City, and there was lift off inside the stadium when Sterling opened the scoring. Suarez played a pass in behind Kompany, whose fitness was in doubt after twisting his knee in training on Saturday. Sterling raced through before coming to a stop, befuddling Kompany and goalkeeper Joe Hart with some nifty footwork and then stroking home into an empty net.
City looked rattled already and its predicament worsened in the 19th when Toure hobbled off. Then, after Gerrard had a header brilliantly saved by Hart, the midfielder whipped in the resulting corner for Skrtel to peel off Kompany and glance a header into the far corner. Cue furious scarf-waving across Anfield.
"Poetry in Motion" was the chant from the Kop, but City reacted well and raised the tempo at the start of the second half, with the introduction of James Milner for Jesus Navas sparking an improvement.
Milner crossed for Silva to poke home in the 57th and Silva's center was deflected unwittingly into the net off Johnson five minutes later. It was all City but in a rare foray forward by Liverpool, Kompany miscued his clearance, Coutinho gathered and curled a shot into the corner.
"We live with Hillsborough every day — the families and the victims are in our thoughts every day," Rodgers said. "It was an inspiration for us, rather than something that held us back."