• 5-3 win at Stoke City takes Reds back into top four
• Rodgers: 'We're improving all the time'
Brendan Rodgers said Liverpool were legitimate title challengers after an extraordinary 5-3 win against Stoke City lifted his team into the top four and within five points of Manchester City, the Premier League leaders. Luis Suárez scored twice, taking his tally for the season to 22, and Daniel Sturridge marked his return from injury with a goal to help Liverpool record their first league win at the Britannia Stadium, at the sixth attempt.
Rodgers believes that Liverpool are "improving all the time" and, citing a favourable fixture list in the second half of the season, said his side were "in the conversation" when it comes to the title race.
Asked whether anything was possible this season, Rodgers replied. "Yeah, absolutely. We entered into the game today, 18 games to go, nine at home, nine away, knowing seven of those nine away were against teams in the bottom half. That doesn't mean they are gimmes by any means – it is a very tough league – but certainly we have shown enough that we are going to be challenging and that is all we ever wanted to be. We never stated we are going to win the league, to jump from where we have been at, we just needed to be in the conversation."
Mark Hughes, Stoke's manager, felt that the turning point in a remarkable game was when Anthony Taylor, the referee, awarded Liverpool a penalty six minutes into the second half, when Marc Wilson was adjudged to have brought down Raheem Sterling. "Soft, easy, any adjective you like, really," Hughes said, when asked about the penalty that Steven Gerrard converted to put Liverpool 3-2 up.
"The reaction of the player himself – he immediately looks towards the referee, that's always a give-away, in my opinion. There was about 3,000 Liverpool fans behind that goal as well and they reacted to it. Unfortunately the referee has bought it. I thought it was a poor decision."
Rodgers had some sympathy with Hughes but said that he has no concerns that Sterling will pick up a reputation for diving. "I would call that a Spanish penalty, which means that if you get it you are happy. Probably Mark would be aggrieved with that, to be honest," the Liverpool manager said. "I think we see lots of them on the continent, where the player is going into the box, the defender doesn't make contact with the ball but he does with the man, and Raheem is obviously running at such a speed that that slight contact knocks him over."