Manchester City managed to see off West Brom to keep alive their lingering title hopes, but an injury to the irreplaceable David Silva means they need a monumental effort to overhaul champions-elect Liverpool in the remaining games.
The 3-1 win sees them move to within six points of the leaders with a game in hand, but with back-to-back away games at Crystal Palace and Everton to come, Silva's likely absence will make those two tough matches even harder, and they can ill afford another slip-up.
The Spaniard's performances in recent weeks have been impressive, consistently City's best and most creative player during a run in which the side has seen some of its players dip in form.
After the game, City boss Manuel Pellegrini told reporters:
We will see tomorrow with the doctor what happened with David. David played the last games with pain in his ankle. That is why it was impossible for him to play against Sunderland because after three days he can't recover from his problem.
The Chilean confirmed that Silva damaged the same ankle that has been troubling him in recent weeks, and the sight of him leaving the field in considerable pain left most inside the Etihad struggling to envisage seeing the mercurial midfielder in a Blue shirt again this season.
The hope for City is that Stevan Jovetic, who looked bright and is capable of playing a withdrawn role just off the striker, and Samir Nasri can provide the necessary creativity if Silva is to miss the remaining matches.
City's first-half performance was excellent, their tempo and passing back to the level expected of a side containing so many quality players. At the heart of everything was Sergio Aguero, who scored his 27th of an injury-hit campaign, leaving City fans wondering what could have been had he been available all season.
Pablo Zabaleta scored the opener—his first of the season—heading home after Aguero's shot was saved, and Martin Demichelis wrapped up the points with a tap-in that accelerates his rise to cult status among the club's fans.
Demichelis' goal meant this was the first time three Argentines had scored in a Premier League game.
Indeed, Demichelis was named Man of the Match inside the stadium, with his reversal of fortunes one of the few bright spots in what's been an otherwise tepid few weeks for City. He was publicly ridiculed only a few weeks ago after errors against Barcelona and Wigan saw City exit two cup competitions, but he has been excellent since and deserves the praise coming his way.
Demichelis has gone from a figure of fun to a figure of force. Huge respect to him for turning things around.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) April 21, 2014
One win in four league games before this match has seriously damaged City's title chances, but Pellegrini insists his side remains focused on winning its remaining games in the hope that Liverpool slip up:
We know that at the moment we had two or three games postponed, it was very difficult for us to be at the top of the table and to feel we were the team that had most chances.
When we lost against Liverpool we knew we don't depend on what we are going to do from now until the end of the season but we have a duty and that is to win our games.
With the title now out of City's hands, they must rely on Liverpool, who still have to face Chelsea at Anfield, slipping up. It's far from impossible, but it requires the Blues winning all of their remaining matches to take advantage of any dropped points by Brendan Rodgers' side.
Without Silva, that becomes more difficult, but the memory of 2012, when City won their last six league fixtures to overhaul Manchester United and win the league, is still relatively fresh. It seems highly unlikely City will end up champions, but stranger things have happened in these parts.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!