SUNDERLAND, March 19- Liverpool's exit to Sporting Braga in the Europa League on Thursday has not dented confidence at Anfield according to goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
Reina made his 300th Liverpool appearance in the goalless draw – a result that ensured Braga went through to the last eight of the competition.
That was bad news for a Liverpool side desperately trying to remain in contention for European qualification for next season and with the Anfield squad likely to have to finish fifth to return to the Europa League, Reina believes an immediate response to the Braga loss is required.
He said: "We have to bounce back now – that’s football. It’s not about how you get knocked out – it’s about how you react. We’re Liverpool and we have to react.
"We have been better in the last three months and that’s positive. We have to look at the big picture and we are improving, we are growing.
"We are disappointed and we know it’s a trophy we can no longer fight for. Now we have to make sure we finish as high as possible in the league.
"It’s a difficult moment and it’s not nice but there are still two months ahead of us and we have to keep going.
"Of course fifth is still do-able. There are nine games to play and a lot of points. Tottenham are involved in the Champions League still and have plenty of games. Hopefully we’ll win enough games to get fifth but of course everyone knows it’s difficult.
"You cannot say we are not going to play in Europe because fifth place is still available."
For Sunderland, skipper Lee Cattermole is set to return from a two-and-a-half month injury lay-off for a side that could pull within a point of sixth-placed Liverpool with their first victory in six Premier League games.
England Under-21 midfielder Cattermole has been sidelined by a back injury all year, but is in contention to make a welcome comeback, along with Nedum Onuoha and Bolo Zenden, the former Liverpool midfielder, who has missed the last two games with ankle trouble.
"To get something from the big teams you have to defend well," manager Steve Bruce said. "It’s a difficult game but the signs in training this week have been decent. We’ve got lads coming back from injury to increase competition for places which can only help.
"To have Lee back is great, he’s a driven individual and a born leader. It’s good to see him back, we know what we’ve missed with him being unavailable."
Manchester United loan forward Danny Welbeck is also in line to make his first start for two months after a hamstring injury, and Bruce added: "We’ve had a couple of free weekends with the schedule recently and that’s been decent for us to give some of our injured lads time to get fit.
"We’ve based our success this season on our defence. We know a win puts us within a point of Liverpool which is a fantastic position."
For Sunderland, Craig Gordon and Michael Turner both have knee complaints ruling them out while for Liverpool, Steven Gerrard (groin), Fabio Aurelio (hamstring), Martin Kelly (hamstring), Daniel Agger (thigh) and Jonjo Shelvey (knee) are all absent.