Sport Soccer

Monday 22 January 2018

Dalglish eyes Cup route to revival

Liverpool 2
Stoke City 1

There is a field of daffodils on Stanley Park and walking past it towards the stadium a Scouse voice called out: "Bloody hell, it's Mother's Day; they should all have gone by now."

The old wit still remains and so does another Liverpool tradition that Kenny Dalglish would recognise from his first stint as manager -- the pursuit of silverware.

Dalglish may never succeed completely in dragging Liverpool back to where they were when he left them but, should he deliver two trophies, his first full season back can only count as a triumph, whatever Liverpool's final league position.

Should Everton overcome Sunderland, there will be another throwback, the two halves of Merseyside meeting at Wembley as they did in 1989 -- a month after the agonies of Hillsborough.

Whoever they face, Liverpool will ask to play their semi-final on Saturday, April 14, since they have never played on the anniversary of the disaster.

"We will not be playing on the 15th," insisted Dalglish. "The FA and UEFA have always been very supportive and we have never played on April 15th before."

Liverpool were drawn as the 'home' team for their semi-final -- as they have been in every round of this competition -- and they dealt with Manchester United and Stoke as efficiently as they pushed aside Oldham and Brighton. Once Stewart Downing seized on an accidental lay-back from Steven Gerrard, ran at the centre of the Stoke defence and lashed his shot past Thomas Sorensen, the outcome was seldom in question.


Like all of Dalglish's British signings, many have wondered whether Liverpool will ever see value for money from a player for whom they paid £19m. Gareth Southgate, Downing's manager at Middlesbrough, pointed out that like many flair players, the winger's self-confidence is often fragile.

"Your first year at Liverpool is sometimes a difficult one to get yourself through," said Dalglish. "But Stewart is a really good player with a good turn of pace and as good a left foot as you saw out there. He was Man of the Match in the Carling Cup final and has done us proud here."

This was Stoke's third successive FA Cup quarter-final and the club had subsidised the coaches that thundered up from the Potteries, but their last league win at Anfield came in 1959 and only fleetingly did they suggest that hoodoo might be threatened.

They were a goal down when it arrived and, predictably perhaps, it came from a corner, albeit one that should not have been given since the final touch before the ball went out of play came from a flick of Ryan Shawcross's head.

A blow became a glaring bruise when Peter Crouch headed home the corner with Dalglish arguing vehemently that his goalkeeper, Pepe Reina, had been impeded by Ryan Shotton.

Nevertheless, Andy Carroll, who, now that Fernando Torres has found a way to goal, will be under more than usual scrutiny, made an especially feeble attempt to mark the Stoke centre-forward, who scored with ease.

The same might have been said when Jon Walters burst through late in the first half without requiring Reina to make a save.

His manager, Tony Pulis, thought this was the least he might have done and Stoke were to be given nothing like the same opportunity again.

The number of chances Luis Suarez requires to score is held up as perhaps the forward's one great technical weakness, although he found the net on his debut against Stoke with virtually his first shot and did the same again here.

It capped a beautifully liquid move, struck first time on the edge of the box after he played a one-two with Maxi Rodriguez, Uruguayan combining with Argentinian.

There were three Stoke defenders who might have closed him down but they each moved fractionally late and the shot rocketed into the corner of Sorensen's net beneath the Kop.

Liverpool's great fear was that Suarez would leave at the end of the season in search of Champions League football. It probably contributed to their disastrous one-eyed defence of him during the Patrice Evra affair, although he indicated in an interview for a Uruguayan website that he would now be more than happy to stay.

Liverpool, meanwhile, can look forward to a second Wembley trip in two months. Dalglish's last FA Cup semi-final as Liverpool's manager was a defeat to Crystal Palace in 1990, eight months before his resignation.

It was perceived by many as the beginning of the end of that first reign.

Reaching the last four this time may be a defining moment of his second coming. Dalglish is fooling no one when he doubts the credibility of Liverpool's place in the Premier League table, but at least no such kidology is necessary in the cup competitions.

Should he win another major trophy this season, he will be entitled to tell everyone to ignore the league table while guiding visitors around the new arrivals in the trophy room.

There have been times when Dalglish has talked a better game than Liverpool have played. Not this week.

With a trophy already won, another semi-final secure, and possible all Merseyside affair at Wembley on the horizon, only the rise of New Romanticism, return of large shoulder pads and the recommissioning of Brookside will complete Dalglish's '80s revival. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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