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King Kenny's kiss of life breathes fire into 'Pool

WHAT took the Americans so long? Liverpool needed so much more than any old caretaker manager and no one could say they didn't get a little of it at Old Trafford yesterday when Kenny Dalglish responded to arguably the most desperate SOS in the history of football.

Their requirement was obviously greater than anything Roy Hodgson was going to provide after he became a figure of hate and ridicule on the Anfield terraces and -- to be fair to the instinct if not the style of the mob who took him down -- someone who plainly had neither the strength nor the nerve left to tackle a job that had become next to impossible.

Impossible, certainly, for someone who didn't have the gravitas of the man who was cruising in the Middle East when the club he had served so superbly, both as a player and a manager, was disappearing even further up the creek.

It took Liverpool a long, long time, and too many false turns and miscalculations and betrayals to comfortably list here, to reach the nadir of that wrenching home defeat by bottom-of- the-table Wolves, but there was no mystery about the most crying need.

Despite the FA Cup defeat by Manchester United, it may not be too soon to say that some of it has already been put in place.

We are talking about a sense of pride and responsibility, an ability to do something more than lay back and accept the worst that fate has bestowed.

Liverpool may not have been able to muster quite enough of it to overcome two devastating decisions by referee Howard Webb, or disguise the fact that first Dalglish and then the man who is even now, apparently, being head-hunted to succeed him in the summer, face restoration work that can only be described as epic.

Still, you have to start somewhere and at Old Trafford the mere presence of King Kenny had several obvious benefits even as the referee's hammer blows were delivered.

Not least was the fact that mocking the man in the Liverpool dug-out would have been an outrage even in these anarchic days on the terraces.

It would have been blasphemy, cause for excommunication; so, it seemed, would any suggestion of disrespect or disinterest from professionals who had recently hinted they had lost the will to live, let alone play.

So Liverpool remained committed to achieving something, even if it was some basic defiance, after Dimitar Berbatov was awarded a penalty inside a minute for a dive flagrant even by today's standards.

Observers of the experience of Sam Allardyce and Gareth Southgate both agreed that the Bulgarian had cheated, or, as they say in the game, gone down a little easily after fleeting contact with Daniel Agger, but only in the way any working professional would have done, with the possible exception of the new Theo Walcott.

Dalglish was also aggrieved by the red card given to Steven Gerrard after he flew at Michael Carrick with both feet off the ground.

Here, the Anfield redeemer was on less comfortable ground, even if he had seen Webb merely offer a yellow card to Holland's Nigel de Jong for his gruesome airborne assault on Xabi Alonso during the World Cup final.

Gerrard's absence for three games is a nightmarish blow for the new manager, but it is not without a little redemption. Before the red mist, Gerrard looked not only interested, but something like his old self.

This could not, unfortunately, be said of Liverpool's other great player, Fernando Torres, but here again Dalglish's mere presence seemed to have brought a new dimension, one in which a new level of professional accountability might just have a part to play.

Unlike Hodgson, Dalglish had the nerve to do something about it. He withdrew Torres and threw in the younger legs and currently more obvious ambition of David Ngog.

Ryan Babel and Jonjo Shelvey were already on the field and Martin Kelly, who looked roughly three times a more natural defender than a Glenn Johnson taking early paternity leave, had been on from the start.

It didn't swing the result, didn't threaten United's man advantage which became more apparent as the game wore on, but it was evidence of life, even a hint that already some powerful reassessments might just be in place.

Torres, it seems increasingly obvious, is destined for other places and plainly Dalglish comes to him without the aura he no doubt occupies in the minds of someone like Gerrard or young Kelly, a strong-minded Lancastrian who has grown up at the club.

Even so, Torres may just recognise in Dalglish a man who has no reason to be overawed by evidence of outstanding talent, even a genius to score goals.

At this time, of all times, it can be no bad thing to have in charge the man who is not only arguably the best Liverpool player of all time, but one who has displayed the professional nous to deliver four league titles -- three to Anfield and one to Blackburn -- and whose mere presence, we were reminded yesterday, is guaranteed to inflame the hackles of no less than Alex Ferguson.

There is, of course, a theory that Dalglish's re-awakened appetite for the game, dulled no doubt by his experiences in the disaster area of Newcastle United and a Celtic who could hardly have separated themselves further from the days of Jock Stein, has come too late.

Allardyce suggested as much when he said that Dalglish's anger over the Gerrard decision was an indicator of his time away from the game.

Maybe it is so, maybe not, but there are some things that are eternal, in football as elsewhere.

They concern standards and demands, and most pertinently in the recent history of Liverpool Football Club, a strong idea about who can play -- and who can't.

After just 24 hours back on the job, even Dalglish would no doubt admit that he has absolutely everything still to prove.

However, who could say that it was pure coincidence yesterday when Liverpool looked at least a little like, of all things, Liverpool? (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent