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Liverpool find chink of light at end of long, dark season

At Wembley, yesterday afternoon Liverpool's season suddenly seemed free of all problems. The men who for very different reasons had personified their year of turmoil scored the goals that put Kenny Dalglish's side in the FA Cup final.

Andy Carroll -- beleaguered, hapless Andy Carroll -- scored a late winner for the second time in a week after dominating his opponents, while Luis Suarez was tormenting Everton like only Suarez can torment defenders.

Carroll deserved this moment for all he has endured. He scored the winner against Blackburn on Tuesday but this wasn't Ewood Park, this was Wembley and at half-time, Liverpool's season was coming to a miserable end. They were losing to a Nikica Jelavic goal caused by comically hapless defending from Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger.

Before the game, Kenny Dalglish had conceded that nobody was "bullet-proof" at the end of a week in which the director of football Damien Comolli had lost his job. At half-time, it looked as if the questions after the game would be about his own job. Dalglish hadn't ducked responsibility for the signings which had failed to bring a Liverpool challenge to the top four.

Luis Suarez has been the only unqualified success but his season will be remembered for the wrong reasons. His Liverpool career might transcend it yet. Dalglish was asked afterwards if he could say what he told his players at half-time.

"No," he said, providing the most predictable answer of the season, before adding, "it's not a magic formula."

When Dalglish was Liverpool manager the first time round, the world craved their secrets. There is no magic formula any more because there is rarely any magic. When the magic comes, it often comes from Suarez. In the second half, he led Liverpool, craving some players who were on his wavelength.

"We'd weathered the storm," David Moyes said afterwards of the opening 15 minutes of the second half. Suarez needed an accurate pass all afternoon. In the 62nd minute, Sylvain Distin provided one, succeeding where Jay Spearing had failed minutes earlier. Distin played the ball into Suarez's path. He advanced on Tim Howard's goal and equalised with a composure which demonstrated his ability as a finisher.

"He's really down, he's an experienced player. He knows exactly what it means and how important it is," Moyes said of Distin. In that moment, the game was gone for Everton. Moyes' side had dominated the first half of an ordinary game.

It is customary to say that sides are overawed by the big occasion but in fact both teams were playing to the maximum of their mediocre abilities. In the first half, Darron Gibson had dominated midfield as Liverpool failed to function. There were sound reasons for selecting Carragher in a backline missing Pepe Reina's experience but it was hard to find them when Everton scored.

Martin Skrtel somehow managed to excel amid the chaos, while Brad Jones performed with heart and character. At the final whistle, he fell to his knees in remembrance of Luca, his five-year-old son who died last November.

The Wembley crowd had also remembered Gary Ablett and observed beautifully a minute's silence on the eve of the anniversary of Hillsborough. Victory meant so much to both teams because of the local rivalry but both Moyes and Dalglish needed, for different reasons, the enhancement to their reputation the FA Cup would bring.

After Suarez's goal, Everton shrank. Carroll dominated in the air but before the equaliser he missed a simple chance from a Downing cross.

The game lacked quality. Moyes said mistakes decided it and unfortunately his players made more of them.

Giovanni Trapattoni can be sure to bring up the mistakes of Seamus Coleman when he wants to justify his exclusion. Trap never forgets an error when they endorse his worldview. Coleman had a horrible afternoon when he came on as a sub but if inexperience was to blame for his error, then Distin had no excuse.

Coleman was lucky to escape a second yellow when

he dived in on Steven Gerrard in the final minutes. It was a pointless challenge but a pivotal one. Another sub, Craig Bellamy, took the free and Carroll's flicked header won Liverpool the game.

It was, Carragher said afterwards, a goal which justified Carroll's transfer fee. Carroll is unlikely ever to do that but the best he can hope for is that it's forgotten. He dominated in the air but if Liverpool are to get the most out of Suarez, they need players with more pace and wit.

Carroll was perfect for the beating of Everton and Liverpool can look forward to a final. They are a "work in progress", Dalglish said, but the problem this season has been spotting the progress.

Now there is some evidence. "They've come back from what's not been a great time in the football club's history," Dalglish said before hoping, not for the first time, that Liverpool's cup form might translate into the league.

Everton hadn't been able to translate their superior league form into this Cup game and Moyes still waits for a trophy.

Liverpool have won one and now they are close to another. Dalglish, for all his mistakes this season, has never forgotten the beauty of winning: "If you can't enjoy winning, you might as well put the lid on the box," he said.

They cleave to history too closely at times at Anfield, but winning has always been among their finest traditions.

Sunday Indo Sport