KENNY DALGLISH faces an anxious wait to discover if he will remain as Liverpool manager at the end of the season after the FA Cup failed to salvage a poor campaign.
The club's American owners, Fenway Sports Group, have already begun their review into a disappointing Premier League performance and Dalglish is in an extremely precarious position.
Principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner held meetings in the immediate aftermath of their Wembley defeat to decide their strategy. The question of whether Dalglish should continue at the helm beyond the final two league games is top of their agenda.
Dalglish headed to Wembley on Saturday fully aware only a victory would make him safe due to the team's underperformance in the Premier League. Yesterday, the club dropped to ninth in the table behind Fulham.
Despite a spirited fightback in the last 30 minutes of the cup final, the game summed up a disjointed season, Liverpool going from abject to encouraging in a match which, as a whole, highlighted their flaws.
Most worrying for the manager is his own hierarchy's assessments of the signings he brought to the club, with Jordan Henderson and Jose Enrique failing to impress against Chelsea and Stewart Downing coming to the fore only in the latter stages.
The lack of faith in £35m striker Andy Carroll -- a substitute for a showpiece final -- served only to underline the poor use of transfer resources since FSG bought the club.
Ironically, the striker enjoyed an excellent cameo which suggested his manager had erred to not pick him from the start -- or at least introduce him at half-time.
Henry and Werner face broad considerations deciding Dalglish's future, particularly his popularity with supporters who have a natural inclination to rally around a man who is probably the club's greatest servant.
Dalglish has argued with considerable force that Liverpool's league form is a consequence of a series of freak results, his side unjustly rewarded for their dominant play, and they have shown enough to prove they'll radically improve next season.
The Carling Cup victory and reaching the FA Cup final offer cause for hope. If sentiment has anything to do with the board's decision, Dalglish will stay.
However, detached from the emotion of Dalglish's historic bond to Anfield, FSG set the top-four target last summer and although they were willing to tolerate respectable failure if there was tangible evidence of progress, the gap between Liverpool and the leaders has become too wide to be acceptable.
Although they won one trophy, they go into their final two games fighting to finish above Fulham rather than with Arsenal, Spurs and Newcastle for fourth.
Dalglish understands he will be the subject of a stringent review and, having recently survived when director of football Damien Comolli was dismissed, he knows there will be difficult days ahead.
"They (the owners) will do the same as us. They will sit and analyse the season at the end of it, when it is finished. We have got two games left," said Dalglish after Saturday's defeat.
FSG are pondering their next move already. They were livid with the quality of several recent performances, last week's home defeat to Fulham causing as much consternation as many others, as the owners believe enough money was invested in the squad to prevent such embarrassments.
For the new incumbents, it is a matter of determining what the minimum acceptable requirement is for a Liverpool manager.
It was just eight years ago when former chairman David Moores insisted the minimum for anyone in the Anfield dug-out was to secure Champions League football.
The manager at the time, Gerard Houllier, met this target but was still dismissed.
"Although we have reached the Champions League that is a minimum standard and not a goal," former chief executive Rick Parry said in 2004.
"The board decided change was necessary if we were to realistically challenge for the title next season."
It is a measure of the club's travails in the intervening years that Dalglish's role is a subject of debate, supporters believing such was the legacy left behind by the previous regime it would take more than one season to reverse the team's fortunes.
Should Dalglish (below) survive, it will be an unprecedented show of faith, given how the services of his predecessors were dispensed with, in some cases for considerably stronger league performances.
Graeme Souness departed after successive sixth-placed finishes and an FA Cup win. His successor, Roy Evans, never finished outside the top four, yet he was replaced after an ill-fated partnership with Houllier a year after finishing third.
Houllier was sacked despite finishing fourth in 2004, 12 months after winning his last trophy.
Rafa Benitez lost his job after finishing seventh having previously never failed to participate in the Champions League, while the inevitability of a worse placing midway through last season ensured Roy Hodgson left after six months.
It will require the threshold of acceptability for Liverpool managers to significantly lower for Dalglish to stay.
There is also the issue of who would replace him and how much more unstable it would leave the club, given the Americans have been struggling to fill the director of football role since Comolli's exit.
Ironically, Liverpool face a buoyant Chelsea again in the Premier League tomorrow -- a fixture which surely ranks as one of the most unattractive home games in the club's history. (© Daily Telegraph, London)