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Dalglish steeled for massive task ahead

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish accepts the task of restoring the club to their once-envied position in European football will not be an easy one.

The Scot enjoyed a hugely successful career as a player at Anfield and continued that into his first spell in charge as Reds boss.

One of the most damning statistics which highlights the decline of a club so dominant at home and abroad from the late 1970s through to the late 1980s is that Dalglish is the last Liverpool manager to win the league championship 22 years ago.

Since then, Manchester United have taken their place at the top of English football and, with Manchester City having flexed their considerable financial muscle to become genuine title contenders and Tottenham adding their name to the so-called 'big four', Liverpool's -- and Dalglish's task -- has become even tougher.

They have not helped themselves this season as, just when it looked as though they were poised to make a late run for Champions League qualification, having missed out the last two seasons, results have collapsed.

The Reds are now eighth in the table, enduring their worst run of form since 1953, and are 16 points adrift of fourth place, with the relegation zone (12 points) closer.

"It was always going to be difficult to get back to where we were because we were so high up," said Dalglish.

"But it (the method for success) has not changed too much really -- it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of effort, which is what everyone is putting in. We have good players who can get us there, but you need confidence and belief in yourself and you need a bit of luck.

"We just have to keep on going and believing that the hard work will be rewarded eventually."

Morale within the squad has taken a knock after six defeats in seven league matches as the expected uplift from their League Cup victory in February has failed to materialise.

With confidence visibly ebbing away with every loss, Liverpool's players will find themselves tested against Aston Villa at Anfield today as ever-present goalkeeper Pepe Reina begins a three-match suspension after his red card at Newcastle last Sunday.

The Spain international, who has missed only eight league games in his seven seasons at Anfield, had played 183 successive league matches.

He is likely to be replaced by Doni, the summer signing from Roma who will be making his competitive debut having played 57 minutes of an October friendly against Rangers before dislocating a finger.

The Brazilian has been an unused substitute for every fixture this season and Dalglish accepts it may be hard for the 32-year-old to slot straight in, although he has every faith in Reina's deputy.

"Someone said to me it is easier for a goalkeeper to come in than an outfield player, but I think it is difficult for anyone to come in who has not played for a while," said the Reds boss.

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Irish Independent