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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Liverpool Echo: Wembley glory for Kenny

New setting, same old glorious Liverpool FC.

As an ecstatic Pepe Reina was lost amid a sea of red, six long years of pain and frustration were banished.

Bill Shankly said this club exists to win trophies and normal service has finally been resumed.

The huge outpouring of emotion at the end of a remarkable afternoon showcased what clinching the Carling Cup for a record eighth time meant. So much of Liverpool's great history was written in the shadow of the Twin Towers. Now they have some to cherish under the giant arch.

There was Kenny Dalglish charging around the hallowed turf like it was 1978 all over again.

With his arms aloft that beaming smile lit up the capital. The Reds boss' love affair with Wembley lives on.

For Steven Gerrard there was the realisation of a boyhood dream as he climbed the 107 steps up to the Royal Box and gleefully lifted the Cup aloft.

Having waited so long to add to his medal collection and having endured the year from hell due to career-threatening injuries this was so sweet.

And what a touch of class from the skipper to put his own euphoria aside to console his cousin Anthony, after the boyhood Reds fan's penalty miss had handed them the Cup.

How the travelling Kop celebrated their day in the glorious spring sunshine.

It's been a long time since the Reds' anthem reverberated anywhere with such passion as this. Try telling those fans this was only the Carling Cup.

The transformation in Liverpool's fortunes has been nothing short of astonishing.

Sixteen months ago this was a club on the brink of administration. Dogged by debt, disharmony and infighting the Reds were on their knees. A civil war was being waged and the club was slipping towards the abyss.

Just 500 days on from that memorable triumph in the High Court, John Henry and Tom Werner sat in the bowels of the national stadium yesterday toasting the first silverware of their reign.

The American duo have provided the stability and financial backing to enable Dalglish to mastermind the Reds' resurgence. And how the King of the Kop has weaved his magic.

Of course for a club with 18 league titles and five European Cups in the cabinet, another League Cup should be put in context.

There will be no open-top bus tour or ticker tape parade. Most of Dalglish's men will link up with their international squads today to prepare for midweek friendlies.

But the fact Liverpool are back competing and most importantly winning on the big stage is the reason why the capital witnessed scenes of such unbridled joy.

The pace of progress under Dalglish has been impressive over the past 13 months. He has overseen a major rebuilding job and his new-look side have something tangible to show for their efforts.

Now the challenge facing those players is to ensure this isn't an isolated success but the dawn of a bright new era.

With the Reds in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and chasing Champions League qualification, there can be no basking in the glory. This must be used as a springboard to bigger and better prizes.

Having ended their 16-year wait to grace Wembley, they should be targeting a return in just seven weeks.

The journey from overwhelming favourites to winners was an excruciating one - laced with twists and turns. But then was it ever going to be any different? Liverpool gave up winning trophies the easy way a long time ago.

They had 39 shots, 19 on target and another 19 corners yet somehow failed to deliver the killer blow.

Just as in Istanbul and Cardiff this one went the distance. And once again Liverpool somehow held their nerve when it mattered most.

Pity poor Cardiff City who contributed so much to a rollercoaster afternoon. Malky Mackay's Championship outfit battled so hard to thwart the endless wave of Reds attacks.

Liverpool started with such intent and positively with the captain stamping his authority on the contest.

They could have led inside two minutes only for Glen Johnson's curler to bounce back off the underside of the bar.

Stewart Downing produced his finest display in a Reds shirt and gave Kevin McNaughton a torrid time.

Yet a succession of tempting crosses didn't get the finish they warranted and Liverpool were rocked by Cardiff's 19th minute opener.

Martin Skrtel's defensive header failed to clear the danger and then the Reds were slow to respond. Kenny Miller's pass put Joe Mason through and he coolly slotted past Pepe Reina.

Suddenly, anxiety crept in and passes started to go astray. Gerrard rallied the troops but there was little spark in the final third and Cardiff defended like their lives depended on it.

Charlie Adam fired wide before Daniel Agger headed wastefully straight at Tom Heaton.

The threat of being on the end of the biggest final upset since Wimbledon beat them in 1988 loomed large.

Just before the hour mark Dalglish took decisive action with Craig Bellamy, applauded on by both sets of fans, replacing the ineffective Jordan Henderson.

The reward was almost instant. Andy Carroll rose to meet Downing's corner and Luis Suarez nodded his header goalwards. The ball came back off the post and Martin Skrtel reacted quickest to hammer home from close range.

It was the Slovakian's fourth goal of the campaign and the first by a Liverpool player at Wembley since Steve McManaman in the 1995 League Cup final.

Downing stung Heaton's palms but Cardiff could have won it at the death only for Ben Turner to head wide before Miller lashed a glorious chance over the bar.

With Jamie Carragher having replaced the injured Agger, Dalglish turned to Dirk Kuyt in place of Carroll in extra time.

So often the man for the big occasion, the Dutchman delivered once again in the 108th minute. When Turner gifted the ball back to him Kuyt swept a shot inside Heaton's near post.

Kuyt looked to have cemented his hero status with a stunning goalline clearance off the line, only for Turner to bundle home Peter Whittingham's corner seconds later.

Liverpool had to pick themselves off the canvas in a bid to extend their record of never having lost a major final on penalties.

With Heaton tipping Steven Gerrard's spot-kick on to the bar and then Adam blazing over the Reds were on the ropes. Those efforts were sandwiched by Miller striking the post.

Don Cowie put Cardiff in the box seat but Kuyt coolly levelled and then Rudy Gestede hit the woodwork.

Downing and Whittingham both netted prior Glen Johnson firing into the roof of the net. Suddenly, the tables had turned and the pressure told as Anthony Gerrard dragged wide.

Liverpool set off on their victory charge and into Reina's welcoming arms.

Source: Liverpool Echo

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