x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool's defiant victory at Wembley

The Liverpool manager was rewarded for his faith in his summer signings as he reached his first FA Cup final as a coach since 1989.

Luis Suarez scores Liverpool's equaliser in their 2-1 win over Everton in the FA Cup semi-final.
Luis Suarez scores Liverpool's equaliser in their 2-1 win over Everton in the FA Cup semi-final.

From an unexpected bout of internal blood letting to the more customary victory over their neighbours, there is something strangely fitting in a Kenny Dalglish-led Liverpool establishing themselves as English football's ultimate contrarians.

American owners dismissing Dalglish's transfer market collaborator two days before an all-Merseyside FA Cup semi-final? This Liverpool add another self-inflicted wound on the Wembley Stadium turf, yet recover to book a May 5 return.

A Premier League season of limited goals, fewer home wins, and a likely finish double-figure points off the elite European places? This Liverpool are now one match away from a League Cup and FA Cup double - a trophy haul achieved just thrice before in the English game.

Even Dalglish's team selection was as blunt as his refusal to evade responsibility for errant recruitment. Every one of the three young English signings Liverpool's manager had pushed Damien Comolli to purchase (and the director of football ultimately paid for with his job) started.

Instead of placing Daniel Agger in his natural position, the returning central defender was moved out left back, leaving Jamie Carragher to scramble away in the middle.

Before long, that combination was to present Everton with the tie's opening goal.

Martin Skrtel made a mess of heading away a long ball, which end up bouncing between Agger and Carragher. Both hesitated over clearing it until the latter's hooked attempt cannoned into Tim Cahill and on to Nikica Jelavic, who smoothly converted his sixth finish in 11 Everton appearances.

At this point, Liverpool were as untidy as the goal they had just handed over. Repeated attempts to short pass the ball out of defence foundered on Everton's concerted pressing. A midfield four comprising Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, Jay Spearing and Steven Gerrard was a distinct second-best as Cahill switched between lines.

Only in Andy Carroll's aerial dominance and Luis Suarez's pace behind opponents did opportunity appear.

Dalglish, though, retains a flair for tactical switches. And Everton have a tendency to play percentages in a fixture that has gone their way just four times in the past decade. Liverpool's interval instruction was to go more direct - to hit Carroll earlier, and place Suarez running at opponents.

When Carroll headed a regulation through ball towards Sylvain Distin, the defender had time to play down the line with his left foot or check back and pass to his goalkeeper.

The Frenchman chose the latter, under hit his conservative ball back to Tim Howard and watched Suarez stream past him and gather up. A moment later the Uruguayan was celebrating.

Carroll epitomised Liverpool's cussedness. The centre-forward began the second half by directing an unchallenged header past the post from six yards. He continued it by shooting wide from a further good position.

Then, with his many critics enjoying another afternoon of Schadenfreude, he converted the hardest chance of all, forcing in an 87th-minute winner with the back of his head. Around Wembley, Evertonian heads were held in despairing hands. They knew from long and bitter experience that their team almost never turns deficits into victories against these opponents.

In David Moyes's assessment: "It was our own fault today because we gave them the opportunities."

An ebullient Carroll talked of the "best feeling ever," his teammates praised a player who had risen to Liverpool's defiant moment.

"He doesn't hide and he takes criticism on the chin," said Gerrard. "That's what we bought him for, to score big goals, and he's delivered today. We were superb in the second half. We showed superb character. It's great to be in the final. It's great to deliver, and one more step and we're there."

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