x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Nostalgic venue smiles on Dalglish's Liverpool in Carling Cup final

Liverpool end their six-year trophy drought with a nervy penalty shoot-out win over Cardiff City after the match finishes 2-2 after 90 minutes and extra time.

Steven Gerrard, left, vies for the ball with Rudy Gestede at the Wembley Stadium in London.
Steven Gerrard, left, vies for the ball with Rudy Gestede at the Wembley Stadium in London.

Kenny Dalglish's debut year as a Liverpool player reached its apex at Wembley, the Scot's famous smile lighting up England's national stadium after his glorious finish against Club Brugge determined the European Cup.

His maiden campaign as player-manager concluded beneath the twin towers, a Merseyside derby victory over Everton securing the FA Cup and a historic double.

And now his first full season of his second spell in charge brought a hat-trick of Wembley triumphs as a valiant Cardiff were overcome on penalties.

The Carling Cup is heading for Anfield's trophy cabinet as Dalglish's reputation among his Merseyside constituents is burnished.

A serial winner has ended Liverpool's long wait. A first Wembley trip since 1996 ended with a twist on a familiar script: Liverpool won because of Gerrard.

Unlike the 2005 Champions League final and its 2006 FA Cup equivalent, it was not Steven but his cousin Anthony.

The Cardiff centre-back, a lifelong Liverpool fan, missed the final penalty in an error-strewn shoot-out. It was a cruel conclusion, not merely for the Liverpudlian in the Bluebirds' ranks, but because the Championship side were superb, taking the lead, hauling themselves back from the brink in the final minutes of extra time and then taking the lead in the subsequent shoot-out.

Steven Gerrard, going first, had his spot kick, brilliantly saved. Then, after Kenny Miller missed, Charlie Adam sent an astonishingly wayward penalty high into the stands. But with Rudy Gestede hitting the post and Dirk Kuyt, Stewart Downing and Glen Johnson all scoring, Liverpool regained the advantage.

Cue Gerrard and the man with one of the most famous names in Anfield history added a strange footnote.

As in the 1984 and 2005 European Cup finals, Liverpool won on penalties. As they had done throughout Dalglish's glorious first spell on Merseyside, they were winners again.

While a top-four league finish appears problematic - Liverpool are rather nearer Norwich than Arsenal - the season's other aim has been achieved.

It is the reward for Dalglish's pragmatic recognition that the Carling Cup is the most winnable of trophies, even if Liverpool's path to glory was awkward in the extreme.

By winning at Stoke City, Chelsea and Manchester City, they may have felt the hard work had been done.

Instead, the celebration was put on hold by their admirable opponents, a Championship club trying to take one of England's major trophies to Wales for the first time since they were FA Cup winners in 1927.

They had led through Joe Mason, a £250,000 (Dh1.46 million) signing from a Plymouth side relegated in each of the last two seasons, who threatened to upstage his rather costlier Liverpool counterparts. He defeated Pepe Reina after meeting Miller's precise pass.

Liverpool had threatened rather more when Glen Johnson bent a shot against the post in the second minute, but needed a set-piece to level the scores. Martin Skrtel, partly culpable for Mason's goal, showed a striker's instinct to convert the rebound after Luis Suarez had headed against the post.

In a below-par performance, reinforcements were required to add a little spark. Craig Bellamy was an improvement on the woeful Jordan Henderson while Kuyt added the cutting edge Andy Carroll lacked.

The Dutchman joined Liverpool in 2006, and a workhorse provided gallons of sweat in their cause before receiving a medal for his efforts. They included a fizzing shot that put Liverpool ahead and a goal-line clearance.

Even then, Cardiff responded, Ben Turner turning the ball over the line from close range to take the game to penalties.

Operating as an emergency striker in the final few minutes, the centre-back was one of the underdogs to excel as Cardiff defended magnificently.

Mark Hudson, who had been sidelined for the previous month, set the tone with a magnificent interception to stop Suarez's flick reaching Carroll. On one side, Kevin McNaughton, the prematurely greying right-back, followed suit with a superb challenge on the Uruguayan. On the other, left-back Andrew Taylor completed a defiant quartet by clearing Suarez's header off the line.

Each deserved better. Yet the Bluebirds ended devastated and the Liver Birds delighted. There was a time when lifting silverware was an annual occurrence for Liverpool, a time when Dalglish reigned supreme on the pitch.

And now his nostalgia project has brought its prize.

 

sports@thenational.ae