The League Cup was never easy, not even in the days when Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Ronnie Whelan and company made it part of the Liverpool trophy room's fixtures and fittings on their routine away days to the stadium they liked to call Anfield South. Their red-and-white ribbons had actually been tied on the three-handled pot at Wembley in 1981, only for West Ham United to score a late equaliser, requiring more Dalglish heroics in a replay. A year later Whelan, a Wembley debutant, waited until the 87th minute to collect a gorgeous pass and take Tottenham Hotspur to extra-time and break their hearts.
That was when Liverpool were England's invincibles, collecting 11 trophies in the four years from '81. Yesterday was as unending as ever on the fingernails, and though it showed Dalglish needs time to return his club to those kind of heights, he can at least reflect today that he has taught them how to be winners again. "The trains are now running back to Liverpool Lime Street," the stadium announcer declared after 90 minutes had passed, though the sight of Dalglish, a players' manager, out on the pitch leading directions, suggested that no one was going anywhere.
The route back to Wembley was tortuous from the start. But after the strife of the past few years, a broken-down maintenance train an hour south-east of Liverpool was not going to stop the fans. Finally ending six years without a trophy was to prove just as difficult, yet the players held their nerve.
Bob Paisley always used to say the League Cup's significance was the European place it put in the bank. But the pursuit of Champions League football comes next.