Another Wembley win, but 'Anfield South' has gone west

 

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The Independent Football

Kenny Dalglish had been here before, taking command of a Wembley FA Cup dressing room with his Liverpool side 1-0 down to Everton after a dismal first half.

The difference between the halfway points of the 2012 semi and the 1986 final, though, was the message he could deliver. "We've been magnificent all season. There's 45 minutes to go. Let's give it our best shot," he said 26 years ago, before Ian Rush and Craig Johnston consigned Gary Lineker's opening goal to history and secured Liverpool the double.

Dalglish would not reveal yesterday's interval talk – "We would never tell you anyway," he said, before abruptly concluding a terse post-match press conference – but there could have been no talk of magnificence. His club's progression to a second final in two months was as bereft of quality as their season has been.

In his pre-match television interview with his daughter, Kelly, Dalglish revealed how the firing of Damien Comolli, erstwhile Liverpool director of football, had sent a chill through him. You know in football that you might get the next bullet, Dalglish said.

His knack of taking Liverpool to the place Rush knew as "Anfield South" has nurtured what he described in the programme as "the younger generation of Liverpool supporters who can now start to tell their own stories about what it is like to make the trip".

But the disjointed victory, against a generation of Everton players who will die regretting their failure to seize the best chance they will get to eclipse Liverpool, did not disguise the impression that this is not a team but a group of signings thrown together.

Few of them have been selected less casually than Jamie Carragher over the past 12 years. It was not sentimentality, but a selection enabling Dalglish to dispense with the disintegrating left-back Jose Enrique and deploy Daniel Agger in the Spaniard's place.

But Carragher's time is running out. Time stood still in the penalty area as he and Agger dithered over the clearance which Carragher might as well have laid straight to Nikica Jelavic for Everton's goal, cutting out the middle man, Tim Cahill.

Carragher was the only Liverpool player who plunged to the turf at the final whistle and you sensed it was relief more than joy that had put him there. He was not the only one who will have no care to look back on this afternoon. Jordan Henderson was not born to deliver crosses, as Dalglish billets him to do. Stewart Downing has become infrequently capable of delivering them and you could see why Rush held his head in hands when something matching the definition of a Downing cross was headed wide by Andy Carroll after 47 minutes.

This was all about as far removed as you will get from those videos of Rush and Co which have been playing on Liverpool's in-house TV station all week – the praise in John Motson's commentary at one critical juncture relating to the way Liverpool burst from defence to attack so rapidly and fluently. Craig Bellamy, a substitute and the free signing who has been comfortably Dalglish's best, had been on the field for four minutes when he delivered the high ball that Carroll headed in. It showed the value of a good supply line.

So it all turned out nice again, though some of the chemistry off camera revealed the more complex picture of 11 players struggling to become a team.

There was Luis Suarez, one of life's complainers, screaming at Jay Spearing, who had his head in his hands after a pass into danger went astray. There was Carroll screaming at Suarez, who had slipped as he turned in the box and failed to spot him. Steven Gerrard screamed at Brad Jones after he failed to shout for a ball.

The headlines and the scoreline tell of Liverpool's progression to a second final, which enables Dalglish to reaffirm that he is bringing back the old qualities. "If you can't enjoy winning you might as well put the lid on the box," the manager said. But his did not feel like a victor's press conference and somewhere inside he knows how removed his club are from when he stood in that Wembley dressing room 26 years ago.

"There's no need for us to say whether we deserved it or we didn't," Dalglish insisted.

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