In this strangest of seasons for Liverpool, Kenny Dalglish continues to insist that progress is being made. Eyebrows were raised last week when his main arguments for this seemed to be that commercial revenue was up and the club's academy was looking good.
Other events off the field have been unhappier. With the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra controversy dying down only slowly, the ghosts of Hillsborough have been raised in the past week. Supporters outraged by the slurs on their club in both cases are nevertheless peering critically at the League table, which shows the worst home record in memory; Anfield having seen fewer goals by friend or foe than almost any ground in the country; and their team on course to finish with the worst scoring record since 1992. This after a season that was supposed to benefit from an absence of European football for the first time in a decade.
And yet, and yet... a Europa League place is already booked for next season by virtue of having won the Carling Cup three weeks ago; Manchester City and Manchester United have both been beaten in the domestic cup competitions; victory over the latter and then a 6-1 thumping of Brighton paved the way for a quarter-final at home to Stoke City today and a chance for youngsters to learn what once seemed a regular anthem for their elders – "Put the champagne on ice/ We're going to Wembley twice."
Then, since the mood at a football club is invariably determined by the last result, there was the 3-0 drubbing inflicted on Everton to complete a seasonal derby double last Tuesday. David Moyes, to general surprise and not a little dissatisfaction from his own supporters, fielded a weakened side, preferring to put most of his eggs in the FA Cup basket for yesterday's tie against Sunderland. Dalglish did not feel he could do so and will send out the strongest possible side again today, adamant that as in his playing days the cups are important and that nobody should be judged purely on the little numbers opposite a club's name in the League standings.
"It's not necessarily true that you look only at the League table," he said ahead of today's tie. "I think people should take an intelligence check. All we have said is we want to move the club forward.
"Everybody will have a different perspective and will move the goal- posts to judge whether it's moving forward or not. Whether it's points, position in the League or whether it's trophies, they are going to have their own agenda.
"The most important thing for us is the progress the football club has made on the pitch and off the pitch, through the academy areas, the development of the kids there. It's been going for three, four years and you can really see huge improvements in the way that the kids are progressing."
Encouraging as it may be to hear long-term thinking, that will feel like little consolation this afternoon if Stoke defend as effectively as in the goalless draw at Anfield in January.
"We were quite happy with the way we played apart from not getting a goal to win the match," Dalglish said, echoing a familiar refrain. "If we can control the game and keep it away from dead-ball situations, we will have a better opportunity. It's a tough game at any stage. They came here and were very well organised. They got to the FA Cup final last year and must have enjoyed it. I imagine they will have the hunger to go back this year. Whenever a cup final is played at Wembley you won't get the 90 other clubs saying they are glad they are not there."
Liverpool v Stoke City is on ITV1 today, kick-off 4pmReuse content