Liverpool's American owners stressed last night the Carling Cup was "only one marker" on the road to the goal of Champions League football, but said the club's first trophy in six years had proved, in a trying season, that they had the right manager in Kenny Dalglish.
The club's chairman Tom Werner said that the cliffhanger penalty shoot-out against Cardiff City, which he did not watch but "just heard", provided "enthusiasm to move forward" after what he admitted were high expectations on Dalglish. "Our goal is still to reach the Champions League but this has been a big day for us," Werner said. "It's a privilege to be involved with Liverpool. I hope this is a statement."
John W Henry, Liverpool's principal owner, also made it clear that the Carling Cup – secured courtesy of a decisive shoot-out miss by Steven Gerrard's cousin, Anthony – was just the start. "It's great that after all these years with you guys having to write about things off the field that finally you can talk that we're making progress with what's going on on the field," Henry said. "It's the first step to take us into a direction we want to go."
Yesterday was the 500th day of the Americans' ownership, a turbulent period which, after the court battle to wrest control, has brought a change of manager, £105m of investment in players and the Luis Suarez controversy. "There is understandable concern when you buy a club and we understand that," said Henry, whose FSG company also owns the Boston Red Sox. "But as time goes by we think both Liverpool and Red Sox fans will see there is a synergy between us all.
"Everything about owning Liverpool has surprised us. We still have a long way to go, but we had so much to learn in a year of all aspects of the sport and we're still learning. This is a great first step towards what we're trying to accomplish."
Dalglish admitted his side had not played well in a game which Cardiff's striker Kenny Miller might have won two minutes from time – only to fire over from 10 yards. "I think this will inspire the players. It must give you a taste for more – that doesn't mean to say its going to happen, but it can have an impact," Dalglish said.
For the first time, he admitted some sentiment about taking Liverpool back to Wembley for their first appearance in 16 years. "I was emotional," he said. "This means a lot to an awful lot of people and that is what this club stands for. Hopefully this makes up for the days when it hasn't been like that. We need to continue to work hard and see where it takes us. We didn't think six years ago it would take this long."
Gerrard said there was nothing he could say to lift his devastated cousin after a shoot-out in which he himself missed the first kick. The Liverpool captain – who went straight to console his cousin after his miss – said: "It doesn't matter what I say to him at this time. I know that he will be down. I have been there when I scored an own goal against Chelsea [in the 2005 final]. I will be here for him after the game and all the family will be behind him."
Dalglish also reflected it was "a long way to win it" after Ben Turner cancelled out Dirk Kuyt's goal just two minutes from the end of extra time. "We were always going to go under pressure. They have very good delivery in set plays. It's not a nice way to win a cup but we'll take it. It's sad the boy missed it. You always feel for someone like that."
Kuyt said: "I was very disappointed not to play longer than 15 minutes but I have to put that aside. I'm so happy to have scored the goal."
The Cardiff manager, Malky Mackay, admitted the defeat had been hard to take. "Yes it was. We had a chance in the last minute which Kenny [Miller] just places over and I thought that was going to be that. I'm proud of them, so very proud of them."