Dalglish's golden touch returns smiles to Anfield

Liverpool 5 Birmingham 0
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The Independent Online

Kenny Dalglish has enjoyed many memorable moments with Liverpool. As a player, winning six League titles, three European Cups, one FA Cup and four League Cups; and as a manager, the first time around, when guiding his team to three League titles and two FA Cups. Each one treasured and, had he a sentimental bone in his body, which he would never admit to, each one perhaps evoking a lump-in-the-throat reflection on the good old days. Small wonder the No 7 shirts with "King Kenny" embossed on the back still abound at Anfield.

Yet as the Second Coming of Dalglish, the manager, gathers momentum, the chorusing of his name growing ever louder on the Kop, even the famously give-nothing-away Scot will concede to a flutter of humility and excitement. It is as if he has never been away.

"If the punters are enjoying it, then so are we," Dalglish said, his side having surgically dismantled Birmingham City at Anfield on Saturday. "It is humbling when they chant my name but it would be better for me if they chanted the players' names because they are the ones doing the business on the pitch."

It was a rare glimpse of what his return to the front line – and the adoration of the masses – means to him. Quickly reverting to type, though, not for one second would he reveal when his inevitable promotion from caretaker to manager will be rubber-stamped by Fenway Sports Group, the club's American owners.

"I said if I could come back and help, I would do," Dalglish said. "They asked and I have come. If I helped and the supporters have enjoyed it, then so have I. On my own situation, there is nothing to be announced. For me, it is an honour to be here and an honour to have been asked."

For Alex McLeish, the Birmingham manager, there is no decision to make. "Kenny has come back in and put a smile on everyone's face," he said. "He has got them laughing again. He has got that aura about him. Players are respectful of him and they respect whatever he says. It's the attention they give him when he shouts from the touchline. It's there, Kenny's back with a bang. I cannot see him not getting the job, I just can't imagine that."

Few could imagine Liverpool challenging for a European place when, under the sterile leadership of Roy Hodgson, they languished in 12th in January. Yet 14 matches and 27 points later, they lie sixth and are well placed to take advantage of any further slip by a tottering Tottenham Hotspur.

No Champions League, no cigar just yet, but a slot in the Europa League next season – under the full-time stewardship of Dalglish – would represent a quantum leap in Liverpool's fortunes. A top-four league finish might be back on the agenda, too, especially if the Luis Suarez-Andy Carroll tandem flourishes up front.

Carroll sat it out on Saturday, exiled by a knee problem, but Suarez was rampant. The £23m capture from Ajax might not have scored but his twisting runs and selfless, searching passes proved impossible for Birmingham to counter. "He is a sensational signing," McLeish enthused. "He is going to be a huge star for Liverpool."

Maxi Rodriguez took the star billing with a hat-trick, exhibiting close-range poaching of the highest quality. Dirk Kuyt snaffled a seventh goal in six matches and Joe Cole – remember him? – was indebted to replacement goalkeeper Colin Doyle's fumbling as he completed the rout.

That Suarez did not appreciate the history of the No 7 shirt when he chose it on his arrival in January was a tad amusing but it appears to fit him snugly. If he enjoys as much success in it as one of its previous wearers, that'll do nicely for King Kenny.

Scorers: Liverpool Rodriguez 7, 66, 73 Kuyt 23, Cole 86

Substitutes: Liverpool Shelvey (Robinson, 79), Cole (Meireles, 85), Ngog (Rodriguez, 89). Birmingham Doyle 4 (gk; Foster, 41), Bentley 5 (Hleb, 67), Phillips (Gardner, 79).

Booked: Liverpool Robinson.

Man of the match Suarez. Match rating 7/10.

Possession: Liverpool 51% Birmingham 49%.

Attempts on target: Liverpool 13 B'ham 6.

Referee H Webb (South Yorks) Att 44,734.

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