Houllier praises his side

LIVERPOOL manager Gerard Houllier praised his side's Worthington Cup winning performance over Manchester United while paying tribute to the fans who have backed him throughout a turbulent season.

After watching his side out-play and out-muscle their fiercest of rivals at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium to grant Houllier his fourth major trophy in two years, the Reds boss beamed: "Two special things have come from our success today.

"Firstly we have beaten a great team in Manchester United which has taken the performance of my players to a higher level and the second thing is that as we've been going through a difficult period, particularly in the league, this performance on the back of the win against Auxerre (on Thursday night) has provided a special moment for the club and the fans."

Prior to kick-off it was Sir Alex Ferguson's in-form team who were being hotly tipped to take the silverware back up north, but following what was one of their best performances of the season to date, it is Houllier's men who are cracking open the champagne once more.

In a stuttering campaign that has seen Liverpool lose a seven-point lead at the top of the Premiership to fall away from Champions League contention, the club's fans have had little to cheer about.

However, in recognition of the frustration which had preceded the Cup Final, Houllier was quick to thank the supporters for their patience: "I would like to thank all our fans for their support but I also had a special thought for those who travelled to our Worthington Cup match at Aston Villa. Those 5000 or so fans who had to wait over and hour were there even though we weren't doing too well at the time. I said to the players that we must win today for ourselves of course but also for our friends and family and the fans. You could see at the end of the game today the communion between the players and the fans as they chanted 'You'll Never Walk Alone' together. That was something special."

It was a special moment for the Reds' goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek also as he picked up the man-of-the-match award after an inspired performance to keep Liverpool in the game. For those with short memories it was after Dudek's error that helped United to victory at Anfield last December and he subsequently lost his place after a terrrible dip in form. However, since taking back over from the injured Chris Kirkland, Dudek has looked back to his best but it was no surprise for Houllier that the Pole would re-pay the faith shown in him: "I told Jerzy a few days ago that he would be the hero of this game," continued the Reds boss.

"He was unfortunate when we played them last but deserved his man-of-the-match award. This shows you how football is sometimes. One minute you are rock bottom and the next day you can be a hero again. Jerzy's attitude has always been spot on and it was great to see him go straight over to Chris (Kirkland) at the end of the game. It's a team game and it is better to contribute to success than feel you are unduly indispensable."

Although Dudek was singled out for special praise, Houllier paid credit to all of his players who helped extend the club's record of League Cup wins to seven.

"When you win against Manchester United you need to have your whole team at the highest standard of performance and we were today. No disrespect to the United team as they also played well but we looked very comfortable at times."
Of course, as well as a trophy and another line in the history books this success guarantees the Reds safe passage into next season's UEFA Cup.

In light of their sporadic form in the league, Liverpool's best hope of European football may have been to emulate the UEFA Cup win of two years ago. With Liverpool already in the last eight of the competition this season, Houllier has no intention of letting his players take their feet off the pedal and hasn't given up hope of a Champions League spot: "Before the game we knew that we were 90 minutes away from Europe but now we know we are there, at least in the UEFA Cup anyway, we must keep going in the league and give it our best shot to finish the season as we usually do.

An infuriated United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson did not attend the post-match conference but Houllier had only praise for his missing adversary: "I wish him the best in the Champions league as he represents English football," he said. "I know some people may be hurt by that but I'm not I wish him the best. We have to stop being narrow minded and I noticed he congratulated virtually every Liverpool player at the end of the game. Alex Ferguson is not only a great manager but he is also a great man."

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