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Kenny Dalglish begins his reign in the Liverpool hotseat

“We are not going to be pleased to lose a match but the most important thing for us is that we got a great deal of effort and commitment from the players and that was matched by the supporters.” KENNY DALGLISH.

“Dimitar says he was definitely clipped. The replay shows he slightly touched him but the momentum is enough to bring the player down” ALEX FERGUSON

AT just after 11am on Saturday the mood on the Red half of Merseyside was joyfully buoyant.

News was quickly filtering around the city that prodigal son Kenny Dalglish had been appointed into the Anfield hotseat, ending Roy Hodgson’s beleaguered reign.

With the Kop’s favourite son now back in charge, it almost seemed feted that his first assignment would be facing up to his old sparring partner Alex Ferguson for a crunch FA Cup Third Round clash against Manchester United.

For a moment, it was almost just like the good old days.

Fergie, who had been preparing to warmly welcome his ally and friend Hodgson, must have found it hard not to reserve a growl for Dalglish, his old foe, as they shook hands.

But while in the 1980s, Liverpool ruled the roost in the north west with The King at the helm, times have certainly changed.

And if this 1-0 defeat proved anything, it showed that turning round Liverpool’s ailing fortunes will not be a quick fix, whoever the man is in charge.

Fast forward 24 hours from the celebration of Saturday, and it took a mere 32 seconds on the Old Trafford pitch for the Liverpool smiles to turn to frowns.

A debatable early penalty for Man Utd was an early nail in the coffin for Dalglish’s men from which they never recovered.

In effect, it was a game of two big decisions, with referee Howard Webb, a man never far from controversy, at the centre of both.

Just after the half-hour mark, he gave Steven Gerrard his marching orders for a late challenge on Michael Carrick.

While Webb might have got the sending-off right – the captain sliding in high and late on the midfielder – the penalty award in the first minute was undeniably harsh.

There could have been few complaints with Gerrard’s early bath, however, the captain lunging in on Michael Carrick’s ankles with both feet off the ground.

There was nothing malicious about the challenge, but following the letter of law, the red card was understandable.

Liverpool faced an uphill battle for the last hour of the game, but while the scoreline remained 1-0, they were always in with a chance of nicking a replay.

Despite positive changes from Dalglish to grab an equaliser – Babel, Shelvey and Ngog all being introduced in the second half – the Reds never really threatened the United goal while Pepe Reina was kept busy as the league leaders continued to press.

The Liverpool boss could be rightly proud of his players, and there will be easier challenges ahead than this.

Dalglish shuffled his pack, bringing in Aurelio, Agger, Kuyt and Meireles, while Martin Kelly was a last minute inclusion for Glen Johnson whose partner had gone into labour.

It was a heartwarming sight to see the Scotsman stride out onto the Old Trafford pitch with purpose before the game, saluting the raucous Liverpool travelling contingent to roars of appreciation.

The 9,000 Liverpool fans packed into the away end, vocally eulogised their new manager through the words of The Fields of Anfield Road.

But their afternoon was quickly on a downward spiral when the Reds fell behind within the first minute.

The ball was floated forward to Dimitar Berbatov who cannily waited for the ill-advised challenge of Daniel Agger.

There was contact, but it was minimal and the Bulgarian eagerly capitalised on the error of the Dane’s ways by crumbling easily to the turf.

The spot kick was crashed home by Ryan Giggs leaving Pepe Reina with little chance.

Liverpool regrouped and through the midfield triumvirate of Gerrard, Lucas and Meireles began to claim some meaningful possession.

One confident passage of play saw Gerrard release a rampaging Kelly on the right, and his dangerous cross failed to find Torres.

But the Reds’ afternoon turned to disaster when Gerrard, who was beginning to show signs of stamping his authority on the match, was sent off.

It was a contentious decision from Howard Webb, but it seemed the skipper could have few complaints.

As Gerrard departed to waves from the delighted Old Trafford faithful, it was hard not to accept Liverpool had just said goodbye to any hope they had of grabbing a result.

At times, the Reds were hanging on and they were fortunate not to go behind in first half injury time when a Jonny Evans header crashed against the upright.

Dalglish’s men rode their luck in the second half as United tried to find the second goal to put the match beyond their rivals.

But to the Reds’ credit, they refused to buckle, and Ryan Babel and Jonjo Shelvey were introduced to give the Reds more attacking options.

Aside from a curling Fabio Aurelio free kick, however, which was well saved by Kuszczak, an equaliser never looked likely.

The only silverware now on offer to Dalglish this season is the Europa League, as attention will now turn to the Premiership.

Fixtures against Blackpool, Everton and Wolves have been made a whole lot harder with the likely three match ban for captain Gerrard.

This was not the fairytale start to his Liverpool return that Dalglish might have hoped for.

But there are more crucial battles to be won ahead, and with The King now in charge of the Reds destiny, there is renewed vigour at Anfield to meet those challenges head on.

As Dalglish trudged off the pitch at the end, the travelling Liverpool fans were loud and proud as they saluted their new manager.

It seemed they knew that, while this was one battle lost, the war was just beginning. And they have their chosen commander leading them from the front.

MANCHESTER UNITED: (4-4-2): Kuszczak, Evra, Ferdinand(capt), Evans (Smalling, 83) Rafael Da Silva, Giggs, Nani, Fletcher (Anderson, 62) Carrick, Berbatov, Hernandez (Owen, 74) Not used: Fabio Da Silva, Obertan, Gibson, Lindegaard

LIVERPOOL: (4-5-1): Reina, Kelly, Aurelio, Skrtel, Agger, Maxi (Babel, 59) Lucas, Meireles (Shelvey, 59) Kuyt, Gerrard,(capt) Torres (Ngog, 77) Not used: Gulacsi, Kyrgiakos, Wilson, Poulsen,

GOALS: Giggs(pen), 1

CARDS: Booked – Fletcher, 9, Anderson, 62. Sent off – Gerrard, 31.

REFEREE: Howard Webb.

ATTENDANCE: 74,727.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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