Rampant Reds have fans daring to dream it’s 1986 all over again
THE last time Anfield witnessed this kind of demolition of Birmingham City, Kenny Dalglish was on the cusp of guiding Liverpool to glory.
Gary Gillespie was the hat-trick hero in a 5-0 rout in April 1986 and a week later it was player-manager Dalglish who wrapped up the championship in his first season in charge with that unforgettable volley at Stamford Bridge.
The double was swiftly completed with victory over Everton in the FA Cup final at Wembley.
A quarter of a century on, Dalglish has Kopites daring to dream again.
The second coming of the King may struggle to live up to the stunning achievements of his first spell in the Anfield hot seat, but it promises to be some ride.
Of course unlike 1986 there’s no chance of silverware being paraded at the end of the current campaign.
The mistakes made in the seven months prior to Dalglish’s appointment in January put paid to that. The biggest of which was not giving him the job when he wanted it last summer.
As Liverpool battle to make up ground and with games running out, it’s hard not to look back and wonder ‘if only’. Results have make a mockery of the baffling argument that he had been out of management too long.
It’s not just the return of 27 points from 14 games which is impressive. It’s the manner in which those results have been achieved.
Over the past 15 weeks Dalglish has instilled a growing sense of unity, spirit and togetherness. Everyone has bought into his ‘team comes first’ mantra.
Where earlier in the season players looked hamstrung by the fear of failure, now there’s a swagger to their work. Belief has been restored and confidence is surging throughout the club.
Each game acts as a walking advertisement for the Scot to be appointed manager on a permanent basis. It’s unthinkable Fenway Sports Group could do anything else and why would they want to?
“I want to win,” has been owner John Henry’s stock response to what drives him on and he’s got a caretaker with the Midas touch for doing just that. The only decision to be made is when the King’s coronation takes place.
The Kop spoke again with one voice on Saturday and as he stood proudly on the touchline a beaming Dalglish returned the compliment. Together they are an irresistible force.
Birmingham City weren’t just defeated, they were torn apart. Liverpool had failed to beat them in nine attempts in the league dating back to May 2004 but the hoodoo was ruthlessly broken.
It was the Reds’ biggest win since Hull City were thrashed 6-1 at Anfield in September 2009.
Hat-trick hero Maxi Rodriguez was only playing because £35million man Andy Carroll had failed to recover from the knee injury he suffered at Arsenal. The Argentinian’s response to being handed his first league start since the victory over Manchester United in early March was emphatic.
It’s easy to forget that Liverpool’s resurgence under Dalglish has been achieved in the face of a crippling injury list. As well as Carroll, this was a side missing skipper Steven Gerrard, Martin Kelly, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio.
Rodriguez became the latest in a growing line of players to step off the fringes and rise to the challenge.
In midfield Jay Spearing’s performances have helped to soften the blow of losing Gerrard and on Saturday he maintained his excellent form alongside Lucas Leiva. The duo’s partnership is really starting to click.
At the back teenage full-backs Jack Robinson and John Flanagan once again showed maturity beyond their years with neat and tidy displays.
Injuries handed the Academy boys a fast track to the first team but they don’t look out of place. The sight of Robinson on his full debut having the confidence to try his luck from 30 yards and Flanagan refusing to be bullied by Lee Bowyer was greeted almost as warmly as the goals.
It helped that between the two youngsters, Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel were commanding once again with Pepe Reina reduced largely to the role of spectator.
After Rodriguez punished Ben Foster’s failure to hold on to Spearing’s stinging drive inside seven minutes, the Reds never looked back.
Midway through the first half Dirk Kuyt maintained his purple patch with his 13th goal of a fruitful campaign. It was a clever finish from the Dutchman, who now has seven in the last six league games, after Foster had thwarted him and Luis Suarez.
Suarez didn’t get on the scoresheet but was at the heart of the Reds’ scintillating attacking play, terrorising Birmingham with his pace and trickery. What Suarez tries doesn’t always come off but he’s a hive of activity and Alex McLeish’s side struggled to get near him.
It was the Uruguayan who cleverly created the Reds’ third in the 66th minute as his cross provided Rodriguez with a simple finish.
Seven minutes later they teamed up again and when Rodriguez’s shot was parried by substitute keeper Craig Doyle, he pounced on the rebound. A player who had previously netted four times in 48 appearances for Liverpool, had helped himself to three tap-ins in little over an hour.
Dalglish even saved some of his magic dust to sprinkle on forgotten man Joe Cole, who stepped off the bench to grab a deflected fifth late on.
With the gap on fifth-placed Spurs down to three points, there could yet be something to celebrate this term.
But with the promise of a big summer in the transfer market thoughts are already turning to next season when fans hope Dalglish really will have them partying like it’s 1986.
LIVERPOOL (4-1-3-2): Reina, Flanagan, Carragher, Skrtel, Robinson (Shelvey 79), Lucas, Spearing, Meireles (Cole 84), Rodriguez (Ngog 89), Kuyt, Suarez. Not used: Gulacsi, Kyrgiakos, Poulsen, Coady
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-5-1): Foster (Doyle 40), Carr, Johnson, Jiranek, Ridgewell, Larsson, Bowyer, Gardner (Phillips 79), Fahey, Hleb (Bentley 67), Jerome. Not used: Derbyshire, Parnaby, Beausejour, Davies. GOALS: Rodriguez 7, Kuyt 23, Rodriguez 66, Rodriguez 73, Cole 86.CARDS: Booked – Liverpool: Robinson. Birmingham: noneREFEREE: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).ATTENDANCE: 44,734.Not used: Derbyshire, Parnaby, Beausejour, Davies.
GOALS: Rodriguez 7, Kuyt 23, Rodriguez 66, Rodriguez 73, Cole 86.
CARDS: Booked – Liverpool: Robinson. Birmingham: none
REFEREE: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).
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