Liverpool united, but for how long?
At Old Trafford.
The result was easily the worst part of Kenny Dalglish's first day back in the dugout and there can be few FA Cup exits - especially at at the hands of their fiercest rivals - that could have left any Liverpool manager, not to mention their fans, feeling more hopeful that there are better times ahead.
You could argue that, despite his side's third-round defeat by Manchester United on Sunday, Dalglish has already managed to do most of the things expected of him when Liverpool's owner John W Henry put Roy Hodgson out of his misery and asked the 59-year-old Scot to take charge until the end of the season.
Dalglish's most obvious impact was on the 9,000 travelling Reds fans, who showed him more love during the 90 or so minutes at Old Trafford than Hodgson received in the entire six months he spent in charge of the Merseysiders. Not that such a reception was a surprise for a man who helped fill the Anfield trophy room with silverware as a player and manager between 1977 and 1991.
The affection was mutual too, putting right one of the mistakes of his predecessor. After receiving raptuous applause when he emerged from the tunnel before kick-off, Dalglish grinned as he saluted the Reds supporters and he was always quick to raise a hand in acknowledgement on every occasion - and there were quite a few - that his name was rhythmically chanted over the course of the afternoon.
Helped, perhaps, by the fact that their own supporters were again fully behind them and their manager, the Liverpool players also looked galvanized by Dalglish's presence. He was only introduced to his squad at 10.30am on the morning of the match but they showed the kind of conviction that was sorely lacking in the Premier League defeat by Blackburn which proved to be Hodgson's last game in charge.
Dalglish needs to galvanise the likes of striker Torres: Photo: Getty
After Ryan Giggs' penalty and Steven Gerrard's red card left them a goal and a man down with almost an hour to play, Liverpool's spirit was obvious and, despite being under the cosh for most of that time, they were in the tie until the final whistle.
It is during training, on the pitch and in the stands where Dalglish can have the most effect on performance and morale so no wonder he was so happy with what he saw and heard, especially as he is only too aware of the conflicts that have marred the Reds' recent past.
"Obviously I am not going to be pleased to lose a match but the most important thing for us is what we got out of it, which was a great deal of effort and enthusiasm from the players," Dalglish said. "Their endeavour and commitment to the cause was helped and matched by the supporters who came along here. If we can get everyone pulling in the same direction we are going to have a good chance to improve things in the future too."
That was not the last time he referred to club unity in his post-match press conference, something that is hugely relevant to the club's owners too. By the very fact he is the man the fans wanted, Dalglish has also already improved relations between supporters and board - something that Henry and his cohorts in Boston wisely do not underestimate the importance of after witnessing the fate of their fellow Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
Just as importantly, Dalglish is happy too. Visibly delighted, in fact, to be back in the job he has craved for years and was disappointed to be overlooked for in the summer.
As a top-flight manager in the 1980s and 90s, Dalglish was renowned for being gruff with the media but in the bowels of Old Trafford, despite having to contend with a couple of contentious decisions that contributed to his first game in charge of Liverpool for almost 20 years being all but ruined after just 30 minutes, he cracked gag after gag when he faced the press afterwards.
"It's not even 48 hours since I was on a boat - and I was happy," he said with a smile when explaining how he was relaxing by the bar during a cruise in the Middle East when he was interrupted by a phone call from Henry saying Hodgson was gone and the Liverpool job was his until the end of the season, if he wanted it.
After a hastily-arranged drop-off at a port in Bahrain, Dalglish got a flight back to the UK on Saturday night and was at Old Trafford, as a Premier League manager, for the first time since his Newcastle side drew 1-1 with United in 1998.
His opposite number on Sunday, as it was 12 years ago, was Sir Alex Ferguson - who greeted him by saying 'welcome back'. Then came a welcome a great-deal louder from the Liverpool fans, which almost resulted in another touchline dash to rival some of those seen on the same ground in recent seasons.
"It crossed my mind to do a Gary Neville or Jose Mourinho and run down the touchline to that corner where our fans were but I never quite made it," Dalglish explained. "The supporters are very special. Thankfully they have got a long memory and they could remember some happy times and hopefully we can bring them back. Their support for the team today was superb."
From passenger to captain in the space of a day, and he is already relishing being in control again. Judging by his instant impact you can see why, despite his long hiatus from management, Dalglish was seen as the ideal man to steady the Liverpool ship and steer it towards calmer water.
But, without getting carried away with the nautical analogy, he still has to deal with some of the same problems that led to Hodgson being cast adrift.
Yes, there will be easier tests than travelling to take on the Premier League leaders in their own back yard but, the less formidable the opposition, the higher the expectations. Forget next weekend's Merseyside derby, defeat in Wednesday's trip to Blackpool is entirely feasible and would wash away much of the feelgood factor established during the past couple of days.
The Reds squad he inherits is clearly weak in some key areas too and might lead to further frustrations. Hodgson was keen to strengthen it in January but another potential problem is whether Dalglish will have any say in who is brought in, or whether he will want to.
Dalglish claims he has no transfer targets in mind and went as far as to say that he would have taken the job had he been told he had to work with the squad he has. If he is really only looking to stay until the end of the season then he is unlikely to rock the boat in the manner of, say, Kevin Keegan at Newcastle should any signings be thrust upon him by Liverpool's director of football strategy Damien Comolli.
But that is the big question that remains at Anfield. What happens in the summer?
If Dalglish does anything but disastrously, he will feel he deserves to get the job full-time - the indications are that he wants it. So too will the supporters who have backed him this time around. These fans already feel they have got rid of unpopular owners and an unwanted manager in the last few months so they are on a roll, and will probably anticipate keeping hold of somebody they like.
That will leave the owners with a difficult decision to make. Get it wrong, and they could reopen the same rifts that Dalglish's appointment have already started to heal. His return means Liverpool's short-term future is undoubtedly brighter but their long-term prospects are no less uncertain.
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