The 95th minute. Joe Hart restarts play with a long goal kick forward. Phil Dowd puts his whistle to his lips and blows one final time. Liverpool are going back to Wembley.
The immense pride that I felt at the noise of that final whistle was overwhelming. To think that the humiliation I had been subjected to just 4 days ago had turned to pure ecstasy is the reason I watch football, and the reason I put my full trust in the Liverpool Football Club.
We dominated that opening 30 minutes, only to go one behind. We then dominated the opening 22 minutes of the second half, only to go behind again. How easy would it have been for our deflated, dejected side to just give up and say this game wasn’t going for them? How easy would it have been for our defenders to call it a day and let the most expensive, talented forward line in the world walk all over them? Instead, they rallied. They showed guts, they showed courage, they showed heart. Not once but twice.
The way we responded to the first suckerpunch on Wednesday night was uplifting. The way we continued to press despite a goal coming completely against the run of play raised the spirits of Anfield and the voices of the Kop. Then we got our reward, as our captain fantastic Steven Gerrard stroked home his spot kick to put us back in front.
Then, on 67 minutes, when Aleksandar Kolarov’s flat, piercing cross picked out Edin Dzeko, those hopes were again dashed. 2 shots on target, 2 goals.
But no. Again we responded like the Liverpool of old. Dirk Kuyt’s familiar grittiness returned, rounding his marker and feeding Craig Bellamy. The Welshman’s quick one-two with Glen Johnson, the shift onto his left foot, the finish past Joe Hart. All in front of the adoring Kop, still so full of belief, full of hope and full of trust that our boys could pull this off.
But it wasn’t just the side’s responses to going behind which uplifted the crowd. It was the response to the harsh, stinging words of Kenny Dalglish just a few days prior. He made a bold statement – one more performance like the one at Bolton and it would be your last – and he got the reaction he was after.
Perhaps this is why tears flooded the eyes of the King at the sound of the full time whistle. He returned to his throne to make a difference to his once proud club, slowly sinking into the abyss of mid-table mediocrity, and in just over 12 months, what a difference he’d made.
Once again Anfield was a formidable venue. Once again the 12th man lifted the Reds over the line. Once again the sign “This is Anfield” terrified the opposition upon walking down the tunnel. Once again the Reds were going to Wembley.