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Feb 12, 2011

Dalglish remains Kop King

Sometimes the sentimental choice can be the sensible option. A month ago, Kenny Dalglish was perceived as an antiquated curiosity outside Anfield but his age-old charisma has served as justification for the loyalists among the Liverpool support. Now, increasingly, it is a question of when, rather than if, he is reappointed manager on a permanent basis. Anyone else would be deemed an imposter simply for not being Dalglish. The king is reclaiming his kingdom.

• Premier League gallery Photo Gallery

His choices brook no dissent from his subjects which is why, when Wigan draw at Anfield, there are none of the boos that would have been a certain soundtrack had this 1-1 scoreline occurred under Roy Hodgson. It is a combination of several factors; the four straight wins that preceded an underwhelming draw; the incessant, if unsuccessful, efforts to produce a winner that stood in stark contrast to the lacklustre Liverpool Dalglish inherited; and the authority he possesses.

Injuries meant Dalglish had no choice but to change a winning team. Unusually, he also amended the system, picking a third formation in the space of four games. When a manager is popular, it is a sign of decisiveness; when he isn't, it is interpreted as an indication that he doesn't know his own mind.

Dalglish, however, has returned to the frontline with the signs that ideas have been bubbling in his mind for years. Having played 4-2-3-1 initially and unveiled his revelatory 3-5-1-1 against Stoke and Chelsea, now he tried a diamond midfield, separating a back four and twin strikers; 4-4-2, but not the way Hodgson plays it.

The great beneficiary has been Raul Meireles. His employment as an attacking central midfielder has been a constant under Dalglish, and the rewards are both obvious and glorious. A fifth goal in six games was volleyed in with a combination of precision and power. "A great goal," said Dalglish, whose ability to score them equips him to comment. "A fantastic strike technically," said Roberto Martinez, another of the game's aesthetes.

Meireles was in masterly form, but his contribution was curtailed. He departed nine minutes after the interval. "There's a bit of a virus," said Dalglish. "He came in [at half-time] and spewed up." It was a bug that deprived the match of its classiest performer and ensured attention was concentrated on Luis Suarez thereafter.

Short of match fitness and lacking luck, the Uruguayan nonetheless produced a performance to foster optimism. He struck the post with a low shot and the bar with a dipping free kick, linked up well with Dirk Kuyt and showed a willingness to chase both lost and profitable causes that Fernando Torres sometimes lacked. Valentine's Day came 48 hours early for the Kop. "It's not difficult to warm to him," said Dalglish, another of their idols. "He's very energetic and skilful and he loves to score goals. He was very unlucky not to get on the scoresheet."

Martinez was less enamoured. Gohouri, Antolin Alcaraz and Gary Caldwell were all cautioned for bringing down the £23 million man. "I thought three-quarters of the free-kicks he got weren't free-kicks," argued the Wigan manager. "He won them in a very clever way and has been doing that for Ajax and Uruguay for years."

The most meaningful free-kick, albeit indirectly, went Wigan's way. Charles N'Zogbia crossed after it, Alcaraz got a touch and Gohouri finished at the far post. For the first time in 463 minutes, Liverpool had conceded. "Their goal's offside but these things happen," Dalglish said. "It's not been too damaging." As he accepted, Liverpool lacked the sharpness they had shown on their winning run and defeat would have contained a harshness for Wigan. "The performance deserved a point," Martinez added.

It earned one. With a groin injury sidelining Steven Gerrard and a bug removing Meireles, with Andy Carroll yet to debut and a lengthening injury list, only Suarez seemed capable of fashioning a winner. Liverpool went about their task with more determination than delicacy, but they were thwarted by Wigan's doggedness.

Yet with the occupant of the No. 7 shirt offering inspiration, it offered a nostalgic comfort to their followers. Once that was Dalglish's habit and, while failings were apparent on the pitch, the man in the dugout can do no wrong for them.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Luis Suarez - A performance that contained everything but the goal. His work ethic and sharp skills both endeared him to the Liverpool fans, even if Martinez was less impressed with his ability to go to ground. Complaints about the cautions seemed unjustified to this observer, though.

LIVERPOOL VERDICT: The diamond midfield was a qualified success. Meireles flourished and it allowed Dalglish to pair Kuyt and Suarez in attack. Whether it will continue when Gerrard is fit is another matter: the captain has made no secret of his preference for a central role, but being employed on the right point of the diamond wouldn't exactly pin him to the touchline. Meireles' ability to play behind either one or two strikers means Joe Cole is unlikely ever to be granted his favourite position at Anfield.

WIGAN VERDICT: A side with a habit of performing against the better opponents took a second point of the season off Liverpool. Victor Moses was one to provide encouragement while the defensive resilience in the last 10 minutes pleased Martinez. To stay up, however, they must turn more draws into victories, albeit in easier games than this one.

INJURY NEWS: Both Gerrard and Daniel Agger, who also sat this game out, could return for Thursday's Europa League game against Sparta Prague.

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