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Forget bragging rights, a bigger reward is at stake after sending Man City packing

These are the days my friend. No matter where the 2021/22 season finally rests itself for Liverpool, these are just the greatest of days, writes Steven Scragg.

At the Football Association’s questionable moral insistence, we congregated at Wembley to see the perfect 45 minutes of football, followed by a second 45 minutes that was unnecessarily tense, against opponents that had no genuine answers to the conundrums that were posed to them.

High talk of Manchester City’s second-half comeback simply masked that they had been largely outplayed and that the final result flattered them, on a day when Liverpool could have scored five or six, via Mohamed Salah and Bobby Firmino, after the heroics of Ibrahima Konate and Sadio Mane.

Excuses were made here and there for Pep Guardiola’s team, that the line-up he had put out wasn’t a full-strength one, that had this been a Champions League final then his selection would have been very different.

Yet, despite Jurgen Klopp insisting in the build-up that he was “all in” on this game, there were still players of his own sitting on the sidelines that will expect to start the Champions League final in Paris, should we reach it.

Poor City, with their lack of strength in depth…

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 16, 2022: Liverpool's Naby Keita during the FA Cup Semi-Final game between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We might have paced the floor like expectant parents in the last few minutes on Saturday, but these were highly motivated men, up against dumbstruck pedestrians for much of the afternoon. Even when City scored right at the beginning of the second half, there was no defined onslaught, beyond a late injury-time flurry, despite the edginess of the red end of the Wembley support seeming to brace itself for it.

On another day, Liverpool would have scored a couple more goals; the one-goal margin of victory should have comfortably been two or three.

Down on the concourses at halftime, it was a festival of delight with the new Klopp song booming out, accompanied by what could only be described as the outbreak of an impromptu hoedown, the participants totally unaware of the mild, self-inflicted discomfort to come.

What we had just seen was pretty incredible to be fair.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 16, 2022: Manchester City and Liverpool players stand to remember the 97 victims of the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster before the FA Cup Semi-Final game between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Three goals of varying style, each rapturously embraced, even more so after the silence for those lost at Hillsborough was desecrated and curtailed by a majority, rather than a minority of those decked in light blue, down at the losers’ end of the stadium.

What then unfolded on the pitch felt like karma was at play.

Unfortunately, the actions of City’s supporters came as no surprise, and as I stated the other day, the invective sentiments of knuckle draggers will make no discernible impact on me. If anything, beyond the victims of the 97 and their loved ones, my next thoughts drifted to what right-minded City fans had thought of it all, as there are plenty of them too. If you’re reading this, then I’m sorry that you’re associated with it.

After the long trip home, tired, I sat drifting through the after-match reports, thoughts, and social media reactions to the game and the events that surrounded it.

Somebody retweeted a response of disgust from the Manchester Evening News’ Stuart Brennan, a man who it seems spends most days scratching at his own skin, in an attempt to get Liverpool out from under it.

Without irony, he declared that City’s biggest disappointment of the day should be the response of their supporters to the Hillsborough tribute. This is from a man whose only other tweets I see seem to revolve around something negative about Liverpool, thus has been complicit in helping turn City’s once relatively sound fanbase into the shower they have now become.

Wembley: Sadio Mane celebrates scoring vs Man City, FA Cup semi final (Image: UK Sports Pics Ltd/Alamy Live News)

At the time of their takeover, I was working in Manchester dealing on a daily basis with City fans that were nothing but friendly, if self-deprecating. Often humorous, regularly insightful, and besotted with their team, there was still a distinctly out of place positivity about them. All they needed to be happy was the occasional score against Manchester United, the goals of a cult hero, and survival from relegation if possible.

On the day of their takeover, starting from a position of being a vaguely likeable set of supporters, I suggested they should embrace and enjoy the ride, but that I’d give them a decade, tops, before they were mostly a gang of arseholes.

Our increasingly toxic relationship with City’s fanbase is the collateral damage of not only their cash-infused and tiki-taka inspired prosperity, but our own rise as their chief agitator. Nothing irritates the best sides quite like a thorn in the side, and we are that thorn.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 16, 2022: Liverpool supporters celebrate the opening goal during the FA Cup Semi-Final game between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool and City supporters will never get back to what we had, and in truth, all we ever had as two collectives was a shared dislike of Manchester United at a time when we were shite. In good times, we were only ever ‘welcomed’ to Moss Side in an inhospitable manner.

Despite the ludicrous nature of two teams from the north being made to play in the south, in a game that isn’t a final, Liverpool made the most of Saturday afternoon, both on and off the pitch.

Hypnotic on the pitch, bouncing in the stands and around the ground before the match, I shared the journey with the marvellous Jeff Goulding, in something that he rightly compared to a footballing version of Mortimer and Whitehouse Gone Fishing, no better accentuated than at Beaconsfield Services, as he stood with a pre-packed sandwich in hand, while I rummaged around the sushi and edamame bean salads.

Comedy on and off the pitch, especially when it came to Liverpool’s second goal, we were due a result against City, and now we refocus on Premier League matters with what are our two biggest traditional home games of the season.

Wembley: Sadio Mane celebrates scoring vs Man City, FA Cup semi final (Image: UK Sports Pics Ltd/Alamy Live News)

Rather than bragging rights, however, a bigger reward is at stake, and it is up to us to do our part in the stands.

Wembley will beckon us yet again in just under four weeks, and there might even be space in the car with me and Jeff if you need it.

Up the Reds.

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