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Last Updated:  Monday, 3 March, 2003, 12:07 GMT
Dudek's day of deliverance
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Jerzy Dudek repaired his reputation
Jerzy Dudek's spectacular rehabilitation under the roof of Cardiff's Millennium Stadium was a shining symbol of Liverpool's own repair work on their reputation.

Dudek was labelled - with some inevitability - "The Dud" and "The Jerzy with a Hole" after his career reached a low point at Anfield on 1 December.

It was the date the previously reliable Liverpool goalkeeper will have ringed in black on his calendar.

He capped a spell of catastrophic form by allowing Jamie Carragher's back-pass to slip through his fingers and present Diego Forlan with a goal in Manchester United's 2-1 Premiership win.

Dudek was dropped days later - and it would have taken an unlikely leap of the imagination to predict he would keep United at bay brilliantly in Liverpool's 2-0 Worthington Cup Final win.

And yet the fates played a hand in Dudek's remarkable return to favour.

Chris Kirkland, his outstanding replacement, was ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury sustained in the FA Cup at Crystal Palace.

Dudek was then presented with the perfect opportunity to complete his comeback - a major domestic final against the opponents he had gifted a goal.

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And few will begrudge the modest Pole, a humble figure who is hugely popular with his Liverpool team-mates, his day in the spotlight.

The stage was set - and it was time for deliverance from his personal demons.

Dudek produced in style with a string of fine saves as Liverpool emerged in triumph.

And he was joined by others who have felt the cutting edge of criticism during a season of under-achievement at Anfield.

Manager Gerard Houllier has been first in the line of fire after poor results, criticised for lack of ambition and a negative approach.

But when it mattered, Houllier silenced the doubters by proving again he has a happy habit of dealing in the currency Liverpool's fans enjoy most - silverware.

Houllier also produced his tried and trusted game plan that has left Manchester United beaten by Liverpool in six out of their last seven meetings.

Smother in defence, stifle in midfield and strike on the break.

Liverpool's goalscorers also enjoyed personal highs after the lows of earlier in the season.

Steven Gerrard was publicly questioned by Houllier after Liverpool's Champions League exit against Basle - but responded by dominating Roy Keane in midfield.

And Michael Owen once again used the Millennium Stadium as his personal playground to answer his critics.

Owen was heavily criticised after a recent barren patch, but he has responded with three goals in his last three games.

He is Liverpool's man for the big occasion above all others, and proved it again with the punishing second goal against United.

But for those who live in hope that some romance remains in the cash-driven old game, the sight of Dudek clutching the Worthington Cup and his man of the match award was the most heart-warming of all.





LIVERPOOL

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