ANFIELD, LIVERPOOL—As the full-time whistle blew on Liverpool's 2-1 victory over Newcastle United and thus on their Premier League season, there was a sense of the deflated, the disappointed, the so-close-but-so-far and the resigned about the atmosphere at Anfield.
Having led the league table until a few short weeks ago and eventually losing out by just two points to winners Manchester City, perhaps that's understandable—but as the reactions which came shortly afterward showed, this was a season to be proud of for the club.
Seventh place last season, struggling to attract the biggest names in the transfer market and with no European football on show, the Reds have wowed the league with some exhilarating displays this term and took the title chase to the last day, something none of their top-four rivals managed to do.
The players' lap of the pitch was met with great applause, songs for various players and, predictably, great acclaim for the first and last men: captain Steven Gerrard, and most importantly for now and for the summer, manager Brendan Rodgers.
"Brendan...Rodgers" full time at Anfield. @ Anfield http://t.co/M4eZIcru2S— Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) May 11, 2014
Liverpool's fans have enjoyed a season they had no right to expect, and they know it.
Fourth place this season would have been a tremendous achievement; second place is beyond that. It gives hope for the near future, plenty to mull over during the summer and no shortage of conversations already turning toward both the transfer window and next August.
In his post-match press conference, Brendan Rodgers alluded to both the hard work and the excitement which would come with pushing on to take the next—final—step in the league as well as preparing for the Champions League challenge in 2014-15. The potential for growth of the team was one of the reasons he joined, he said, and the manager believes the fans are fully appreciative of the fact this is what has happened in the past 22 months.
On the evidence of the post-game noise, the fans agree with him.
Rodgers says he could understand fans being "sceptical" of him at first, replacing "iconic figure who they trusted".— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) May 11, 2014
Liverpool supporters remained in the stadium well past the final whistle and indeed past the lap of appreciation—almost a lap of honour, but for a two-point gap—and their backing and appreciation of the manager was displayed not only vociferously during the match but also by the vast array of flags and banners for the team Rodgers has put together as a whole.
Rodgers banner pic.twitter.com/fIEbhwDKlv— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) May 11, 2014
The transfer window over the summer not only brings an opportunity now for Liverpool, but also a challenge.
An opportunity, because they can strengthen again, spend more money due to Champions League football and a higher league finish—and of course because they can offer that incentive to targets this year, a big change to a year ago.
But a challenge also, because Rodgers hasn't managed in the competition before, hasn't needed to juggle two vital competitions for a season and hasn't got anywhere near a big enough squad capable of managing it.
What Rodgers does have, though, is the complete trust and backing of a huge majority of fans. After the season he's brought them, it couldn't possibly be any other way.
Liverpool supporters have often been mocked for thinking "this year is our year" over the past 24 seasons, and that hasn't quite been ended this term, no matter how close they went. But right now, there are so many reasons to believe, under Brendan Rodgers, that day might not be too far off after all.