Kenny Dalglish had cut a miserable figure on the touchline at the final whistle, lost in his own thoughts as his defeated players prepared to trudge up the steps into the Royal Box to receive unwanted commiserations, but a sense of realism soon set in. The manager's buzzwords in the aftermath were "naivety" and "nervous", his players considered "youngsters" compared to Chelsea's "thoroughbreds". Frustration simmered beneath the surface.
History might have reflected upon this season as relatively triumphant had both domestic cup competitions been claimed but, by losing here, it has now been exposed as substandard. To end with the Carling Cup and a place in upper mid-table feels insufficient for a club of this stature and ambition, and both Dalglish and John W Henry, watching from the stands, will recognise as much. Owner and manager will meet at the end of the season and a strategy will be drawn up for next term. Improvement feels imperative.
The management will have drawn encouragement from the battering to which Chelsea were subjected in the last 30 minutes, even if it yielded only one of the goals they required to haul this match into extra time. "They were excellent for the last half hour, but the game lasts for 90 minutes," Dalglish said. "With a team of the quality of Chelsea, you can't give them a two-goal head start. It's credit to the lads I suppose that they went close to an equaliser after big Andy [Carroll] scored, but they had left themselves too much to do. And I don't think the first hour was a reflection of the quality of the players we had out there.
"We'll assess the season at the end of the season. For now, we've just got to learn our lessons from it and understand we can't start the game like that. For the first hour they were better than us. Maybe it was naivety. Maybe we were nervous. A lot of my team were youngsters. Chelsea are thoroughbreds who have been through the course before us. The way we finished the last half hour should give them belief and confidence. You cannot lose two goals in the fashion we did and expect to walk away winning the Cup. Or we'd have needed a lot of luck to be able to do that."
Good fortune deserted them here, most notably when Carroll's close-range header eight minutes from time was palmed up on to the bar by Petr Cech, with Liverpool claiming it had crossed the line, though replays were at best inconclusive. Carroll claimed he thought the effort was "over the line", though that felt like clutching at straws. Daniel Agger preferred to concentrate on a first hour that was "simply not good enough, and I don't really understand why".
Additions will clearly be required in the summer, with the hope that those that do arrive at Anfield have more of an immediate impact than many of last summer's recruits. Carroll at least showed glimpses here of what can be achieved with delivery from wide. This team still feels unfamiliar and imbalanced, a side still in development.
"We have been two different teams this season," Steven Gerrard said. "We haven't been good enough in the league, and we have done exceptionally well in the cups. We need to find a better level of consistency because there are no excuses for our performances in the league. We have to take responsibility for that. With the players we have in that dressing room, we could have done better. But we are Liverpool. We will bounce back. We will strengthen in the summer and come back fighting again. That's what Liverpool Football Club does."
Dalglish said: "The same group of players will move on, and whether there are other people coming in wasn't going to be dictated by today's result. These players will get better and benefit from this experience. They've been in two cup finals this season, and they'll have enjoyed the first one more than the second." This group must learn from a painful experience.