They may be gearing up for one of the busiest periods of the campaign, but Liverpool's first-team players and staff took time out of their preparations for the Festive season to bring some Christmas cheer to Alder Hey children's hospital on Monday.

The Reds took on the role of Santa Claus for one very special afternoon to make their annual visit to the local hospital and spend time with youngsters who are facing up to the prospect of remaining on the wards for Christmas and beyond.

The team were collected from Melwood shortly after midday by Ellison's Travel, who provided the use of a fleet of mini buses free of charge as they have done for several years, and they arrived clutching goodie bags stocked full of LFC merchandise to hand out to the kids.

To ensure as many children as possible were given an opportunity to meet their heroes, the players and staff were split into groups and set off around the hospital to visit the wards.

Though hospital staff tried to keep Liverpool's visit a surprise, news quickly spread and the groups were greeted by beaming smiles on the faces of the excited patients and their families, who were not only given gifts but also the opportunity to pose for photos with the players, have a chat with them and collect their autographs.

It was certainly a poignant occasion for the Reds party - and manager Kenny Dalglish insists it's important the squad make their annual visit to Alder Hey and try to bring some holiday cheer to the children.

"We're here today because we have a responsibility to the community of Liverpool," the boss told "It's an unfortunate time of year for people who are in hospital, especially children.

"It's a traditional trip for us to come to Alder Hey and every one of the boys is here. It's great for them to come along, it's great for the kids as well and you get a little bit of a lift.

"Some of them are that young they won't know who we are! But we just hope Christmas is a little bit brighter for them.

"You always realise how lucky you are coming to hospital at any time, but especially at Christmas. The nurses do a fantastic job, not just here but in every hospital, and I'm sure they're delighted to see us come and show our appreciation to the nursing staff as much as giving a wee bit of sympathy to the kids as well."

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