Sunday, 13 February 2011

Reds held as Wigan end winning run

Liverpool's run of four successive victories without conceding a goal came to an end yesterday as they were held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to a spirited Wigan Athletic side, who are fighting for their lives at the wrong end of the Premier League table. Raul Meireles continued his sensational scoring spree, netting his fifth goal in six games to give Liverpool a first half lead, however Steve Gohouri bundled home an equaliser midway through the second period and the hosts failed to find a winner during the remaining minutes.

With Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger missing out due to injury and exhaustion respectively Liverpool reverted to a 4-4-2 formation, as Luis Suarez made his full debut up front alongside Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt. Jamie Carragher also partnered Martin Skrtel at centre back after impressing on his return from injury last weekend at Stamford Bridge.

The game got off to a bright beginning, with both sides looking to get forward as often as possible as the lively Latics replicated the attacking, free flowing football displayed by Dalglish's Reds during their recent resurgence and encouraged by their suave Spanish boss Roberto Martinez.

After only three minutes Liverpool had a penalty appeal harshly turned down by referee Kevin Friend when Luis Suarez was tripped in the box as he attempted to reach Kuyt's cross following a rapid break away from a Wigan corner. Unfortunately the referee refused to point to the spot and Maxi's header from the resulting corner was well blocked by a Wigan defender.

Wigan then claimed the initiative and striker Hugo Rodallega was influential for the vistors, as he inevitably became the focal point of the Latics' attacking threat. First, the Colombian reached the by-line and whipped in a low, inviting cross that required a full stretched Jamie Carragher to clear. Then, Wigan's number 20 attempted an audacious acrobatic effort from 20 yards after he'd received the ball with his back to goal. Thankfully his strike looped well over the bar and the pendulum then swung in our direction as the game ebbed and flowed quickly, creating an entertaining encounter.

On 19 minutes Dirk Kuyt fired a rasping shot from the edge of the area that Ali Al Habsi eventually gathered with his second attempt, before Raul Meireles struck again to give Liverpool a crucial, if slightly undeserved lead. Aurelio's cross was deflected into the path of the Portugese international, who fizzed a fantastic volley into the corner of the net from 12-yards out. It was a great goal from the clean-shaven midfield maestro, who has developed an almost insatiable desire to burst the net over recent weeks, which has seen him claim an increasingly important role in our midfield.

Luis Suarez intended to impress on his full debut for the Reds and he didn't disappoint, showing signs of excellence throughout and posing a consistent threat to Wigan's backline. This was demonstrated midway through the half when the Uruguayan superbly skipped past a defender like he wasn't even there, before curling a delightful shot goalwards that clipped the far post and went agonisingly wide.

On the half hour mark Meireles unleashed a long-range drive that dipped just over the bar, however moments beforehand Liverpool were reminded of Wigan's threat when Carra was forced to make another crucial clearance from N'Zogbia's teasing cross after Diame had fed the ball through for the inventive and imaginative winger.

Wigan ended the half on top, creating several opportunities and probing the Reds' backline enthusiastically as Moses failed to test the keeper with a poor effort from 25 yards, before Skrtel had to be alert to react and clear the danger after Watson's speculative shot from range nearly fell promisingly for Rodallega. N'Zogbia smashed a free kick goalwards that forced Reina into a good save on the stroke of half time, meaning Liverpool went in at the interval with the lead but Wigan went in with confidence high following an encouraging first 45 for the visitors.

Disappointingly for the home side the momentum remained with Martinez's side during the early stages of the second half, as the period opened with a great chance for Wigan, who, untraditionally, were attacking the Kop end. Charles N'Zogbia reached the by-line and centred the ball to Rodallega at the front post, who tamely scuffed wide from yards out under pressure from Martin Skrtel.

That close escape should have served as a warning sign, however that didn't appear to be the case as Diame's thunderbolt was blocked by Carragher before the half went from bad to worse for the Reds as the inspirational and unfortunately ill Raul Meireles was replaced by the rusty David Ngog, who failed to provide the same level of attacking threat following several weeks without first team action.

On the hour mark Aurelio lined up a free kick but the Brazilian's poor attempt failed to test Al Habsi, and it was Wigan who remained in the ascendancy. Rodallega's shot was comfortably stopped by Reina midway through the second period after he was forced wide of goal following neat approach play from the Latics. Only two minutes later though Wigan equalised through Steve Gohouri when the Ivorian tapped home after he had ghosted in unnoticed at the back post to reach N'Zogbia's raking cross.

Seemingly satisfied Wigan began to sit back and aimed to preserve their precious point, while the distinctly dissatisfied Liverpool looked to steal all three points by finding a late winner. This nearly arrived with 13 minutes remaining when Suarez was denied by the woodwork for the second time as his sensational free kick smashed against the bar.

Suarez was at the centre of everything we did in the closing stages as he curled the ball just over following some good build-up play from the Merseysiders, before smart footwork from the Uruguayan allowed Aurelio to lash the ball inches over the top from the edge of the box. In injury time a corner into the box was headed over by Martin Skrtel, as Liverpool simply couldn't find a way to breach Wigan's backline and claim a crucial second goal to continue our encouraging and enjoyable winning streak.

After four back-to-back wins had culminated in a tremendous victory over the Champions last weekend many, including myself, deemed this match to be a formality and, despite warnings from Dalglish, the players appeared to follow this line of thinking as well as the intensity of recent weeks was missing yesterday afternoon.

The bizarre midweek international friendlies certainly contributed to this, however that doesn't excuse what was a disappointing display from the Reds. Credit must be given to a very good Wigan side, but you cannot help thinking that we would have comfortably secured the points had we played to the same level as we had done against Chelsea.

Our attention now turns to two consecutive Europa League knockout games against Sparta Prague. Although the Czech side won't be pushovers, Liverpool should progress relatively comfortably, hopefully regaining lost momentum ahead of Premier League fixtures versus West Ham United and Manchester United in the coming weeks.


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