Carroll silences critics as Reds cut loose to kill off Wolves
Exactly a year to the day since his arrival at Anfield, Andy Carroll gave Liverpool a much-needed reminder of exactly why they signed him.
Having seen off both Manchester clubs in the cups, this has been a dreamy seven days for Kenny Dalglish's team, who recorded their first league win in 2012 and, in the process, gave their Champions League aspirations a massive boost.
It was Carroll's goal, however, that provided the major talking point as he capped a perfect night for his side by scoring only his third league goal of the campaign. The last also came in the Black Country, at West Brom in October.
Last night's strike was only his seventh since his January deadline-day £35m move from Newcastle United last year.
It was, however, a miserable night for Wolves, who were jeered by their supporters and have now gone 11 matches without a win in all competitions.
They remain rooted in the bottom three, leaving manager Mick McCarthy under increasing pressure.
Rested after starting the previous six games, Steven Gerrard was the most notable omission from a Liverpool side that showed five changes from Saturday's FA Cup triumph. Dirk Kuyt, their match winner that day, could and should have picked up where he left off against Manchester United when he spurned a presentable opportunity within four minutes. Craig Bellamy's inviting left-wing cross was flicked on by Carroll towards the Dutchman, lurking inside the six-yard box and with a clear sight of goal at the back post. His first touch was laboured, however, and despite eventually firing into the net, it did not stand as the ball had already squirted out of play.
Having already threatened once with a header, Wolves midfielder Dave Edwards wasted a good chance when he could only hook Kevin Foley's cross straight at Pepe Reina.
Bellamy has been Liverpool's most reliable marksman in the league of late and once again he looked their most likely goal threat.
First, he latched onto Jordan Henderson's wonderful threaded pass, yet could only stab wide.
A long-range strike soon afterwards fully extended Wayne Hennessey, but the goalkeeper pulled off an even better save in the 24th minute when he kept out Daniel Agger's header with his feet following Bellamy's corner.
The former Manchester City player was at the heart of everything Liverpool created. Even when they furiously protested for a penalty in vain when Emmanuel Frimpong nudged Charlie Adam inside the box, it was Bellamy who had set up the chance.
Wolves sprung into action shortly before the break, though, as they offered a timely reminder of their capabilities. Michael Kightly and Steven Fletcher played a neat one-two before the winger unleashed a stinging shot which veered just wide.
The significance of the near-miss became evident within seven minutes of the interval. Jose Enrique's exquisite volleyed pass from one box towards the other set Liverpool on the counter yet Christophe Berra, to his credit, managed to keep up with Bellamy in the pace race and cleared for a throw-in.
Danger averted? Not by any means. Bellamy found Adam and his pinpoint delivery was converted by Carroll at the back post, steering a shot low into the left corner.
The shortcomings of his marker Eggert Jonsson, making his first Premier League start, were painfully apparent.
Nine minutes later, it was two. Jay Spearing, the midfielder back from injury, fed Bellamy and, in the absence of enforcer Karl Henry, Wolves allowed Bellamy the freedom to stride towards the edge of the area and pick his spot inside the right corner. Hennessey got a hand to it, yet he could not prevent it trickling agonisingly beyond him.
Liverpool were rampant. Kuyt wrapped up the points when he took advantage of more slack defending in the 78th minute, playing a one-two with Adam before slotting home.
Wolves knew their luck was out when substitute Sylvan Ebanks-Blake's thunderbolt cannoned off the post, yet even if it had gone it would have provided scant consolation.