Saturday 10 December 2016

Midas touch out of reach for Dalglish as Liverpool stall

Liverpool 1 Wigan 1

Published 13/02/2011 | 05:00

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish. Photo: PA
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish. Photo: PA

It might be stretching belief to call a club that has never won at Anfield a hoodoo team, but Wigan have been a considerable irritant to Liverpool in recent years. This was the fourth time in five encounters, under three different managers, that the Anfield side has faced a club that lies squarely in their shadow and failed to win.

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The Kop, naturally, gave Kenny Dalglish more of the benefit of the doubt than Roy Hodgson or even Rafael Benitez in his final, fitful season on Merseyside would have received. Nevertheless, in the wake of last Sunday's victory at Stamford Bridge that brought back the prospect of Champions League football, this was a gentle reminder that Liverpool are far from the finished article.

This is still a fallible team and, although Dalglish's homecoming has been billed as the return of the king, his name is not Midas and turning base metal to gold does not come as standard. This was a bronze medal kind of performance.

Dalglish pointed out that dropping two points after four straight victories did not count as a disaster and acknowledged that although Luis Suarez, in his first start for the club, had struck the frame of the goal twice, this was a point Wigan had deserved.

Dalglish had been Liverpool manager when Wigan first tiptoed into Anfield in 1989 for a League Cup fixture they lost 8-2 on aggregate. They had been overawed then, and their manager, Roberto Martinez, thought that Wigan began rather too diffidently now in a first half in which Liverpool ought to have settled matters.

Raul Meireles volleyed home his fifth goal of the season while Suarez, after a burst of acceleration that stupefied Ben Watson, who marked him only in theory, had struck the foot of Ali Al Habsi's post. Meireles' goal was a cushion but it was not nearly deep or soft enough.

"We did not show the real belief you need to hurt a team like Liverpool," Martinez said of the first half. "If you go to Anfield now and you are not at your best, you will get nothing. But coming back like this is the kind of experience we need."

This was a game that mirrored Meireles' mood. His manager thought that the sharpness of some of his players had been dulled in the late-night flights back from Wednesday's internationals, and Meireles' had been from Geneva, where Portugal had been beaten by Argentina.

He felt ill before kick-off and was sick during the interval, which made the way he met a cross from Fabio Aurelio that Steve Gohouri appeared to have cleared all the more remarkable. It gave Al Habsi not a glimmer of a chance. Ten minutes after the restart, however, he could not continue and was replaced by David Ngog, but by then Liverpool were seriously starting to stutter.

Gohouri was probably offside as he stretched himself to the limit at the far post to turn home Charles N'Zogbia's cross beneath the Kop to score his first goal for Wigan, but even Dalglish did not argue that the equaliser was undeserved.

Earlier, Hugo Rodallega had screwed a shot wide from close range and Wigan had been rather more inventive than might be expected from a club in the relegation zone with few real resources.

Liverpool, naturally, were stung into a response. Suarez has the quickness of feet that Mohammad Ali would have recognised although he falls to the floor rather more easily. He was up against Gary Caldwell. When Suarez tumbled spectacularly to earth, the Scotland captain was rewarded by a yellow card and the sight of the striker sending the free-kick crunching against the crossbar.

"Three quarters of the free-kicks he won were not free kicks," said Martinez of Suarez. "He won them in a very clever way and he has been doing that for Ajax and Uruguay for years." It was a polite way of putting it.

Observer

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