Goals, pace and away day smiles!
Liverpool’s first away win of the season finally arrived in the first weekend of December. As depressing as it is to think we’d only scored one goal – a penalty at that – away from Anfield whilst people had already started setting the Crimbo decorations up and doing their festive shopping lists… At least the elusive goals and win came in some style.
Craig Bellamy, free from the accusations of his court case after being cleared in the week, scored the first two with the type of clinical finishes we’ve been missing so often this campaign, he then set-up his partner Dirk Kuyt and an own goal from a Stevie Gerrard cross meant Liverpool were 4-0 up and cruising before half time.
With Xabi Alonso back to fitness Benitez was able to place him in the middle alongside Gerrard, with John Arne Riise moving to left midfield and somewhat surprisingly Daniel Agger moving across to left back. Luis Garcia started on the right side with freedom to drift inside though, and Bellamy partnered Kuyt in what a lot of Reds see as their strongest front two.
The opening goal showed why Bellamy was purchased in the summer, and what he brings to the team that we have often lacked. His pace and timing of the run, combined with his somewhat trademark passed but lofted shot into the far corner gave the visitors the lead. Riise’s ball down the channel was inadvertently flicked on by Wigan full back Emmerson Boyce and Bellamy raced away from his marker in the middle to finish past Chris Kirkland in goal.
Kirkland, facing his former club for the first time since signing permanently a few months ago would have been keen to impress but he was hapless for all of the goals.
Bellamy and Liverpool’s second of the afternoon again owed much to the Welsh forward’s pace and composure in front of goal. Again Boyce had a part to play in it though, playing him onside after Garcia’s attempted chipped through pass was intercepted only for Gerrard to expertly push the ball back through the middle with the outside of his foot, allowing Bellamy in on goal and place under Kirkland.
Wigan had two chances to get back into the game shortly after with Pepe Reina denying Scharner with a good save down low to his right side, but the ball fell to McCulloch who blazed over when really he should have at least hit the target. Then when Heskey was put through Reina came out to jump and block the ex-Liverpool man and Henri Camara steered the rebounding shot wide from the edge of the area.
Five minutes before half time Bellamy was in again. A superb counter attacking move saw Reina throw the ball out to Gerrard who played it out wide to Riise on the left, his lofted pass was taken down superbly by the advancing Gerrard racing down the middle who placed a beautiful ball inside the full back for Bellamy inside the area. With Kirkland closing in though Bellamy unselfishly squared for Kuyt who placed the ball back across the goal into the opposite corner. 3-0.
Three goals which allowed much to pace, speed of play and calmness of finishing; ingredients which have been somewhat lacking for large portions of the season so far. Bellamy adds another dimension to Liverpool’s play and hopefully now he will be buoyed by this display coupled with the result of his trial. He and Kuyt together look like Benitez’s favoured pairing with the two of them offering everything in a partnership.
On the stroke of half time a short corner, so unsuccesful of late, delivered the fourth. Gerrard played short to Finnan on the edge of the box, who played it back out to the captain in space and with time to place the cross it evaded Garcia but found McCulloch at the near post and ended in his own net from close in.
The second half was a much quieter affair with Liverpool happy with the four and their, as ever, loud travelling support enjoying the day in Lancashire.
The four goal advantage meant Benitez was able to take off the not fully fit Garcia for Pennant, rest Hyypia with half an hour to go and give Gabriel Paletta his Premiership debut. Another debutant was on with ten minutes to go as Danny Guthrie replaced Gerrard.
Wigan almost got a consolation late on with Heskey doing well to turn and hit across goal but his shot bounced back off the post and straight into McCulloch too fast for him to react.
Bellamy’s goals and the way in which they came about reminded me of a certain Michael Owen and Im sure with Gerrard in the middle he enjoyed having someone with pace who is willing to play on the shoulder of the last defender. Here’s hoping this is the start of a new era in Anfield striking partnerships.