Wigan Athletic 0-0 Liverpool
Premier League, Wednesday 21st December 2001
There was something rather familiar about Liverpool’s Wednesday evening stalemate at perennial Premier League strugglers Wigan Athletic.
Up against a team from the lower reaches of the league table, the Reds dominated possession, squandered a host of first half chances, rarely looked like conceding but ultimately left feeling short-changed.
It was simply a case a déjà vu for the travelling Liverpool support, yet the hard-luck stories will only stretch so far. Too often this season they have witnessed their side fail capitalise on their dominance and lack a cutting edge in front of goal.
A return of just 20 goals from their opening 17 League matches makes pretty sorry reading for a team with aspirations of returning to the top positions of the Premier League. Of course, this should be counter-balanced to an extent by acknowledging that the Reds have currently the meanest defence in the land. But fail to score enough goals and it will always be much more difficult to find the consistency of results required to challenge their rivals at the top end of the league table.
The evidence irrefutably confirms that this current Liverpool team are short of a finisher. The answer to Kenny Dalglish’s dilemma should, of course, be Andy Carroll. Yet, having failed to inspire earlier in the campaign, Carroll now appears to have either tested the patience, or have lost the confidence of, his management.
It would be short-sighted to place too much blame on Carroll’s head – or that of his follow forward Luis Suarez. Afterall the goal scoring burden should be more evenly spread throughout the team and there are a few players throughout this squad who would usually expect to have contributed more in terms of goals than they have of late.
But every successful team needs a regular, reliable marksman. And with Liverpool’s current leading scorer, Suarez, no facing the prospect of an 8-game absence, Dalglish may be faced with ever greater reason to be concerned about his team’s goal-shy tendencies.
Dalglish was adamant post-match that he was simply disappointed for his players that their efforts were not benefiting from greater reward. Yet, there may have just been a hint of frustration creeping into view at having to repeat a similar mantra one too many teams in the opening months of the season.
There is little doubt that the effort and the approach play is there. This was far from being one of Liverpool’s better displays of the season but a sufficient amount of chances were still created – particularly in the first half – to have won relatively comfortably; only to be thwarted by a lack of finishing tough and a goalkeeper in Ali Al Habsi who was in inspired form.
The decision retain the place of Suarez in the starting XI was never really in doubt, despite the events of the previous 24 hours. The Uruguayan’s Liverpool team mates made perfectly their support of Suarez as a man prior to kick-off by releasing a joint statement and following that up by
wearing t-shirt’s in support of the forward during the pre-match warm-up. And both Suarez and Liverpool began the game on the front foot.
The Reds dominated the opening 30 minutes in terms of both territory and chances created. Yet, Liverpool failed to capitalise and reward themselves with a one or two goal advantage. And, even at that early stage , there was a nagging doubt amongst the sizeable away support that their side’s profligacy would comeback to haunt them again.
Jordan Henderson was the first to test Al Habsi with a powerful effort which the ‘keeper palmed wide, after Maxi Rodriguez and Stewart Downing had combined to find Henderson just inside the penalty area.
Jose Erique – impressive once again in both attack and defence – cause some problems with his delivery from the left wig. Whilst Martin Skrtel tested Al Habsi, following some unusually impressive footwork, and Maxi fired over from distance.
Dirk Kuyt then tested the Wigan goalkeeper again, as an eighth victory from nine away fixtures appeared an inevitability. Although the best chance of the lot feel to Glen Johnson. On one of his trademark forward charges from right full-back, Johnson was played in behind the home defence, via a quick exchange of passes with Maxi. Johnson could have lifted the ball over an on-rushing Al Habsi but instead fired straight at Wigan’s last line of defence.
When Liverpool were awarded a penalty shortly after half-time – Gary Caldwell clearly handling as Suarez shot towards goal – the Reds thought that luck was finally on their side. Yet, Liverpool’s penalty conversion record this season should have told them otherwise.
Charlie Adam – having been the only Liverpool player to score from the spot earlier this season at Wigan – stepped up. But the Scot became the fourth different player to miss a penalty this campaign as Al Habsi parried away Adam’s powerfully driven effort. Surely Steven Gerrard will be back on penalty duty upon his imminent return!
Wigan for their part were much better organised defensively than was expected, particularly after the interval when they severely limited Liverpool’s threat. The hosts barely registered as an attacking force in the opening stages – as much through lack of opportunity as lack of intent.
But as Roberto Martinez’s team grew into the game they showed their threat on the counter-attack and – Jordi Gomez and Mohamed Diame in particular – were not shy of trying their luck from distance.
Pepe Reina was rarely worried, although a gallivanting run from Victor Moses which began in his own half almost resulted in a wonder goal.
Liverpool missed the presence of Lucas in their midfield for arguably the first time since his long-term injury absence began. The Brazilian’s ability to protect the back four, pick of the pieces and retain possession would have been a welcome addition against the Latics.
As the game progressed Liverpool actually looked increasingly less likely to find the breakthrough. Craig Bellamy was introduced from the bench and as Suarez’s influences waned he was eventually
replaced by Andy Carroll but neither were able to have the required impact. Whilst the struggling Downing was non-existent for large periods.
Skrtel headed narrowly over the bar from a corner kick, whilst Kuyt sliced his first-time effort over following a cleverly worked Adam free-kick. But could have turned Liverpool’s frustration into bitter disappointment in the closing stages, as Johnson had to be alert at the far post to divert the ball out of the reach of Hugo Rodallega.
Man of the Match: JOSE ENRIQUE
The Spaniard continues to impress at left-back with every passing game. Excellent in defence and