Liverpool were denied the chance to extend their recent four game winning and clean-sheet streak this afternoon after a frustrating draw against relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic at Anfield. A combination of wasted chances and extremely poor officiating contributed to Liverpool failing to win, though injuries sustained over the past week perhaps played a part as Liverpool were forced to shuffle their pack somewhat.
Club captain Steven Gerrard missed out with the injury which saw him miss England’s midweek friendly, while Daniel Agger was a surprise omission from the starting line up. Liverpool’s defensive pair of Martins, Kelly and Skrtel, overcame their respective knocks to take their place from the start, while Luis Suarez made his full debut for the club up front.
What at kick-off looked largely a 4:4:2 formation became apparent to be much more fluid; from the first whistle Raul Meireles showed the intent and inclination to get forward, while Kuyt was often seen dropping out to the right and Fabio Aurelio tucked inside to almost a central midfield position.
The first half was a largely quiet affair interspersed with spells of quick-fire passing from Liverpool, who saw Dirk Kuyt, Luis Suarez and Raul Meireles link up to great effect several times.
Dutchman Kuyt was first to try his luck from range after one such passage of combination play, but his shot on the turn from the edge of the box was straight at Omani ‘keeper Ali Al-Habsi who was able to gather comfortably.
Uruguayan Suarez was looking lively without having too many scoring opportunities, while Kuyt and Lucas were again impressing with their ball-playing as much as their work-rate.
For all the home side’s possession they were struggling somewhat to fashion clear cut chances and were beginning to get a little frustrated with a series of niggly fouls by Wigan, who seemed to be targeting Suarez more than most with a succession of trips on the livewire forward. Wigan occasionally threatened on the counter, with Hugo Rodallega and Victor Moses looking the most likely to create danger, but Pepe Reina remained largely untroubled.
Midway through the first half Liverpool claimed the opening goal; a fine run down the right and cross from full back Martin Kelly found its way to Fabio Aurelio who beat his marker to the byline before chipping back across goal. The cross was deflected into the path of the in-form Meireles, who lashed a first time volley past Al-Habsi into the Kop end net, for his fifth goal in six games.
Suarez went close to making it two shortly after, with a lovely drop of the shoulder to beat his man and make space in the box for a shot, which he curled around the keeper only to see it bounce wide off the post.
In the second half, Liverpool lined up with more of a 4:2:3:1 with Maxi on the left and Kuyt on the right; Lucas partnering Aurelio in the centre of midfield. However just eight minutes in they were forced into a substitute as David Ngog made his first appearance under Kenny Dalglish, replacing Meireles who succumbed to sickness.
The change meant Liverpool struggled to retain the same tempo in their passing as in the first half without Meireles to dictate the play, and it showed as the chances were slow to materialise in the opening exchanges. Wigan gradually worked themselves back into the game and conjured an equaliser just after the hour mark in fortuitous circumstances. A cross from N’Zogbia from the right seemed to be touched on by one or two Wigan players before finding Steve Gouhouri two yards from goal – clearly standing a good three or four yards offside. However, neither the referee nor his assistant gave it and Gouhouri stabbed beyond Reina, the first goal Liverpool had conceded in four days short of a month.
Milan Jovanovic was introduced to the field of play for Kuyt to inject some pace into the Reds’ game, but it was still Suarez who created Liverpool’s best opportunities. Firstly he was taken down for two free kicks which first Aurelio and then Maxi shot over with, before winning a third on the edge of the area which Caldwell was lucky not to see a second yellow card for. Suarez elected to take this one himself and curled a delightful effort over the wall, only to see it smash back off the crossbar.
It was to be the closest Liverpool would come to clinching a winner, as Skrtel headed over from a corner and Johnson wasted a good chance to cross when well placed.
The final fifteen minutes was all Liverpool but they lacked the invention around the edge of the box to take advantage of their pressure and Wigan saw out the last few minutes without too many scares.
Full time from Anfield, Liverpool 1 Wigan 1. Man of the Match: Luis Suarez.