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Sunday, 25 March 2012

Liverpool FC 1 Wigan Athletic 2 - Match Report

Caldwell celebrates his winning goal Caldwell celebrates his winning goal More pictures available. View the gallery The skies may have cleared above Anfield yesterday but clouds still overshadow Liverpool's season. Their domestic performances during the previous seven days have personified their season down to a tee, with glimpses of early promise often far outweighed by inaccuracy in the final third. With three wins on their travels all season, Roberto Martinez's side were not expected to upset the odds as they continue to fight for their top flight survival. But a first victory at Anfield in their history was testament to their valiant effort despite facing an abject Reds side. Both managers had bemoaned their lack of luck of late but the Latics found favour both on the field and results elsewhere drawing them level on points with Queens Park Rangers above them. Liverpool's start was encouraging, with rookie right-back Jon Flanagan engineering their early attacks but last season's rawness was still prevalent as he battled and bustled at both ends. A lofted Luis Suarez pass over the head of Antolin Alcaraz found Stewart Downing, only for the winger's effort to be sent whistling across the face of Ali Al Habsi's goal The striker should have replicated his goal against Stoke in the FA Cup, just six days ago, as he hit a curling effort from outisde the area which prompted a spectacular fingertip save from Al Habsi. But fresh from gifting Queens Park Rangers their winning comeback goal three days prior, Jose Enrique was almost guilty of repeating the feat as he slipped, which allowed Victor Moses to home in on goal before Martin Skrtel delivered a trademark block to avert the danger. Gary Caldwell's flick saw Jamie Carragher clear but the lurking Moses was on hand to battle with Skrtel, whose kick to the attacker's chin prompted Lee Mason to award a penalty to the visitors. Shaun Maloney was given the distinction of breaking the deadlock with a well-drilled penalty which Pepe Reina was unfortunate not to reach despite guessing correctly, down to his right-hand side. Jordan Henderson once again bore the brunt of derision from the Kop as every faltering movement was met with collective groans. Playing in a more familiar centralised role, rather than his designated round hole as a right-winger did little to exorcise those particular demons. The England rookie's withdrawal immediately after the interval saw a muted appreciation for his efforts in comparison to the slightly more vociferous chants for his replacement, Andy Carroll. Suarez's partnership with Steven Gerrard showed signs of blossoming as they combined just two minutes into the second half as the Uruguayan rolled the ball comfortably into the net. The combination almost recorded a second as Suarez nuged the ball home on the goal line following a Gerrard free kick, only for a handball to see referee Mason correctly rule the goal invalid. Limited chances at the beginning of the half did little to dampen Wigan Athletic's determination and they had a former masked man in Caldwell to thank for netting their historic winning goal. The defender wore a protective guard during last season's draw here for a fractured cheekbone and lived up to his previous guise as he stole in after James McCarthy's long-range volley, which saw a handball claim against Carragher waved away, deflected into his path. Dancing past Carroll, the Scot coolly slotted through the legs of Reina, as echoes of Loftus Road came back to haunt Liverpool before Kenny Dalglish handed Raheem Sterling his long-awaited debut. Recording his name in the record books as the club's third-youngest player, at 17 years and 107 days of age, the pacy winger shouldered was burdened by an insurmountable weight of expectations on his diminutive shoulders by a home crowd yearning for some salvation from this game. Impressive youth team performances have left many in and outside Anfield convinced Sterling could well become the next genuine success story from the club's once revered production line. Every time he received the ball, the feeling of expectation was palpable. A shot, after beating two Wigan defenders, only served to heighten that anticipation amid suggestions he may consider his options in his native London, should he fail to seek the first-team opportunities he craves. The long ball made an unwelcome return to Liverpool's tactics as the final minutes ticked down with Carroll's flick-on finding Suarez out wide but he was unable to beat Al Habsi while another effort flashed across the face of Al Habsi's goal, this time from Enrique. Dalglish may struggle to fathom the booing which greeted the final whistle, with one trophy already in their cabinet and potentially another to follow, but the fans' frustrations are understandable given that Wigan inflicted a fifth defeat in Liverpool's last six league games. His own managerial record over the previous 20 matches also makes for unpleasant and unflattering reading as it equals that of predecessor Roy Hodgson's incredibly short-lived spell as manager. And while Wembley may be calling once again, the second tier of European football also continues to beckon for Liverpool. Only Tottenham's draw at Chelsea earlier in the day limited their indignation with the gap between seventh place and the top four currently extended to 13 points. KENNY DALGLISH: "I think we looked a wee bit tired. We had a lot of possession in the game but we gave away the ball quite a lot in vital positions. It's not because they can't play, it's because of tiredness. "If you play Sunday, Wednesday [and] Saturday it's going to take its toll. A lot of the lads had played all three games, and for us that's a reason behind our performance. "It's a problem we face and it's dictated to the clubs and the players by the television schedule. The fact we've done well in two cup competitions has obviously given us lots of extra fixtures. "We'll accept our progress in the cups and we'll have to accept that we're going to be a little bit tired. If we're going to be successful we've got to be able to handle it." by Richard Buxton

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