x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A point is not too damaging, Dalglish feels after reality check

After five straight victories, Liverpool's revolution was brought back down to earth by Wigan Athletic, won earned a 1-1 draw at Anfield.

David Ngog heads the ball under pressure from the Wigan defenders.
David Ngog heads the ball under pressure from the Wigan defenders.

LIVERPOOL // Reality checks are rarely pleasant. Euphoria is a heady emotion, experienced all too rarely by Liverpool recently. But, when a fifth successive victory and a fifth clean sheet in a row beckoned, Wigan Athletic supplied the unwanted reminder that Kenny Dalglish's return is not a panacea for every occasion.

Steve Gohouri deflected attention from Raul Meireles and Luis Suarez with an equaliser and disrupted Liverpool's bid to trade a relegation struggle for a top-four place within a couple of months.

"It's not been too damaging," Dalglish said, and the ultimate value of the shared point may be greater for Wigan, who have spent the season veering in and out of the relegation zone.

In one respect, it was merited. Liverpool failed to reach the levels of excellence displayed in the 1-0 victory at Chelsea last week while, their lowly position notwithstanding, Wigan have a group of players with the ability to excel at some of the game's grander stages.

The attacking trio of Charles N'Zogbia, Hugo Rodallega and Victor Moses are equipped with skill and pace on the counter-attack that enables them to trouble their supposed superiors.

Nevertheless, it was a set-piece that enabled them to equalise. N'Zogbia was the supplier, Antolin Alcaraz flicked the ball on and Gohouri applied a close-range finish.

"Their goal's offside but these things happen," Dalglish said. "We haven't had much luck this season," countered Roberto Martinez. "The performance deserved a point."

If it were an isolated raid forward for both Alcaraz and Gohouri, both were part of a greater saga, the coruscating contest between Suarez and the Wigan defence.

Three of them were cautioned for fouling the Uruguayan, and Gary Caldwell could have been booked a second time. Martinez, however, said of Suarez: "I thought three-quarters of the free kicks he got weren't free kicks. He was clever."

Granted a full debut for Liverpool, Suarez, who had scored as a substitute against Stoke City 10 days before, was inches away from adding a goal on his first start.

The woodwork was struck at either end, a curling shot clipping the far post in the first half and, with Ali al Habsi, the Omani goalkeeper, having abandoned his attempt to stop it, a free kick thudding off the bar in Liverpool's pursuit of a winner.

A blur of incessant movement, Suarez, the former Ajax striker, provided a contrast with his predecessor in the Liverpool attack, the departed Fernando Torres.

"He's very energetic and skilful and he loves to score goals," Dalglish said. "He was very unlucky not to get on the score sheet."

The player who did, and the personification of the regime change, occupies a peculiar place in Liverpool's recent history.

Meireles is by far Hodgson's best signing yet also is one of the major beneficiaries of Dalglish's appointment. A fifth goal in six games was beautifully taken.

Gohouri half-cleared Fabio Aurelio's cross, heading the ball towards the edge of the penalty area. There, however, lurked Meireles, whose response was delivered with delightful technique, a volley of considerable power and enviable precision that beat al Habsi.

"He scored a great goal and his goals are a real bonus for us," Dalglish said. It was all the more impressive as, his manager revealed, the Portuguese was hindered by the virus that led to his removal.

"During the first half, he didn't look too clever. He came in and spewed up," Dalglish said.

Shorn of Meireles, minus the injured Steven Gerrard and with a tiring Suarez mounting a desperate attempt to find a winner, Liverpool possessed urgency, but not the control that was apparent at Chelsea.

"There was a little bit of an edge missing," Dalglish said. "And if it had been there, the final pass would have been better. The sharpness was away a wee bit."