by Anthony Jones at Talklfc
It was a good day for the various pundits who had been paid to comment on Peter Crouch in the past month. The general consensus amongst those in the know was that Crouch needed a lucky break to get the ball rolling. How right they were as the scoring was opened with an outrageous fluke that has been deemed a goal, but nobody at Anfield was in any doubt who should be credited with the goal. It was just the launch pad he needed as he went on to further the scoring.
Liverpool entered this game against Wigan in good form having gone five games unbeaten without conceding a goal. The run has coincided with Benitez finding a more stable side though there is still room for rotation. Stephen Warnock replaced Riise in the left back position whilst Harry Kewell gave an attacking look to the side in place of the suspended Mo Sissoko. The remainder of the side from the midweek game against Sunderland was retained as both sides looked to claim second spot.
Wigan proved in midweek that they are no mugs as their understrength side tore Newcastle's expensively assembled team apart. They started as they've played for much of the season, by trying to put the opposition on the back foot. In the opening few minutes Wigan won a number of corners but failed to carve out an opening. Liverpool though are in confident mood and were not prepared to yield as they fought back. With Gerrard in the centre of midfield with Alonso, the ball was being played around with outstanding quality. Gerrard twice found space in behind Wigan's left back but Garcia was unable to turn them into a goal scoring opportunity. The little Spaniard did create the first opportunity of the game though when he switched to the left and swung a deep cross into the box after excellent build up play. The ball cleared Crouch and Morientes in the middle but Kewell had sneaked in unmarked but his side foot finish was mishit which allowed Pollitt to parry clear.
Liverpool were now moving the ball about with ease and breaking up a Wigan attack they launched forward quickly. The ball was worked to Crouch just inside the Wigan half and with the defence short handed options presented themselves on both sides. With Morientes unmarked to his right and Gerrard bursting forward in typical style through the centre it seemed he'd take the wrong option when he moved the ball to his right side. With the opportunity fading he struck a shot which might have been on target that took a wicked deflection off the defender. The ball looped up and suddenly everyone within the ground realised it was set to dip under the crossbar. Pollitt was back peddling and looked set to tip it over the cross bar only to punch it into his goal. The Liverpool fans erupted into celebration whilst Crouch ran the length of the field in celebration with his team mates rushing to congratulate him. It was a special moment, though ultimately one that was mistimed as the Premiership eventually deemed it to be an own goal by the keeper, a harsh choice given the ball was set to go in before his touch.
The fight that has carried them this far was evident as Wigan tried to push Liverpool back, and a header from a corner brushed the top of Reina's cross bar. It was a rare incisive moment from Wigan who were being well controlled by the Liverpool defence. At the other end the Reds looked likely to break through if they put their minds to it. Harry Kewell this time arriving late on the left side of the box had an opportunity to score but with little of the goal to aim for his side foot finish drifted wide of the post.
As if with a mind on avoiding any further ridicule Liverpool fashioned another chance for Crouch. Finnan picked out the well timed run of the tall striker who was played onside by Henchoz who had a disappointing afternoon on his return to Anfield. Allowing the ball to skip on, Crouch waited to Pollitt to come off his line before lofting the ball over the keeper with a delicate finish. The striker's celebration was far more reserved this time, though Steven Gerrard demonstrated how much it meant to the side as he leapt on his team mates back.
The second half started with Wigan again competing for every ball. They were being well challenged by a Liverpool side that is showing an admirable commitment to the ugly side of the game themselves. Even the players considered light weight put in the effort to win the ball as Garcia, Kewell, Crouch and Morientes acted as the first line of defence. Despite that Graham Kavanagh came close to scoring as the ball was cleared to the edge of the back he struck it back left footed. Jose Reina was deceived by the strike as he moved to his left whilst the ball whistled just over the cross bar on his right side.
Wigan were still to register a shot on target whilst Liverpool continued to offer a threat. With the Wigan defence dropping deep Finnan lofted a cross from deep towards the far post. Morientes in typical fashion leapt above his marker and his header struck the cross bar and came out, it was an unfortunate moment for the striker. Wigan were enjoying their best spell of the game though as Liverpool lost control of midfield. Jimmy Bullard curled a shot on the edge of the box just to the left side of Reina but the keeper got down well to hold the ball as players chased in.
This though was one of Liverpool's better performances of the season and what underpinned that was the ability to strike just when the opposition felt they were getting into the game. Having won a corner on the left, the ball was floated in towards the penalty spot by Gerrard. Morientes again rose above everyone and headed towards goal. Luis Garcia had taken up a clever position just inside the six yard box and diverted the ball off his chest to leave Pollitt with no chance. The goal ended Wigan's chances of getting a result and the only question was whether there would be any further goals.
If there was to be another, Liverpool were the more likely despite Wigan throwing more men forward to put pressure on the Reds defence. Steven Gerrard ghosted past Chimbonda on the edge of the Wigan area only to be brought down by the defender. Uriah Rennie opted to show a yellow card probably due to the fact Gerrard had moved the ball away from goal though a red would not have been unjust. From the free kick, Gerrard lashed a shot around the wall and but for an excellent diving save from Pollitt would had added another to his tally this season. Benitez had already replaced Alonso with Hamann and Kewell with Riise when he swapped Crouch for Cisse. The big striker was given an excellent reception as he left the field, reflecting the genuine level of happiness amongst the fans to see him score his first for the club. Cisse found it difficult to get in the game as his passing and control generally went astray, he did however fashion a great chance for Morientes. Played through on the left, Cisse showed he was more than capable of being unselfish as he played the ball inside. Morientes swept the ball goalwards only to see Pollitt make a sharp save. The ball was pushed wide of goal and Morientes reacted quickly to again strike goalwards from a sharp angle only. Pollitt was not prepared to concede another though and he'd scrambled across the box to make an excellent second save. Morientes might regret that his first effort was hit towards the middle of goal rather than into one of the corners.
With the final whistle Liverpool moved up into second place. With Arsenal and Manchester United kicking off later it might only be temporary but nobody in Anfield cared. It had been a great afternoon with Liverpool playing well and Crouch finally breaking his duck. Given the recent run of form that has been built on a solid base the air of confidence around the club is becoming stronger by the day. With Benitez in charge there is no chance of anyone getting ahead of themselves and the focus will be on ensuring that the work rate that has shone through in recent weeks is maintained. Whilst there is little competitive significance in the next game against Chelsea, it will give a good indication of how much progress the side has made.