Carragher keeps it tight – even when on the bench

Dalgish pays tribute to veteran defender's input as Agger and Skrtel excel in central defensive roles

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The Independent Football

The Liverpool vice-captain Jamie Carragher may currently be unable to win back his place in the first team, but manager Kenny Dalglish believes the experienced defender's influence is still being felt on the pitch.

The Bootle-born former academy graduate, who turns 34 next month, was injured in the Carling Cup tie at Stoke City in late October and, despite returning to fitness, has had to settle for a place on the bench.

That is a result of the form of centre-backs Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel who, in the seven matches Carragher has missed, have helped keep four clean sheets with the team conceding just three goals.

More of the same will be expected tonight at Wigan as the League's meanest defence comes up against the joint-worst scorers in the top flight. Agger and Skrtel have obviously clicked as a pairing and, although Dalglish believes the team are working harder defensively, he thinks his current first-choice centre-backs have both benefited from playing alongside Carragher.

"I don't think they have ever looked a bad pair but the both of them are playing very well," said the Scot. "They know how to play. Jamie being beside them when they came in at first has been a fantastic help to them, as he has been for a lot of people here. You can't under-play what Jamie has done for the two of them but they are more than capable of standing on their own two feet.

"Competition is always helpful but it is not as though the two boys are novices, they are seasoned international players and Daniel is going to Euro 2012 [with Denmark]."

On their recent good defensive run Dalglish added: "It is not just about centre-backs and full-backs defending, it is about everyone. As soon as we lose the ball we start defending together and when we have it everyone can go forward if they want.

"Daniel Agger got forward a couple of times on Sunday [in the 2-0 victory away to Aston Villa] and Martin scored a goal. They have been good defensively but they have been good in attack as well."

While Carragher has been frustrated at being relegated to the bench in recent weeks at the other end of the scale Jonjo Shelvey is trying to make the most of his opportunity. Injury to Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva and suspension for Jay Spearing meant he was recalled from a loan spell at Championship side Blackpool earlier this month and he made his first Liverpool League start in Sunday's match at Villa Park.

With Spearing serving the final match of his ban tonight there is every chance the 19-year-old could retain his place at the DW Stadium.

Dalglish is pleased with the progress the teenager is making but also sounded a word of caution.

"He has been fortunate that Lucas is out, Jay got suspended and Steven is injured, but it was even more fortunate for us the level of performance he put in," the Liverpool manager said. "He has a good chance of having a really good career as a professional footballer.

"Part of his progress and development was to look for a club which was suitable for him to go out on loan and play more regularly at a higher level than we could give him here.

"There is no one in the dressing room we would expect to be doing handstands if they are on the bench but it is a fact of life it is going to happen.

"But there has to be some realism involved. He played really well at Aston Villa, but he is only 19 so [let's] just calm down a bit. Let him get on with his career and we will try to develop him the best we can here. We have never been afraid to throw youngsters in and if they are good enough they will be given opportunities."

Dalglish has confirmed his interest in the Cliftonville striker Rory Donnelly, with a number of Premier League club lining up to take a look at the 19-year-old, who has been prolific in front of goal this season.

The Irish club have already accepted a reported £100,000 offer from Swansea for the teenager but Liverpool's interest became known when the Cliftonville chairman, Gerard Lawlor, went public.

"I spoke to the chairman – it was nice of him to tell everyone," Dalglish said. "There is a bit of interest in the boy from a few places so we have registered our interest, but that is as far as it goes at the moment."