After a year of personal under-achievement, Andy Carroll set Liverpool on their way to a first Premier League win of 2012 against a Wolves team whose spirit disintegrated once they fell behind.
Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt added to Carroll's fifth goal of the campaign, steering the Carling Cup finalists into fifth spot – four points behind Chelsea in the last of the Champions' League places – and leaving their relegation-threatened hosts 19th after 11 games without a win.
Long before the end, the contest became a mismatch, with Liverpool carving through Wolves' fragile rearguard almost at will. Booing rang around Molineux, and many fans left after Kuyt's final flourish, missing only substitute Sylvan Ebanks-Blake's thunderous drive against a post.
Wolves are far from adrift, with six-pointers looming against Queen's Park Rangers, West Bromwich and Blackburn, but they appear bereft of self-belief.
Exactly 12 months earlier Liverpool had stunned their supporters – and Newcastle's – by splashing £35m on deadline day to make Carroll the most expensive British footballer ever. Before last night, he had scored just six goals in 36 outings, but the impression created in the FA Cup defeat of Manchester United of a player belatedly rediscovering his initial promise was confirmed.
Yet in an excellent team performance one player stood out even above Carroll. Bellamy was a danger to Wolves whenever he took possession in their half. Quite apart from firing Liverpool to Wembley, the Welshman has now scored half their last 10 league goals.
Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, described his latest goal as "fantastic", and said: "When he gets the ball you know something's going to happen. I wish he was 23 rather than 32." Asked whether they had been "close to anything" in terms of Carroll joining Manchester City in exchange for Carlos Tevez, Dalglish replied sarcastically: "I'm close to my wife. We don't have to justify the rumours."
Mick McCarthy, the Wolves manager, called his team's capitulation after the break "unacceptable". Commenting on the jeering of his players, he said: "The lads are hurting as well. We have been beaten by a considerably better side who have just beaten Manchester City and United. But of course I understand their reaction."
Inevitably there will be increased speculation that the Wolves' chairman, one-time Liverpool fanatic Steve Morgan, will lose patience with him. McCarthy addressed the matter: "After the last home game there were huge rumours going round that I wasn't going to be here the day after. So I can't imagine there being any less than there were then."
Wolves' lack of confidence was evident in their tentative build-up and hurried clearances. If Dalglish was concerned his players would be fatigued after two major cup ties in swift succession, there were no obvious signs as they made Wayne Hennessey the busier of the two goalkeepers. Liverpool had a plausible penalty appeal rejected in the first half. Hennessey then made a flying save from a Bellamy free-kick, although Wolves retaliated with a Michael Kightly that shot that flashed inches wide.
Hennessey was helpless, however, as Liverpool went ahead in the 52nd minute. Bellamy's throw-in found the unmarked Charlie Adam, who was able to cross into Wolves' six-yard box where Carroll stole ahead of Roger Johnson to score his first league goal since October.
Nine minutes later Liverpool doubled their lead. Bellamy seized on the ball just inside the home half and ran, unopposed, before reaching the area. His low shot was hardly ferocious, but Hennessey's handling was poor and the ball trickled in for Bellamy's ninth goal of the season.
Wolves' woe was complete with 12 minutes remaining. A move that started with Pepe Reina culminated in a pass from Adam from which Kuyt beat Hennessey with a fine angled shot.
Substitutes: Wolves - Hunt 5 (Kightly 62), Ebanks-Blake 5 (Jonsson, 62), Milijas (Frimpong, 84). Liverpool - Carragher (Agger, 81), Shelvey (Adam, 81), Aurelio (Kuyt, 90).
Booked: Wolves - Edwards. Liverpool - Adam, Bellamy, Agger.
Man of the match Bellamy. Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Wolves 42% Liverpool 58%.
Attempts on target: Wolves 1 Liverpool 14.
Referee A Taylor (Cheshire). Attendance 27,447.
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