The momentum built up by Liverpool over four successive victories under Kenny Dalglish slowed down unexpectedly yesterday against a stubborn Wigan. After the euphoria of their win at Chelsea seven days ago, the result showed that a bad habit of dropping points at home to lower-placed teams, that has developed over several seasons, cannot be overcome in a matter of weeks.
When Raul Meireles put Liverpool ahead in the first half with his fifth goal in six games, the pattern of the previous four matches seemed likely to continue. But Steve Gohouri's equaliser 20 minutes into the second half – 463 minutes after Liverpool had last conceded a goal – stunned Dalglish's men. Without the injured Steven Gerrard, they were unable to lift themselves again.
Dalglish blamed a flat second-half performance partly on midweek international matches. "We started well enough, scored a good goal and hit the post, but you could tell they'd been playing on Wednesday night, a lot of them," he said. "The sharpness was away a wee bit, which was understandable."
It was a valuable and deserved point for Wigan in their attempts to escape the Premier League's bottom three, with Gary Caldwell, their captain, playing in a Phantom of the Opera-style mask to protect a fractured cheekbone, leading a brave rearguard action after Gohouri 's equaliser.
"Coming to Anfield at this time, if you're not at your best you're not going to get anything," Roberto Martinez, the Wigan manager, said. "Their goal was against the run of play, but I thought the reaction was great. We had long spells of possession and grew into the game. Experiences like today are going to be fantastic for our young players."
Wigan started like a team who believed they could end Liverpool's run of clean sheets, while it took 18 minutes for Dirk Kuyt to get Liverpool's first shot on target, so it was hard luck on the visitors that their second, six minutes later, found the net. Fabio Aurelio's cross from the left was half-cleared by the head of Gohouri, the ball bouncing out to Meireles, who volleyed home unerringly from 18 yards.
Liverpool almost doubled their lead three minutes later when Luis Suarez, who impressed on his first start for the club, beat Ali Al Habsi with a low shot from the left only to see the ball hit the far upright, and it looked as if the home side would go on to dominate. But Wigan recovered their composure, and Pepe Reina had to be at his best to deal with free kicks by Charles N'Zogbia and Ben Watson before the interval.
The second half began as the first had ended, with Wigan looking dangerous and Liverpool unable to deny them possession, especially with Meireles, who had been sick at half-time, unable to continue beyond the 54th minute.
The only surprise when Wigan equalised in the 65th minute was that the scorer was Gohouri, the right back, who arrived unmarked at the far post to touch in N'Zogbia's cross from the right. It was the first time an opponent had scored against Liverpool since Jermaine Beckford of Everton on 16 January. The defenders appealed in vain that a flick by Antolin Alcaraz as the ball travelled across the penalty area had rendered Gohouri offside. "We haven't had much luck this season," Martinez said. "I'm glad it went our way. The performance deserved a point."
They held on to it thanks to a determined performance in the final stages, although Caldwell was lucky to escape a second yellow card for bringing down Suarez just outside the penalty area and the Uruguayan nearly took revenge with a sweetly struck free kick that cannoned back from the crossbar.
"It's easy to warm to him," Dalglish said of Suarez. "He's very energetic, skilful and he loves to score goals."
Referee: Kevin Friend
Man of the match: G Caldwell