Liverpool 3 Wigan Athletic 0: Benitez unfazed by outbreak of 'Crouch-mania'

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The Independent Online

Amid the general euphoria sweeping across Anfield on Saturday when Peter Crouch finally ended his seven-month goal drought one man could be forgiven for saying: "I told you so."

Perhaps that is why Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, seemed less excited than most following a routine victory over Wigan Athletic that was almost forgotten in the sudden outbreak of Crouch- mania.

Crouch was convinced Liverpool's bizarre opening goal belonged to him. He celebrated by sprinting down the touchline towards the Kop, his team-mates trailing behind him, as the ground erupted.

Given that the goal was subsequently credited to Mike Pollitt, the Wigan goalkeeper, who helped the ball into the net after the forward's shot had looped off Leighton Baines, it was just as well Crouch added a second, taking advantage of a malfunctioning offside trap. This time there could be no doubt over the identity of the scorer.

It ended a run of 22 matches and over a day's-worth of football without a goal for the £7m striker.

"If Crouch only scores two goals all season and Carra [Jamie Carragher] scores 15 that will be fine," Benitez said. "Today he scored, which is natural because he's a forward and we created lots of chances. All of the players have been trying to help him. He's a good pro and a nice boy - and they all know that.

"I'm the kind of manager who wants his players to say thank you on the pitch, not off it. The two goals were a "thank you" from Peter Crouch," he said.

Liverpool have now won six successive games and kept eight consecutive clean sheets. This success was built on the midfield dominance of Xabi Alonso and, in particular, Steven Gerrard. The 2-0 half-time scoreline reflected both their superiority and a Wigan performance Paul Jewell, their manager, described as "unlike us - we made it too easy for them".

Wigan improved after the break and were the better side for 20 minutes, when Jason Roberts and Henri Camara had the beating of Carragher and Sami Hyypia. As it was, Luis Garcia added Liverpool's third moments later as they climbed into second place - albeit for only a few hours - their highest league position in three years.

That is exactly where Wigan stood as recently as 10 days ago, but their run of six straight wins suddenly seems a long time ago. They have now lost their last three and, with forthcoming trips to Stamford Bridge then Old Trafford, things may get worse before they get better.

"We've got 25 points and there are a lot of teams who would like to swap with us now," Jewell said. "We'll stay up this year by taking points off the teams around us. If we get anything off the likes of Liverpool that's a bonus."

Goals: Pollitt og (18) 1-0; Crouch (41) 2-0; Garcia (69) 3-0.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Warnock; Garcia, Alonso (Hamann, 66), Gerrard, Kewell (Riise, 61); Morientes, Crouch (Cissé, 73). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Josemi.

Wigan (4-4-2): Pollitt; Chimbonda, Henchoz, De Zeeuw (Jackson, 34), Baines; Bullard, Francis (Connolly, 65), Kavanagh (Skoko, 77), McCulloch; Camara, Roberts. Substitutes not used: Walsh (gk), Taylor.

Referee: U Rennie (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Liverpool Hyypia; Wigan Chimbonda, Henchoz.

Man of the match: Gerrard.

Attendance: 44,098.

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