A "Jekyll and Hyde side" was how the Liverpool ex-captain Tommy Smith described Anfield's current crop when reflecting on their late horror show against QPR in his weekend Liverpool Echo column. But at least Dr Jekyll turned up at Loftus Road; Saturday's new low in a schizophrenic season of cup successes and league setbacks was a Hyde-only affair, as Kenny Dalglish's men slumped to a first-ever home defeat by Wigan Athletic.
This was a sobering afternoon for a club that began the campaign with Champions League qualification hopes and, as the dust settled, it left some pretty damning statistics about Liverpool's recent league performance: only Wolves have taken fewer Premier League points since 1 January and their haul of eight from a possible 33 in 2012 is less than the total managed by the unpopular Roy Hodgson in his last 11 games.
Against this backdrop, Dalglish was not wholly convincing when pointing afterwards to a Carling Cup triumph and FA Cup semi-final appearance in defence of his record. "You can look at us and pick out our league form," he said. "You can look at someone else, who has been knocked out of three cups – yet you take that as a good season. It depends how you depict it."
Quite how Liverpool's supporters and, more significantly, owners will depict it if this trajectory continues will be interesting to see. It is fortunate they scraped past Cardiff in the Carling Cup final, for otherwise there would be no guarantee of a Europa League place.
For Dalglish there is no deep-lying problem – "you don't get into an FA Cup semi-final or be a Carling Cup winner if you are not [a good team]," he repeated – and his explanation for Saturday's sluggish showing was tiredness "with three games in six days". In mitigation, he was without Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly, Craig Bellamy, Daniel Agger and Charlie Adam through injury, but the limited contributions of three players signed for a combined £80m – Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and substitute Andy Carroll – must diminish any sympathy.
Liverpool's passing was poor and they conceded both goals after failing to clear fully free-kicks into their box. The first instance led to Shaun Maloney's penalty opener, after Martin Skrtel's boot caught Victor Moses in the face, the second to captain Gary Caldwell's close-range finish in front of the Kop which restored the advantage after Luis Suarez's equaliser.
The most impressive aspect of a Wigan victory built on tireless commitment and tidy passing was their composure in the closing stages when they, not Liverpool, came closer to scoring again. "The composure and the calmness we showed when we were in front showed we are improving all the time," said Caldwell as he reflected on "a memory that will live with me for ever".
His manager, Roberto Martinez, added: "We had a bit of luck we deserved all season." Wigan deserved the break they got when Lee Mason rightly ruled out a Suarez goal for handball with the score at 1-1. Dalglish's insistence otherwise was a red herring on another afternoon of red faces for Liverpool.
League points since 1 January
Manchester City, Man United 25
Arsenal, Sunderland 22
Newcastle United 20
Swansea City 19
Norwich City 17
Chelsea, Fulham, Tottenham 16
Blackburn, West Bromwich Albion 14
Bolton Wanderers 13
Stoke City 12
Aston Villa, Wigan Athletic 10
Liverpool, QPR 8; Wolves 5
Liverpool: REINA 6/10, FLANAGHAN 6, CARRAGHER 6, SKRTEL 5, ENRIQUE 6, DOWNING 5, HENDERSON 5, SPEARING 5, GERRARD 6, KUYT 5, SUAREZ 7
Wigan: ALHABSI 7, FIGUEROA 6, CALDWELL 8, ALCARAZ 6, BEAUSEJOUR 5, McARTHUR 7, McCARTHY 7, BOYCE 6, MALONEY 7, DISANTO 6, MOSES 6
Scorers: Liverpool Suarez 47. Wigan Athletic Maloney pen 30, Caldwell 63.
Subs: Liverpool Carroll 5 (Henderson, h-t), Shelvey (Down-ing, 73), Sterling (Kuyt, 84). Wigan Crusat 6 (Moses, 42), Wat-son 6 (Beausejour, 62), Sammon (Di Santo, 82).
Booked: Liverpool Suarez Wigan, Di Santo, Figueroa.
Man of match Caldwell. Match rating 7/10. Poss: Liver-pool 56% Wigan 44%. Attempts on target: Liverpool 9 Wigan 5 Ref L Mason (Lancashire). Attendance 44,431.
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