The words Wigan Athletic and fairytale have become synonymous this season, but Prince Charming could have married Cinderella with the Three Little Pigs as ushers on the JJB Stadium pitch yesterday and it would have been hard to discern much magic dust.
Wigan lost because of to Sami Hyypia's first-half goal, performing with little panache and even less threat and, to cap it all, Paul Jewell made a barely veiled criticism of his striker Henri Camara. "I just want to talk about people who give their all for Wigan Athletic," he said when asked about his absent Senegalese striker, "That's what those lads in the dressing-room did today." When pushed, he said he was "very disappointed" that Camara had failed to return from helping Senegal to finish fourth in the African Nations' Cup in Egypt. "You can take from that what you want."
Jewell was clearly taking plenty, and similar may disappear from Camara's wage packet, because Wigan had hoped the striker would make the 2,500-mile dash from Thursday's third-place play-off for yesterday's game. The club believe he stopped off in Paris, however, and Jewell had to field makeshift strikers as his side suffered their 11th Premiership defeat of the season.
"You have to take this game in context," Jewell remarked. "We haven't got a striker in the building so we weren't going to make many chances, but we pushed them all the way. This is a team who were in the Second Division three years ago and now we are losing 1-0 to the European champions."
Rafael Benitez, too, was taking the positive from the result, that halted a run of four Premiership games without a win. "We have some big games coming up so it was important that we got a win," he said. The problem? "The final pass," he replied.
To the neutral it was the first and second pass that was the difficulty, because on a pitch that would give a bad name to a cabbage patch, an accurate delivery had the rarity of rubies. As a consequence, players from both sides opted for the Route One option and rarely enjoyed the experience. Then again, with both sets of front men unable to retain possession never mind institute a threat, it was an exercise in futility.
Wigan had an alibi, they were down to Paul Scharner and Andreas Johansson in the absence of Camara, Jason Roberts, David Connolly and Lee McCulloch and Neil Mellor, but Liverpool had no such excuse and it said everything that Benitez chose to substitute Robbie Fowler and Fernando Morientes.
Modern Merseyside folklore is that Liverpool are a team of lions led up front by donkeys, but there was little to roar about elsewhere yesterday either. Steven Gerrard improved on his first half, but, as he barely made an accurate pass in the first 45 minutes, that was hardly difficult, while Harry Kewell looked like a man who wanted to be elsewhere. (Memo to Harry: if you're trying to be anonymous it is not a bright idea to wear gold boots).
With both attacks faltering, the first half was a mess that was lightened only by Hyypia's first goal since April. The centre-half remained in the Wigan area when a free-kick was cleared, and when Jamie Carragher lobbed a speculative cross in, the Finn turned and hit a left-foot volley. The connection was not perfect but it had enough on it to elude Mike Pollitt's save.
In the second half Wigan exploited John Arne Riise's fallibility at left-back and Hyypia almost got his second goal of the game - at the wrong end - when he lunged at Matt Jackson's cross.
Arjan De Zeeuw was also close with two headers for the home side but the fact that centre-halves provided the main threat said everything about the poverty of the play. At the final whistle the winner of the lucky seat competition was announced. After a dreadful game, you could only assume it had been empty.Reuse content