Wigan Athletic 0 Liverpool 4: Bellamy spark lights the fire for Liverpool

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If, with the tension of his assault case over, Craig Bellamy was anticipating a return to Liverpool's warm embrace last Thursday morning then he would have discovered he had some waiting to do. A deserted corner of the club's Melwood training ground was where he found himself, for shooting practice with Xabi Alonso and Gabriel Paletta, while the rest of the side warmed down from the previous night's stalemate against Portsmouth.

Rafa Benitez looked on - and saw all he needed to see about the palpable effect of his striker's acquittal by Cardiff's magistrates, 24 hours earlier. Bellamy fired past Jerzy Dudek at will, with both left foot and right, and comfortably won that shooting competition.

Benitez reminded Bellamy of the display before asking the Welshman to fit into his plans for Wigan: strong, swift counter-attacks against a central defence which, to put it mildly, is not the Premiership's quickest. But even Benitez could not have anticipated the mesmeric effect his £6m acquisition would have in a 35-minute spell.

Bellamy's two lacerating strikes were trademark - especially the first, an arced dispatch past Chris Kirkland after two deft controlling touches from John Arne Riise's long ball which Emmerson Boyce's sliced header directed into his path. Bellamy told Benitez last summer that if Liverpool played counter-attacking football he would score a lot of goals. But, as Matt Jackson will now attest, the striker's pace and angled runs were something else and if Bellamy can repeat them regularly they will add a badly needed new dimension to the sometimes one-paced Liverpool.

Paul Jewell obviously thinks so. "They could go on a long, unbeaten run," the Wigan manager said, as he reeled from a dire show of defensive capitulation in which Steven Gerrard was handed acres of space to link with Bellamy and a place of his own in the penalty area from which to cross for Liverpool's fourth - and most shocking - goal.

Though Jewell put Jackson out of his misery just after half-time by substituting him, the scoreline did flatter Liverpool, who looked shakier at the back than in any of their last four games. The corner count (8-2 to Wigan) told a different story and had Lee McCulloch not ballooned over from five yards late in the first half, normal service might have resumed from Wigan, who had spent the week working on a plan to get at their visitors early.

Jewell had to remind his players of precisely where they fit in at this level. "We aren't a team that can just sit off and stroke the ball around," he said. "They [Liverpool] have got better players than us. How many of our players would get into their team? We can only compete by getting into their faces."

Behind his frustration is a knowledge of how fast-changing this season's Premiership is. Forty minutes into his side's game at White Hart Lane last Sunday, Jewell had reason to believe that an extended stay in the Premiership's comfort zone was on the way. But the seven goals his side have conceded since put paid to all that. With Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea to face this month, the away trips to West Ham and Middlesbrough next up suddenly assume a new importance for a side who have collected one point in nine. "If we play like that we won't win any games between now and the rest of the season, that's for sure," Jewell said.

Benitez is on the verge of the Champions' League places - but after his problems on the road this season he is not taking his new front-line asset for granted. "When [Peter] Crouch scored some goals, people were talking about him being the new Bobby Charlton," he said. "[Bellamy] needs to keep going for one month, two months - then we can talk about him."

Goals: Bellamy (9) 0-1; Bellamy (26) 0-2; Kuyt (40); McCulloch og (45) 0-4.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Boyce, Jackson (Wright, 46), Hall, Baines; McCulloch, Skoko, Scharner, Kilbane (Cotterill, 46); Camara, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Pollitt, Johansson, Landzaat.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Hyypia (Paletta, 61), Agger, Riise; Luis Garcia (Pennant, 53), Carragher, Gerrard (Guthrie, 79), Alonso; Kuyt, Bellamy. Substitutes not used: Dudek, Fowler.

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

Booked: Wigan Boyce, Heskey; Liverpool Alonso, Bellamy.

Man of the match: Bellamy.

Attendance: 22,089.

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