Belfast Telegraph

Suarez fails to provide answers as Wigan hold Liverpool

By Tim Rich

Wigan Athletic 0 Liverpool 0: The night demanded that he score, that Luis Suarez provide a demonstration that whether or not he is a racist, he is still a supreme footballer.

For a man who had spent several days in London hotels arguing the precise definition of "negrito" and the build up to this match awaiting verdict and punishment, he played pretty well.

There is no question he will be missed, although given that Kenny Dalglish's first substitution was to bring on Craig Bellamy, his absence may not necessarily provide the opportunity for Andy Carroll to resurrect what is already a moribund career.

The Geordie did replace Suarez but only with three minutes remaining to dribble away. He had one header that to nobody's surprise went nowhere near its intended target.

The script demanded that Suarez score. Instead, he won what should have been Liverpool's winner when an overhead kick struck the arm of the Wigan captain, Gary Caldwell.

A man with a greater ego might have demanded to take the spot-kick himself in front of a bank of his own supporters. Instead, he left it to Charlie Adam, whose penalty was fiercely struck but turned brilliantly away by Ali Al-Habsi.

At Villa Park on Sunday, Liverpool had struck the frame of the goal for the 15th and 16th time. Here, Adam became the fourth different Liverpool player to fail to convert a penalty this season. With a fraction more luck or a fraction more skill, this might have been the season that many at Anfield expected but, as they had against Norwich, Sunderland and Swansea, another team Liverpool ought on paper to have beaten finished with a point.

It would be very wrong to say that Wigan escaped with a point. For periods towards the end of each half they were the better team and after a dreadful start in which Roberto Martinez might have asked himself why he turned down Aston Villa in the summer they are playing without fear.

They were measured and effective and had they possessed the attacking options available to Dalglish they might have won. Having drawn with first Chelsea and Liverpool and beaten Sundeerland they no longer resemble relegation candidates.

The Liverpool players wore T-shirts proclaiming their support for Suarez and their rejection of the FA's verdict. Jason Roberts, who was commentating for Radio Five, said it would have made him feel uncomfortable and under the circumstances it has to be pointed out that the Blackburn striker is black.

Among the Liverpool supporters crammed into one end of the DW Stadium there was a Uruguayan flag which cannot have been the easiest thing to find on Merseyside a few days before Christmas. Their support for their striker was as unequivocal as it was from the players around Suarez. The night was, however, about far, far more than just one player. You would hope that Liverpool cope better without Suarez than they have without the injured Lucas Leiva.

In the wake of their victory over Sunderland that fatally undermined Steve Bruce and the point against Chelsea that caused more questions to be asked of Andre Villas-Boas, there is a surge of belief in a club that has consistently defied logic and economics to survive. Wigan consistently exploited the yawning gap between the front players and the back four that Lucas would have filled.

They might have had a penalty when Martin Skrtel tripped Victor Moses in the area and they might have had one of the goals of the season when Mohamed Diame unleashed a shot on the run from some 30 yards out that skimmed into Pepe Reina's side-netting. Then once Glen Johnson had lost possession, he outpaced the defender and kept running, although this time the shot slapped against Reina's gloves rather than the side of his goal.

Whether they were driven by a fierce sense of injustice, Liverpool began with the drive and flair that should have seen them score many more than twice at Aston Villa on Sunday.

It was hard to say whether Suarez was affected by what had gone before, except to say that several times he passed when he might have shot, although a free-kick that was tipped over by Al-Habsi was directed with his usual skill.

Had he, rather than Adam, taken the penalty, as the occasion demanded, Liverpool would have been ahead in the 51st minute. Had the chance of the first half fallen to him, Liverpool would surely have taken the lead at the midway point of the first half.

Instead, the ball was to Johnson's feet. He should have tried to round the goalkeeper but sent his shot without any real conviction straight into Al-Habsi's boots. Later it would be his gloves that Liverpool and Adam would remember.

Wigan Athletic (4-5-1): Al-Habsi; Stam, Alcaraz, Caldwell, Figueroa; Moses, McCarthy, Jones (Watson 74), Diame, Gomez (Rodallega, 74); Sammon (Di Santo 61). Substitutes not used Pollitt (gk), Crusat, McArthur, Lopez.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Agger, Skrtel, Jose Enrique; Henderson, Adam; Kuyt (Shelvey, 72), Maxi, (Bellamy, 72) Downing; Suarez (Carroll, 87). Substitutes not used Doni (gk), Carroll, Coates, Carragher, Kelly.

Referee M Oliver (Northumberland).

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