Maloney 30' (pen)
We should have learned by now. It can always get worse.
After this most recent atrocity, Liverpool have taken all of eight points in 2012: two wins, two draws, and seven losses. An average of 0.73 points per game. It's now five games without a win against Wigan, Liverpool's worst recent record against any club in the division. That's the same Wigan who had won four matches all season – profligate, awful Wigan scoring two goals with just two shots on target. Liverpool have now dropped 11 points against the bottom four sides; only Wolves were exempt from the alms Liverpool have repeatedly handed to the poor.
Rather than just the individual mistakes and confidence issues on full view in the final 13 minutes of Wednesday's match, Liverpool added questionable tactical/personnel decisions to complete the trilogy of error. Phenomenal. More fun for the whole family.
I still have no idea why Andy Carroll didn't start. Yes, he's struggled at times and yes, Liverpool had other problems, but that was the most baffling. Rather than returning to the 4-4-2 which worked well against Everton and Stoke in the FA Cup, Dalglish redeployed the 4-3-3 variant used in recent losses to Arsenal, Sunderland, and QPR. Once again, Carroll was left on the bench, with Liverpool still unbeaten when Carroll, Suarez, and Gerrard all start.
This time, Liverpool didn't even have early chances to repeatedly spurn. Wigan's 3-4-3 steadily soaked up any home side "pressure," with Suarez again almost always isolated as a lone striker, easily marked by three defenders. Suarez and Downing combined once, in the 25th, with the winger released by the Uruguayan's clever flick, but blasted narrowly wide of the far post.
And Wigan were ahead five minutes later. Henderson conceded a soft free kick on Liverpool's right, Carragher and Skrtel comprehensively failed to clear the set play, and Skrtel insanely booted Moses in the face when trying to "defend." Another mindless decision from Liverpool's strongest defender; it's almost as if he's more unsettled when partnered with Carragher. Who knew? After a three-minute delay, Maloney hammered the spot kick past Reina despite the keeper guessing correctly.
Liverpool had little response until the second half, when Carroll came on for the struggling Henderson, completely ineffective in an advanced free role. Two minutes later, Liverpool were level. Gerrard surged forward and centered for Suarez, freed from multiple markers because Carroll also demanded attention. Even if ostensibly uninvolved, Carroll's inclusion creates space for others, proven with five goals against Everton and Stoke. Six minutes after that, Liverpool apparently took the lead through Suarez's second, bundled over the line after Skrtel headed a free kick toward goal. But Mason, probably correctly, disallowed it, bundled over by Suarez's arm, accidentally or not.
Rather than continuing to push on, Liverpool's lack of confidence reappeared, as the disallowed strike took the steam out of the home side's attack. And then Wigan retook the lead: another free kick from the left channel, more hapless defending, and a surprisingly calm, collected finish by center-back Caldwell, in acres of space after the cleared free kick came back in, played onside when Carragher – the closest defender – stepped forward but Skrtel and Carroll didn't, fortunately receiving the ball from a fortuitous deflection off Liverpool's long-time stalwart. Bad luck and stupidity comprehensively punished. The story of Liverpool's season.
Another set-back, further back-sliding. Liverpool never looked like getting back into the game, and what else is new. That Shelvey and Sterling came on, for Downing and Kuyt in the 73rd and 84th respectively, is the only positive worth mentioning, the only players who looked "up for it," although to little effect. Otherwise, we were treated to more and more forced, improbable passes and heart-warming 'it's not MY fault!' arm-flailing. Wigan unsurprisingly, correctly shut up shop, and only Sterling's pace or a set play seemed to have any chance of unlocking it. Sterling and Shelvey's performances, combined with Coates' on Wednesday and Carragher's lack of today, makes what I wrote prior to Sunderland moot. Now it really is time to play the kids. It can't get any worse, can it?
The most frustrating thing – more than the lack of league progress (if not outright regression since the New Year) – is that Liverpool can look wholly competent (in the cups, against stronger opposition) and then completely dismal in the space of consecutive games, if not in the same game. Players impress and tactics work against the likes of Stoke and Everton – or Chelsea earlier in the season, among other examples – but then Liverpool somehow refuse to learn from those positives in subsequent matches. And then there's the repeated, constant confidence issues.
I will still maintain that this is a transitional season, and it's not wholly surprising to see the side struggle in the league with Champions League qualification out of reach. The same happened in the final two games last season after some thoroughly excellent performances against Birmingham, Fulham, and Newcastle. All the recent bad makes it hard to remember some of the good. Success is not immediate, Rome wasn't built in a day, etc. etc. But the inconsistency from everyone involved remains infuriating, disappointing, and costly; it's happened far too often to be coincidence. And this inconsistency can cost both players and manager their jobs.