Rafa's relief as Reds see off Latics

BY foxsports • December 16, 2009

David Ngog's 10th-minute glancing header from Fabio Aurelio's cross and Torres' second-half scrambled effort proved enough to see off a brave Latics side, for whom Charles N'Zogbia scored an injury-time consolation.

It was only Liverpool's fourth win in 16 matches and just their second at Anfield since September 26 but it will do much for the team's shaky confidence. Although Ngog impressed in the first half the crowd eagerly awaited the arrival of substitute Torres for his 100th appearance, which eventually came in the 64th minute.

The striker duly delivered with his 61st goal for Liverpool to wrap up three precious points. Wigan have won two of their last 10 outings and are just two points clear of the relegation zone, having conceded more goals than any other Premier League team, with 17 in their last four away games.

In the absence of Torres, who was dropped to the bench after Sunday's defeat to Arsenal, Benitez switched to a 4-4-2 formation with Steven Gerrard playing in central midfield and Dirk Kuyt playing alongside Ngog. Centre-back Daniel Agger sliced a 25-yard shot wide in the fourth minute while Aurelio's poor contact prevented him opening the scoring from 12 yards.

However, the pressure was building and Wigan cracked in the 10th minute. Aurelio's inswinging right-wing cross was met by Ngog just in front of Kirkland and he glanced a header past the former Liverpool goalkeeper and into the far corner. Wigan midfielder Paul Scharner headed N'Zogbia's cross straight at Jose Reina before Kirkland redeemed himself for his misjudgement on the goal.

His brilliant 17th-minute reaction save from Kuyt after Yossi Benayoun's quick throw had released Ngog down the right prevented Liverpool adding a second. But having taken the early advantage the home side laboured to extend it with Wigan happy to sit back and compress play into a 30-yard zone from the edge of their penalty area.

Javier Mascherano received the full force of Mohamed Diame's clearance square in the face and staggered around the centre-circle like a punch-drunk boxer for a few seconds but was able to continue after treatment. Aurelio was the heart of most of Liverpool's chances and, after almost picking out Benayoun at the far post two minutes before half-time, he then set up a chance for Ngog.

The Brazilian's pass deflected off Hendry Thomas into the penalty area but the Frenchman's shot rolled inches wide of the far post. To mark the 50th anniversary of Shankly's first match at the club Liverpool paraded a host of his former players during the interval, including the likes of Ian St John and Kevin Keegan. If it was meant to inspire the current squad the impact was lost on Benayoun, who should have done better in trying to get to Aurelio's teasing left-wing cross.

Wigan counter-attacked quickly from Liverpool's corner and although Reina spilled N'Zogbia's shot he had time to recover. In the 51st minute Kirkland again displayed the talent which, were it not for his injury problems, would probably have him in Fabio Capello's England squad as he somehow tipped over Kuyt's first-time shot on the run from Ngog's cross.

However, the arrival of Torres in the 64th minute for Ngog was to change things. The Spain international immediately won a corner but Agger completely missed a five-yard header from Gerrard's cross.

Wigan should have equalised in the 74th minute when Hugo Rodallega and Scharner prevented Reina claiming NZogbia's free-kick but Scotland, still to open his account for the club he joined in the summer, smashed a left-footed volley on to the crossbar and over. Liverpool were gradually going backwards and their opponents sensed a chance to snatch a point.

However, that was snuffed out in the 79th minute by Torres. He was put clean through by Boyce's back-header from Jamie Carragher's punt and should have beaten Kirkland comfortably.

However, he mis-kicked and Titus Bramble half-stopped the ball on the goalline but somehow Torres scrambled it over for his 49th goal in 69 league appearances.

That statistic alone underlines how important he is to Liverpool. However, in the second minute of injury time N'Zogbia ran across the penalty area to poke home a consolation to highlight just how shaky the Reds' defence has become.

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