Wigan 2: Maloney (pen.) 30', Caldwell 63'
Liverpool fall to their fifth league defeat in six matches, giving them eight points from eleven matches in 2012. Wigan were far and away the better side on the day, taking the match to Liverpool for all but a few brief spells in either half, and walk away from Anfield deserved winners. It might not ultimately rescue them from relegation, and the win is slightly tainted by just how bad Liverpool were, but Roberto Martinez and company will rightfully feel that heading home with the three points was the only fair outcome.
As Noel and I have exchanged emails over the past few weeks, mostly to organize who's doing what and when on the blog, we've developed a sort of running sign off referencing a cluelessness about where we go from here if things somehow get worse. Not we as in Liverpool, because I don't think either of us is fond of that usage, but we as in "what the fuck are we supposed to do if Liverpool continue to defy the odds in making this season even more unbearable than it was just a few hours/days/weeks ago?"
And almost comically, it does get worse, and today again tasked us with finding a way to answer a question that nobody wants to be asking. I thought the loss at Sunderland was as bad as I've seen a Liverpool side play, full stop. No energy, no passion, nothing to indicate they were even bothered about the performance or the result. That it was attributed to bad luck made me grumble and shift uncomfortably, as the only real misfortune of the day was that we ended up having to watch Liverpool sleepwalk their way through a match that, at least on the surface, they should have had a decent shout at winning.
Consecutive wins against Everton in the derby and Stoke in the FA Cup pushed that memory to the back of our collective consciousness---on the big occasion Liverpool has had no problems producing, and neither of those matches provided anything different. Steven Gerrard was remarkable in the derby, as was the rest of the squad, and they banded together to great effect to get past a plucky and stubborn Stoke City. During a season in which we've constantly looked for Liverpool to put their mediocrity into the rear-view mirror, it seemed that the win last Sunday at Anfield finally saw the club get over the hump.
Then they throw away a two goal lead late at Loftus Road, completely collapsing in defense en route to watching all three points drift away. There were at least signs of life and again periods in which Liverpool showed what they appeared to be capable of, but it was another inexplicable way to lose a match that had seemed so assuredly won, adding to the pile of matches in which Liverpool found a way to underperform.
So we arrive at today, with the 19th-placed team in the Premier League visiting Anfield. Only four wins all season, and the only side in the top flight with a worse conversion rate than Liverpool. Even with fourth out of reach, it was a decently important match for Liverpool, who hadn't been through a stretch this bad in league in years. For Wigan it meant survival, but for Liverpool it meant a chance to salvage whatever sort of goodwill was left in a season during which their league form has been shockingly bad. "Playing for pride" might sound like a hollow rallying cry, but for Liverpool it's supposed to be an inherent part of pulling on the shirt.
And that's what makes today, and performances like the one against Sunderland, so disappointing. Bad result, and Liverpool's place in the table is unacceptable. Use whatever variables you like---money spent, wrong buys, wrong sales, poor decision-making, etc. etc. All objectively valid and questionable.
But we could at least buy into the idea of "rebuilding" or "looking to the future" if they played with some semblance of commitment or genuine passion, and there was, at best, a handful of minutes during which that was evident. Andy Carroll's introduction sparked the side into life at the start of the second half, and the appearances for Jonjo Shelvey and Raheem Sterling were both encouraging and effective.
Those were your moments today, Liverpool. A ten-minute period after the restart that ended once a goal was waved off and some time for a pair of the club's more promising kids. Nevermind whether the Luis Suarez goal was or wasn't an incorrect call, it never should have condemned Liverpool to such dispassionate play after it occurred. And good for the youngsters to get their time, but what a condemnation of where the club stands the play of Shelvey and Sterling---both of whom lack the mandatory experience---was arguably the squad's best and brightest on the day.
I certainly don't know where Liverpool go from here, but I know things can't stay this way. The argument that progress is being made needs to be dropped, and there needs to be some indication of insight that both the measurables and immeasurables are unacceptable right now. It's impossible to deny at this point, and regurgitated talking points about tiredness and luck being the main culprits are doing more harm than good.
That much I do know.