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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 April 2007, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Liverpool 2-0 Wigan
By John Sinnott

Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt
Kuyt (l) has scored 13 goals this season
Liverpool warmed up for the Champions League semi-final with Chelsea by beating Wigan to go four points clear of fourth-placed Arsenal.

Still not sure of Premiership safety Wigan came to defend, but the strategy unravelled from the moment Dirk Kuyt scored with a backward header.

The Dutchman extended Liverpool's lead on 68 minutes when he turned swiftly in the box to fire a shot past John Filan.

Liverpool keeper Jose Reina then denied Caleb Folan with a superb save.

This defeat pulled Wigan closer to the relegation zone with three games to go.

Wigan, who play West Ham next weekend, are now just three points ahead of Alan Curbishley's side.

The omens never looked promising for the visitors.

Paul Jewell's side have yet to score against Liverpool in the Premiership and in deploying Emile Heskey as a single striker Wigan gave the impression they were not banking on improving that miserable statistic.


Heskey did look hopefully at referee Mike Riley when he went to ground after going shoulder-to-shoulder with Reina, but the former Liverpool stiker's appeal came to nothing.

Jewell introduced Henri Camara and then Caleb Folan in an attempt to bolster his attack and the latter forced Reina to make an instinctive save with a powerful header.

With one eye on Wednesday's game with Chelsea, Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez left Steven Gerrard on the bench - the first time he has not started a Premier League game in a year.

But Gerrard's omission hardly mattered given Wigan's tortoise-like approach.

Before Liverpool took the lead Leighton Baines twice came to Wigan's rescue, scampering across from his left-back berth to clear the danger as Peter Crouch and then Kuyt threatened.

If only Filan's reading of the game had been as astute.

The Australian keeper rushed from his line to try to reach a Jermaine Pennant cross, but was left stranded as Kuyt beat him to the ball, flicking a header into the empty net.

Just the past the hour Camara briefly glimpsed goal when he got in front of the Liverpool defence when Baines crossed, but he was unable to get a touch on the ball.

While Wigan's attack tired to make best use of the scraps of service on offer, Kuyt and Crouch continued to feast on some lavish possession.

And midway through the second half Kuyt claimed his 13th goal of the season when he was set up by some neat combination play between John Arne Riise and substitute Craig Bellamy.

Kuyt used his body to shield the ball before swivelling to curl a shot past Filan.

Late on Kuyt missed an easy chance for his hat-trick with a weak header.

  • Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez:
    "This was the ideal situation. We wanted a good game, a good result, to score a few and control the game.

    "We wanted to rest some players like Steven Gerrard and we didn't want any injuries. In the end it was almost perfect.

    "It was hard against a team playing that way, but the key was to keep possession, keep passing the ball at pace and find the gaps.

    "It was important with three games still to play to be sure of qualifying for the Champions League next season, and we have done that.

    "We have been in the Champions League for the last three seasons and we want to make sure of it again."

  • Wigan manager Paul Jewell:
    "Liverpool strolled through the game, they were on top from start to finish so let's not try to kid ourselves.

    "You cannot try to compete with Liverpool on a player-for-player basis, we have to play exceptionally well to get anything and they must play badly.

    "They cruised it when they had the ball. It's 16 times we have played a top-four side since we got promotion and we still haven't had a win. They are not really in our league even though we are in the same division."

    Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher (Agger 73), Hyypia, Riise, Pennant, Alonso, Zenden (Gerrard 70), Gonzalez, Kuyt, Crouch (Bellamy 63).
    Subs Not Used: Dudek, Mascherano.

    Booked: Carragher, Alonso.

    Goals: Kuyt 30, 68.

    Wigan: Filan, Boyce, Jackson, De Zeeuw, Baines, Scharner, Taylor (Camara 46), Skoko, Landzaat (Aghahowa 70), Kilbane, Heskey (Folan 64).
    Subs Not Used: Pollitt, Granqvist.

    Booked: Scharner, De Zeeuw.

    Att: 44,003.

    Ref: M Riley (W Yorkshire).

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