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Liverpool striker Luis Suarez steamed ahead in the race for the golden boot with a hat-trick as Wigan Athletic were dispatched 4-0 at the DW Stadium.
The Uruguay forward followed in some illustrious footsteps by becoming the third Reds player to score 20 or more in a Barclays Premier League season after Robbie Fowler (25) and Fernando Torres (24). With 10 matches to go it seems inconceivable he will not surpass those efforts as it looks like a straight race between him and Manchester United's Robin van Persie (19), whom he now leads by two in the battle to become the top-flight's leading scorer.
Stewart Downing's free header to open the scoring in only the second minute set the tone but his effort, created by his clever movement and good delivery by January signing Philippe Coutinho was almost forgotten as Suarez again took centre-stage. Suarez has scored 15 in as many matches in all competitions, which has enhanced his bid to also be crowned player of the year for which he faces stiff competition from Van Persie and Tottenham's Gareth Bale.
Wigan's leading scorer Arouna Kone had a chance to put the hosts ahead with their first attack but the Ivory Coast striker failed to test Jose Reina. Downing made them pay as he lost his marker in the penalty area to head home a cross from the impressive Coutinho, making only his third appearance since joining from Inter Milan.
The young Brazilian provided the assist for the 18th-minute second, from Gerrard's initial pass, with a perfectly weighted ball into path of Suarez whose control was instant and finish clinical. Coutinho's clipped pass over the top almost put Gerrard in for a third before Suarez doubled his tally with a mixture of brilliance and good fortune.
Gary Caldwell fould the Uruguayan who, after scoring two brilliant free-kicks against Zenit St Petersburg in his last appearance in the UEFA Europa League, stepped up again. He slipped as he connected with the ball but his shot had enough power and curl on it to clip Shaun Maloney on the edge of the wall and beat Ali Al Habsi with the help of a post.
Liverpool still they ploughed forward and Suarez's shot was blocked by the Wigan goalkeeper with Caldwell doing just enough to put off Joe Allen. But for all Suarez's excellence had it not been for the brilliance of goalkeeper Jose Reina it may have been a less comfortable evening. The Spaniard had saved one-handed from Emmerson Boyce's volley in the 21st minute with the score at 2-0 when he superbly tipped over Franco Di Santo's header from Jean Beausejour's cross.
Reina also denied Beausejour's free-kick on the stroke of half-time before normal service was resumed just four minutes into the second half. Glen Johnson set off on a trademark surge forward which allowed him to advance more than 40 yards before picking the opportune moment to slide in Suarez. From the right the striker headed for goal and nutmegged Al Habsi to claim his hat-trick.
Liverpool were in cruise control and took their foot off the gas, allowing the hosts to improve and Reina again showed his agility to deny Maloney's close-range header.
Victory ensured Liverpool closed the gap on fourth place to nine but with Tottenham Hotspur playing Arsenal tomorrow it could be back to 10 again very soon. At the other end of the table Wigan still have plenty of work to do as they remain above the relegation zone on goal difference but will fall into it should Aston Villa avoid defeat against Manchester City on Monday evening.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez: "The first goal showed a real lack of concentration as Downing had a free header in the six-yard box. The first 20 minutes we were very soft and defensively nowhere near where we needed to be.
"That [first] goal had a snowball effect on our performance. If you look at the stats at the end we had as many shots on target as they had but the performance of Pepe Reina had a bigger effect on the result than us stopping Luis Suarez.”
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "For me there is not a better striker at the moment," added Rodgers. He is clearly the player of the year for myself and for many people around the country.
"He is absolutely incredible. Forget about his quality, it is his hunger and desire. He never wants to have an easy day and every time he comes onto the pitch he produces stunning performances and gives his maximum.
"It was a brilliant hat-trick for him and a great day for the team: to get the goals and a clean sheet was terrific. It is hard to say it is not important because it is as top players want to play at the top level.”
|17 Mar 2013||v Newcastle (H)|
|30 Mar 2013||v Norwich (H)|
|07 Apr 2013||v QPR (A)|
|17 Apr 2013||v Man City (A)|
|20 Apr 2013||v West Ham (A)|
|27 Apr 2013||v Spurs (H)|