Liverpool 1 Wigan Athletic 2

James McCarthy and Steven Gerrard battle for the ball
James McCarthy and Steven Gerrard battle for the ball

GARY Caldwell capped a real captain’s knock with a superbly-taken winning goal as wonderful Wigan recorded their first-ever victory at Anfield.

Latics had been unbeaten in their last four meetings with the Reds, and they deservedly extended that record to move to within three points of fifth-bottom Blackburn.

Caldwell and fellow defensive rocks Antolin Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa were simply magnificent, while dynamic duo James McCarthy and James McArthur ran the midfield against Steven Gerrard and company.

After taking a first-half lead through Shaun Maloney’s coolly-taken penalty, Latics were pegged back by Luis Suarez’s equaliser at the start of the second half.

But Roberto Martinez’s men kept at it, continued to play their football and were rewarded when McCarthy’s shot deflected into the path of Caldwell, who bided his time before slotting past Pepe Reina in front of the Kop.

With eight games left, Latics have given themselves a real chance of avoiding the drop, and the challenge is to repeat both the performance and the result against mid-table Stoke next weekend.

Martinez had, unsurprisingly, named an unchanged side, with Hugo Rodallega not fit enough to return after a knee problem.

The Reds were still smarting from their midweek capitulation at QPR - a result that arguably did as much damage to Latics as themselves.

And they came flying out of blocks with some quick passing that Latics initially struggled to come to terms with.

Wigan, though, did eventually get a foothold in the game, and should have opened the scoring inside the first 10 minutes.

Victor Moses did ever so well to get free down the right-hand side but, with the unmarked Maloney screaming for the ball, the winger elected to cut inside on to his left foot - and the shot was blocked.

Latics then threatened down the other flank when Jean Beausejour got free and swung over a deep cross that Emmerson Boyce nodded back but the defence was able to clear.

McCarthy was perhaps lucky to escape a caution for catching Gerrard full in the face with a high foot but, that aside, it was a relatively comfortable opening quarter for the visitors.

Stewart Downing then had a brief sight of goal as the ball bounced up to him, but his volley flew wide of the far post with Ali Al Habsi at full stretch.

There was another dangerous, high-foot incident on the 25-minute mark - and this one resulted in Latics taking a shock lead.

Maloney’s left-wing free-kick was only half-cleared to Caldwell, who lobbed the ball back into the danger area.

Moses was first to react and headed goalwards, before nearly having his head removed from his neck by a lunging Martin Skrtel.

After initial hesitation, referee Lee Mason pointed to the spot - before Moses received almost five minutes of treatment on the edge of the six-yard box.

Thankfully the Nigerian was able to regain his feet without the use of the waiting stretcher, and it got better for Latics when Maloney placed the ball on the spot and tucked it confidently into the left-hand corner despite Reina guessing right.

It was Maloney’s first goal for the club and just reward for an both enterprising opening quarter and, indeed, a lively last couple of games.

The home fans had already begun to get on the back of their side, and the goal was the signal for that to intensify.

Jordan Henderson in particular was getting it in the neck, and he showed his frustrations by going in on late on Maloney and somehow escaping a yellow card.

Moses tried to come back on but eventually had to give way to Albert Crusat, but Latics managed to overcome being a man down temporarily to maintain the upper hand.

Franco di Santo was putting in another sterling shift up top, but his over-exuberance almost landed him in hot water when he slid in to try to charge down a Skrtel clearance and caught the defender very late.

Fortunately the official only saw it as a yellow, which didn’t go down well with the home supporters.

The Liverpool faithful were up in arms again moments later when James McArthur went to to ground after taking the ball full-pelt in the stomach from point-blank range, wrongly believing the Scot was time-wasting as he went to ground.

McArthur was quickly back to his feet and in the thick of the action, and his side successfully negotiated the remainder of the half without further alarm.

Liverpool showed their concern at the situation by making a change at the break, sending on Andy Carroll for Henderson.

And the home side were back on level terms within two minutes of the restart.

The new-boy had nothing really to do with it, Suarez sending Gerrard free down the right, and then slotting home the reverse pass beyond Al Habsi into the bottom corner.

After having such high hopes as they started the second period, Latics were now staring down the barrel of an awfully long remaining 43 minutes with the home side smelling blood.

A bad mistake by Figueroa five minutes later saw the Honduran pull-back Suarez on the edge of the area.

The free-kick from Gerrard was met at the back post by Skrtel, and Suarez bundled the ball over the line past Caldwell.

As Liverpool celebrated, referee Mason had a think and whistled for a Latics free-kick right on the goalline.

The home fans - not to mention the players and the management - were furious, but TV replays showed the Uruguayan had clearly used his hand to deliver the telling touch and was rightly penalised.

Latics made their second change just after the hour mark with Ben Watson appearing for Beausejour.

And for the second time, a goal materialised within moments.

Again the replacement had no direct involvement, with McCarthy’s long-range shot smashing into the hand of Jamie Carragher and deflecting into the path of Caldwell.

It would have been easy for the centre-back to have got a rush of blood to the head and put his left foot through it.

But, 10 yards out, Caldwell dragged the ball back on to his favoured right foot, taking a further moment before sliding it past an exposed Reina.

As the Latics players celebrated in front of the Kop, it was the small pocket of visiting supporters in the opposite end that were making the noise, with chairman Dave Whelan leading the orchestra from his position in the Directors Box.

There then followed a period of quality possession by Wigan, with the introduction of Watson helping them to keep the ball despite the home side’s desperation to win it back.

Kenny Dalglish played his final hand by sending on first Jonjo Shelvey and then Raheem Sterling for the more established frontmen Downing and Dirk Kuyt.

Martinez responded by giving Conor Sammon the last 10 minutes in place of Di Santo, who’d had a couple of run-ins with Skrtel and was probably being saved by his boss from a possible dismissal having already been booked.

Sterling was quickly into the game, which brought the home fans to their feet in anticipation, and it needed a timely interception from Figueroa - not for the first time - to snuff out the danger.

Left-back Jose Enrique was coming into it more and more as the closing stages approached, and one of his driving runs to the byline resulted in Al Habsi confidently coming to collect the ball with Carroll sniffing round for scraps.

But the expected onslaught never really materialised, Latics keeping their opponents at arm’s length and holding on for what could be the most crucial three points of the season.

Liverpool: Reina; Flanagan, Carragher, Skrtel, Enrique; Downing, Gerrard, Spearing, Henderson, Kuyt; Suarez. Subs: Doni, Aurelio, Carroll (for Henderson, 46), Coates, Sterling (for Kuyt, 84), Shelvey (for Downing, 73), Eccleston.

Latics: Al Habsi 7; Alcaraz 8, Caldwell 9, Figueroa 8; Boyce 7, McArthur 8, McCarthy 8, Beausejour 7; Moses 7, Maloney 7; Di Santo 7. Subs: Kirkland, Stam, Thomas, Crusat (for Moses, 41) 7, Watson (for Beausejour, 63) 7, Gomez, Sammon (for Di Santo, 81).

Star Man: Gary Caldwell - An imperious display at the back topped off with a magnificently-taken winning goal.