Luis Suarez struck a hat-trick for Liverpool as they defeated Wigan Athletic 4-0 away from home to move into seventh place in the Premier League.
After Stewart Downing had headed Liverpool in front after just two minutes, Philippe Coutinho claiming the first of two second-half assists, Suarez punished an overwhelmingly poor Wigan defence to move onto 21 goals for the season, putting him top of the scoring charts.
His first was a clinical finish from a Coutinho through-ball, his second a fortunate free-kick that took two touches off Wigan players before going in off the post and his third a classy finish through Ali Al-Habsi's legs four minutes into the second half.
As Liverpool moved ahead of West Brom and Swansea into seventh, Wigan looked every inch a side who are now only four points above bottom club QPR with the nadir of their defensively shambolic performance being a raging row between Emmerson Boyce and James McArthur that required the two men to be pulled apart.
Liverpool brought Coutinho back into the side for Jordan Henderson following their ultimately futile win against Zenit St Petersburg nine days ago and the Brazilian made a telling contribution in a first half that the visitors, fresh from their prolonged rest, dominated comprehensively.
Though Wigan enjoyed the first chance of the game when Arouna Kone tentatively hooked a cross straight at Pepe Reina inside 60 seconds, it was Liverpool who edged in front after two minutes. Reina pumped the ball long and the Wigan defence mystifyingly allowed Coutinho to collect unchallenged before jinking way from Boyce and chipping a perfect cross in for Downing, who nodded home.
With Wigan's defence looking disjointed and inattentive, Coutinho claimed a second assist on 18 minutes when he found space with a cute drag-back and played in Suarez with a short, sharp pass. The Uruguayan dummied to send Ali Al-Habsi to ground and then tucked his shot away neatly.
Wigan's disarray was complete after 22 minutes when Boyce and McArthur had to be pulled apart after confronting each other in rather embarrassing fashion, though the former went close to pulling one back when his acrobatic volley was brilliantly saved by Reina.
Still, the home side were never able to rid themselves of their defensive ineptitude and conceded a third with 34 minutes gone. Suarez lined up a free-kick from 25 yards and saw his attempt take a big deflection off Shaun Maloney. Al-Habsi still should have kept it out but his poor touch only helped divert the ball in off the post for Suarez's 20th league goal of the season.
It could have been a hat-trick for Suarez when he was left completely alone to control a pass from Steven Gerrard and fire at Al-Habsi, but Liverpool needed Reina to be in top form to take their three-goal lead into the break as he palmed a header from Franco Di Santo over and then kept out a free-kick from Jean Beausejour.
Within four minutes of the restart Suarez did have his third Premier League hat-trick for Liverpool, the previous two of which had both come away at Norwich. The culpable Boyce was playing him onside on the near side and after latching onto Glen Johnson's neat pass the striker hared towards goal and placed the ball through the legs of Al-Habsi with a fantastic finish off the outside of his right boot.
Though fully in control, Liverpool were indebted to Reina once again after 67 minutes when the keeper repelled a short-range header from Maloney at the back post in style. Otherwise the visitors were largely untroubled, allowing their supporters to go through their repertoire of songs, including one in support of former boss Rafa Benitez.
As the match drifted towards its inevitable conclusion - with substitute Henderson seeing a header cleared off the line by James McCarthy - Wigan were left to rue a defensive horror show as Suarez soared clear of Robin van Persie in the top scorers' table, and Liverpool went seventh.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Luis Suarez (Liverpool) - Three more goals for the Uruguayan striker as he dismantled a terrible Wigan defence. His movement and finishing overwhelmed the hosts.
WIGAN: Al-Habsi 5, Boyce 5, Caldwell 5, Figueroa 5, McCarthy 5, Scharner 5, McArthur 5, Beausejour 5, Kone 5, Maloney 6, Di Santo 6. Subs: Espinoza 5, Alcaraz 6, McManaman 5.
LIVERPOOL: Reina 8, Johnson 7, Carragher 7, Agger 6, Enrique 6, Lucas 6, Allen 7, Downing 7, Gerrard 7, Coutinho 8, Suarez 9. Subs: Henderson 6.
- Sports & Recreation
- Wigan Athletic
- Philippe Coutinho