Monday, 31 August 2009

Bolton 2 Liverpool 3

Premiership Match report
Reporter: The Main (Stand) Man

After the disappointment of the result at Anfield the previous Monday, Liverpool travelled to the Reebok stadium needing to get a win under their belts to prevent further drivel being written in the press. Bookmakers undoubtedly know their trade, but they clearly do not understand the machinations of a football club if they think that Rafael Benitez is a candidate for unemployment, and the constant media coverage of the ‘problems’ at the club are neither helpful nor informative when based on nothing more than conjecture. The starting line up contained a debutant in Kyrgiakos, replacing Martin Skrtel, and a first start of the season for Albert Riera who came in for Yossi Benayoun. No doubt this will be interpreted in the tabloids as Rafa’s ‘rotation policy’.

The first ten minutes were, perhaps unsurprisingly cagey, with Bolton having failed to find the net in either of their outings this season and Liverpool somewhat unwilling to push too hard for fear of conceding. The sole moment of note in the opening period was the challenge by Sean Davis on Mascherano for which a yellow card should have been produced, a decision which will have more relevance further on in this report.

As Liverpool began to emerge from their shell, the first decent chance of the match was produced. Riera crossed from the left flank and found Lucas bursting into the box unmarked. The Brazilian could not make the required contact, though, and the ball ran to the far side of the box where Glen Johnson collected. Darting inside onto his left foot, the impressive new boy put a dangerous ball across the face of the goal, and had Torres been able to make any contact then the first goal of the game would undoubtedly have been scored. A decent cross from Riera then went agonisingly over Torres’ head, and Liverpool were beginning to make their domination of possession pay. With Mascherano sitting in front of the back four, Lucas was given more license to go forward and support Gerrard and Torres, and he was unlucky on several occasions as the ball just failed to drop into his path following good runs.

As the game approached the half hour mark, though, Bolton too began to come forward with more adventure, and against the run of play they soon found themselves a goal to the good. After Torres had tested Jaskelainen with a deft chip, the home side drove up the pitch and won a disputable freekick thanks to a challenge from Kyrgiakos on Kevin Davies. Taylor swung the ball in towards the far post and Torres rose to head the ball over his own crossbar for a corner. Again the back upright was the target and Elmander rose highest to nod the ball back across the goal where Davies was waiting for the simplest of tap ins.

Again Liverpool looked to exert some more pressure in response to going behind, and soon Torres missed the best Liverpool chance of the game to this point. After a great passing move in front of the Bolton area, Johnson picked up the ball and swung in a cross to the far post. Torres took a touch and fired just wide, but soon Liverpool got their deserved equaliser. A corner from Riera was headed out to the edge of the box where again Johnson found himself in space. He took the ball inside Elmander who had come out to close him down and put a left foot shot low to the left of Jaskelainen.

With parity restored, Liverpool continued to press forward in the final five minutes of the half, without further troubling the Bolton keeper to any great extent. The home side, in fact, would have gone in ahead had Reina not pulled off a great diving save from a Taylor freekick. Davis received a booking just before the half time whistle, which should have seen him sent off after his earlier misdemeanours, but it was to prove a short stay of execution for the midfielder.

Rafa made no changes to the eleven during the break, understandable given the much improved performance. Within two minutes of the restart, though, disaster struck again as another set-piece put Bolton 2-1 in front. Jaskelainen hoofed a high ball into the Liverpool box, where Kevin Davies was too strong for Kyrgiakos. He nudged the ball further into the area where a slip from Carragher left Cohen with another simple finish.

Liverpool went close from a set-piece of their own on fifty minutes, with Gerrard having been fouled by Muamba. The skipper took the freekick himself and whilst Kyrgiakos won the ball at the back post he was unable to direct it on target. A dubious penalty appeal then received short shrift from Alan Wiley (quite rightly), but the referee was soon in the thick of things showing a red card to Sean Davis. As Lucas burst forward, Davis attempted to get back goal-side and succeeded only in clipping the legs of the Liverpool man. Wiley must have seen some intent in the challenge, producing a second yellow for Davis and dismissed him from the field. In all honesty, the challenge was more unlucky than malicious, although as I have already mentioned he could have gone prior to the break and so perhaps justice was done.

Liverpool saw their chance and immediately went for the jugular, with Gerrard smashing the ball against the crossbar with a fierce effort. Kuyt’s nod down found the Liverpool captain in yards of space and he was unlucky that his effort did not get the result it deserved. A succession of corners then followed, although it was as Bolton pushed out having cleared that Liverpool got a deserved equaliser. A ball lofted into the box from Gerrard found Kuyt, who cushioned the ball beautifully into the path of Torres, who took one touch before side footing past the helpless Jaskelainen.

The reds then strangely seemed to take their foot off the pedal, with only a long range Mascherano effort to test the Bolton keeper in the ten minutes that followed. Benayoun came on to replace Riera on the left wing but the home side, again sending a high ball into the box, then had a weak penalty appeal turned down as Kyrgiakos challenged Davies.

As the game began to become more stretched, though, a curling shot from Gerrard then went a yard wide of the mark and soon after a good pass from Kuyt into the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ found no-one in the middle to slot home. Gerrard again went close after his initial effort rebounded off Taylor’s arm. Liverpool were now again dominating both possession and territorially, without the required breakthrough. Gerrard slid the ball through to Kuyt whose shot skewed off the outside of his boot and went well wide, and soon after Mascherano was replaced by Voronin in an attacking change from Benitez. It was now one-way traffic and a right foot shot from Johnson was well saved by Jaskelainen, moments before an overhead kick from Kyrgiakos again found the Bolton keeper steadfast. With the clock ticking into the last ten minutes of the game, the Liverpool fans were wondering if their team was to be frustrated by a resolute Bolton side, but a familiar saviour was to ensure all three points would come back to Anfield.

A cross from Johnson rebounded off Torres to Gerrard, who again found himself without a marker on the edge of the box. The reds talisman unleashed an unstoppable right foot shot which was past Jaskelainen before he could react, sending the travelling support into delirium in the stand. Benayoun should have extended the lead further shortly after with a volley, but sent his shot several yards wide. Bolton had sent Taylor up the pitch in an attempt to regain equality in the scoreline, but this only served to award Liverpool more open space in attack in which to work. Torres then thought he had scored, but it was ruled not to have crossed the line as Jaskelainen smuggled it away. Dossena replaced Kuyt for the final couple of minutes, with Rafa no doubt looking to shore up the defence to prevent an unlikely Bolton equaliser.

Liverpool negotiated the four minutes of injury time without mishap, though, and the side left the pitch having improved dramatically from the defeat to Aston Villa. In truth, the win was a deserved one, although again the problems in defending set-pieces could easily have left us without the just rewards from the game. This seeming inability to deal with the dead ball situation could well be our undoing this season if the problems are not resolved quickly. We can take positives from the game, however. The response to going behind twice could have been to retreat into self-pity, but instead the reds refused at any point to stop attacking even when chances came and went. Star performers on the day included Glen Johnson again, the full-back producing another strong display to further justify the decision to sign him in the summer. The sending off of Sean Davis undoubtedly changed the game with Gerrard able to find more space once Muamba was forced to undertake different duties to man-marking the Liverpool captain, but in truth Liverpool were in control for much of the first hour when the numbers were equal. Overall, then, a far more positive display and a quick return to winning ways which is always important after a defeat. In addition, it is always vital to go into an international break on a high note, as when the players representing their countries return, a positive mindset ensues. Let’s hope that there are no injury worries prior to the next game at home to Burnley on the 12th.

Match time and date: KO 15:00. 29 August 2009
Goals: Davies 33, Johnson 41, Cohen 47, Torres 56, Gerrard 83
Yellow cards: Bolton Cahill, Davis, Muamba; Liverpool Gerrard.
Red Cards: Davis (54)
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Attendance: 23,284.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Knight, Cahill, Samuel, Ricketts; Davis, Cohen (Steinsson, 79), Muamba (Riga, 89), Taylor; K Davies, Elmander (Basham, 56). Substitutes not used: Al Habsi (gk), A O'Brien, Robinson, Lee.

Liverpool (4-3-2-1): Reina; Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Carragher, Insua; Gerrard, Mascherano (Voronin, 74), Lucas; Riera (Benayoun, 63), Torres; Kuyt (Dossena, 89). Substitutes not used: Gulacsi (gk) Skrtel, Plessis, Kelly.

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