Match report by TIA forum member ‘the-wolf‘
Bolton’s knack of stealing three valuable points with backs against the wall has been a part of the Sam Allardyce story. And Liverpool were the next title pretenders to cave in at the Reebok Stadium in part to a poor decision by the match officials and poor marking on a counter attack that put an end to any hope of a Liverpool revivial in the second half.
Liverpool traveled to Bolton trying to avoid their third away defeat after consecutive away losses to Everton and Chelsea. For Bolton, it was a chance to climb up the table to second. After successive wins at home against Newcastle, Tottenham and Galatasaray, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez rotated his forward line again with the introduction of Craig Bellamy as a replacement for current club top scorer Peter Crouch. Another surprise change to the starting eleven was the relegation to the bench of the outstanding Dane Daniel Agger, leaving Sami Hyypia to partner defender Jamie Carragher.
Bolton kicked off and were on the back foot as Gerrard, Riise and Bellamy tormented the Bolton right back for most of the first half with inventive play and passing but were let down by offside decisions and good defending by Bolton.
A tactical change by Rafa saw Gerrard, who had started on the left, moving to the center with Bellamy instead took up a more advanced position on the left immediately saw a yellow card for Faye as liverpool looked to break on a counter attack in the 15th minute. Faye was adjuged to have fouled Gerrard as he broke on an lightning fast counter attack and was booked for his troubles.
Kuyt was then terribly unlucky when a corner was headed low but far too close to Bolton goalkeeper Jaaskelainen and his punch was not picked up by any Liverpool players in the box. Liverpool continued to look for gaps in the Bolton defence while Anelka and Diouf were confidently marked by Hyypia and Carragher as both players were to struggle to have any impact on the game.
Liverpool were unfortunate not to take the lead when Bellamy’s cross from the left was headed out to Xabi Alonso, who struck an 18-yarder against a post and behind with Jaaskelainen beaten.
Kuyt looked lively but was in caught in the back of his head with an arm by Faye who was lucky not to recieve his second yellow card. Kuyt immediately rushed down the tunnel for treatment with a 2 inch gash and 8 clips to clamp the wound before his return back on to the pitch.
The Axis of the Liverpool midfield of Xabi Alonso and Momo Sissoko dominated the midfield but Bolton, to their credit defended well and were pumping long balls from the start of the game into the Liverpool box for Kevin Davis, Nolan and the ageing but outstanding Ivan Campo to win 2nd balls from headers and it was a hopeful long ball that was to be the start of a miserable day for Reina and Liverpool.
Liverpool’s luck away from home would continue to be the focal talking point on merseyside as in the 30th minute, a controversial free-kick was awarded by the linesman at the edge of the Liverpool box as Pepe Reina attempted a drop kick clearance after winning a Bolton long ball into the box from Kevin Davies.Television replays were to show later the linesman, Andy Halliday was 5 yards off from being online with the last defender when he made that call and made a serious error in his decision. Replays clearly showed the Liverpool goalkeeper had released the ball from his hands inside the area but kicked the ball outside. It was a cruel blow as Ivan Campo laid the ball off to Gary Speed to hammer his shot past an unsighted Pepe Reina to give Bolton an undeserved, if not unfair lead.
Liverpool were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty for a push in the back by Ivan Campo on Kuyt in the Bolton box in the 38th minute before Jaaskelainen continued his heroics in goal with an outstanding save from a Steven Gerrard pile driver from outside the box in the 40th minute. Liverpool looked inventive with Bellamy and Riise operating effectively on the left with Steven Gerrard breaking through the center of midfield into the Bolton half. Jermaine Pennant, missing in action for much of the first half was unlucky as his shot was saved with a last ditch Gary Speed lunge to block his shot in the 34th minute after inventive play on the left from Riise. In what was Liverpool’s best spell of the game, a five man move involving Gerrard, Bellamy, Sissoko and Riise saw the latter’s cross reaching Pennant only for Speed to intervene.
With tempers flaring between Momo Sissoko and Diouf just before half time, Bolton were unlucky not to take a 2-0 lead into the dressing room after a Ivan Campo long throw in was headed on by Kevin Davis after Reina had made a hash of the clearance. His header was cleared at the post by a diving Hyypia. Earlier, Carragher had also cleared a series of long range Campo throw in’s while Reina was busy with at least two punch clearance’s.
The first half was littered with a series of petty fouls and free kicks which disrupted much of the flow of the game. It was a cautious approach by both sides with long balls into each other’s half and much of Liverpool’s counter attacks were by a combination of Gerrard and Riise on the left. What looked like a positive start by Liverpool was became a very ordinary first half separated by an excellent free kick by Bolton and a controversial decision by the linesman that brought about the Bolton goal and excellent saves from man of the match Jaaskelainen to keep Bolton in the lead.
The 2nd half saw Liverpool pushing further up the pitch with more urgency in their play. Pennant was caught early in the half by Speed, who was booked for the challenge. Liverpool looked to create opportunities for Kuyt and Bellamy. Hyypia and Carragher were playing further up the pitch, while the Liverpool midfield, for the most part were camped in the Bolton half for much of the rest of the game as Liverpool looked to seek the equalizer.
Kuyt was taken off three minutes after the re-start with the expected introduction of Peter Crouch and Liverpool began to pressure Bolton with crosses coming in from the right and left wings but Liverpool, as was the case for much of the game, we’re struggling to win the second ball’s. But within a minute of Crouch’s introduction, Bolton shook Liverpool with the second goal of the day. A deep cross from the left saw Ivan Camp coming in late into the box and climbing above a static Steve Finnan to power a free header via the post across the line, with Reina having no chance at all.
It was a classic Bolton counter attack and only their third attempt on goal for the entire game. Liverpool spent much of the second half camped in the Bolton half with Garcia on for Pennant and eventually Zenden on for Sissokoin the 73rd minute but neither Crouch nor Bellamy were able to take advantage of their dominance of the midfield or the crosses and inventive play from Garcia and Riise. Bolton, to their credit were disciplined in their defence and were winning the second balls and Liverpool were pressured to long range shots, much of which were off target.
Liverpool, for much of the game struggled to find any any fluency and despite dominating posession and shots on goal, were disappointing. Bolton held on for much of the second half and settled in defending their box in numbers while campo, davis and nolan worked hard at breaking down the inventive passing of Alonso and Garcia.
Bolton pushed Liverpool back into their own half for the last five minutes and were able to run the clock down to record an outstanding victory at home and also to cement their place in the table at second place.
For all their endeavour in the game, Liverpool statistics will show thirteen shots on goal and ten corners but no goals to show for all their attacking play. Bolton however, will look back on their performance of having two shots on goal and one corner to show for their solid two nil win. While Sam Allardyace may feel Liverpool’s biggest blunder was to ommit Peter Crouch from the start, manager Rafael Benetiz will have other issues to ponder; how to turn his stuttering start to the season into a productive championship winning one and why his forward line have produced one goal all season away as opposed to seven scored in the league at home. Liverpool’s lack of productivity remains the main problem behind their losses so far this season; their inability to convert these chances need solutions sooner rather than later, or it could just be another season of “re-building” for the talented Spaniard who is, to the red on Merseyside the geuine “special one.”