Big result, ugly win

Bolton 0-1 Liverpool
Sunday, 31st October 2010

Liverpool's Martin Skrtel (R) challenges Bolton Wanderers' Kevin Davies for the ball during their English Premier League soccer match at the Reebok Stadium in Bolton, northern England, October 31, 2010. REUTERS/Phil Noble (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER IMAGES OF THE DAY) NO ONLINE/INTERNET USAGE WITHOUT A LICENCE FROM THE FOOTBALL DATA CO LTD. FOR LICENCE ENQUIRIES PLEASE TELEPHONE ++44 (0)

A first away win of the season – the first for Roy Hodgson personally since the early stages of last season. Vital back-to-back wins secured, with a daunting visit from the league leaders on the horizon, to double the points tally and lift the Reds away from the bottom end of the Premier League table.

The performance may have been far from outstanding, yet Maxi Rodriguez’s winning goal, four minutes from full-time, could well prove to be a very significant one.

True Maxi’s crucial intervention in the closing stages will put a gloss on an otherwise below par attacking display from Liverpool. But their abject early season form dictates that performance is secondary to the three points at the present time.

Post-match Hodgson revealed that he faces a number of decisive meetings with the clubs new hierarchy over the coming week. This confidence boosting late victory will have done little harm to Hodgson’s personal situation ahead of those discussions.

It was a goal and a win which did not seem likely as the game entered its closing stages at the Reebok Stadium. The Reds had been resolute defensively at least; for the most part marshalling Bolton’s physically imposing front pairing of Kevin Davies and Johan Elmander well.

Yet, having demonstrated a far more expansive and impressive persona the previous weekend against Blackburn Rovers, Hodgson’s men reverted to a considerably more cautious approach here. Generally committing fewer men forward and making the task too easy for the Wanderers’ backline.

With Fernando Torres once more cutting a figure the shadow of his former self – the star striker is simply not posing the same presence as a lone striker which he has in previous seasons. Liverpool craved a different attacking outlet.

Perhaps down the flanks. But this is an area of the pitch in which Hodgson’s squad in particularly deficient. Absent of the forward-thrusting, if defensively inept, Glen Johnson and with Milan Jovanovic confined to the bench throughout, there is a lack of any genuine threat out wide. Joe Cole would much prefer to cut infield, whilst in Rodriguez the Reds hardly possess a potent, pacey right-winger. And, in playing Jamie Carragher and Paul Konchesky, Hodgson is opting for two full-backs who are there to defend first and foremost.

Ultimately it was the loss of one of the men asked to fill the wide role on the left – Cole – which acted as somewhat of a catalyst to swing the match in Liverpool’s favour. Cole pulled up with a hamstring injury with 28 minutes remaining; a worrying negative ahead of the visits to Anfield of Napoli and his former employers. But he was replaced by a far more threatening and physically imposing version of David N’Gog.

N’Gog’s arrival prompted a shift to a more conventional 4-4-2 formation. A lack of options in the striking department, combined with the fact that Torres and N’Gog are fundamentally a similar type of striker, necessitates that Liverpool may not be able to relay on this formation on a regular basis. However such a switch in emphasis should perhaps be deployed more regularly when trying to change games such as this, particularly with Torres currently struggling.
It was Torres who squandered the matches opening chances. First, heading Steven Gerrard’s corner over the bar when he probably should have tested Jussi Jasskelainen.

Gerrard then latched onto Zat Knight’s mis-placed pass. And almost punished the central defender when he slid in Torres. Had we been witnessing Fernando Torres on the top of his game, there would have only been one outcome. Yet the hesitation and uncertainty which Torres exhibited only served to illustrate the striker’s current woes. The chance was gone, with the on-rushing Lucas also well placed for the pass.

From a throw-in within their own half the Reds contrived to present the ball to Bolton and Stuart Holden’s powerful effort from outside the box produced a good save from Pepe Reina. Reina was also called into action to keep out Matt Taylor’s free-kick before the interval.

Owen Coyle and Bolton also argued their case for a first-half penalty when the ball caught Carragher’s arm from a left wing cross. Although it was hardly intentional and a spot kick would have been harsh.

Having drawn yet another first-half blank away from home, Liverpool upped their game after the interval. Soon after half-time Maxi found Gerrard but the skipper scuffed his shot horribly wide. The threat of Sotirios Kyrgiakos from Gerrard set-pieces continued. The Greek came as close as anyone had when he got his head to Gerrard’s delivery midway through the half.

With N’Gog now on the field, the Frenchman was pivotal in a counter-attack which presented Rodriguez with the opportunity for an acrobatic volley which flew just over Jasskelianen’s bar. The winger now linking up well with Torres. Later, with Liverpool again in behind the home defence and Gerrard steaming in on goal, Torres frustratingly played his pass behind the well-placed captain.

Liverpool, and Kyrgiakos in particular, were solid defensively. The home side rarely looked like breaking the deadlock themselves; aside from a chance presented to Elmander after a poor touch from Torres; the Swede dragging his effort wide of goal.

Torres had a difficult afternoon all round and looked to have benefited little from what had been contrived as a confidence boosting goal against Blackburn in his previous outing. Too often, especially in the opening half, any attacking momentum which Liverpool managed to muster was lost when the ball reached their striker.

Yet it was the Spaniard’s intervention which ultimately paved the way for the winning goal in 86th minute. The match seemingly heading for a stalemate. Torres’ delicate back heel went through the legs of Gary Cahill to release Rodriguez, cutting in from the left. The Argentine’s finish was far from clean, but to the delight of the travelling Reds the ball nestled in the back of the net via deflections off Jasskelainen and the crossbar.

This was a big result for Liverpool and arguably an even more important one for their manager. As the well-worn saying goes, Liverpool have won ugly. But big performances will also have to accompany such results before both are genuinely able to prove their many doubters wrong.

Man of the Match
Maxi added to an improved performance last time out with a busy second half display and the winner. But Kyrgiakos – the Reds most consistent performer of late and the rock on which a strong defensive display was based – edges it.

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