Bolton Wanderers 3-1 Liverpool
Saturday, 21st January 2012
A lack of commitment, tactical deficiencies and some serious under-performances; there was much to make the watching Liverpool fan wince at the very sight, as the Reds succumbed to their fifth defeat of the season at the Reebok stadium on Saturday evening.
Uncharacteristically, Kenny Dalglish himself went to the lengths of questioning the preparation and motivation of his players in a brutally honest post-match analysis.
If any accusation that Liverpool were distracted by the upcoming glamour ties against the two Manchester clubs was indeed correct, it is something which must be rectified fast. In the grand scheme of things, 3 points against Bolton should surely have been as much – and possibly more – of a priority than either of next weeks cup ties.
It is that realisation that a win can never be taken as given, as well as an ability to grind out a result even when things are not going your way, which sets the top teams aside from the also-rans.
Feelings of frustration have become common-place amongst Liverpool fans this season. Yet, whilst, more often than not, Dalglish’s team have given a good account of themselves only to be denied by a combination of misfortune and/or ineptitude in front of goal; on this occasion they could not even take solace from any notion of hard luck or lack of reward.
This was arguably the lowest point in the twelve months or so since Dalglish returned to the helm. Yet, in truth, few of the deficiencies on show came as any great surprise.
Whilst some of the below-par performances in evidence should not be ignored, this game exposed the gap created by the current absence of two of Liverpool’s key men.
Had Lucas been on the pitch it is doubtful that either of Bolton’s first two goals would have been so generously afforded to them. In the absence of a genuine holding midfielder, Bolton were allowed to cut through the centre of Liverpool’s defence virtually unchallenged for both Mark Davies’ opener and Nigel Reo-Coker’s second.
Whilst, at the opposite end of the field, Liverpool are hamstrung by the fact that – minus Suarez – they do not possess the kind of individual ability to rescue a result when things are not going their way as a team.
Liverpool should have been stunned out of their slumber as early as the third minute, as a more committed Bolton team capitalised on their visitor’s slow start.
David N’Gog’s flick left Martin Skrtel out of position and Davies took advantage of the vacated space to drive into the area and, with Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson slow to close him down, beat Pepe Reina low to his left.
Liverpool did not heed the advice. The usually reliable Jose Enrique was dispossessed and out-muscled by Chris Eagles, who’s eventual unchecked run into the box resulted in a dangerous cross across the face of Reina’s goal.
Neither Maxi Rodriguez nor Andy Carroll could take advantage of Charlie Adam free-kick, as Liverpool belatedly stuttered into life. But they found themselves two behind from the resulting counter-attack. Wanderers swept through the middle Liverpool once again. Reo-Coker eventually moved into the box and finished clinically beyond Reina.
The Reds needed a response before half-time and they had one. Carroll, who was largely ineffective once more, did at least demonstrate that he may benefit from a regular strike partner. The forward’s header beat both Bolton defenders and released Craig Bellamy. Bellamy had long looked Liverpool’s only potential outlet and he raced onto the ball and finished beyond Adam Bogdan.
That should have been the signal for the visitors to push on and prove that they have what it takes to triumph in the face of adversity. But it was never to be.
Reina actually had to be alert to prevent Martin Petrov’s direct free-kick from retrieving the home side’s advantage before half-time. And Bolton, showing no lack of confidence despite their precarious position, continued to make the play early in the second half.
Petrov’s corner-kick to the far post found David Wheater; who out-jumped Skrtel and nodded the ball back to Gretar Steinsson. The Icelandic full-back again reacted quicker than any Liverpool defender to drive the ball beyond a dejected Reina.
Dalglish threw on Stewart Downing and Dirk Kuyt in an attempt to inspire some kind of response. But neither was any more affective. And, as if to compound the Reds attacking woes, ex-Red N’Gog – who has endured a slow start to life at the Reebok Stadium – produced his most accomplished performance in a Bolton shirt to date.
Downing cut-back to Carroll, who completely miscued his first time strike with the Bolton defence caught out of position. Whilst Agger grazed the crossbar with a spectacular long-range effort and Bellamy also tested Bogdan from distance. Yet, in truth, Liverpool deserved little more than defeat.
And so, an ugly performance and a hugely disappointing result have left Liverpool’s chances of Champions League qualification looking increasingly remote. It is still not beyond them but, if so, this defeat must act as a timely wakeup call for all involved.
Man of the Match CRAIG BELLAMY
The only player who looked capable of getting his team back in the game.