Liverpool 3 Bolton 0: A Happy New Year

Posted by Garstonite on January 2, 2007, 01:46:20 AM

New Years Day and an early morning kick-off against a physical Premiership outfit. It had all the ingredients to be an exasperating hiccup to the start of 2007.

Bolton are the team everybody loves to hate. With big-time Charlies who haven’t made enough of their talent in the form of Nicolas Anelka and El-Hadji Diouf. Sam Allardyce, the most famous wailer since Bunny, and abusers of one of the more adverse elements of the ‘beautiful’ game: the long ball. But there is no doubting how magnificently they have done, using this humdrum approach.

Being fans of one of the ‘big four’, it is clear we also witness the extremes of this tactic. Both Manchester City and Portsmouth had fallen victim to a different, more stimulating approach from Big Sam’s men. Amidst their ranks of monsters and ogres are players who are capable of captivating football, after all.

Sami Hyypia was unsurprisingly recalled to centre-half, having been rested for Saturday’s trip to Tottenham. Pennant and Gonzalez also started, to add width to bring the best out of Peter Crouch, who also came back. Whether or not Bellamy’s injury had a say in this is open to – rather pointless – debate.

Baggy-eyed supporters took to their seats and the game was underway, with Liverpool attacking the Anfield Road End in the first-half.

Liverpool started fairly brightly, but failed to capitalise on Bolton’s early lapses in concentration. The skipper lead by example, but his shot flew comfortably wide of Jussi Jaaskelainen’s goal. Allardyce’s men soon settled into the game and, despite our initial intent, failed to get any sort of shot on goal worthy of note.

Nicolas Anelka was Bolton’s only real threat. And, when I say threat, he was a pen-knife in a draw full of toothpicks. Without Agger our defence doesn’t possess any real kind of pace and ‘Le Sulk’ had the potential to manipulate that. Some intelligent and secure defending prevented any chance of that happening, though.

If Bolton had left Anfield with a point in a goalless draw, Big Sam would consider that job done. If fans went home in a furious rage to tirade on Internet forums and radio phone-ins, that would be the icing on the proverbial cake for Allardyce. Ben Haim’s cynical foul on Dirk Kuyt – breaking forward promisingly – was an example of the time-wasting and game-killing methods on display. It didn’t make for pleasant viewing and the man sat behind me told his friend he ‘found a bed’ at 6am. With the crowd having nothing to shout about, I was half expecting to hear him snoring after half an hour had elapsed.

Jermaine Pennant, who until then was struggling to impose himself on the game, cut back an inviting ball to Steve Finnan who rasped a shot goalwards. Jaaskelainen palmed the effort on to the bar and over. Gaining momentum, Steven Gerrard almost found the net with an ambitious effort just a few moments later, but the ball was always rising and went over the bar.

Liverpool had the impetus, but failed to really punish Bolton as Xabi Alonso saw his effort – again set up by the lively Pennant – go agonizingly wide of the right-hand post. For all Liverpool’s dominance, the same old, unfortunate story of not being clinical enough in front of goal was letting down an otherwise efficient opening.

Peter Crouch and John Arne Riise both had half-chances go wide of the target, too.

El Hadji-Diouf who, as expected, had to tolerate tirades of abuse from everybody in the crowd - being booed every time he touched the ball - had a rare rampage down the flank a short while later. John Arne Riise put in a fairly docile challenge, only to see the Senegalese International fly to ground like an extra in the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. Winning the free-kick, he got to his feet, smiled and blew a kiss to all of us sat in the Paddock. Which was nice of him.

During half-time, Bolo Zenden handed out awards to the player’s of the month in the academy, across all the ages, ranging from under-9 to under-17. The winner of the under-13 category had the unfortunate name of ‘Steve Irwin’, to which everybody began shouting ‘Crikey!’, ‘She’s a biggun!’ and other such quotes from the recently passed-away Crocodile Hunter.

Second-half got underway attacking The Kop end and we picked up where we left off in the first-half. Pennant was causing Gardner all kinds of problems again and floated in a ball which was headed over by Gonzalez, who looked as though he took his eye off the ball at the crucial moment.

Ivan Campo unleashed a scything challenge on Pennant moments later, much like Ben Haim’s in the first-half, impeding an attacking before we entered a dangerous area of the field. He was shown a yellow card, but was happy enough to take it for his team.

On 60 minutes, Liverpool again pressed. People often talk about moments of magic being required during a game of this nature. Dirk Kuyt was the instigator of this move. Working in the ‘hole’ behind the big man, Peter Crouch, he ran menacingly towards the area, before calmly placing the ball out to Pennant, who was always making himself available as an outlet.

People believe Craig Bellamy has the ability to make a ‘good ball great’ with his pace, but Peter Crouch has the capabilities of doing that as well, with the facilities he contains. Jermaine Pennant’s ball went behind Crouch, but he instinctively reacted and lashed in his second over-head of the season.

With the deadlock broken, the game had to open up. Bolton were becoming ever more content with a draw, with the way the game had been going and were happy sitting back. Gary Speed and Ivan Campo were like two extra centre-halves annulling any move Liverpool made through the centre, with intricate build-up play concluding with an almighty, anywhere-will-do hoof up-field.

Before Allardyce had a chance to re-evaluate his side, Kuyt and Pennant again linked up cleverly. This time it was the Dutchman – whose work-rate was phenomenal – who delivered the ball and this time it was Gerrard on the end of it and in the week that he received an MBE, the skipper marked the occasion fittingly with a trademark finish, arriving in on the edge of the box. His shot flew into the top corner and Jaaskelainen could only watch on helplessly.

Bolton’s Finnish goalkeeper encapsulated the entire evening. In the first-half, he was reluctant to retrieve balls and took his time in taking goal-kicks. After the period of time in which Liverpool found themselves two-goals to the good, he was galloping across the field to take free-kicks and even, ironically, had a moan at Graham Poll, with regards to how long his opposite number, Pepe Reina, was taking goal-kicks and free-kicks.

Bolton defender Abdoulaye Faye, who was on of their better performers, was extremely lucky to escape a sending-off. I’ve heard of ‘mad half-hours’, he had a ‘mad half-minute’, as he succeeded in fouling Crouch, roaring angrily at Poll and kicking the ball away in fury. It’s easy to say it doesn’t matter now, but he might well have punished Liverpool with a corner later in the game. A headed attempt that, incidentally, was their only shot all game.

As a fatigue-ridden Bolton side trudged on, Liverpool were gaining in confidence. Allardyce took off Nolan and Speed for Vaz Te and Tal – a substitution that, in hindsight, was Big Sam conceding the game, saving two of his more important players, after a busy Christmas scheduele.

Jaaskelainen prevented the game from being an embarrassment to Bolton, as he denied Kuyt, Hyypia and Crouch with good reflex saves. Luis Garcia also went close with a looping volley, but it was Kuyt who put the seal on the game. Having been sent through by Luis Garcia, who had replaced a rather poor Mark Gonzalez, he closed in on goal before squeezing in a good finish underneath the legs of Ricardo Gardner and past the Bolton ‘keeper. I have rarely seen a more deserved goal.

Prior to kick-off, my brother and I both made our customary predictions. I went for 2-0 and my brother said 3. He went one step further and said all goals would be scored by us in the second-half, attacking The Kop end. Perhaps he’s been watching his Shirley Ghostman DVD.

MOTM: Sami Hyypia. Very good performance. Played it simple with it on the deck but, more importantly, won everything in the air and shut Kevin Davies, who is usually the linchpin in Bolton’s direct tactics. Jermaine Pennant, Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt all had good games, too. Bolton’s best player was Harpo Marx.

© Garstonite 2007

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