Liverpool 3 Bolton 1 – Winning ingredients bake a safe win

Posted by Barrettski on December 26, 2003, 09:12:15 PM

Déjà vu anyone?  Cast your minds back to the Portsmouth game: Liverpool played dismally, had two players bother to turn up and deservedly took nothing from the game.  The riposte was to play a poor Leeds side at Anfield and win safely, 3-1.  Wind forward to the Southampton game: a couple of players turn up, we play dismally and we lose.  The following game?  As I saw it, we played a poor side today.  Given the response from the players, even if the score line was coincidental, the result was predictable.

The run up to this game has seen the odd crossed word and a many more depressing words in the pubs across Merseyside and beyond.  For many, the Southampton game was just too much to bear and following that kind of (non) performance there was more than a hint of trepidation about having to face big Sam’s “form” team again.  We needn’t have worried.  The ingredients were right for this game and we were never going to lose.

The good vibes continued as the team sheet arrived on the mobiles.  Diouf and Heskey, two of the principle targets for recent criticism were on the bench.  No, I didn’t think I’d ever read a team sheet and look first at who’d been dropped, but it only reflects the times LFC are in at the moment.  My eyes then went to find Kewell’s name, yes he was starting and so was Stevie G.  So was Hamann, Hyypia and Kirkland.  Get the picture now?  I bet you do it too.  I bet you piece the team together the way you’d like to see it as well.

Next?  Pongolle and Otsemobor were starting and rightly so.  Their energy, talent and enthusiasm for the game are worth the gate money on their own.  Murphy, Smicer, Riise and Biscan completed the team.  Or don’t complete the team, depending on your point of view.  For me, these four players have something to prove.  The line up appeared to be a neat 4-4-2 but you could be sure Hamann would be deepest and that the other three (Stevie middle, Smicer left and Murphy right) would keep things fluid.  Up front Pongolle led the line with Kewell playing off him.  Le Tallec, Dudek and the returning Henchoz completed the picture, albeit on the bench.

The “form” team arrived with an assortment of stars, grafters and fatties (just telling it how I saw it Sam).  They looked like this: Jaaskelainen (soundly booed for ignoring the most passionate and educated fans in the land – and today’s Kop), Charlton, Nolan (lost at times), Djorkaeff (quality, apparently), Frandsen (off form), Okocha (injured, or just off to Tunisia?), Gardner (consistent), Davies (bright spells but mostly rainy), Campo (fat, with a poodle hairstyle and no banner), Hunt (nice name), Thome (aging Mackem reject). Subs: Poole (nr. Bournemouth), Barness (almost a good name), Giannakopoulos (talented, but not judging by that free kick), Pedersen (scored), Ba (Welsh chat up line).

Joking apart Bolton play as a team and a very good one recently.  So maybe this is where some credit needs to be sent Houllier’s way.  Bolton like to play 4-1-4-1, accommodating both Okocha and his forward bursts from deep and Campo with his genius / lazyitis.  Today they weren’t allowed to play.  Our midfield looked well briefed and Pongolle in particular helped with some memorable tracking back. 

So the ingredients for three points were in place: one first eleven complete with world class players and young talent, two under achievers on the bench, one opposition manager who had been sussed, a sprinkling of opposition who had eaten pies all week and four Liverpool squad players with something to prove.  Splendid.

If there was something missing, it would be winning the toss.  We did that too, so I settled comfortably into the hungover, quiet and thoroughly stuffed massed ranks of the Kop.  Except for block 202 who clearly have better pain killers than the rest of us.  And the bloke in 102 with the klaxon (thanks mate).

The first half was a tight affair, but it was clear where the opportunities were going to arise.  Without too many defensive duties, both Riise and Semmy looked good going forward and running at players.  Both managed to create their own chances.  Riise beat three players but disappointed with a right foot shot straight at Jessie.  Semmy beat players for pace but was, once again, muscled off the ball at the by line.  Looks like he’ll be spending a lot of this year in the gym.

Stevie G also looked likely to create by driving straight at the Bolton defence.  His best effort of the half saw a goal bound thunderbolt of a shot come back of Pongolle’s heel.  Shame.  Once again Gerrard looked to be the best player on the pitch and, although he went missing for a patch late on, deserved more from the game.

The best sign I’ll take from this game is the response from players like Murphy and Smicer.  They looked like they were playing for the shirt today, something they’ve been accused of not doing in the past.  Maybe this is where the game was won.  Instead of us being second to the ball it was them and it was having an effect.  That extra yard was enough to leave Bolton players in their wake.  The frustration showed as Hunt and Frandsen took it in turns to kick Riise and Hamann in the air.  Campo did likewise, but in his case it was sheer lard preventing him from making a clean challenge.

The goal scoring chances came at intervals.  For once we looked useful at corners and with the help from their flapping Jessie in nets we won a few.  One fell to Hyypia who, unmarked, fired a shot goal bound to be deflected for another corner.  At the next it was Hyypia who rose above all to crash a header under the cross bar and we were 1-0 up.

Pongolle was the lively player we know is going to mature into a star.  His quick feet had Bolton’s defence in knots.  He won a free kick that Gerrard curled low for Jessie to save to his right.  He was also threaded through for a one on one with the keeper.  At this point his lack of experience showed.  As he bore down on goal the composure evaporated and a hurried shot was easily saved where a few more paces and a Henry-esque side foot would have done the job.

Their chances fell to Campo, who managed to get his hair to the ball and head wide when he should have scored… and Davies who had his running safely marshalled by a combination of Biscan and Hyypia.  1-0 it stayed until half time, a fair scoreline in anyone’s book.
The second half started at pace.  Now how often have we said that about Liverpool recently?  We admire the way Arsenal can destroy teams inside a ten minute spell, but there’s no reason why we can’t do likewise.  So the players deserve recognition for what happened next.  First Riise drove down the left, released a perfect cross for Pongolle to head in behind the last defender.  2-0.  Then Pongolle rounded the keeper only to get crowded out.  Then, with half of Bolton’s team changed, Murphy dropped a perfect inswinging header onto the head of Vladimir Smicer for him to head home.  That’s worth repeating… onto the head of Vladimir Smicer for him to head home.  Vladi was as shocked as we were and beamed at the Kop with outstretched “how did that happen” arms.  Simple Vladi, it’s set piece training at Melwood.

3-0 then and the game was over.  I can see why Houllier would want to make changes, Kewell in particular, but I’d have liked to see those players enjoy the position they’d played themselves into.  It breeds confidence and familiarity, things we’ve been missing at Anfield.  Diouf, Heskey and Le Tallec (in place of Kewell, Pongolle and Smicer) didn’t seem to help.  In fact I thought we lost some the composure that allowed us to keep the ball, something we’d failed to do well against Southampton. 

From 3-0, we had our chances to improve the score line but seemed to choke at the last.  Murphy sent another teasing cross in for Gerrard to latch onto at full tilt.  His lunge made connection but pinged the ball 20 yards over.  Gerrard also managed to make inroads down the left and crossed for Heskey to set up Le Tallec.  This was the best chance of the game.  A touch and side foot would have planted the ball inside the left upright.  He placed it just outside, but then you have to be their to miss them and here was a midfielder on the edge of the six yard box.  Riise also had a trademark drive that went a whisker wide of the same post.  Another goal wouldn’t have flattered us really.

Pederson managed to get a consolation goal and although it got a bit ragged towards the end we deserved the three points and the one sided score line.  In short this was a result built with the right ingredients, not least a good response from some who let themselves down against Southampton.

We seem to be good at responding to set backs like Southampton.  Those looking at the bigger picture will say we should never need to and we shouldn’t really.  We should be in fourth spot now with a game in hand.  Instead these three points keeps us in ninth.  But (and it is a but) if we treat the first half of the season as a set back and respond as we did here today, fourth place is ours for the losing.  Now go back to the pub and argue if that’s good enough or not.


Redmen

Kirkland:  Not too much to do.  Seemed to make a fingertip save at the Annie Road End, but that was miles away.  Just heard he’s broken a finger.  Shit.

Otsemobor:  That’s four good performances on the bounce.  Seasoned first team pros would be happy.  His running at people is brilliant and his energy is suprb.  That said, this game seemed to suit him well.  He wasn’t put under the microscope or challenged one on one too much.

Hyypia:  Imperious in the air, five iron on the floor.  Really.  His defensive positioning, covering, blocking and clearances are superb.  His passing today was dreadful.  We miss something not having a Hansen to take the ball out of defence and lay off the simple, space creating ball.

Biscan:  Still growing on me, despite having a Djimi moment in the second half.  Has a noticeably better understanding with Sami now, but I wonder what will happen with Henchoz back.  I’d pick Stephane, but that may mean us defending deep and prevent us from pressing teams further up the pitch.  Still, what do I know?

Riise:  Like Semmy, this game suited him.  He looked more like the player we signed with marauding runs down the left and even a drive that looked in until the last minute.  He even left the free kick alone.  More of the same would restore the faith, but I still doubt he has the defensive nouse when challenged.  He wasn’t today but he did look better.

Murphy:  The brain is willing, the legs get him there but the touch and passing still disappoints at times.  Maybe that’s hypercritical.  This was a good energetic game from Danny.  He closed down, he hassled, he harried and played some neat balls.  Like I said, maybe that won the game.

Hamann:  Better game than Southampton (had to see that again on vid).  Managed the 90 minutes but was quality as much for his positioning as for his usual breaking down opposition attacks.  Life was made easier by more commitment by players around him, but isn’t that always the way when you’re world class?  And yes his name was sung before kick off.

Gerrard:  Imperious at times, but went missing at times too.  Maybe there’s a fine line between driving the game by yourself (imperious) and your team mates not seeing the pass to you in space (missing).  Not sure.  Should be well happy with his performance though.  Good, even by his lofty standards.

Smicer:  Once again, this was a game that seems to suit players like Smicer.  He did well, made driving runs and created plenty.  But (there’s another one) I still can’t see past the lightweight tag.  The one that says, “yes… maybe he’ll beat this player but it’s still going nowhere unless he unloads to feet now”.

Kewell:  Was never going to manage more than an hour and didn’t really look at the races.  Some good running on the left but I’m struggling to remember much more of a contribution.  Who cares?  He’s back.

Pongolle:  Livewire.  Some gave him man of the match.  Fair enough, he was causing mayhem at times.  Another great player in the making.  If only he’d been composed for the one on one, then he’d have had the two goals he deserved.  Deserved?  Yes, not everyone saw but his commitment was superb.  Who was covering right back when Semmy had careered forward, play overtook him and we had midfielders in the box?  Yes, it was Flo.

 Heskey:  I could say we started to look ragged when he came on.  But that’s unfair.  Emile put a lot of effort into this game and that’s all we ask.  He made the front post run to turn Stevie’s cross into Le Tallec’s path and made some good link up play in the time he was on. 

Le Tallec:  Still struggling to made the impact that Pongolle has to date.  Who’d have though after pre-season huh?  He needed that side foot to go in.  Next time I’m sure it will.

Diouf:  Similar to Heskey.  We didn’t see too much to judge on.  Which is sad.  Not to see too little, but the fact that we’re now judging.  That said, he did come on and showed drive and enthusiasm. 

Kop :  Hungover. 

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