Bolton 0 Liverpool 1: Late Goal Provides Maxi-Relief

Posted by Garstonite on October 31, 2010, 08:48:35 PM

The last time I visited The Reebok stadium was over five years ago when Rafa Benitez was rudely introduced to the abrasive style of English football and his love affair with Fat Sam Allardyce began. Five minutes after arriving in “Middlebrook” and I soon realised why I hadn’t really missed the place.

The ground and the one mile radius that surrounds it succinctly sums up everything that is wrong with modern day football. A soulless dome of a stadium wedged between a Tesco Express and a retail park, half time cheerleaders, a lion Mascot cheering them on from the touchlines and, of course, that fucking bloke with the drum. It’s enough to make even the most tolerable fellow poke himself in the eyes in rage. Possibly to the soundtrack of “Ghostbusters” which they oddly chose as a song to gee up the crowd prior to kick off. Bizarre.

One depressing similarity from the two sides is that from 2005, we have both ebbed and flowed. But not in that order. For all the criticism Allardyce receives, there is little doubt that the job he did at Bolton was quite remarkable: they haven’t been anywhere near Europe since he departed. Similarly, Roy Hodgson has more question marks on his credentials than The Riddler’s jacket. And, regardless of his last season somewhat tarnishing his reputation, he has big boots to fill left by Senor Benitez.

The performance last week against Blackburn did however give some reason to hope. We played some genuinely exciting football: one-touch passing with intelligent movement. More importantly though, it seemed as though Roy had abandoned his original tactical approach. We got ourselves in and amongst our opponents and we did so in high areas of the field. The key word to Hodgson’s post-match interview was “pressurise”. And it was important we continued on a similar footing today against a side that Owen Coyle was guaranteed to have motivated for a battling performance.

A lot has been said about how Bolton are now a changed outfit under the leadership of the Scot – a man, by the by, I have a lot of time for. But the Bolton on offer were much the same. Long, direct balls, aggressive centre-forwards, midfielders looking for knock-downs and a real focus on set-pieces anywhere to cause our defence problems.

Which leads, rather belatedly, on to the teams. For Bolton; Jaaskelainen, Steinsson, Cahill, Knight, Robinson, Lee, Holden, Muamba, Taylor and the two lugs up front Davies and Elmander.

For us, the same side that we had out against Everton and Blackburn. Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Konchesky, Meireles, Lucas, Maxi, Gerrard, Cole and Fernando Torres. It is clear that Hodgson is seeking consistency.

The game kicked off and Bolton had us hemmed in from the off. I put it down to Coyle’s motivation rather than Roy’s strategy, but things never really improved. The closest we came was from set-pieces with “The Greek” smelling blood every time he wandered past the half-way line. In terms of build up play, the decision to stick with the same eleven three weeks on the bounce never really looked like it was paying dividends. The approach play at times was half-decent but the final ball was constantly lacking. Joe Cole’s link-up play with Konchesky was impressive, but he could never seem to find Fernando Torres when he wandered infield.

It is said that Liverpool without Steven Gerrard are not the same time with him and we discovered that today. His first half was shocking. Some in the stands speculated that he must have been on the ale for Halloween last night. His head was not in the game for the first forty-five, but his afternoon would improve.

Bolton were much as we expected. Their game was all about getting the ball into the front men who were consistently shackled by the excellent Kyrgiakos. The usual thorn in our side Kevin Davies was reduced to trying to win cheap free-kicks, which referee Martin Atkinson was too often happy to reward. Pepe Reina was forced into two decent saves, one from Holden on the half-volley and another from a zipping Taylor free-kick. Neither side deserved a lead and the more seasoned away following surrounding me were encountering a frustrating sense of deja-vu. Our 2010 away record mixed with Roy Hodgson’s general Premier League away record is a dangerous cocktail. Some fans argued amongst themselves in the lower tier: a passion overspill that could only be resolved by something to cheer about in the second half.

As the game kicked off for the second forty-five, nothing much in the game changed. We remained competitive, but really lacked the drive to convince anybody we were ever going to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Lucas Leiva was fantastic last week against Blackburn, but Allardyce’s side weren’t as competitive as Holden and Muamba were today. His judgment is what lets him down at times, but he is far from the player those in the stands would have you believe. His first-time passing seems to have improved beyond any doubt for me this season.

In front of him, Steven Gerrard was enjoying a better second half. Maybe a few pro-plus tablets were the order of the day rather than the usual cup of tea and orange slice because he really looked as if he needed to wake up. And much like it was to newcomers Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia on my last visit to this ground, Raul Meireles looked bewildered at the approach play on his midfield opponents today. He only got in the game, dare I say it, when he moved on to the wing later on in the game.

Up front Fernando Torres was having a torrid time. He was wasting the ball under the limited supply he was receiving and there will be no doubt that his body language will be a topic of conversation among the yokels in the media.

On the hour mark, Liverpool put together a decent move that culminated in Joe Cole teeing up Gerrard who saw his wild effort trouble the people in Wigan more than it did Jussi Jaaskelainen. In the aftermath, Joe Cole stayed down through injury and needed to be replaced. In his place came David N’gog whose arrival saw Liverpool switch to something close to a 4-2-2-2, with Meireles and Maxi tucking in from the wings in front of a midfield two of Lucas and Gerrard. Regardless of what people make of N’gog, his substitution changed a few things. First of all, he himself played well enough. He battled admirably against tough opponents in Cahill and Zat Knight, but crucially, the change in formation saw Fernando Torres’ burden shared and Meireles and Maxi were finding themselves in behind the static Bolton midfield with regularity. There was no doubt Liverpool were improving as the game was developing.

With that said though, Bolton still looked a threat. Particularly from set-pieces. Kevin Davies had an opportunity from a corner and Zat Knight could have converted. His height is bewildering. When you tower over The Greek, you’re entering circus territory. That boy drank his milk.

Credit must be given to us, though. There was no resting on our laurels. A point wasn’t good enough today. It was that simple. Our away record was becoming something of a joke and in the last fifteen minutes, the players looked as though they were desperate to put it right. Bolton dropped off but Kyrgiakos and Skrtel showed the courage to patrol the half way line. It was a strategic risk that Coyle responded to by throwing on the quicker Klasnic, but he failed to impose himself on the game.

As we pressed, a goal seemed likely. A sentence I’ve not had the pleasure of writing this season. And so it was. A ball played in to the feet of Torres from Lucas was cleverly redirected with his heel to the path of Maxi Rodriguez whose poke squeezed past Jaaskelainen. One-nil and the travelling support went manic with joy.

Bolton’s time was limited and they couldn’t muster anything in response. A victory ground out; one that says more about the spirit of the team than the quality within it. But away at a side like Bolton? You can’t ask for anything more.

It may have been Maxi’s voice that was sung to the final whistle by the jubilant supporters, but it was the foundation of Kyrgiakos’ peerless defending that set it up and he gets my MOTM award this week.

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