Carragher Hyypia Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Riera
That was far, far scarier than it should have been. And it’ll be remembered for the six arguable sitters missed, four coming from Liverpool.
Bolton started out pressing, with Liverpool players slipping all over the pitch, but that lasted less than five minutes, and it soon settled into the home side parking the bus in their own half. Surprise, surprise.
Kuyt nearly opened the scoring in the 22nd, crashing a shot off the bar, but got his seventh goal of the season – and fifth in the league – six minutes later with a brilliant header from Aurelio’s cross that gave Jaaskelainen no chance.
And two minutes after that, Keane should have iced the game then and there. Kuyt centered the ball across the box, but the Irishman somehow failed to make contact from a yard out. It wouldn’t be the last jaw-dropping miss.
Bolton put up marginally more resistance until halftime, but Liverpool were still on top until another talking point right before the break. Bolton earned their first corner of the half, McCann sent a good ball in, and Cahill put it in the back of the net. The commentators seemed fairly aggrieved when it was chalked off, but last I checked, three players caging Reina, with Nolan getting a substantial push on the keeper, wasn’t legal. And the whistle was blown before Cahill headed in.
Megson brought on Gardner at halftime and it completely changed proceedings. The left midfielder immediately earned a free kick, and should have scored in the 52nd, rounding Reina after getting behind the defense, but slipping when he tried to shoot from a narrow angle.
Bolton continued to threaten, and arguably was the better side, but Gerrard should have gotten the much-needed second in the 62nd when Alonso stole the ball and slid it through to Torres (who came on for Keane on the hour). The striker centered perfectly for the captain, but Gerrard could only direct it wide – again, from about a yard out.
But in the 73rd minute, the substitute helped seal the game, and this time Stevie buried it. Torres controlled a long ball, stole away from Andy O’Brien (who should have cleared, but again, seemed to slip), and crossed for Gerrard, who made no mistake with a header down into the far corner.
I still can’t figure out how we didn’t see a goal in the final ten minutes, but after Liverpool scored a second the three points were never in doubt. In the 80th, Torres couldn’t round Jaaskelainen, who did well to push the ball away, and the Bolton keeper made a great save on Alonso’s bullet from long range seconds later.
Gardner missed again in the 85th after he latched onto a chipped ball over the top, but fired over with Reina making himself big. Torres somehow hit the post with the goal gaping in the 87th after Lucas got to the byline when a Bolton defender slipped. And Lucas finished off the incredible misses in the last minute of injury time when he could only head Gerrard’s cross wide from close range.
I don’t usually write this much about missed opportunities, but the amount of chances that should have been goals was utterly egregious. On another day, it easily could have been a 6-2 win.
It’ll certainly be argued, but I think Bolton’s “goal” was rightfully ruled out (I actually thought Styles surprisingly had a good game, although I’m admittedly biased). But the first 25 minutes of the second half were far too frightening. It really looked like Liverpool’s inability to kill the game was going to cost them again.
But Reina, who’s my man of the match, with close competition from Alonso and Kuyt, did very well, and even though Bolton was finally winning in midfield, the defense held firm.
Reina doesn’t get enough credit for, and because of, his positioning. Bolton had chances at goals throughout the spell where they were on top, but Reina was usually in the perfect position to collect the flicks, crosses, and shots. Plus, his handling was superb (even if his distribution was questionable) in difficult conditions; I can’t emphasize enough that the slickness of the pitch caused a few of those misses.
Whenever Liverpool took the game to Bolton, Alonso was in the middle of everything, and was unlucky not to get a goal thanks to Jaaskelainen’s excellent save. He was awesome today, but he's been in awesome form for over a month now. Kuyt put in his usual diligent shift, and scored with an absolute peach of a header, one of the best I’ve seen since Garcia left the club. Riera was a constant threat in the first half, but faded as the game went on. And the makeshift defense, with Carragher on the right, still kept a clean sheet despite the pressure.
I was fairly furious with the performance around the 60-minute mark. After the Spurs games and the Atletico draw at Anfield, the pessimist in me saw it coming again. But at the end of the day, Liverpool got the goal they needed, kept a clean sheet, and earned the three points. Torres looked better in his 30 minutes off the bench than on Wednesday, and aside from Agger losing a tooth, and getting on with it regardless, Liverpool had no injury worries.
And the win provides more momentum that Liverpool undeniably needed going into a short international break before playing host to Fulham next Saturday.