Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Riera
Lucky, lucky Liverpool. The way this season’s going, that sort of luck is deserved. Any port in a storm.
It was a sloppy and subdued first half, with Liverpool unable to assert themselves as Muamba marked Gerrard out of the game. Once again, too many giveaways and not enough cut and thrust. Torres was especially disappointing early on, unable to get on the end of a couple of dangerous balls.
Bolton started to threaten after a couple of sloppy giveaways by Kyrgiakos around the half-hour mark, Torres almost headed in his own net from a Taylor free kick, and Bolton scored their first league goal of the season from the resulting corner. Yes, another set piece. Naturally.
Another Matty Taylor ball in, Liverpool were unable to clear after Elmander flicked across goal over Insua, and Davies (of course Davies) prodded in from two yards out after Carra backed off him. Christ. As much as it pains me to write, Carragher has to take a lot of the blame for the set pieces as the organizer of the defense and the most-experienced player. It’s not a coincidence his name keeps cropping up when I’m describing the goal Liverpool conceded.
Thankfully, Johnson again came to the rescue (£17m, you’re having a laugh). He’s been Liverpool’s only consistent performer and easily the best player so far this season. And after Gerrard’s corner was only half-cleared, the right back sent in a low, left-footed shot which beat Jaaskelainen.
However, just like against Spurs and Villa, Liverpool could have given it right back. Reina had to magnificently palm away Taylor’s free kick in the 45th. Yes, another set piece. Sigh. And that wasn’t the last time.
90 seconds into the second half, Jaaskelainen took a deep free kick in his own half. Liverpool were unable to clear the bouncing ball, Carragher slipped, and Cohen hammered in. You can’t make this shit up. That would be three out of four games where Liverpool has conceded within six minutes of scoring.
Thankfully, Alan Wiley soon bailed Liverpool out, although it’s Sean Davis’s own fault. In the 54th, Davis caught Lucas’ heels on the break, and saw his second yellow after the Brazilian complained. Probably soft, but I’ll definitely take it. Seconds later, Gerrard blasted against the crossbar after a corner.
But the equalizer wasn’t long in coming, as Torres struck his third of the season in the 56th. Kuyt chested the ball perfectly for the striker from Gerrard’s chip over the top, and Torres made no mistake. No matter the harsh sending off, that was a beautiful goal.
With 10 men, Muamba couldn’t solely man-mark Gerrard, and the captain started to further influence proceedings, albeit from deep with Liverpool either 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-2 (after Voronin came on for Masch in the 74th). Gerrard had a few efforts from distance either blocked or narrowly wide, including one that should have been a handball on Cohen.
As time trickled away, it looked like Liverpool might be frustrated despite the numerical superiority as Bolton kept all 10 men behind the ball. We'd seen that before, after all. But, finally, the captain broke the deadlock. Johnson crossed in after a short corner, Torres jumped highest to head down, and Gerrard perfectly placed it past Jaaskelainen from 12 yards. Oh late winners, how I’ve missed you. And that's why Gerrard's shouldn't take corners – not only are his often subpar, but he's far more dangerous lurking in and around the box.
Unable to find the fourth despite two good chances (a Benayoun volley wide and a Torres tap-in that was just cleared off the line), hoofed punts forward frightened, and given how the season's gone, it wouldn't have been a surprise to see a soft equalizer. But Liverpool saw out the win and got the three much-needed points. Thank you, baby Jesus.
It obviously wasn’t the best performance. Set piece defense is still atrocious, and the sending off was fortunate. But any win will do with three points from the first three games. Johnson was probably the best player on the pitch, Torres was kicked all over the park, but still got a goal and assist, improving as the game went on, while Gerrard saw more of the ball playing deeper, especially after he lost Muamba as his shadow. And, of course, it’s the captain with the winner. Finally, other than a couple of silly giveaways, I thought Kyrgiakos had a solid debut, and his height definitely helped out.
Now, after the hard-fought win, most of the players will go away for the international break. I still think the respite will be good for Liverpool. This team needs to regroup, and the two weeks off away help that (and hopefully see Skrtel, Agger, Aurelio, and Aquilani fitter), even with most of the players featuring for their country.
Forget the first three games – other than learning from the repeated set piece mistakes – and build on this. Burnley at Anfield on 9/12.