Carragher Kyrgiakos Skrtel Konchesky
Maxi Meireles Lucas Cole
Lucky, lucky Liverpool. 86 minutes of impotence, with Liverpool under pressure more often than not despite neither side looking likely to score, then one moment of brilliance from Torres and Maxi broke the deadlock. Two wins on the bounce, Liverpool's third league victory, and up to the heady heights of 12th place. Hodgson's first Premiership away win since the first match of 2009-10, Liverpool's first since beating Burnley at the end of April. It's hard to complain after that, but I'll find a way.
Liverpool started well, and Torres could have opened the scoring twice in ten minutes, first heading a corner over the bar then lingering too long on Gerrard's through-ball only to see the opportunity vanish. But Bolton soon pushed the away side back. Or, more honestly, the away side retreated, closer to a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 than last week's fluid 4-2-3-1. Reina did well to palm Holden's excellent volley away in the 23rd minute, but the pressure was mostly of Liverpool's own making – with few Bolton opportunities – as Torres and Gerrard weren't firing while the defense was happy to hoof the ball out of defense. Like Torres, Gerrard had a chance he would normally bury in the net, in space at the top of the box thanks to Maxi and Cole's clever play, but the captain screwed his shot horribly wide.
The second half was more of the disjointed same, with Liverpool incrementally better, until Cole tweaked his hamstring on the hour mark. As against Blackburn, Hodgson replaced the winger with Ngog, moving Maxi to the left, Meireles to the right, and Gerrard to midfield for a 4-4-2. And as against Blackburn, it invited more pressure. Ngog did well to try and link up play, but more often than not, Meireles looked uncomfortable and Gerrard went missing, unable to protect the back four as the Lucas/Meireles pairing did. Elmander spooned a couple of shots wide, and a free kick caused panic, luckily sailing untouched through the six-yard box, before Liverpool won the game with a singular moment of magic.
Lucas, collecting a haphazard Bolton clearance, split two defenders to find Torres, whose indescribably-wonderful backheel released Maxi. Checking onto his right foot, the Argentinean's toe-poke did just enough to beat Jaaskelainen, unable to stop the shot despite getting a hand to it. One moment, one incandescent moment, was enough. No matter today's struggles, it's hard to argue it wasn't deserved, especially after what we've suffered through this season. Unsurprisingly, Bolton responded for a nervy final few minutes, but Reina was there to claim every threatening flick-on, deflection, or cross.
It's also hard to argue that Liverpool were good enough, or that we've seen enough progress, but we'll take any port in a storm. Liverpool had won seven straight matches against Wanderers, who are better under Coyle, but not better enough to cause so many problems. Liverpool still look too static, too willing to sit back away from Anfield and hoof clearances when under pressure, with the added bonus of Torres and Gerrard unable to stay on the same page.
But that goal and these three points mean there's something to build on. Once again, Lucas and Kyrgiakos were excellent, as were Skrtel and Reina. Maxi and Torres made the necessary breakthrough. Ngog did well off the bench. I do fear that this victory will "justify" Hodgson's tactics and paper over the multiple cracks, and it'll assuredly buy him more time, but it's hard to be upset after a much-needed win – and the first late winner in far too long – on the road, no less. Three points are what matters, and three points were taken.