Sunday, 25 January 2015

Reds held at home to Bolton

On a day of Cup shocks, Liverpool had to settle for a replay after Bolton held them to a goalless stalemate at Anfield.

It is sometimes said that the last thing that Liverpool want in this situation is a replay because it would simply add to their already hectic schedule. However, as the alternative was crashing out of the competition to a Championship side and ending the dream of seeing Steven Gerrard lifting the FA Cup at Wembley on his 35th birthday for his final match in a Red shirt, Kopites will take a fourth round replay.

The 5:30pm kick off came at the end of a day of thrilling giant killings, as Chelsea spectacularly let a two-goal lead slip at home to Bradford, losing 4-2 to the League One outfit in the story of the day, while their fellow  title challengers Manchester City lost 2-0 at home to Championship side Middlesbrough.

With Tottenham and Southampton also exiting the competition at the fourth round stage, some at Anfield were anxious that Liverpool would be the latest giants to be slain on what was a black day for the Premier League. At the same time, however, victory promised to elevate the Reds to the status of one of the favourites for the trophy.

Brendan Rodgers rotated his squad with the second leg of the League Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Tuesday in mind, but Liverpool’s starting eleven was still strong, containing the likes of Sterling, Lallana, Coutinho and Henderson. Johnson and Allen returned from injury to start, while Gerrard and Skrtel were left out of the squad altogether. Mario Balotelli was also not in the 18, but for a lack of endeavour in training, rather than because he required a rest. His days on Merseyside certainly seem numbered.

Gerrard watched from the stands as his teammates tried to keep his Cup dream alive
Bolton began the better, enjoying a bright opening quarter of an hour in which they troubled Liverpool’s defence, particularly from corner kicks. However, the Trotters’ attacking duo Emile Heskey, returning to the club where he played over 200 matches, and Eidur Gudjohnsen perhaps unsurprisingly lacked the pace to seriously worry the Reds’ backline. The pair with a combined age of 73 were relatively well controlled, failing to register a single shot on target.

However, at the same time Liverpool were nowhere near as good as they were against Chelsea on Tuesday, and patently lacked a cutting edge up front. Furthermore, they also came up against Bolton’s goalkeeper Adam Bodgan, who was in inspired form between the sticks, denying Lallana, Coutinho and Johnson during the first 45 minutes.

The best chance of the half fell to Dean Moxey on the half hour mark, who was inches away from giving the visitors the lead when he sent a swerving crisp left footed half volley just wide of Mignolet’s right hand post from 25 yards out. It was a magnificent strike worthy of breaking the deadlock but thankfully it wasn’t to be.

At the interval, Rodgers replaced the dire Jose Enrique with 20-year old Lazar Markovic on the left hand side. The Serbian was far sprightlier than his Spanish teammate, and should have been awarded a penalty three minutes after the restart when Bolton captain Matt Mills took him down in the box, but frustratingly referee Kevin Friend was having none of it.

Bodgan then produced another top save to keep out Coutinho’s strike, with Manquillo reaching the loose ball but slicing a shot wide when well placed, before Gudjohnsen squandered two superb chances to open the scoring just past the hour mark.

First, the Icelandic striker side footed Tim Ream’s assist wide from 16 yards when he really should have hit the target. Then, he fired Josh Vela’s cutback into the Anfield Road end when he had the freedom of Merseyside to take his time and pick his spot.

They were the sort of chances that the goal machine that is Emile Heskey would have easily taken. Thankfully, by that point he was warming the bench after receiving a great reception from the Kop when he was replaced by Conor Wilkinson on 56 minutes.

It was great to see Emile Heskey back at Anfield
That was the peak of the game for Bolton, who then came under a substantial amount of pressure during the closing stages and were therefore happy to hold on for a draw and take a replay. To force the matter, Rodgers made a double swap, introducing Lucas and Borini to the action with just over 20 minutes remaining.

The latter immediately rounded off a good move by testing Bogdan and then had the best chance to score an arguably undeserved winner in the first of four minutes of injury time. Jordan Henderson’s free kick was cleared back out to him, but he picked out Borini with his second cross. Agonisingly, the Italian headed narrowly wide with Bogdan rooted to the spot.

There was still time for Lucas to fire straight at Bodgan, but it just wasn’t to be. Despite enjoying 68% of possession and having 24 shots, nine of which were on target, Liverpool weren’t good enough to beat Bolton and therefore must try again at the Macron Stadium at the start of February.

Credit to Neil Lennon’s men, they performed well and deserve a replay, but Liverpool really should have done better and got the job done first time around. Hopefully it will be a case of better late than never.


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