An injury time tap in from Joe Cole sealed a vital 2-1 victory for Liverpool over Owen Coyle's Bolton Wanderers yesterday, which moves us six points away from the relegation zone and into the top half of the table. A nervous first half for the Reds ended in nightmare fashion as Bolton claimed the lead only two minutes before the interval thanks to a Kevin Davies header. However, Liverpool responded early in the second half with a fantastic goal from Fernando Torres before Cole stole the headlines at the death.
Following a disastrous defeat at home to relegation candidates Wolves in midweek Roy Hodgson made three changes to the starting line up, with Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio and Maxi Rodriguez replacing Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Paul Konchesky and Steven Gerrard respectively. There was some initial surprise at the absence of the skipper, however "extreme tiredness" was cited as the reason for his exemption.
With Wednesday's result still firmly lodged in the team's collective consciousness the first half was a tentative and scrappy affair as the pressure currently surrounding both the manager and the players gripped the team with fear of another embarrassing home defeat that could've spelt the end of Roy Hodgson's dreadful reign as Reds boss.
As a result the opening stages were bereft of goalscoring opportunities. Skrtel flicked a header wide of goal from Meireles' free kick and Johnson was unfortunately flagged offside after a defence splitting pass from the Portugese had opened Bolton up, however Liverpool never really seriously threatened Juusi Jaaskelainen's goal until the 17th minute, when Maxi's close-range strike was cleared off the line by Taylor after Torres' effort had looped into the air and into the path of the Argentine.
Having failed to test Pepe Reina so far Bolton's fans celebrated pre-maturely when their team finally had a sight of goal as Matty Taylor fizzed a low free kick into the near post side netting. More significantly, only moments earlier inspirational Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard replaced the injured Raul Meireles and instantly gave both the crowd and the players a noticeable lift.
This was reflected in our attacking play as we started to create a few more chances. After 25 minutes Martin Skrtel connected with Stevie's corner but it was deflected wide off a Bolton defender, before Maxi was cruelly denied by the crossbar just past the half-hour mark as his looping header left the keeper rooted to the spot.
The Merseysiders were now firmly on the front foot however it wasn't quite happening for us in the final third, as has been the case so frequently this season. Bolton then punished the Reds by taking the lead only two minutes prior to the break. A late challenge from behind by Fabio Aurelio earned the Brazilian left back a yellow card and the visitors a free kick in a good area. Taylor whipped an inviting cross into the danger area where the unchallenged Davies took advantage of some lackadaisical defending to head home from close range.
Despite the crushing disappointment caused by conceding Liverpool had a great chance to level the scoreline before the break, however Lucas squandered a fantastic opportunity when he somehow managed to miss the target from three yards out after Kuyt's side-footed cross had found him unmarked at the back post.
After an average first half the Reds had a disappointing deficit to recover from, and they started in perfect fashion as Fernando Torres re-discovered his goalscoring ability to grab an equaliser four minutes into the second period. David Ngog chested Johnson's pass down into the path of Steven Gerrard, who clipped a wonderful ball through for Torres on the half volley. The Spanish striker then sensationally side-footed the ball into the roof of the net as Anfield erupted in a mixture of jubilation and relief.
The rejuvenated Torres went close again on 55 minutes when he cut inside and flashed a shot just past the far post after a rapid counter-attack had been instrumented by Reina and Gerrard. Liverpool then had a penalty shout turned down with just over 20 minutes left to play when Mark Davies appeared to handle on the ground after Maxi and Gerrard scrambled for the ball.
It would have been harsh to give a penalty though as the grounded Bolton player couldn't really move his arm away from the ball. The visitors then had a similar appeal turned down when the ball struck Lucas' arm in the penalty area moments later. Gerrard and Torres combined once again after 73 minutes and almost scored in an identical fashion to the first goal as Gerrard's cross reached the Spaniard only for him to volley just wide of the target.
Liverpool had controlled proceedings for the majority of the second half and looked the more likely to break the deadlock, however Bolton reminded the hosts of the threat posed when a sloppy and short pass from Glen Johnson was easily intercepted by Klasnic. There was a notable sense of relief when the Croatian’s firm strike from the edge of the box was well held by Reina in the Liverpool goal.
When a 20-yard effort from Steven Gerrard went agonisingly wide on 90 minutes most felt that the Reds were consigned to yet more dropped points at Anfield. However, the determined, never-say-die attitude of the captain rescued the points for Liverpool for the umpteenth time two minutes into injury time. Gerrard's well struck cross travelled to the back post where Maxi competed with a Bolton defender to pull the back across goal to Cole, who had the simple task of tapping home from a yard out to claim both his first League goal for Liverpool and a crucial three points for Hodgson's side.
There were appeals for offside from the away side however they were rightly ignored because, although the London lad was in an offside position, the final touch of the ball before it reached Cole appeared to be from a Bolton player, meaning the Englishman couldn't be flagged offside.
A dramatic late victory like this will always lift spirits, however the vociferous celebrations following the match characterised the Reds under Hodgson. We were delighted to enter the top half of the table after claiming what ordinarily would be considered a routine three points at home to Bolton.
Although this win certainly doesn't change my opinion of Hodgson, it will earn him a bit more time to try and save his job and, while some supporters may have wished to see us lose in order to hasten his departure, I could never desire a defeat whatever the circumstances may be.
Liverpool must now take the little momentum gleaned from this match and carry that into their next three crucial matches, away to Blackburn and Blackpool with the small matter of a trip to Old Trafford in the Third Round of the FA Cup sandwiched inbetween.