Monday, March 03, 2008

Jussi Clanger

English Premiership

Bolton 1 - 3 LIVERPOOL

BOL - Cohen (79);
LIV - Jaaskelainen (12 og), Babel (60), Aurelio(75);

Liverpool's bid for fourth place received a massive boost after Rafa Benitez finally exorcised the hoodoo at Reebok Stadium with a well deserved 3-1 win over Bolton Wanderers. It's the first time the Spanish manager tasted success against Bolton, a side renown for their physical approach to the game.

Off the field uncertainties continue to plague Liverpool but with 4th place being the be all and end all for the season, Rafa knows that a victory at the Reebok will propel the team back into Champions League contention, albeit for only a few hours.

On the note, Liverpool probably breezed through this game unlike the uncountable times when they huffed and puffed and got nothing away from their north east neighbours. It has been 5 years since the Reds have got all 3 points from their 'unhappy hunting ground'.

But it's obvious that this Bolton team is a shadow of what they were once, under the management of Sam Allardyce. His replacement, former Anfield favourites, Sammy Lee, got them into the mire earlier on and now, Gerry Megson managed to stabilise the ship. Only just.

Bolton started off brightly enough and looked confident that they will get the result. Former Anfield misfit, El-Hadji Diouf was unlucky to see his free kick come off the cross bar while Bolton continuously threatened from set plays.

Martin Skrtel is preferred at centre back alongside Sami Hyypia, pushing Jamie Carragher out to the right. Though uncertain at set plays due to new idea of zonal marking, the Slovenian international excelled throughout the game with nicely timed tackles and interceptions.

Then against the run of play, Liverpool took the lead through an unfortunate mistake by the usually reliable Jussi Jaaskelainen. Skipper Steven Gerrard's shot was inches away from the goal but the Finnish goalkeeper haphazardly dived for it and the ball went in the net, off his head.

Liverpool couldn't believed their luck but after years of questionable refereeing decisions at the Reebok including Reina's alleged handball outside the penalty box and also Luis Garcia's wrongly disallowed goal, it's probably time for Lady Luck to switch side.

Bolton continued to threaten through diagonal crosses, with Kevin Davies perfectly made as a target man. The centre forward had a fantastic chance to draw level, only to be denied by Pepe Reina. His header 6 yards out was miraculously kept out by the Spanish goalkeeper.

The game drew on into a chess-like affair with Liverpool playing more cautiously. Yet the game was somehow, wide open after the break as both Bolton pushed forward and leaving huge gaps in their defence.

Liverpool grabbed their opportunity in the 60th minute as Ryan Babel took his chance well and put the visitors in the driving seat. Kuyt turned Carragher's cross against the post and a poor clearance from Bolton enabled Babel to get hold of the ball before slamming it past the hapless Jaaskelainen.

They then extended their lead through a marvelous strike from Brazilian full back, Fabio Aurelio. He was known to score goals from free kicks but this time, he took his chance fantastically and finds the net for the first time in the red shirt.

Gerrard's corner was headed clear but Aurelio was on hand to chest it down nicely before sending a half volleyed shot into the net, with aplomb. Bolton should've closed him down sooner but at that point, the home side were already losing hope.

A consolation came their way though, through a corner. Not a surprised as Liverpool struggled every time there is a corner and this time, they were punished through their former player's son. Tamir Cohen, son of Avi Cohen, eluded his ball watching man markers and slammed it past Pepe Reina.

The visitors held on for an important and crucial win as Rafa would finally breathe a sigh of relief for finally defeating an old nemesis. The 3 points lifted them into 4th place until city rivals, Everton, defeated Portsmouth 2 hours later with the same scoreline.

The race for the title is heating up just as it is for the race for the final Champions League placing. Rafa previously admitted that Everton and Aston Villa are 2 teams that will most likely wreck the team's chances to qualify for next season's Champions League but now, he should be quietly confident that his side can take the all important 4th place.

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