There is now substance to Liverpool's belated recovery under Roy Hodgson. For the first time since April they have back-to-back victories and an away win in the Premier League and there will be no desperate rush to hide the league table when John W Henry arrives back in town this week. Manager can meet owner without fear that the main topic of conversation will be his own future.
Hodgson resisted the temptation to herald victory at Bolton Wanderers as a turning point for himself or Liverpool but, unlike after beating Blackburn last weekend, this time he hesitated when the question was posed. A lack of composure in front of goal and the sight of a dominant side rapidly losing their way justified the manager's reticence. But edging out a powerful Bolton team thanks to an 86th‑minute winner from a player selected due to injury to Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodríguez, leaping to 12th in the process and only three points behind Tottenham in fifth, has alleviated the pressure on the Liverpool manager.
Supporters remain sceptical of the 63-year-old, who asked to be judged after 10 league games in charge, but Hodgson has been emboldened ahead of two key meetings in the next seven days – with Henry and then Chelsea next Sunday.
Liverpool were fortunate that the referee, Martin Atkinson, dismissed two strong penalty appeals from Bolton, when Jamie Carragher handled inside the area in the first half and Kevin Davies was nudged in the back by Sotirios Kyrgiakos in the second.
"I hate to go on about it but we were denied a clear penalty in the first half and could have had a couple in the second half when Kevin Davies was knocked to the ground," said Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager. "I keep saying the same things every week and it's supposed to even itself out but if that's the case then we deserve about 20 big decisions before Christmas."
This was a scrappy, close affair in which both forward lines struggled to impose themselves and it required a hamstring injury to Joe Cole, and the introduction of David Ngog, for the visitors to rediscover their authority. It also illustrated, however, that no matter how bad an afternoon Fernando Torres is having, no matter how dire Liverpool's league position, a telling touch of class is always possible with the Spain international around.
Liverpool's start offered no indication of the gruelling afternoon ahead with the exception of Torres' early touches. They were consistently poor, undermining several promising moves, but were all forgotten when his delightful back-heel released Rodríguez inside the area for the winner.
Cole and Paul Konchesky displayed the first signs of an understanding on the left, Steven Gerrard carried a potent threat while Liverpool's passing and movement were that of a team building momentum.
They were assisted in their initial superiority by an error-strewn, cautious Bolton display that a more clinical side than Liverpool would have punished severely. A careless pass straight to Gerrard from Zat Knight produced the game's first real opening for Torres. Played through by his captain, Torres declined the chance to shoot first time and took a poor second touch that enabled Gary Cahill to clear easily.
For 20 minutes Liverpool controlled the contest, yet by the time Gerrard wasted their next opening, dragging wide from the edge of the area after good work by Cole and Rodríguez, their initial authority had been eroded. Bolton cut out the mistakes, Fabrice Muamba began to negate Gerrard's influence and the strength of Davies and Johan Elmander in attack had transformed the contest. José Reina saved well from a thunderous Stuart Holden volley and was tested by several Matt Taylor free-kicks but, a late Davies header aside, Bolton's attacking play was nullified by Liverpool's central defence.
Owen Coyle said: "I felt in the last third we could have done with more quality and finesse but the application and endeavour was there for everybody to see. The timing of their goal was great from their point of view. That gave us so little time to recover and I felt that was cruel on the team because of the effort and endeavour we put in. I thought we dominated the last period but Torres and Gerrard can be dangerous at any given moment."
With Ngog on, Liverpool improved on the counter and Torres began to shake off his lethargy. With four minutes remaining the striker back-heeled a Lucas pass through Cahill's legs and Rodríguez, racing into the area, toe-poked his shot beneath Jussi Jaaskelainen and in off the underside of the bar, sparking delirium in the stand behind. The winner, as with the tête-à-tête with Henry, could not have been better timed for Hodgson.
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