• Dalglish's expensive signings upstaged at Reebok
• Bolton's victory lifts them out of bottom three
It is almost two decades since Kenny Dalglish fashioned a title‑winning side at Blackburn Rovers by investing the late Jack Walker's cash on some of the best emerging British talent around. A year into his latest incarnation as Liverpool's manager Dalglish is following broadly the same blueprint amid a vastly different Premier League landscape.
This time round, returns on his £100m plus Anfield transfer market investments are stubbornly refusing to bear much fruit. Qualification for the Europa League, let alone the Champions League, is turning into such a struggle that, on Saturday evening, the normally protective Scot publicly accused his team of disrespecting both Bolton and their own club's traditions.
After collecting six points from their past six games, Liverpool are clinging on to seventh place. Evidently distracted by this week's League Cup semi-final second leg against Manchester City, they were totally eclipsed by a Bolton side who, with Mark Davies, Chris Eagles, David Ngog, David Wheater and Nigel Reo-Coker all shining, deservedly hauled themselves out of the bottom three.
Of the £100m odd Dalglish spent on six of his seven key signings, only the £22m invested in Uruguay's Luis Suárez and the £5m paid for the Spanish left-back José Enrique have paid real dividends. While Craig Bellamy has impressed – the forward was Liverpool's best individual at Bolton – he arrived on a free transfer and represented nothing like the sort of high stakes gamble Liverpool took on Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam.
Significantly that latter quartet all disappointed at the Reebok, although, in partial mitigation, Downing did not step off the bench until the 65th minute when he replaced Adam. Unusually José Enrique, too, struggled throughout as Eagles revelled in reminding him precisely why he was once a Manchester United winger.
Things might have been different had Suárez been around but Liverpool's gifted striker is serving an eight-match suspension for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra.
If Dalglish's loyalty to Suárez heightens the impression of a man operating in something of a time warp, Liverpool's manager must have long since privately realised that the Uruguayan's mesmerising talent helpfully deflects attention from his underachieving British buys. In public at least Carroll, Downing and company have benefited from expressions of blind faith but, during an extraordinarily eviscerating, wholly uncharacteristic, outburst, Dalglish derided his players' complacency and suggested that drastic action may ensue.
"That's not the way to go about representing this football club," he said. "The foundation of the football club has always been built on respect for other people. It's always been built on the philosophy that the next game was the most important. If they thought this wasn't as important as the other game [City], then they'll not be here."
If 2011 proved unexpectedly tough for Owen Coyle, a switch to a flexible 4-1-4-1 system, which has involved Bolton's manager taking the bold decision to leave Kevin Davies on the bench, is provoking a timely renaissance. Suddenly Ngog no longer looks like a misfitting Liverpool discard but the pacy, mobile, strong and skilful forward who once starred for the France Under-21s. Thoroughly upstaging Carroll, Ngog's delightful flick encouraged Mark Davies to burst between Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel before eluding José Reina with an expert low finish. Mark Vastly underrated, Davies was the evening's outstanding player. All quick feet, close control and smart vision, he made Adam and Henderson look distinctly ordinary in a midfield frequently dominated by Reo-Coker.
An unecessarily silly altercation with Bellamy apart, which left Bolton's enforcer saying he "had no respect" for the Welshman, Reo-Coker resembled the player who was once coveted by England's leading clubs. His contribution perhaps explained why Steven Gerrard looked so disillusioned.
After Reo-Coker, Eagles and Ngog had combined to evade a slapdash Agger, the latter chested the ball down and seamlessly shot the third. Haring on to Carroll's flick, Bellamy reduced the deficit but the flicker of a visiting revival was soon extinguished. Instead Wheater – who courtesy of a splendid block on Bellamy and the reduction of Carroll to a study in frustrated despair reprised the form that once earned him an England call-up – headed down for Gretar Steinsson to volley Bolton's third.
Coyle's speciality is reviving the waning careers of once much hyped players such as Mark Davies, Eagles, Ngog and Wheater. Without a dramatic improvement Carroll, Henderson, Adam and company could soon be seeking similarly unglamorous rehabilitation.