Football: Battling Bolton denied by Owen

Liverpool 2 Ince 58, Owen 65 Bolton Wanderers 1 Thompson 7 Att endance: 44,532
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The Independent Online
LIVERPOOL moved into second place in the Premiership and back to within a mere nine points of Manchester United, but they lived dangerously against visitors desperate for points and apparently capable of taking them.

Bolton, without a League win at Anfield since 1954, led through a spectacular early goal from Alan Thompson and for all the steady build-up and pressure from Liverpool, they had good chances to seize a second before the counter- blast from Paul Ince and Michael Owen.

The best of those opportunities came immediately after half-time when Per Frandsen's ball sent the lively Arnar Gunnlaugsson running through on goal. He wanted a little too much time and had the ball nicked off his toe by Dominic Matteo.

Prodded into greater urgency by that escape, however, Liverpool stepped up their assault on Bolton's defence in a way that suggested it must soon crack. Steve McManaman, switched to the left, started to make frequent inroads and the pace of Owen also threatened to embarrass Bolton every time he saw the ball. When the equaliser came, though, it was from the unlikely direction of Ince's head, with Keith Branagan complaining that he had been impeded as he went after Mark Kennedy's corner.

Nathan Blake had an effort blocked soon after at the other end, but all the momentum was now with Liverpool and, seven minutes after their equaliser, they took the lead. Owen found Ince and ran with perfect timing on to his captain's return to tuck a low shot just inside Branagan's far post - a build-up and finish of pure simplicity.

Bolton still had chances to come away from Anfield with something but Frandsen and Blake both missed the target in the final minutes, leaving them with just the memory of the jolt they had given Liverpool in the opening phase of the game.

Liverpool had threatened early in the match through Karlheinz Riedle and Jamie Redknapp, so Thompson's stunning strike in the sixth minute came out of the blue. The ball was laid back neatly by Blake and Thompson's left-footer from 30 yards was never going anywhere other than in the top corner of the net guarded by Brad Friedel on his home debut.

Thompson also hit the bar with an equally dramatic second effort before the home side had fully got over the shock of his first, but Liverpool had started to turn the screw when Gunnlaugsson had his opportunity to make a name for himself.

"If that opportunity had gone in just after half-time, who knows?" asked Colin Todd, a manager who knows that his side's time for a recovery is fast running out. "We were then punished again for a corner we didn't deal with and after that we were chasing the game. We're a decent side, but we can't get it right in both boxes."

It is their failing there that will, in all probability, send Bolton back down into the First Division which they dominated so completely last season. For Liverpool, there is the lingering hope that the end of their season might yet consist of more than a doomed pursuit of Manchester United, even if Bolton exposed enough of their frailties to keep such hopes firmly in perspective.