Football: Liverpool's continuing struggle between their force and their dark side

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The Independent Online
Bolton Wanderers 1 Liverpool 1

What Roy Evans would give for a first-minute goal at Anfield tomorrow night. And what he would give for some inkling of exactly which Liverpool will turn up to tackle the 3-0 deficit against Strasbourg.

The trip to Bolton satisfied one of those two demands but that Bolton were allowed even a sniff at a share of the spoils leaves the second anyone's guess.

"If we can get an early goal and put Strasbourg under pressure, who knows?" pondered the Liverpool manager.

Putting opponents under pressure is not one of Liverpool's problems. The rate of conversion of threatening positions into goals was a greater concern in a bitchy encounter. While the intricacy of their passing movement can bewilder sides such as Bolton, the trouble starts when that intricacy becomes over-elaboration.

"Unfortunately we did not capitalise at the end of the pressure," Evans said after seeing his side squander a succession of promising approaches. The clear-cut opportunities, falling to Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen, found the Bolton keeper, Keith Branagan, at his best. Jamie Redknapp, Paul Ince and Steve McManaman's shooting boots were in the locker room.

Bolton were not so much there for the taking as begging to be relieved of the points. Nathan Blake and Dean Holdsworth were forced to scrap for every scrap of service provided by a profligate midfield and defence. It was only when the Bolton manager, Colin Todd, replaced Peter Beardsley, for whom the evergreen tag sadly no longer applies, that the home side showed a functional 4-4-2 shape.

Fowler's dismissal for a petulant swipe at Per Frandsen, who had to be substituted, merely served to accentuate the shifting balance of the game. That was just one of a number of off-hand-the-ball incidents prompted by a succession of niggling skirmishes. Jamie Pollock in particular was lucky to escape a similar fate after chasing McManaman half the length of the field.

Blake's equaliser, cancelling Fowler's first-minute straightforward strike, was just reward for an excellent all-round display.

"Liverpool are still a force to be reckoned with, but I believe we also have the ability," Todd said. His counterpart will be hoping that the force is with him in the Uefa Cup.

Goals: Fowler (1) 0-1; Blake (84) 1-1.

Bolton Wanderers (4-3-3): Branagan; Phillips, Fish, Bergsson, Whitlow; Thompson, Pollock, Frandsen (Carr, 77); Holdsworth, Beardsley (Gunnlaugsson, 58), Blake.

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Jones, Kvarme, Matteo, Bjornebye; McManaman, Redknapp, Ince, Leonhardsen; Owen (Riedle, 74), Fowler.

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury). Bookings: Bolton: Phillips, Thompson. Liverpool: Bjornebye, Ince. Sending-off: Fowler.

Man of the match: Blake.

Attendance: 25,000.