Football: Liverpool's defensive poverty

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The Independent Online
By Dave Hadfield

Liverpool 2 Bolton Wanderers 1

BOLTON supporters must have choked on the already bitter taste of disappointment as they tuned into one of David Mellor's callers on the way back along the East Lancashire Road.

The problems with Roy Evans' team, the Liverpudlian voice assured him, all came down to a lack of money.

Problems? Liverpool finished the afternoon one place off the top of the Premiership, as opposed to one off the bottom. How would the Wanderers cope with a problem like that?

Lack of money? Cars were pulling in on the hard shoulder by now, so that their occupants could have a good laugh. You could expect little else from followers of a club which has sunk its survival budget into signing Dean Holdsworth.

Bolton had a glimpse of a result at Anfield that would have put their increasingly desperate battle against relegation into a new context. With three successive home games to come, it could, just conceivably, have been a catalyst for a great escape.

The way that a team for which goalscoring has become a lost art grabbed one and could have had two or three before Liverpool replied showed how vulnerable a fortress Anfield has become - and why fans, not placated by the apparent respectability of their League position, are phoning Mr Mellor for a spot of soul-searching.

This must be the least reliable Liverpool defence in living memory. Apart from Alan Thompson's goal and another effort that hit the bar, there was a comical moment when the same player had a free-kick tapped to him and was allowed to run 20 yards towards goal without being challenged.

As it was, Liverpool switched Steve McManaman to the left, to torment and outpace another of Bolton's Premiership investments, Neil Cox, while Chris Fairclough found the struggle against the speed and agility of Michael Owen an increasingly unequal one.

With Karl-Heinz Riedle leaving the game injured, Liverpool were left lightweight in attack, but Owen's slender shoulders proved equal to the task of carrying the responsibility.

He and McManaman stretched Bolton to the point where they were bound to break, which they did twice in seven minutes to leave the Wanderers as the ones with the real worries.

Goals: Thompson (7) 0-1; Ince (58) 1-1; Owen (65) 2-1.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Friedel; Jones, Matteo, Harkness, Bjornebye; McManaman, Ince, Redknapp, Leonhardsen; Owen, Riedle (Kennedy, 33). Substitutes not used: Kvarme, Carragher, D Thompson, James (gk).

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Cox, Todd, Fairclough, Bergsson; Frandsen, Sheridan, A.Thompson, Gunnlaugsson; Blake, Holdsworth. Substitutes not used: Johansen, Phillips, Fish, Taylor, Ward (gk).

Referee: K.Burge (Tonypandy).

Bookings: Liverpool: Redknapp. Bolton: Bergsson.

Man of the match: Owen.

Attendance: 44,532.