Carragher at core of Liverpool's resistance

Liverpool 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
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The Independent Online

While Liverpool this week pursue unlikely glory at the top of the European game, Bolton have just another joust with outrageous fate and criticism. However, one thing is certain.

Whatever else befalls Big Sam Allardyce this season, a crisis of confidence can be ruled out. The Bolton manager has long been convinced that most of football, if not the entire world, is against him but then he also suggests this would be a problem only if it ever began to resemble an uneven contest.

It will certainly take more than a late winner from the uncelebrated Igor Biscan to invoke such a shocking possibility.

Allardyce was as contemptuous of the pre-game charge by the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, that Bolton "play to their own rules" as he was of the slurs of another foreign luminary, Chelsea's Jose Mourinho, earlier in the season. Indeed, he mused that the more criticism mounted, the more it might mean "I'm becoming a better manager than they are".

According to Allardyce, a draw was the least his team could have expected for being the better team right up until the 86th minute when Steve Gerrard and Djimi Traroré worked the space to send in the cross from which Biscan kept alive Liverpool's hopes for fourth place and Champions' League qualification. "I'm absolutely gutted," said Allardyce. "We were the better team for most the game. But it's difficult to win when you have a foul count of 19 to five against you. Maybe [the referee] Steve Bennett read the paper."

You could understand at least some of Allardyce's chagrin. He was saying the other day that his club's future as a front-line club could be guaranteed for the next 10 years with a place in the Champions' League.

Allardyce even argued that his club's empty treatment room, in such contrast to the one at Liveprool's training ground, was a tribute to superior organisation and medical advice.

A more detached eye had to give some credit to the embattled Benitez, whose own credentials include the feat of twice separating the combined might of Real Madrid and Barcelona from the Spanish title.

With Milan Baros suspended and Fernando Morientes on the bench, Gerrard was obliged to lead the attack with Luis Garcia, which meant that at the start there was a touch of the comical about the long and the short of the Liverpool crisis.

With Djibril Cissé, Chris Kirkland and Harry Kewell out for the season, and Xabi Alonso and Didi Hamann weeks away from the first team, Benitez conceded that he was down to the bare bones of football survival. However it was no reason not to fight, especially with Juventus and a Champions' League quarter-final due tomorrow night.

"Sometimes when you are in this situation, it brings the best out of your players. We knew it was going to be a struggle, but I thought we showed a lot of control... especially at the set-pieces. Yes, I think we can do well against Juventus. They are a fine team, but it is possible for us to win." Benitez was certainly in no mood to withdraw his earlier criticism of the Bolton approach, saying: "I just said that in our game in August there were things I didn't like."

It is true that Bolton do not always ooze charm but with the likes of Stelios Giannakopoulos, Jay Jay Okocha and Fernando Hierro mixing in force, skill and sheer down-the-ages wisdom, they are never going to provide an easy ride, especially for a team as low on their heels as Liverpool.

It meant that Biscan's late header might just have been more than temporary deliverance. It was an impressive suggestion that in all their adversity, Liverpool may be finding a thread of defiance to the worst of their luck. Juventus will be heavy favourites when they arrive at Anfield as superbly organised Italian league leaders with a generously accepted obligation to provide some final healing of the wounds of Heysel.

But they will not find opponents resigned to their fate. Against relentless Bolton, Liverpool showed no disposition to lie down. Inevitably, Jamie Carragher was at the core of resistance to such a course. The chances are it will be redoubled tomorrow night.

Goal: Biscan (86) 1-0.

Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Carson; Finnan, Carragher, Pellegrino, Traoré; Nuñez (Morientes, 79), Welsh (Smicer, 73), Biscan, Riise (Le Tallec, 59); Gerrard; Garcia. Substitutes not used: Dudek (gk), Hyypia.

Bolton (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Hunt (Okocha, 50), Ben Haim, N'Gotty, Candela; Hierro (Campo, 83); Giannakopoulos (Pedersen, 65), Nolan, Speed, Gardner; Davies. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Jaidi.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Bolton: Hierro, Ben Haim.

Man of the match: Carragher.

Attendance: 43,755.

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