Davies spoils introduction of Liverpool's new look

Bolton Wanderers 1 - Liverpool 0
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The Independent Online

A new manager, but the same story. Liverpool's stuttering start under Rafael Benitez continued yesterday at the Reebok Stadium as they suffered their second 1-0 reverse in the space of six days.

A new manager, but the same story. Liverpool's stuttering start under Rafael Benitez continued yesterday at the Reebok Stadium as they suffered their second 1-0 reverse in the space of six days.

Bolton Wanderers continued where Graz AK left off in frustrating a Liverpool side over-reliant on long passes to Milan Baros and, in the second half, Djibril Cissé.

Kevin Davies' first-half strike, when he found ample space deep in the Liverpool penalty area to control and shoot, proved decisive, although the Merseyside club can point to what should have been a debut goal for Luis Garcia that was incorrectly ruled out for offside near the end.

A point would have been more than Liverpool deserved. Bolton's midfield, held together by the collective experience of Gary Speed and Ivan Campo, consistently outnumbered their illustrious opponents, with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso forced to the periphery.

"We used our brains today," said Sam Allardyce, the Bolton manager. "We slowed the tempo down from our usual level because the players were a little tired after playing at Southampton in midweek.

"In the past we would have had to have been at 110 per cent to get a result against Liverpool," he added, "but we did it quite comfortably today and that shows we've got a better quality of players now."

With new players and formations to integrate, it may be later rather than sooner before Benitez can produce the sort of consistency he achieved at Valencia. In the absence of the injured Harry Kewell and Florent Sinama-Pongolle, and with Cissé left on the bench, Baros was the only recognised striker in an unfamiliar-looking starting XI yesterday.

They were forced into a further reshuffle early in the game when Sami Hyypia sustained a broken nose in a challenge with Davies and had to give way to Djimi Traoré.

"Sami is very good in the air and it caused us problems for the rest of the game because we kept losing the second ball without him," Benitez said. "We tried to play three central midfielders but once we went behind we had to make a change and bring another striker on.

"It will take time to get the best from the Spanish players and they need to learn about the physical side in this country," he added.

With Campo detailed to pick up the supporting runs of Gerrard, and Dietmar Hamann performing similarly defensive duties in front of Liverpool's back four, there was little in the way of sustained attacking football in the early stages.

A moment of brilliance from Jay-Jay Okocha provided Bolton with their first chance. The Nigerian defied both his markers by finding space for a cross which Stelios Giannakopoulos headed too close to Jerzy Dudek.

Bolton took the lead seven minutes before half-time. Henrik Pedersen's thrusting run down Liverpool's right took him beyond Josémi and his low cross arrived at the feet of Davies, who had the time to control the ball before beating the scrambling Dudek.

Cissé was unsurprisingly introduced after the interval as Benitez reverted to 4-4-2, with Gerrard playing wide on the right. The French striker has yet to convince in partnership with Baros, however, and the fractured nature of Liverpool's attacking was for from convincing.

In the final 10 minutes they did find a way past Jussi Jaaskelainen, but Garcia was incorrectly ruled offside before he could apply the finishing touch to Hamann's chipped pass.

If only Cissé, moments later, had displayed similar composure when through on goal, Liverpool might have salvaged a point but Bolton held on to claim their third win in four games this season and their eighth in 10 continuing from last.

Goal: Davies (38) 1-0

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, Jaidi, N'Gotty, Gardner; Campo; Stelios (Nolan, 75), Okocha (Hierro, 84), Speed, Pedersen; Davies (Ferdinand, 72). Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Cesar.

Liverpool (4-5-1): Dudek; Josémi, Hyypia (Traoré, 15), Carragher, Riise; Garcia, Gerrard, Hamann, Alonso, Warnock (Cissé, h-t); Baros.

Substitutes not used: Harrison (gk), Diao, Biscan.

Referee: U Rennie (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Bolton: Hierro, Nolan.

Man of the match: Campo.

Attendance: 27,880.

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