Gerrard and Cole ride to Reds' rescue

Liverpool 2 Bolton Wanderers 1: Midfielders come off bench to set up controversial win as Bolton bemoan last-minute misfortune
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The Independent Football

An injury-time tap-in by Joe Cole prevented Roy Hodgson's new year from getting any worse at the end of a fraught afternoon at Anfield.

Cole and his England team-mate, Steven Gerrard, both came out of the dug-out to transform their manager's day.

Gerrard had already created Liverpool's equaliser; then, in the third minute of the four added on, he put in another deep cross. Maxi Rodriguez met it beyond the far post, nudging it back into the middle for Cole to score from point-blank range.

"My players are adamant that Joe Cole was offside," Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager, said. "We had very little chance to recover from that and I'm disappointed for the players, because they worked their socks off today."

Hodgson, followed by a battery of cameras wherever he went on an afternoon when his position could have become untenable, was not complaining. "Even if we won it with a controversial goal, we're not going to apologise for that," he said. "We dominated over the 90 minutes. I'm very satisfied and I would have been if it had finished 1-1."

On the face of it, Bolton, despite a top six placing that Liverpool can only aspire to at the moment, alwayslooked like a suitable side against whom to start a revival. They had lost their last eight games here and the strains on their current squad, from injury suspension, international duty and compassionate leave, were apparent in Coyle naming only four substitutes on his bench.

The under-fire Hodgson, on the other hand, had no less a bench-warmer than Gerrard, still easing his way back after his long-running ankle injury, among his statutory seven. Gerrard got the loudest cheer of the afternoon so far when he started to warm up after 15 minutes; mind you, there had not been much for the Liverpool faithful to applaud thus far.

That began to change when Matt Taylor had to clear the lively Rodriguez' goal-bound effort and the mood lifted a little more when Gerrard came on shortly afterwards for the hobbling Raul Meireles.

They almost took the lead when Dirk Kuyt crossed and Rodriguez' header looped on to the cross-bar with Jussi Jaaskelainen well beaten, but faced melt-down when, instead of falling behind, the Wanderers went ahead before half-time.

The opportunity stemmed, in a game of many free kicks, from a hotly disputed foul on Rodrigo Moreno that cost Fabio Aurelio a booking. From Taylor's curling left-footed kick, the Bolton captain, Kevin Davies, beat everyone in the penalty area to head home and claim the club's first goal at Anfield for more than seven years.

Liverpool almost equalised, through Lucas Leiva's lunge at Kuyt's low cross, but it would have been an anxious home dressing room at the interval.

Four minutes after the restart, however, Liverpool were level, from what Coyle admitted was a moment of rare quality from two world-class players. Gerrard took Glen Johnson's pass on the half-volley and flighted instantly into the path of Fernando Torres. The Spanish striker, hitherto peripheral, kept firmly under control by Gary Cahill, produced a glimpse of his old majesty, meeting the ball on the volley to finish handsomely.

"It was a great goal," Coyle said. "Created by two players who could play anywhere in world football."

It encouraged Liverpool to believe that they were capable of exorcising the week's traumas by pressing on to win the game. The same combination almost worked again, with a revitalised Torres twice close to converting penetrative balls into the area from his captain into further goals.

The chance that decided the game might have been messier, but nobody at the home club, least of all Hodgson, was inclined to worry too much about that. Liverpool are back in the top half of the table and the talk of crisis is, for the moment, muted.

Attendance: 35,400

Referee: Kevin Friend

Man of the match: Rodriguez