Gerrard's late winner makes point to Benitez

Bolton Wanderers 2 Liverpool 3: Captain gives perfect reply to manager's criticism as Liverpool battle back to down 10-man Bolton
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The Independent Football

Perhaps Rafael Benitez should be critical of Steven Gerrard more often if his captain responds to such comments like this. With the scores locked 2-2 and Liverpool's title ambitions in danger of collapsing before the transfer window has even shut, Gerrard struck with a trademark finish from 16 yards to earn his side victory against 10-man Bolton.

On the eve of Liverpool's visit here, Benitez had gone public with his concerns that Gerrard was not on top of his game yet the response from the midfielder ensured his side head into the international break in a positive frame of mind.

Outplayed by Tottenham and outfought against Villa, Liverpool arrived at the Reebok knowing they could be out of title contention with a third defeat in four games.

Yet despite the scoreline, this was a far from convincing performance by Benitez's men. Only when Sean Davis was sent off for two bookable offences, with Liverpool trailing 2-1 with more than half an hour remaining, did they take a firm grip.

Bolton had scored just once in four and a half hours of action this season but managed two in 47 minutes against a Liverpool defence which looked just as frail with debutant Sotirios Kyrgiakos, the Greece international playing alongside Jamie Carragher, as it had done earlier in the week against Villa. Yet Benitez opted to concentrate on the positives. Three points, a first away win of the season and a match-winning performance by Gerrard. "We can prepare for the next game and be a little bit more relaxed because of the result," the Liverpool manager said.

"It was a difficult game and twice we had to come from behind. Today, all the players wanted to impress and do well. They knew we had to improve and do well."

Liverpool started well. Had Fernando Torres been at his best then Bolton would have been down and out by half- time. Torres missed four chances alone in the first half while Albert Riera marked his first start of the season with a menacing performance.

Glen Johnson, too, was causing the Bolton defence problems yet Liverpool went behind when, 12 minutes before half-time, an unmarked Kevin Davies was allowed to tap home one of the easiest goals of his career after Liverpool had failed to deal with Matt Taylor's corner.

Benitez sat sit with his arms folded on the bench – as he did when his side equalised eight minutes later through the most unlikely of sources.

When Benitez decided to pay £17m to Portsmouth for Johnson, many thought he had overspent on a player who left Chelsea after failing to cement a regular spot.

But the England full-back has proved to be one of the few consistent performers for Benitez so far this term and his equaliser, his second goal for the club, was a delight.

This time it was the Bolton defence who were guilty of failing to stay awake. After struggling to clear a corner, the ball fell to Johnson who required just a couple of touches before finishing from 20 yards.

But Bolton have more spirit than their position at the foot of the table suggests and they regained the lead in the 47th minute through a sublime finish from Tamir Cohen, son of former Liverpool player Avi.

Davis was guilty of undoing all his side's hard work by getting sent off in the 55th minute. Having been booked towards the end of the first half, Davis was ordered off after bringing down Lucas.

Within seconds, Gerrard hit the underside of the bar before Torres rediscovered his scoring touch. Having spurned a string of chances in the previous 55 minutes, the Spanish striker beat Jussi Jaaskelainen with a composed finish after Dirk Kuyt had chested the ball into his path.

Gary Megson, the Bolton manager, was far from happy with the red card Davis had been given. "The referee got sucked into giving it," he said. "Steven [Gerrard] is bright and as soon as Sean got sent off he went deeper and deeper."

Attendance: 23,284

Referee: Alan Wiley

Man of the match: Johnson

Match rating: 8/10