Liverpool players close ranks with Hodgson as Gerrard gamble pays off
Liverpool 2 Bolton 1
Monday 03 January 2011
An Eighties legend gazes down at the Bill Shankly statue on the Anfield Road. Not Kenny Dalglish, but Phil Collins, whose vast image, plastered on the side wall of the Albert pub, promotes the new album, Going Back. That might be precisely the journey Liverpool decide to take, as their American owners come around to the idea of appointing a caretaker manager. Dalglish's willingness to resume temporarily the dugout seat which was his for six years from 1985 was by no means certain last night, but he is one of very few possible candidates.
There was nothing in Roy Hodgson's description of his conversation with the club's proprietors John W Henry and Tom Werner to suggest that he feels their gushing confidence, with the weekend resignation of Hoffenheim's thoughtful young manager Ralf Rangnick, considered by some a "German Arsène Wenger" adding another potential candidate. In these circumstances let none of the 63-year-old's many detractors on Merseyside say he lacked bravery on Saturday.
Though another home defeat to follow the one inflicted by Wolves last Wednesday would have been enough to sign off Hodgson's Anfield career on the six-month anniversary of its beginning, the manager concluded, for the greater good, that Steven Gerrard should begin on the bench. "Steven was in agreement with me that starting on the bench might be the best thing as he was very, very tired after the game on Wednesday," Hodgson explained. "If he'd said to me, 'No, no, I really want to play from the start', then I would have left one of the others out. But he was cramped up in all of his muscles [after Wednesday] and, of course, we are still a bit concerned about that hamstring injury he picked up with England."
If Hodgson survives the season, let alone the year, then he may reflect on the way the fates moved in mysterious ways to preserve him.
When Raul Meireles sustained an ankle injury in the 21st minute, Hodgson was forced to play Gerrard anyway. "I actually said to him as he was coming on, 'Could you not stay off a wee bit longer'," the Bolton manager, Owen Coyle, revealed later – and Gerrard delivered almost as completely to Liverpool's victory as he did to November's 3-1 Europa League win over Napoli, when, with the new owners in attendance, Liverpool also trooped in a goal behind at the break.
Gerrard's interaction with Fernando Torres also bore eloquent testimony to those who feel that Hodgson's adherence to a 4-4-2 system is depriving the club's two prime forces of that synergy which has been at its best when the captain plays behind the striker. It wasn't just the giddyingly fine Torres equaliser after 49 minutes which Gerrard's clipped half-volley pass supplied in the midst of a four-touch build-up. "I have got to say there aren't many players in football who could have played that pass and the understanding Gerrard and Torres have is there for all to see," Coyle enthused.
There was also the vast, arced ball which Torres took and smashed perhaps a yard wide three minutes later, or the Gerrard cross from the right which Torres volleyed wide 13 minutes from time. The new system has made moments of such majesty scarce.
Hodgson's grip on his job is rendered even more fragile by the lack of players to deliver a scintilla of what these two can. Only once this season have Liverpool strung Premier League wins together and the expectation now has to be that a poor performance will follow at Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday. Hodgson certainly won't be getting too carried away about Joe Cole despite his goal – his first in the Premier League football since the remarkably similar finish on the white paint line at Old Trafford in April which was decisive to Chelsea's title.
But Cole's warmth for Hodgson bore out the embraces which so many of the players offered him as they processed from the pitch. Pepe Reina knocked Hodgson off his feet; Lucas Leiva stopped his run from the field to embrace him. "We are all right behind the manager, he's a gentleman and we want to do well for him," Cole said.
The general Anfield chill is more impermeable – the 35,400 attendance was the lowest since Portsmouth's visit in 2004 – though Hodgson does seem to have learnt a lesson about his public discussion of "the famous Anfield support", as he rather icily described the phenomenon he has not experienced, on Wednesday.
It is that such a pronouncement will be hyperanalysed at Liverpool, while at one of his many lesser clubs it would off pass virtually without comment. Hodgson's observations on Saturday night were laden with deferential references to the Kop. "I hope that the fans and supporters understand that," he added hurriedly, when discussing the need to rest players as fixtures arrive in abundance.
Those kind of semantics tend to be less scrutinised than the headline comment but the drive by manager and players to make Anfield a positive place renders the potential turmoil of dismissing Hodgson for a temporary successor look like folly. Numbers, like manager's quotes, can add up to whatever you want them to be. Liverpool's worst first half to a season since 1953 this might be but they will climb to sixth in the table if they win their two games in hand. This is a club in transition, not in crisis. There should be no going back.
Scorers: Liverpool Torres 49, Cole 90; Bolton K Davies 43.
Subs: Liverpool Gerrard (Meireles, 21), Cole (Ngog, 82), Kyrgiakos (Agger, 89). Bolton Klasnic (Moreno, 69), Petrov (Taylor, 82)
Booked: Liverpool Aurelio, Lucas; Bolton Alonso, Taylor.
Man of the match Gerrard. Match rating 6/10.
Possession Liverpool 58% Bolton 42%.
Shots on target Liverpool 8 Bolton 4.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire). Att 35,400.
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