Late goals have followed Liverpool around like an over-affectionate puppy in recent matches, to their detriment, but just when they looked like snatching a draw inches from the winning line for the fourth match in a row, they found one of their own yesterday.
Emile Heskey, a largely peripheral figure throughout, struck with three minutes left to give Liverpool their first win since the second game of the season and spare themselves a considerable rollicking from their coach, Gérard Houllier, who would have wondered loudly how they had allowed 1-0 and 2-1 leads – secured by goals from the 20-year-old Czech Milan Baros – to evaporate.
But with a familiar tale being played out before us and the normally urbane Houllier threatening to tear his hair out, Heskey's first goal of the season arrived just seconds after Ivan Campo had marked his Bolton debut with an equaliser. A pass from Danny Murphy, a flick by John Arne Riise and Heskey stuck out his long legs to score.
The relief in the visiting ranks was considerable, particularly as they had arrived at this match having allowed Blackburn, Newcastle and Birmingham to perform late salvage operations.
"It was about character," said Houllier, his irritation dissipated by the result. "I was pleased that even at 2-2 we were not disheartened."
Not that yesterday's start gave him encouragement. Houllier put Michael Owen in mothballs – "After seven games between 11 August and 11 September he needed a rest" – and gave first Premiership starts to Baros, Bruno Cheyrou and Salif Diao, but it was Bolton, fresh from a win at Old Trafford, who began like championship aspirants, Youri Djorkaeff conducting affairs like Sir Simon Rattle.
Ricardo Gardner, Djorkaeff and Per Frandsen came close, but as these flurries produced nothing it became clear that Steven Gerrard's athleticism was beginning to overshadow France midfielder Djorkaeff's graceful interventions.
The sea change came after Dean Holdsworth swung and missed at an ample chance in the 37th minute. When the visitors broke, Baros slipped through the offside trap and saw his shot bounce back off a post. He was unlucky then, but forcefully made his own fortune in first-half stoppage time. Dietmar Hamann's innocuous pass was converted into a potent one by Cheyrou's dummy, and Baros went inside then out to shake off Simon Charlton before crashing a shot past Jussi Jaaskelainen.
The visitors appeared to have control, so it was a jolt when Bolton struck in the 56th minute. Holdsworth headed on and the Liverpool defence reacted like a supertanker trying to change course. Gardner nipped between the straining hulks and flicked the ball past Jerzy Dudek.
Gerrard, who had more reason than most to consider Bolton's goal an injustice, cut in from the right and delivered a fine cross in the gap between goalkeeper and back four and Baros, who scored twice for the Czech Republic two weeks ago, stretched to touch beyond Jaaskelainen.
Ahead on 71 minutes, Liver-pool looked likely to gain three straightforward points until their defence went to sleep again. This time a cross from the left floated to the back post where Campo, just three yards out, hooked the ball into the roof of the net.
Fortunately for Liverpool's defenders, Heskey spared their embarrassment within a minute. "We got overexcited," said Sam Allardyce, the Bolton manager, "and didn't calm ourselves down. Someone should have got that ball as far away as possible."
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