reports from Wembley
Bolton Wanderers 1
A Coca-Cola Cup final full of quality and drama yesterday provided Liverpool with their first trophy under the management of Roy Evans, and gave the English game an invigorating tonic. A match between two attractive teams turned on individual brilliance and, in the final analysis, Liverpool just had that bit more of it than Bolton.
Steve McManaman scored two stunning goals for Liverpool, and Alan Thompson one for Bolton. If it had not been for an exceptional save by David James, the Liverpool goalkeeper, it would have been two each. A draw would have been just reward for Bolton, who produced a performance of much spirit and no little class.
McManaman, a coltish but sporadic influence when Liverpool won their last trophy, the 1992 FA Cup, scored on 36 and 66 minutes. Thompson struck two minutes after McManaman's second.
In contrast to the surly mood for England's depressing game on Wednesday, there was a festive atmosphere in the Wembley sunshine from the start. The Bolton supporters had arrived early, seasoned with a sprinkling of Manchester United fans keen to put one over on Liverpool.
Their team, assembled for the cost of a Liverpool reserve at £2m, gave an early statement of intent. Within 45 seconds they had won a free-kick inside the Liverpool half, and chose to play it along the ground to feet, rather than just swing it into the cluster of heads in the box.
A rare approach, and an indication that if a giant was to be felled, it was to be with a scalpel, not an axe. But, when Robbie Fowler was allowed a series of half-chances in the next dozen minutes, it seemed they would bow tamely to Liverpool's Premiership status.
Then, after another escape when Rush shot over from McManaman's pull- back, Bolton settled and should have gone ahead. Jason McAteer, having volleyed a loose ball into the arms of David James, released David Lee on the right. James over-committed himself and rushed out, but Lee overhit his chip and, after Wembley held its breath while the ball hung in the air for what seemed like an age, it landed on the roof of the net.
Four minutes later, Liverpool had an even closer escape as Thompson ran on to a Jimmy Phillips throw-in, and hit a right-foot volley from 25 yards. The ball arrowed towards the top-right corner, but James arched to tip it on to the bar and over.
It was a crucial save, for two minutes later Liverpool were ahead. Barnes, mid-way in the Bolton half, slipped a short pass to McManaman, who ran at Bolton. He drifted by Alan Stubbs, skipped inside Richard Greene's challenge, and tucked the ball under Keith Branagan's falling body.
It was a fine goal, but a poorly-defended one. McManaman, having already created a wasted chance for Rush, was finding ominous amounts of space. Bolton held on until the interval, from which they emerged with renewed confidence. Mixu Paatelainen shot wide from John McGinlay's cross, and Thompson shot wide from McAteer's excellent chipped pass.
But at the other end, the danger clouds were gathering. Bolton's right flank had been tipped as a key area of combat, with Lee expected to torment Stig Inge Bjrnebye. He did indeed trouble him, but that flank proved influential for different reasons. While Lee was dangerous going forward, he was not much inclined to defend, and so Greene was left alone to try and deal with both McManaman and Bjrnebye.
Bjrnebye could have scored on 51 minutes, but hit the post after a one- two with Rush. McManaman, after a long run, shot over, then Branagan made a fine save from his own defender, Mark Seagraves, after Bjrnebye's cross.
Then, on 66 minutes, Jamie Redknapp fed McManaman and he ran at Greene again. McAteer, the second defender, dawdled, McManaman danced inside and through the gap, before gliding past Seagraves and shooting inside the far post.
That should have been it, but within minutes, Paatalainen flicked on Gudni Bergsson's cross, and Thompson controlled and volleyed it into the corner. McAteer, McGinlay and Stubbs all tried further shots, as Bolton pushed for extra-time, but there were no more in the locker.
Afterwards McManaman, en route to the players' lounge, was intercepted by a couple of journalists at the back of the Royal Box, which is sited in front of the press box. A brief, impromptu, interview began, before a Wembley jobsworth intervened and threw both player and press out. It was a rare blot on an otherwise splendidly organised match, but he was the only person to stop McManaman all day.
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Branagan; Greene (Bergsson, 69), Seagraves, Coleman, Phillips; Lee, McAteer, Sneekes, Thompson; Paatalainen, McGinlay. Substitutes not used: Patterson, Davison (gk).
Liverpool (3-4-1-2): James; Scales, Ruddock, Babb; Jones, Redknapp, Barnes, Bjrnebye; McManaman; Rush, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Walters, Thomas, Chamberlain (gk).
Referee: P Don (Middlesex).
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies