Jaaskelainen 12 og, Babel 60, Aurelio 75
The Reebok stadium hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for us over the years. No win there since 2002 and the scene of Rafa’s first defeat when he took charge in 2004. One of the papers even published a table of “Rafa’s bogey grounds” and sure enough, the Reebok was top with no wins with, disturbingly, Birmingham and Middlesbrough behind. The headline was “Shadow over Benitez” however yesterday there was light.
This mornings’ papers were quick to put the victory down to Steven Gerrard’s words of criticism last week. However, I suspect we were also benefiting from the core of the side remaining largely unchanged. Rafa made three changes bringing Carragher back for suspension, Skrtel back from injury and Alonso back from his bad books, allegedly. Still a decent line up which I suppose was just within his promise of fielding a strong team for every game. Crouch, who is to be offered a new contract, remained on the bench.
The start was OK even although we may have had the recent fair weather to thank for not going behind! Would Diouf’s free kick, which missed everyone, have bounced onto the bar had the ground been softer? A slightly worrying start, with Bolton rolling out their set piece tactics and us not being prepared for it. This is becoming a habit. Sure enough poor defending at a corner nearly did for us again with O’Brian going close leaving Gerrard to hack it away. Then, this time from the right, Cahill was unable to get on the end of a free kick despite arriving in the area unmarked.
The first goal was a bizarre affair. I’m sure you’ve all seen it by now. Why Jaaskelainen even went for it is a mystery as Gerrard’s speculative shot wasn’t on target. However, for it to worm it’s way out of his grasp and then have enough backspin to cross the line was beyond belief. One for the some ex pro’s “bloopers and boopers and gaffs” video next Christmas? Gosh, I can’t wait!!!
Later Reina showed Jaaskelainen how it was done was a superb save from Davies’ header. But what was really encouraging about this game was the performance of Babel who is clearly benefiting from a long run in the side. He tormented Steinsson, before the Bolton defender was withdrawn to save him from further punishment, with a series of runs and shots which were either well saved or in one case, toed away by desperate Bolton defending. It was great stuff to watch and makes one wonder why Rafa was so reluctant to play him earlier in the season.
The second half saw us assume control possibly because Nolan was withdrawn injured leaving us to boss midfield. Kuyt got on the end of Carragher’s cross and hit the post. However the ball was only cleared as far as Babel who got the goal his first half performance so richly deserved. His celebratory back flip was impressive, why doesn’t Mark Viduka do that when he scores?
Job done and the icing on the cake was provided by Aurelio who, having spent most of his time with us firing long shots or free kicks to everywhere but the goal, finally found the target and with a volley of some venom. Avi Cohen’s son got one back for Bolton from, yes you’ve guessed it, a set piece but it was too late.
After the game Rafa said
“It was a good game and great performance of the team. We worked hard, played well and created chances so I am pleased. We had some problems at free-kicks but after this we controlled the game.”
One can’t really argue with that. We seem to have developed a phobia of set pieces, which is one of Bolton’s main avenue from creating chances and arguably we were lucky not to sustain substantial damage. Apparently stat heads say that over half of our twenty goals conceded this season have come from set pieces with is surprising and worrying. Although the jury is still out on the likes of Srktel, this is clearly a long term problem. Nonetheless we were positive going forward and looking lively and dangerous. The biggest plus was Babel who is slowly but surely giving us another attacking option to complement Torres. One wonders if he will eventually move in from the wing and end up playing alongside the Spaniard?
So a good weekend, even though Everton mirrored our score to go back to fourth. A lot of positives to take into the West Ham game on Wednesday. A win against them and things will be in our own hands which is where most clubs would want to be going into the last quarter of the season?
Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Steinsson (Rasiak 42), Andrew O’Brien, Cahill, Gardner, Joey O’Brien, Campo, Nolan (Cohen 46), Diouf, Davies, Taylor.
Subs Not Used: Al Habsi, Meite, Giannakopoulos.
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Aurelio, Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano, Babel, Kuyt (Arbeloa 86), Torres (Riise 77).
Subs Not Used: Martin, Benayoun, Crouch.