LONDON – Exiting on Burnden Way in the 86th minute, back on course for Wembley Way by the 91st, Liverpool rescued their FA Cup prospects with a late flurry of blows that devastated Bolton Wanderers. Cruel on Neil Lennon and his tireless Championship team perhaps, but it was the virtues of patience and class that gave Brendan Rodgersâ€™s men a shot of redemption against Crystal Palace in round five.
Bolton were one goal up courtesy of the 36-year-old Eidur Gudjohnsenâ€™s penalty but a man down following the needless dismissal of Neil Danns as the match entered the final four minutes. The red card proved crucial. With a full complement Bolton held their Premier League visitors at bay, won every aerial challenge and last-ditch intervention inside their area and were on course to continue the fourth-round giant-cull. Liverpool had the space but not the clinical touch to profit. Their nerve, however, eventually told against the 10 men.
Emre Can, pushed into central midfield to capitalise on Dannsâ€™ departure, lofted a glorious pass over the Bolton substitute Liam Trotter and Raheem Sterling volleyed in a fine equaliser from close range. The groans from the home supporters about five minutes of stoppage time had not fallen silent when Philippe Coutinho marked his new five-year contract at Liverpool by taking aim from 20 yards and beating Andy Lonergan with a dipping shot in off the crossbar. Reprieve for Rodgers but a night of regret for his fellow Ulsterman in the home technical area.
Lennon was fulsome in his praise of Boltonâ€™s heroic defending with the exception of the lapse in concentration from Trotter that enabled Sterling to level. He was also blunt in his appraisal of the referee Roger Eastâ€™s performance â€“ â€œrubbishâ€ â€“ for what he deemed an unjust first yellow card for Danns when he lunged through Joe Allen. â€œI can understand the sending off but the first one wasnâ€™t a booking. It changed the game,â€ said the Bolton manager, although his side were the beneficiaries of Eastâ€™s decision-making when he awarded a soft penalty when Martin Skrtel caught the toes of Zach Clough.
The Bolton manager felt that playing away from home might suit Liverpool given his team would be inclined to take more risks in the replay and leave more spaces as a consequence. Rodgers claimed the Macron Stadiumâ€™s â€œbeautiful pitchâ€ â€“ a point he has stressed about several opposition grounds lately as his frustration grows with the Anfield surface â€“ would also work to sideâ€™s advantage. The script never unfolded that way for Liverpool. The task of breaking down a well-drilled, hard-working Championship opponent was just as complicated as at Anfield, and Bolton posed a greater threat on home soil.
Rodgers fielded a strong side despite a Merseyside derby looming at Everton on Saturday and there were nervous moments when David Wheater came through the back of Sterlingâ€™s ankles to collect a merited yellow. The Liverpool forward limped on, mercifully to the very end for his side, but Lazar Markovic suffered a back injury that will have to be assessed before the trip to Goodison Park. The biggest selection surprise came from Boltonâ€™s manager who, evidently keen to hustle Liverpoolâ€™s back three at every opportunity, deployed the captain Matt Mills at centre-foward instead of in central defence.
Sterling forced Lonergan into a fine low save in the first half and struck a post when Dorian Dervite stood off and invited him to shoot from 12 yards. Wheater headed straight at Simon Mignolet at the opposite end and Gudjohnsen blazed over from Dean Moxeyâ€™s inviting cross when he had time and space inside the area for a more composed finish.
Gudjohnsen made amends in telling fashion after the restart although, in truth, Sterling should have beaten the former Chelsea and Barcelona forward to it. Liverpool broke through courtesy of Coutinhoâ€™s perfectly-weighted pass to Sterling but Dervite produced an exquisite tackle to thwart the hesitant forward. Sterling had a second bite but his shot towards the top corner was punched away by Lonergan.
For the first time in the game Liam Feeney broke free down the right and delivered a deep cross towards Mills. His knockdown found Clough who took a touch into the area where he was clipped by Skrtel. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Gudjohnsen stroked a nonchalant spot-kick down the centre of the diving Mignoletâ€™s goal.
Boltonâ€™s prospect of holding out was dealt a severe blow when Danns was sent off for a second bookable offence, both for late and needless lunges on Allen, yet the home side had chances to double their advantage through Gudjohnsen and Clough. The Icelandic striker headed straight at Mignolet when he should have scored and Clough shot narrowly wide. They were opportunities that Bolton could not afford to miss. The pressure inevitably intensified from Liverpool.
Can had a shot deflected just wide and another tipped superbly on to the bar by Lonergan. Hendersonâ€™s half volley was diverted against a post by Wheater before Can found Sterling, who equalised in style. The misery was not over for Bolton.
Coutinho collected a pass 20 yards from goal and left Lonergan stranded with a shot that looped over and in off the underside of the bar. – The Guardian