Bolton entred the middle third of the 'month of death' on a high after beating Man United for the second time in two years at Old Trafford. The question was, would the confidence that brought allow them to compete with a Liverpool side that had beaten United home and away last seaason and still had been significantly strengthened in the summer. The matchup was made even more interesting because in the event both teams we re missing their star strikers. Owen was on the bench for Liverpool (general opinion was he was being rested for the game against Valencia midweek) with Czech striker Milan Baros making his league debut. Bolton fans were dismayed to find Michael Ricketts missing entirely, an absence later attributed to a knee injury picked up in the United game.
In the first half Bolton were bright and the game was even, particularly as Djorkaeff was playing in behind Holdsowrth and Pedersen and even Gerrard and Hamman were finding him impossible to cope with, as evidenced by Hamman earning a booking for hacking Youri down from behind after only 15 mnutes. Again though Bolton showed an inability to convert openings into chances into goals, with Djorkaeff and Gardner shooting wide. At the other end Heskey was isolated out on the wing, although Barness had been replaced early on by debutant Danny Livesey. However Baros was proving a handful being tall, quick and willing to run. The best chance of the half though went to Bolton, as Gardner cut in from the toucline and fed the ball back to Holdsworth on the penalty spot. Holdsowrth had over-runb the ball and, out of position and off balance, missed the ball completely (see the first movie file). Immediately Liverpool responded and Baros broke away from Bergsson. However his shot came back off the foot of the post into the path of Chalrton who cleared for a corner. That was only a warning though as a couple of minutes later Baros received the ball on the edge of the box, slipped away from Simon Chalrton and fired an unstoppable shot into the corner fo the net. Bolton didn't deserve to be behind, indeed they possibly deserved to be ahead, but they weren't and they had conceded at the very end of the half.
The second half was frenetic from the off, with Bolton obviously determined to get back on even terms as soon as possible. Campo had come on for Whitlow at half time (I have a feeling he did a hamstring stretching to try and cut out the ball to Baros he scored from) and immediately enmdeared himself to the crowd with a textbook sliding tackle on Baros. Froma kick out Holdworth made enough of a nuisance of himself that the ball squirmed throrugh towards the Liverpool area and Gardner was after it. Shrugging off the two defendres, he managed to poke the ball under dudek into the net. Bolton were level and the game was on fire. Nolanand Gerrard were waging a war of tackles and passes in the midfield while Hamman was fully occupied trying to keep Djorkaeff under some sort of control. In our backline, Baros was playing like a man possessed but coming up against Bergssons experience and Campo's guile every time, while Heskey was trying every trick to get past Livesey. All over the pitch players were trying to gain an advantage in their own duels and to the supporter in the stands it was almost mesmeric.
Something had to give eventually and it took an inch perfect pass from Gerrard to force it. His low cross evaded two Bolton defenders and Baros appeared at the back of the defense, stealing into the gap that had appeared between Livesey and Bergsson. He threw out a leg and managed to connect at almost shoulder height, diverting the ball past a stranded Jaaskelainen. Liverpol were ahead and probably hoped Bolton would lie down and go quietly.
But Bolton aren't the type to lie down quietly. They surged forward and harried and ran, forcing Liverpool back onto the defensive and camping in their half. By now DJorkaeff had gone off to be replaced by youngster Jonathan Walters. Unfortunately so defensive were Liverpool that the newcomer was denied any space behind the defense to thrive in. Campo headed a corner wide, Gardner went down in the area but was booked for diving. Liverpool had 10 men inside their area with Baros as an outlet and Bolton ahd everyone except one defender forward. The Nolan whipped in a cross from the left. Bergsson and Holdsowrth attempted to get to it but both failed to make contact. The ball ran through thre mass of players to the far post. Where, for some unknown reason, stood Ivan Campo. he chested the ball down and fired it intot he roof of the net befgore Dudek could react. The Reebok went mental. After getting three points against United, it now looked like they had earned a deserved point against Liverpool. Liverpool were looking at their fourth 2-2 draw in a row when they had led in all four games, not the sort of record you want to set.
But it was not to be. Within a minute Liverpool had scorted again. Fromt he kickoff a ball through thye middle had evaded the defense and heskey was onto it quicker than Campo. He slid in and stuck the ball into the corner. The whistle went and wanderers fans filed awaya, shaking their heads at the result and how their team had lost a game they had deserved something from, yet amazed that their team had in fact deserved a result playing aghainst the second best team in the country who would two days later be contesting the Champions League. Overall it is a performance with many pluses. Nolan showed his is quite at home playing against Hamman and Gerrard, possibly the best central defensive partnership in Britain at the moment. Campo, despite his late failure to stop Heskey had shopwn many good qualities and seems likely to be a regular starter. Gardner appears to be running back into form. Most of all Djorkaeff has caused conplete panic in the opposition for the third game in a row, and shows no sign of giving less than 100% when he takes the field for Bolton. Yes, we may still lose to the likes of LIverpool and Arsenal to come, but if the team cointinues to perform this well, we have no reasopn to fear anyone other than the 'big three' and look likely to be safe some time before the last weekend worries of last season.