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Slam Daniels

Bolton 1 Liverpool 0 (Prem) Aug 29 2004

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DATE: SUN 29 AUG 2004



Report by Steve Horton


at the Reebok Stadium



After such a bright beginning, a second defeat in a week proved that there is still much to do for Rafael Benitez. A first half strike from Kevin Davies was enough to give Bolton all three points and condemn us to a first league defeat of the season.


As expected Luis Garcia and Xabi Alonso were given their debuts after they were ineligible for the game with Graz. Harry Kewell was one player to make way and although the club website maintained he was injured, I suspect he would have been dropped anyway after some woeful performances of late.


The other player to miss out was Djibril Cisse, as Benitez opted to play five in midfield. At the back Josemi returned at the expense of Stephane Henchoz.


The Reebok is situated in the middle of an industrial estate/retail park and there is a big dearth of pubs nearby. With no ale being available inside the ground either, it led to quite a subdued away following.


Many were probably in shock too at paying up to £38 a ticket, making this the third most expensive away game after Birmingham and Chelsea. To add insult to injury home fans in equivalent seats behind the other goal were paying £35.


As always, there seemed to be a lot of daytrippers in our section despite the loyalty system supposedly making it harder for them to get tickets. The 'fan' next to me asked me who Stephen Warnock was and in front of me was a lad who looked more like he was going birdwatching.


At kick off he opened his small rucksack and took out a flask, sandwiches and binoculars through which he watched most of the game, despite being sat on the front row.


Perhaps the best entertainment before the game was provided by some lads who had taken a huge red and white chequered flag into the ground but couldn't control it because of high winds. This led to it literally taking off and almost ending up in the upper tier, blocking the view of those in executive boxes.


Bolton began the game in typical Sam Allardyce fashion, i.e. brutal. Within twenty seconds Sami Hyypia was clattered and soon afterwards had to go off with a broken nose. He was replaced by Djimi Traore, a surprise inclusion on the bench after recent speculation linking him with a move to Everton.


Benitez now seems to be giving him a chance to impress and hopefully persuade him not to make what would have been a career destroying transfer. It has to be said that Traore didn't put a foot wrong all game, even nutmegging an opposition striker in his own penalty area at one point.


Liverpool were generally on top in the first half, but our flow was disrupted by a series of calculated fouls designed to disrupt our rhythm.


Garcia and Alonso put in some nice touches and Warnock was a constant threat down the left. We lacked a cutting edge in the final third however, with Milan Baros struggling to adapt to playing on his own. The Czech missed a golden opportunity on just three minutes when despite having time to control the ball just outside the six yard box, still dragged his shot wide.


Dietmar Hamman also came close to scoring with a shot that went just wide, while Steven Gerrard found himself in a great position only to miscue his shot into the keeper's hands.


Despite our domination, we weren't bombarding the Bolton goal but it was still a surprise when the home side took the lead on 38 minutes. Pedersen's low cross from the left wasn't dealt with and Davies struck home.


It was a bad goal to concede and questions have to be asked of Riise and Dudek who failed to deal with the cross as it passed them both en route to Davies.


For the second half Benitez decided to revert to the usual 442 and replaced Warnock with Cisse. The expected onslaught never came however and we played like a side who was 1-0 up rather than 1-0 down. One of the few chances we made came when Garcia volleyed into the side netting.


Most concerning was the anonymity of Cisse. After flicking on a header from a cross early on in the half, he barely touched the ball for about 25 minutes.


On one occasion Baros mistimed a pass and he started jumping up and down like a spoilt child who had been denied any more sweets. After his opening day strike he has been off the boil and needs to start firing soon or his place will come under threat, £14 million fee or not. His afternoon was summed up three minutes from time when he broke clear on the left of the box only to lift his shot high over the bar.


It was only in the last ten minutes that we were playing with any real urgency. Garcia had the ball into the net after running onto a perfectly weighted chip pass from Hamman, but his effort was ruled out for offside. It was a contentious decision and television replays later showed it to have been the wrong one.


After all the excuses made by Gerard Houllier though it was refreshing to hear Benitez hold his hands up after the game. He didn't berate the referee for disallowing the goal, instead saying "you can't change the decision. That's football and sometimes things don't go for you." He then said it will take three or four months before the team is playing to the level he wants it to.


It's quite clear that great things aren't going to happen this season. The football may be a bit more entertaining but there will be some disappointing results along the way. However on what I have seen so far I have belief in Benitez's ability to identify problems early and take the necessary steps to tackle them.


It's just a pity so many players will now be away for ten days on international duty instead of at Melwood.



Liverpool: Dudek, Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia (Traore), Riise; Garcia, Gerrard, Hamman, Alonso, Warnock (Cisse); Baros.

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