Liverpool 0 Bolton 0
Liverpool avoided an FA Cup upset at home to Bolton but even on a day of shocks it was not much of an achievement after a toothless display against Championship opponents Bolton.
There was a distinct absence of the vigour and verve of their exhilarating second-half performance against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup in midweek as Neil Lennon succeeded where Jose Mourinho had failed in keeping a clean sheet at Anfield.
The visitors defended resolutely, if sometimes illegally, to earn a replay after Liverpool failed to break them down.
There was no cup fairytale for Emile Heskey on his return to his former club as part of a combined 73-year-old strikeforce with Eidur Gudjohnsen as he was replaced just after half-time – but the consolation is he gets another go back at the Macron Stadium, where there will be a greater chance of an upset.
After the surprise results posted by lower league opposition against the Premier League’s finest earlier in the day Liverpool could have been forgiven for being cautious.
However, inviting the opposition onto them in the first 10 minutes, which included one almighty penalty area scramble at a corner, was not the ideal way to settle the nerves.
Gradually they established some control with Jordan Henderson, deputising for the captain Steven Gerrard who was omitted from the squad entirely with Tuesday’s League Cup semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge to come, taking charge in central areas with a dipping left-footed volley palmed away by Bolton goalkeeper Adam Bogdan.
The growing relationship between Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling again looked Liverpool’s most profitable avenue but too often the final pass could not get through or, if it did, neither appeared too keen on shooting.
Finding themselves having to cope with runners from all directions, Wanderers’ Matt Mills and Josh Vela were both booked for attempted rugby tackles on Sterling and Joe Allen, making his first appearance since the loss to Manchester United in mid-December – Liverpool’s only defeat in the last 16 matches.
Bolton’s best chance came from Dean Moxey’s long-range shot which spun just wide, although Simon Mignolet chesting down the ball outside his area and almost getting caught in possession at the end of the first half produced an audible sharp intake of breath around Anfield.
Within five minutes of the restart Henderson’s diagonal ball picked out Lazar Markovic, on for the ineffectual Jose Enrique, who passed Mills only to go down just outside the area.
Inexplicably referee Kevin Friend decided the already-cautioned Bolton captain had not committed a foul nor had the Serbia international dived – although television replays suggested the former.
Bogdan judged his block far better when Sterling raced onto a through-ball from Coutinho, who then saw a low drive well saved by Bogdan – only for Javier Manquillo to snatch at the rebound and drag his shot wide.
Bolton knew they would not get many chances but they would have wanted them to fall to Gudjohnsen and a striker of his experience had to do better than ballooning over Vela’s cross from 10 yards out.
Rodgers’s last throw of the dice was to send on Lucas Leiva and Fabio Borini for Allen and the disappointing Javier Manquillo – and virtually Borini’s first touch saw his shot denied by Bogdan.
Another former Liverpool player Jay Spearing, on as a substitute, could have gifted his old club a penalty after seeming to push Henderson as he charged through on goal but Friend saw no foul.
A header wide from Borini and Lucas’s long-range effort were Liverpool’s last chances as Bolton held on as their fans celebrated like it was a victory and in the directors’ box chairman Phil Gartside punched the air.