Liverpool keep Steven Gerrard on Wembley way with defeat of Bolton

Bolton 1 Liverpool 2

Liverpool keep Steven Gerrard on Wembley way with defeat of Bolton

The Liverpool captain turns 35 on the day of the FA Cup final and Reds supporters had seemingly already pencilled a trip to Wembley into their diaries.

But with the Reds trailing with just four minutes of the 90 left at the Macron Stadium the dream of Gerrard climbing the steps to lift the famous old trophy were fading fast.

However, two of Liverpool’s best performers in this campaign kept it alive as Raheem Sterling equalised Eidur Gudjohnsen’s penalty before Philippe Coutinho scored a sublime injury-time winner.

The “Get Gerrard to Wembley” flag which had accompanied the Reds on their cup exploits this season can now be safely packed away for the trip to Selhurst Park — scene of Liverpool’s title implosion last season — and a revenge date with Crystal Palace later this month.

Much of Liverpool’s recent upturn in results has focused on how they have regained their attacking joie de vivre in the final third of the pitch.

Coutinho and Sterling have been in quite breathless form for the Reds; the former rewarded with a bumper new contract this week and it is understood the latter should follow in the not-too-distant future.

So it should come as little surprise that the pair provided the two moments of class to turn the game Liverpool’s way.

“You pay money to watch that kid,” an elated Rodgers said of Coutinho. He’ll become world class in the next few years. I can see Coutinho following in a similar line to Luis Suarez. Maybe not as prolific with goals but in that bracket of player.”

Rodgers was expected to make several changes for this encounter ahead of Saturday’s Merseyside derby.

However, in the end it amounted to the return of captain Gerrard for Jordan Henderson while Joe Allen came in for Lucas.

That meant Gerrard, who will leave Anfield for Major League Soccer outfit LA Galaxy when his contract expires in the summer, clocked up his 700th career appearance for Liverpool at the Macron Stadium.

Only Jamie Carragher (737) and Ian Callaghan have worn a red shirt with the Liverbird on their chest more than Gerrard.

With former Liverpool striker Emile Heskey absent with a hamstring injury, Bolton manager Neil Lennon sprung something of a tactical surprise.

Lennon utilised defender Matt Mills a lone forward with veteran Gudjohnsen and rookie Zach Clough just in behind as Wanderers mirrored Liverpool’s 3-4-2-1 system.

Sterling buzzed with intent in the early stages and on 15 minutes heglided past David Wheater and into the area, forcing Bolton goalkeeper Andrew Lonergan to make a save.

Liverpool were dominant in midfield, slick going forward and shortly after the half-hour mark Sterling struck the post from a beautifully crafted chance.

The confidence Sterling inspires in the Liverpool’s play, and the fear that manifest in opponents, was epitomised by the time he was afforded for that chance — Bolton’s players, wary of giving a penalty away, simply stood off the 20-year-old and allowed to pick his spot.

Mills saw his speculative effort from distance saved by Mignolet six minutes later while Coutinho’s low drive whistled past the post on the stroke of half-time.

However, it was Bolton that struck first when Martin Skrtel, unable to cope with Clough’s quick feet, carelessly gave away a penalty with a cumbersome challenge.

Gudjohnsen confidently stroked the resulting spot-kick past Mignolet, although Bolton’s hopes of hanging on to that lead for the remainder of the contest diminished when Neil Danns was shown a second yellow for lunging at Allen.

Danns’ dismissal enraged Lennon.

“I’m not happy with the referee tonight at all,” he said. “Neil Danns’ first yellow card was not a booking and I’m not convinced that our penalty was a penalty either.”

Rodgers introduced Fabio Borini and Daniel Sturridge in an attempt to give his side more potency in the final third and fellow substitute Henderson struck the post with a deflected shot while Emre Can rattled the crossbar.

Liverpool’s pressure eventually told and Can was instrumental as he lifted a superb ball into the path of Sterling, who guided a left-foot volley through Lonergan’s legs and into the net.

With extra time looming Coutinho then provided a moment of brilliance to complete Liverpool’s comeback as the Brazilian struck a quite brilliant long-range effort into the top-right corner of the net from 25 yards.

Rodgers breathed a sigh of relief.

Gerrard, undoubtedly, breathed a bigger one.

BOLTON (3-4-2-1): Lonergan 8; Wheater 6, Ream 5, Dervite 6; Feeney 7, Moxey 5, Danns 5, Vela 7; Clough 8 (Trotter 72; 7), Gudjohnsen 8; Mills 7.

LIVERPOOL (3-4-2-1): Mignolet 7; Can 7, Skrtel 5, Sakho 6; Markovic 5 (Borini; 65; 6), Allen 5 (Sturridge; 70; 6), Gerrard 7, Moreno 7; Lallana 5 (Henderson; 54; 6), Coutinho 8; Sterling 8.

Referee: Roger East.

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