Liverpool 1 Bolton 1
Kevin Nolan was once rejected from Liverpool’s youth academy and, as Bolton’s captain for the day, he grabbed the equaliser that further dents Anfield’s title ambitions.
The Scouse-born midfielder could hardly have written the script any better when he pounced with nine minutes to go to cancel out Steven Gerrard’s earlier strike that had put an unimaginative Liverpool ahead.
Bolton had defended deep, well and in great numbers, but there always looked the chance of an upset as they broke dangerously mainly through the giant frame of Michael Ricketts.
Now Bolton, who have plunged down the Premiership after such a bright start, have added another impressive result to their list against title chasers.
They had already beaten Liverpool at the Reebok in August, won at Manchester United and drawn at Leeds and Arsenal.
And this point will do much to boost Bolton’s morale for the battle for survival that they face.
But for Liverpool, now with one win in six league games, their title hopes were further damaged by a well below par performance.
Since Bolton’s fine start, which included that 2-1 victory over Liverpool back in August, the pressures have slowly mounted on Sam Allardyce’s side who had taken just two points from their last seven games and won only one of their last 12 in all competitions before this trip to Anfield.
But they mounted a solid, organised defence and even with Liverpool’s first choice front pair of Michael Owen and Emile Heskey back together Nicolas Anelka was on the bench there was much frustration for Liverpool.
They were without the injured Danny Murphy, while Gary McAllister MBE was rested to the bench along with Jamie Carragher from the side that were fortunate to draw at West Ham on Saturday.
But although Liverpool had vast amounts of pressure, their chances were kept to a strict minimum for long spells.
Bolton were at times defending with six men stretched across the back, and early on only a couple of half chances for Patrik Berger, a misplaced lunge from Heskey and a rising drive from John Arne Riise troubled Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Veteran Colin Hendry, taken off injured after 31 minutes, got himself booked for a foul on Owen before his departure, while Nicky Southall suffered the same fate for the second of two bad fouls on Riise.
Liverpool’s best chance of the first half fell to Owen just before Hendry’s departure. The big Scot was exposed by Owen’s speed of thought from 10 yards with an instinctive stab at goal that was superbly saved by Jaaskelainen with his feet.
Bolton’s main outlet was the long ball to the dangerous Ricketts and on 40 minutes Sami Hyypia was booked for sending the striker spinning to the ground.
A minute from the break, Dudek saved superbly from a dipping 25 yarder from Per Frandsen, and then had to be equally good to pull down a flying header from Ricketts from the resulting corner.
Liverpool needed to assert themselves quickly after the break, and they did just that on 49 minutes when Owen forced over a ball from the left to the edge of the box. Gerrard knocked it into space and then raced after it to cleverly lift his shot into the far corner.
Owen had the chance seven minutes after Gerrard’s goal to put more daylight between them and their still determined opponents. Berger’s pass sent Owen clear, one on one with Jaaskelainen who made a fine save to his left.
Anelka finally got into the action for the first time at Anfield since his loan move, taking over from Smicer on 66 minutes.
But Bolton battled on and were rewarded with an 81st minute equaliser. Liverpool failed to clear a Farrelly throw, Ricketts’ effort was blocked and the ball fell to Nolan and the far post, where he gleefully cracked it into an empty net.
Frandsen was booked for a trip on Hamann, and Nolan was also cautioned for a foul on Riise, but by now Liverpool were labouring.
The arrival of Jari Litmanen for Berger with five minutes left looked too little to late in terms of injecting new ideas into Liverpool’s play.
A minute from time Ricketts, the only man left up front by Bolton, chased a clearance, got away from Stephane Henchoz and Hyypia before forcing Dudek into a full stretch tip-over.
It was that close to another major upset from Bolton.