Liverpool 0 Bolton 0: FA Cup Fourth Round: What Liverpool missed here as they attempt to navigate a tricky FA Cup course to Wembley, they may just have available to them via the Capital One Cup.
Bolton Wanderers, famed winners of an FA Cup replay on this ground 22 years ago, embodied the indefatigable spirit of manager Neil Lennon to grind out a second chance for Emile Heskey and Co to face Liverpool, this time on their own turf.
However, there was the sense at Anfield on Saturday that, heroics of Bolton goalkeeper Adam Bogdan apart, this fourth-round tie should really have been done and dusted here.
Liverpool managed 24 shots, nine on target, in a match they dominated. By contrast Championship Bolton mustered seven and not a single one tested Simon Mignolet.
Such profligacy in the second leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge would no doubt prove significantly more costly for the Reds.
However, with his side one step away from a Wembley final, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is poised to rectify that wastefulness as he prepares to welcome back Daniel Sturridge for the trip to Stamford Bridge.
Sturridge has not played for the Reds since August having struggled with thigh and calf injuries which saw him sent to the United States for rehabilitation.
With the Capital One Cup tie on a knife edge at 1-1, a place on the bench following his return to training may be more likely for Sturridge, but having watched Liverpool regain their creativity since mid-December he will be straining at the leash.
“I spoke to Daniel the other day and he is very excited about how the team is playing,” Rodgers said.
“It is suited to his game. He would have fancied himself against Bolton to get some goals. He wants to be involved in the big games between now and the end of the season. This is a big game against Chelsea. But we just have to be realistic. We just have to be careful.
“This is a game, a very important game. If he feels fresh and he feels right to be involved in some part, then we will maybe look at it. But it is a big risk.”
The dynamic, high pressing and fluidity of a 3-4-2-1 system change by Rodgers has undoubtedly aided Liverpool’s results, but also left enigmatic striker Mario Balotelli out in the cold. Balotelli was dropped from Liverpool’s 18-man match-day squad against Bolton, which again suggests the Italian has already been written off as a gamble that failed.
Two goals in 18 appearances supports that opinion.
Although having recently ruled out selling Balotelli in this transfer window Rodgers hinted at a damascene moment for the 24-year-old following a long chat at Melwood last week.
“The realisation has opened up for Mario in this last period of time,” Rodgers explained. “Watching the team and seeing the change since that Manchester United game. He still has a contribution to make — which I think he will do.
“It is the cornerstone of our work, the intensity of that press and the pressure. You can see that in the team. They are working tirelessly with and without the ball. That is what will get us to win games and keep clean sheets.
“I have to assess the players every single day when I watch them, running, working. You know? That is how I pick the squad. That is how it will be.”
Apart from Dean Moxey’s shot which flashed past the post and Eidur Gudjohnsen’s fluffed effort over the crossbar Liverpool were camped in Bolton’s half of the pitch for the majority of this contest.
Among the hosts’ myriad opportunities Bogdan saved brilliantly from Philippe Coutinho and Fabio Borini while referee Kevin Friend waved away a penalty appeal when Jordan Henderson was bundled over by Liverpool old boy Jay Spearing.
Lennon has already enhanced his reputation in his short time at Bolton and Rodgers acknowledged before the match that he was shocked the former Celtic boss was not offered a job by a Premier League club.
Victory over Liverpool in the replay at the Macron Stadium would be another feather in his cap, although he recognised it will be just as tough even with home advantage.
Lennon said: “I think the game will be similar to this one, Liverpool will probably have the lion’s share of possession and chances again and we just have to stay in it, and we may get more chances at home.
“People on the outside may go ‘Liverpool were poor’ in this game, but believe me they played very well.
“They are just coming at their peak at the right time for the second half of the season, and it you put all that together is shows the incredible performance we put in.”
LIVERPOOL (3-4-2-1): Mignolet 6; Johnson 6, Can 7, Sakho 6; Manquillo 5 (Borini 68; 6), Henderson 7, Allen 5 (Lucas 67; 7), Enrique 5 (Markovic 45; 7); Lallana 6, Sterling 7, Coutinho 7.
BOLTON (4-1-3-2): Bogdan 8; Dervite 7, Mills 6 (Spearing 73; 6), Ream 7, Moxey 7 (Wheater 83; 6); Danns 8; Feeney 6, Vela 5, Pratley 6; Heskey 6 (Wilkinson 56; 6), Gudjohnsen 5.
Referee: Kevin Friend.
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