Biscan lifts Anfield's gloom

Sheer bloody-mindedness and unrelenting effort enabled a seriously weakened Liverpool to make significant progress yesterday in the battle for the Premiership's fourth Champions League place. Igor Biscan's late goal saw off Bolton's attempt to leapfrog the Merseysiders into fifth place and carried the home side to within a point of Everton who play at West Bromwich today.

On balance, it was a harsh result for Bolton, who strove hard to make the most of the fact that injuries had deprived Liverpool of several key players, especially in attack. But even the belated introduction of Jay Jay Okocha could not provide the visitors with the inspiration they needed to break down the home side's obdurate defence.

Despite Liverpool's victory, the watching Juventus representative will doubtless have returned to Turin to tell his club they have little to fear from a weakened Liverpool when the two meet here on Tuesday in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final. Even allowing for the plethora of injuries that have made Anfield more like an infirmary than a football club, the poverty of Liverpool's nerve-wracked football was depressing.

Bearing in mind his sharp, pre-match criticism of Bolton's intensely physical style of play, and the visitors' exploitation of the set-piece, it was rather surprising for Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez to prefer his rookie goalkeeper, Scott Carson, to Poland international Jerzy Dudek for this important game. Carson, 19, was making his home debut, and only his second senior appearance, since his transfer from Leeds.

Liverpool also brought in another of their England Under-21 players, John Welsh. His inclusion freed captain Steven Gerrard to move forward and partner Luis Garcia in attack. This was doubly mystifying, in that Fernando Morientes, presumably deemed unfit to start, was still included among the substitutes.

In these trying circumstances for the Merseysiders, it was hardly surprising that Bolton dominated the early play. A series of inswinging corners by Gary Speed, in particular, caused Carson, and the whole home defence, enormous trouble.

In the aftermath of one of them, Steve Finnan made a miraculous goal-line clearance by heading Stelios's fierce shot up in the air. The full-back also headed the dropping ball over the bar under severe pressure from Bolton players eager to bundle it over the line.

With Stelios and Ricardo Gardner pushing up to support Kevin Davies, the pressure on the Liverpool defence was so great that even the ultra-reliable Jamie Carragher nearly put through his own goal trying to head the ball back to Carson. Yet Liverpool very nearly took the lead after 28 minutes, Gerrard striking John Arne Riise's tapped free-kick with such power and accuracy that the diving Jussi Jaaskelainen only just saved the 30-yarder at the foot of a post.

The Bolton goalkeeper was startled again early in the second half. When Antonio Nunez struck Riise's deep centre sweetly on the volley, the goalkeeper blocked the shot more by good luck than good management. Bolton were at full stretch, too, when Jaaskelainen got his body in the way of the shot Riise hooked back from beyond the far post after Nunez's centre had run untouched across the face of goal.

On the hour, Liverpool made an overdue change, though not voluntarily. An injury to Riise saw the introduction of a genuine striker, Anthony Le Tallec. Gerrard, wasted in attack and missed in midfield, stayed up front with the young Frenchman while Garcia switched to the left.

Finally, in the 72nd minute, Benitez brought on another striker, Vladimir Smicer, took off Welsh and restored Gerrard to his rightful place in central midfield. Then, seven minutes later, on came Morientes for Nunez. It worked, too. Five minutes from the end, a clever move between Smicer and Garcia released Le Tallec to deliver a low cross that nearly went in off Bruno N'Gotty.

The attack produced a corner on the left, however, and Liverpool scored from it. Gerrard played the ball short to Djimi Traore, he floated in the perfect centre, and Biscan rose higher than anybody to head the winner down so powerfully that it bounced up into the roof of the net.

The addition of four minutes' stoppage time had the Kop biting their fingernails yet the nearest Bolton came was when Kevin Nolan beat Carson to Davies's headed pass, but lifted the ball over the bar.

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited

Article links



We've got all the results from official games, appearance stats, goal stats and basically every conceivable statistic from 1892 to the present, every single line-up and substitutions!