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Comfortable three points overshadowed by ongoing Anfield turmoil

THE Old Lady of Turin may be circling but it was an ageing Texan who was in the spotlight at Anfield on Saturday afternoon.

A surprise visit from co-owner Tom Hicks ensured attention was diverted from Rafa Benitez’s admission that he was flattered by Juventus’ interest in his services.

On the basis that Hicks only ever turns up for big showdowns in front of the Sky cameras, it’s fair to assume he was on Merseyside to conduct some business.

Supporters certainly left him in no doubt that they hope his trip involves ending the Americans’ acrimonious three-year reign.

New investment is undoubtedly crucial to ensuring the debt-ridden club don’t endure another season like this one. Both in terms of building the new stadium in Stanley Park as well as adding quality to a squad in obvious need of reinforcements.

The big question is whether Benitez will be around to mastermind the revival.

Perhaps Hicks dropped in on Saturday to judge the mood on The Kop towards the manager amid a campaign of such dreadful under-achievement.

Or maybe he crossed the Atlantic on a mission to convince Benitez to turn his back on the Italian job this summer.

What he found was that most of the vitriol is still directed at the boardroom and not the dugout.

Hicks certainly had plenty of time to ponder his thoughts as angry protesters ensured he was kept in the ground for his own safety long after an uninspiring contest had concluded.

This was Liverpool’s fourth successive home league win and it extended their unbeaten league run to six games.

With Tottenham letting slip a lead to draw at Birmingham, it allowed the Reds to close within a point of the coveted fourth place.

Afterwards Benitez reiterated his guarantee of Champions League qualification, but the manager knows his side are going to have to raise their game considerably if that promise is to materialise.

For 45 minutes it made painful viewing.

Time after time Liverpool squandered possession cheaply with their passing alarmingly sloppy.

Bolton haven’t won a league game at Anfield for over half a century but they won’t get a better chance.

If Chung-Yong Lee had provided the finishing touch to a mazy run from the halfway line midway through the first half the Trotters would have sent shockwaves around an increasingly nervy crowd.

As it was the Reds burst the bubble of anxiety with a goal they scarcely deserved eight minutes before the break.

Fast-improving Emiliano Insua provided a stream of quality crosses throughout the afternoon and from one pinpoint delivery, Alberto Aquilani nodded back across goal for Dirk Kuyt to bundle home his ninth of the season into the net at The Kop End.

Kuyt raced off to praise the Italian for the assist but in truth it was the £18million midfielder’s solitary contribution.

Benitez had raised eyebrows after the stalemate at Wolves in midweek when he insisted the game was too physical and the ball was in the air too much for him to consider playing a man who he splashed out half of his summer transfer kitty on.

Having just produced his most promising display in a red shirt against Spurs, it must have been tough for Aquilani to take and his confidence looks wafer-thin.

Recalled at the expense of Lucas, the hope was the former Roma star would provide the creativity and attacking impetus the Reds have lacked.

Instead Aquilani was the chief culprit during a first half when he sprayed 40-yard passes to fans sitting in the Main Stand.

He was knocked off the ball far too easily and failed to stamp his authority on proceedings.

When he finally picked out his skipper with a simple pass, there was sympathetic applause for a player clearly struggling to come to terms with life in England’s top flight.

It could well be next season before the Reds see the best of him but in their current predicament the question is whether Liverpool can afford to carry him.

It was no surprise when Aquilani made way for Lucas midway through the second half.

Even the Brazilian’s greatest critics would have to admit Liverpool had much greater control of the contest after Lucas’ introduction.

Saturday was a tale of two Anfield new boys.

And while Aquilani struggled, Sotirios Kyrgiakos enhanced his growing reputation.

When the Greek was snapped up from AEK Athens last August, his arrival was met with universal groans.

His signing was confirmation that financial constraints had forced Benitez to delve into the bargain bin.

The lack of cash meant that hopes of landing either Hull’s Michael Turner or Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross had to be shelved.

Benitez only had £1.5million at his disposal and he spent it on a 30-year-old journeyman, who had a habit of getting himself sent off during an uninspiring 18-month spell at Rangers.

Signed as a replacement for long-serving Sami Hyypia, Kyrgiakos had quite an act to follow.

The smart money was on him spending most of the season playing with his pony tail on the bench before joining the long list of cheap foreign imports who tried but failed to make the grade at Anfield.

But injuries to Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger handed him his chance and he has grabbed it with both hands.

Saturday was Kyrgiakos’ fourth successive start and his physical presence has added steel to the Reds’ back line.

Kevin Davies usually wreaks havoc against Liverpool but this time he never had a sniff.

Kyrgiakos dominated in the air and showed his agility when he got back to clear Chung-Yong’s shot off the line.

The current revival is built on firm foundations with five clean sheets in the last six games and Bolton never looked like getting back on level terms.

In truth, Liverpool were much improved in the second half with Javier Mascherano shining at the heart of the midfield and Steven Gerrard bursting forward to good effect.

If David Ngog hadn’t conspired to somehow strike the bar with the net gaping they would have had the points secured long before Insua’s shot took a wicked deflection off Kevin Davies and flew into the corner.

It was uninspiring but during a season in which routine wins have been thin on the ground there were few complaints. They were reserved for the Texan in the directors’ box.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

Liverpool 2 – 0  (HT 1 – 0) Bolton Wanderers
Kuyt 37
Davies, K (og) 70

Bookings

Mascherano 32
Davies, M 13
Lee 44
Knight 86

Liverpool's Percentage Bolton Wanderers's Percentage

Corners 12 80% 3 20%
Goal attempts 10 58% 7 42%
On target 4 80% 1 20%
Fouls 12 48% 13 52%

Liverpool Jose Manuel Reina, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Emiliano Insua, Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel, Alberto Aquilani (Lucas Leiva, 66), Steven Gerrard, Albert Riera (Maximiliano Maxi Rodriguez, 74), Javier Mascherano, Dirk Kuyt, David N'Gog (Ryan Babel, 84)

Bolton Wanderers Jussi Jaaskelainen, Gary Cahill, Zat Knight, Gretar Steinsson, Sam Ricketts, Fabrice Muamba (Johan Elmander, 78), Matt Taylor (Vladimir Weiss, 66), Mark Davies, M, Tamir Cohen (Ricardo Gardner, 60), Chung-Yong Lee, Kevin Davies, K

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