Liverpool ended this angry mishmash of a contest tearing furiously into wheezing opponents, though it was the ferocity of the emotions generated by a tempestuous afternoon which took the breath away. Amid the accusations delivered after the final whistle, it was easy to forget that the European champions' momentum had been checked, a run of 10 successive league victories having been halted. Chelsea are 17 points away this morning, though that only partly explains why Rafael Benítez cursed his way back to Merseyside.
Given the bitter nature of the game itself, that the afternoon should end with the managers attacking the performance of the referee Mark Clattenburg while offering withering assessments of their opponents' part in the furore was wholly appropriate. Little love is lost between Benítez and Bolton while Sam Allardyce forever revels in his side's role of underdogs punching above their weight, though there is increasingly as much of a chasm between these two clubs as there is between the leaders and the rest of the Premiership.
The Spaniard, given first crack, opened up with a public criticism of Clattenburg, though the inference of his observations was that Wanderers' spiky approach and eagerness to tumble had gone unpunished. "When you see players diving all the time . . . you know they like free-kicks," growled Benítez. "They like to stop the game. You can use all the tactics you want but it depends whether you are allowed to get away with them or not. But it's easy to see who was diving. Everybody in England knows but someone [Clattenburg] maybe doesn't."
That rather cryptic comment referred to the visitors' principal irritation, El Hadji Diouf. Liverpool already had good reason to revile their one-time £9.5m signing, though the enmity in which they hold the player who was sold at a fraction of that price last summer is much deeper this morning. It is fair to assume that Jamie Carragher never really saw eye to eye with Diouf when they were team-mates; as rivals he accused the Senegalese of diving in the first half and appeared to clout a loose ball at the striker in his frustration.
Mohamed Sissoko, over-eager in the tackle all afternoon, went further on the stroke of half-time by plunging his foot in on Diouf, prone on the turf, supposedly to regain possession. That went unpunished, though the Mali international was later booked for chopping down his tormentor in chief. "That side to Dioufy's game is one he has to address because it doesn't help him and it doesn't help us because he won't get the decisions," said Allardyce of Diouf's apparent inability to stay on his feet. The Bolton manager must have been more enamoured with the sight of his striker converting Kevin Davies' cross 18 minutes from time, which briefly restored Wanderers' lead.
"I could show you a list of controversial incidents," added Benítez, though Allardyce did. He had been furious at what he perceived to be a stamp from Steven Gerrard on his own captain, Kevin Nolan, as well as the non-award of a first-half penalty. That Gerrard, supplied by a wondrous pass from Harry Kewell, had earned and converted the spot-kick from which the visitors clawed level merely darkened his mood further.
"Some tumble better than others, like Gerrard when he went over and [Abdoulaye] Faye never touched him," added the home manager, referring to a second tumble. "Technically Kevin Nolan should also have had a penalty when he was tripped by Jamie Carragher because he made no attempt to play the ball, tackling him from behind. Clattenburg is five yards off it and didn't give a thing."
That incident had stung the tail end of the first half with Bolton already ahead courtesy of a dreadful error from the visiting goalkeeper José Reina. Stelios Giannakopoulos' free-kick into the area should have been caught, only for the Spaniard to spill under vague pressure from Gary Speed, then fail to grab back the loose ball as Sami Hyypia hung a leg out. Rahdi Jaidi easily nodded in from point-blank range.
Liverpool were perhaps guilty of feeling compelled to try to beat Bolton at their own game, their sudden reliance on the physical potentially working against them. Even on a quagmire of a pitch, sapping energy from already weary legs, Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia did enough in the last quarter to suggest they might have flourished from the start. Indeed, it was the Basque midfielder who supplied the winger with a stunning crossfield pass seven minutes from time which Garcia chested back inside Ricardo Gardner before ripping a second equaliser beyond Jussi Jaaskelainen at his near post.
The home side creaked to contain a late surge of pressure thereafter which had the substitute Djibril Cissé heading against the post. The final whistle saw swirling fog descending on the stadium though, long before the end, the red mist had set in.
Bolton: Jussi Jaaskelainen, Radhi Jaidi, Bruno N'Gotty, Abdoulaye Diagne-Faye, Ricardo Gardner, Stelios Giannakopoulos, Kevin Nolan, Joey O'Brien, Gary Speed (Khalilou Fadiga), Kevin Davies, El Hadji Diouf (Tal Ben-Haim)
Liverpool's line-up on LFChistory [note by LFChistory.]
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