Hodgson on borrowed time despite last-gasp Cole winner
Liverpool 2 Bolton 1
Published 02/01/2011 | 05:00
It may not have been too late, but it may still have been too little. Just as Roy Hodgson's six-month reign at Liverpool seemed destined to be brought to an immediate, ignominious close, his side produced arguably the most spirited 45 minutes of his tenure.
It was enough to beat Bolton, but should not be enough to keep him at Anfield. The long night draws in. The question is when dusk will fall.
Liverpool's second-half performance, one boasting the sort of verve, passion and intent sorely lacking in recent weeks and one book-ended by an emphatic strike from Fernando Torres and a controversial one from Joe Cole, will grant the 63-year-old a stay of execution. In the eyes of Fenway Sports Group, the club's owners, it is unlikely to warrant a pardon.
Hodgson may well be in charge for the trip to Blackburn on Wednesday; he may even survive long enough to take his side to Old Trafford in the FA Cup next weekend.
He was buoyant in the aftermath of Liverpool's first win since December 6, but this was less a jolt of life into a doomed regime than the convulsions attendant with death throes.
Why that should be, even after such an uplifting comeback, was evident in the boos that rained down at half-time, the encore to the cries for the 63 year-old's dismissal that provided the soundtrack to defeat against Wolves, and in the 10,000 empty seats. Hodgson's public are voting with their throats and their feet. Those who stayed away, on the evidence of the first half, would not have regretted the decision. True, there was a marginal improvement on the showing in that dismal 1-0 defeat on Wednesday night, but that said far more about how bad Liverpool were in that loss to Mick McCarthy's side than how good they were here.
Hodgson might have insisted the half-time jeers were directed more at referee Kevin Friend -- how priceless a friend at the Liverpool manager's loneliest hour -- than his players and himself, but his side had done little to warrant anything other than scorn.
They created more chances than they had against Wolves -- most notably to Maxi Rodriguez, who saw one shot cleared off the line and a header clip the bar with Jussi Jaaskelainen beaten -- but their play was still disjointed, their passes misguided, their tackling half-hearted. Bolton took full advantage. Taylor curled in a tantalising free-kick and Kevin Davies, only cursorily marked by Glen Johnson, headed home. Anfield sat, silent, as if expecting this.
At that stage, the writing seemed on the wall. Lucas missed an easy chance to record an immediate equaliser, stumbling when Dirk Kuyt's cross picked him out at the far post, and Liverpool were condemned to trudge from the field, disconsolate, disaffected.
The reaction 45 minutes later was markedly different. It was joyous, vibrant. Such can be the impact of Steven Gerrard and, in this form, the form that once made him one of the most feared players on the planet, Torres. Both excelled. It has been a long time since such a sentiment could be expressed. Torres steered home with the expertise of the veteran marksman just four minutes after the break, the unerring accuracy of his finish bettered only by the brilliance of his captain's pass. Gerrard had only been introduced to the field after 20 minutes, a replacement for the injured Raul Meireles, after Hodgson chose to rest him to preserve his still fragile fitness.
The pair, the reborn deadly duo, were far from finished. Torres -- who might have been sent off for clashing with Gary Cahill in the first half -- flashed one effort wide, Jaaskelainen denied Maxi and Gerrard in quick succession, Mark Davies might have been penalised for handball. Then, just as Anfield had started to lose hope, Gerrard's deep cross picked out Maxi, hurtling towards the far post. His shot beat Jaaskelainen, and Cole, on the field for just 10 minutes, touched home, a nose ahead of Bolton's defensive line.
"The players are adamant Cole was offside," said Bolton manager Owen Coyle. "Maybe that was the little bit of luck Roy needed." It was a kind assessment from a man who had done no harm in underlining his credentials to displace his opponent. That bit of luck, though, might not be enough.
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