Monday 23 April 2018

Rodriguez strikes late to give Liverpool and Hodgson timely boost

Bolton wds 0
Liverpool 1

Maxi Rodriguez scored the winner for Liverpool. Photo: Getty Images
Maxi Rodriguez scored the winner for Liverpool. Photo: Getty Images

Tim Rich

roy hodgson had asked Liverpool's supporters to reserve judgement on his regime until they had played 10 matches.

This was game 10 and Liverpool finished it 12th, which given the fact they have spent the last few weeks as improbable occupants of the relegation zone counts as something of a triumph.

It may be worth pointing out that should they finish 12th, it will be Liverpool's worst performance since before Bill Shankly created the modern Anfield.

Nevertheless, after back-to-back wins in the Premier League and a fine rearguard performance amid the eddying passions of Napoli's San Paolo Stadium, the rot that threatened to eat through the club has been stopped.

This was not quite Mark Robins for Manchester United at Nottingham Forest -- Hodgson's position may have come under pressure after Liverpool's descent into the relegation places, but his job was never on the line in the same way that Alex Ferguson's was at the City Ground in 1990 -- but the timing of the winning goal, coming four minutes before the end of normal time, engendered a similarly palpable sense of relief only provided when the stakes are at their highest.

Hodgson will spend some of this week meeting with the club's new owner, and the relief that he will do so with John Henry's latest acquisition out of the bottom three was obvious.

"We have contact on an almost daily basis because he is very interested in how the club can move forward, which is music to my ears," said the Liverpool manager.

"I am delighted we are doing it on the back of a victory because a defeat would have dragged our mood down. We live in a world of euphoria or tragedy and, as a manager, you try to keep an even keel between the two emotions but, yes, I am very glad we are not meeting the owners in the relegation zone."

Nevertheless, not even Jamie Carragher thought Liverpool played well, remarking that neither side really deserved victory.

Liverpool are recovering but they remain propped up in bed, on a drip and with a sign that reads nil by mouth.

Nil was the optimum word at the Reebok Stadium and remained fixed beneath both teams' badges on the scoreboard until a little back-heeled flick from Fernando Torres went between Gary Cahill's legs to Maxi Rodriguez, whose shot squeezed under Jussi Jaaskelainen's body.

It was Torres' single real contribution to the afternoon. He had looked dreadfully out of sorts, summed up by a move in which he received the ball in a shooting position, hesitated when once he would have struck without thinking, and lost possession.

"Front players live by such small margins," said Hodgson. "Perhaps he was thinking of taking the ball round Jussi Jaaskelainen but could see the headlines: 'Torres Misses Again'.

"We think he is a magnificent player and over the course of the next 30-odd games we know he will do well."

Hodgson smiled when asked if he looked ready to explode with anger throughout much of the match.

"I was frustrated. We had such a lot of the ball and so many opportunities which we wasted with the final ball.

"In another world and with a better start to the season we would have had the composure to deal with that. The one thing that pleased me is that we have stopped leaking goals. It is still too early to be optimistic but it is a step in the right direction."

"If we had come into this game in a different position in the league table and with a few wins behind us, I think we would have settled down and been a bit more relaxed.

"As it is we are affected by the table and the fact we have started so badly. We have been rightly criticised for starting so badly and when that happens, one of the things that goes out of the window is composure and confidence.

"I have been as devastated as everyone has by the lack of results but I have never stopped believing that work would pay dividends. It is just a question of timescales.

"I am still not convinced it is going to pay dividends in a short timescale, it is going to be a longer job.

"The players now know they have got the ability to dig in, even in games like this, which is a good thing to know. It is nice to see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel."

Liverpool are likely to have both Dirk Kuyt and Glen Johnson back for next Sunday's encounter with Chelsea, but Joe Cole came off with a hamstring injury midway through the second half.

Hodgson was bequeathed a far better side than Rafael Benitez inherited from Gerard Houllier. However, the spine of this team has not functioned in a way his predecessor would have recognised.

Steven Gerrard is a player shorn of the aura and swagger that used to carry him and his team through so much. His passing was astray, his free-kicks lacked their former menace and you no longer expected the extraordinary from the greatest footballer Anfield has seen since Kenny Dalglish. Like Torres, though, his form will surely return.

Bolton were not at their best but they probably deserved a draw and could have had a penalty had Carragher's handball been spotted.

Pepe Reina, perhaps the only one of Hodgson's blue-chip players to be truly on form, was threatened throughout by Matt Taylor's free-kicks and was equal to them all.

"The result was cruel on the team given the endeavour we put in," Owen Coyle reflected. "We dominated for large periods and it was a clear handball.

"I don't want to moan and I will keep saying that these decisions even themselves out over time -- in which case we are owed about 20 decisions before Christmas."

Irish Independent

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