Monday, March 03, 2008

Bolton 1 - 3 LiverpooL

Rafael Benitez saw his Liverpool side end years of misery at the Reebok Stadium to emphasise their Champions League credentials.

It was a sweet success for the Spanish coach, but he got a helping hand from Jussi Jaaskelainen.

The Bolton goalkeeper sent Liverpool on their way with a bizarre own goal in the 11th minute and they never looked back.

Ryan Babel and Fabio Aurelio extended their lead before Tamir Cohen pulled a goal back.

Bolton meanwhile are locked in a relegation battle and the worry for manager Gary Megson is that goals have been hard to come by following the departure of Nicolas Anelka to Chelsea.

Yet they could have been two goals to the good inside the first 10 minutes.

El-Hadji Diouf's free-kick beat goalkeeper Jose Reina in the fifth minute only to come back off the post.

Four minutes later Ivan Campo swung in a corner from the left and Joey O'Brien peeled away from his marker.

O'Brien managed to get in a shot at the back post but Steven Gerrard made the clearance.

Liverpool made the breakthrough in bizarre fashion after 11 minutes when Gerrard's effort appeared to be going wide. However Jaaskelainen made a hash of it and inexplicably turned the ball into his own net.

Jaaskelainen redeemed himself in the 18th minute by turning over a rasping drive from Babel after he had latched on to a good ball from Gerrard.

Bolton almost drew level in the 27th minute when Kevin Nolan picked out Kevin Davies with a marvellous cross.

Davies got enough power on his header from close range but Reina made a superb save low down to his left.

Davies turned provider two minutes later. He clipped the ball through to Nolan, who had sprung the offside trap, only for Reina to make the block.

Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia was then booked for tripping Diouf in the 35th minute and they almost paid for that indiscretion.

Matt Taylor delivered a good free-kick but Gary Cahill, under pressure from Martin Skrtel, headed wide.

Liverpool hit back and a minute later Babel weaved his way into the penalty area after a surging run only for Cahill to make a timely clearance.

Babel was a threat every time he had the ball and stung Jaaskelainen's hands with a powerful effort a minute before the break.

Liverpool were in the ascendancy and it was little surprise they extended their lead in the 59th minute.

Carragher whipped in a cross from the right and found Dirk Kuyt only for his smart volley to come back back off the post.

Cahill got the ball away but only as far as Babel, who swept his effort beyond Jaaskelainen.

It was now an uphill task for Bolton given that they had scored only two goals in their last four games in all competitions.

Liverpool were not content to sit on their laurels either with Babel, Kuyt and Fernando Torres giving them strong attacking options as the match reached a crucial stage.

They made it 3-0 in the 75th minute with a superb strike from Fabio Aurelio when there seemed little on.

He took the ball on his chest before smashing a shot beyond Jaaskelainen from the edge of the area.

Bolton to their credit, however, refused to lie down and pulled a goal back four minutes later.

Cohen, son of former Liverpool favourite Avi, ghosted in to head home a corner from Taylor.

Bolton may be in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup but the prospect of second tier football next season is all too real.

Rafa Confident Of Fourth Spot

Rafael Benitez is confident of securing fourth place in the Premier League after Liverpool brushed Bolton Wanderers aside 3-1 at the Reebok Stadium.

The Reds moved to within three points of Merseyside rivals Everton with a game in hand after strikes from Ryan Babel, Fabio Aurelio and a Jussi Jaaskelainen own goal secured a straight-forward victory on Sunday.

Afterwards Benitez pointed to the Reds' momentum as reason to be positive in the race to claim the final Champions League spot.

He said: "Every win is important when you are fighting for fourth place.

"You need to put the other teams around you under pressure and we have done that.

"As we have a game in hand, it depends on what we do. You do not need to see the table every day.

"If we can win against West ham (on Wednesday), then we go into the game after that with confidence."

Meanwhile, Benitez reiterated his desire to remain at Anfield despite a turbulent season both on and off the pitch.

"I am really happy here at Liverpool," he added. "At this moment though I am only thinking about our games."

Rafa Urges Reds To Go Fourth

Rafael Benitez knows Liverpool are right in the frame to clinch a Champions League place for next season.

Benitez's side followed up last weekend's Barclays Premier League win against Middlesbrough by beating Bolton 3-1 at the Reebok Stadium.

It was a sweet success for the Spanish coach, given the club's miserable record on the ground.

A bizarre own goal from Jussi Jaaskelainen after 11 minutes sent Liverpool on their way to an emphatic victory.

The Bolton goalkeeper turned a shot from Steven Gerrard into his own net with his face and his side never really recovered.

Ryan Babel and Fabio Aurelio extended their lead before Tamir Cohen, son of former Liverpool favourite Avi, pulled a goal back.

Liverpool now entertain West Ham on Wednesday in good heart after this comfortable victory.

Benitez said: "Every win is important when you are fighting for fourth place.

"You need to put the other teams around you under pressure and we have done that.

"As we have a game in hand, it depends on what we do. You do not need to see the table every day.

"If we can win against West Ham, then we go go into the game after that with confidence."

Skipper Steven Gerrard told Setanta Sports 1: "As captain of the team, we are disappointed with where we are in the league.

"We need to keep together and keep fighting to the end.

"It was massive result. We have been inconsistent so it's important to get the points."

Benitez reiterated he is content at Anfield and claimed his focus was on winning matches and not his future plans.

"I am really happy here at Liverpool," he said. "At this moment, though, I am only thinking about our games."

Benitez had some sympathy for Jaaskelainen, but added: "It was disappointing for him but good for us.

"Sometimes these things happen and we went on to play well after a difficult opening few minutes.

"We knew if we did not pass the ball then we could get drawn into a physical game.

"We needed to play at a high tempo and keep our concentration and we did that."

Bolton may be in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup but they remain in danger of relegation.

Due to face Sporting Lisbon on Thursday, they could be without captain Kevin Nolan after he suffered a back injury and came off at half-time.

Nolan's absence would be a blow for Bolton but manager Gary Megson is more concerned about getting him fit for domestic duty.

He excused Jaaskelainen for his gaffe by saying: "Jussi is a fantastic goalkeeper. He made two great saves after that.

"He has held his hands up but these balls moved quite a bit in the air and it came back and hit him in the face.

"The first goal can be vital and it took the wind out of our sails. We got picked off rather too easily."

Moyes: Reds Still Favourites

Everton boss David Moyes insists Liverpool remain favourites to claim the final Champions League spot despite seeing his side reclaim fourth spot in the Premier League.

The Toffees boosted their top-four hopes with a 3-1 win over Portsmouth at Goodison Park on Sunday.

However, the Reds' own 3-1 success over Bolton Wanderers kept them three points behind their Merseyside rivals with a game in hand.

"Liverpool are still the favourites, they have to be. We have been consistent but for them fourth would be expected," admitted Moyes.

"We are doing everything we can to make a fight of it, but the bookies are probably right to make them favourites.

"They are looking at the two clubs and where they have been in the past and they are making their decision on who are the favourites in the light of that.

"We have to keep our play at this level and keep going right to the end.

"This has been a big week. We have now beaten Manchester City and Portsmouth - and they are two teams who have been pushing us all the way.

"They all want a European place. Portsmouth are a good side and hard to beat, but I feel we have realised that we can play against the best teams and cause them problems."

Peter Crouch & Sami Hyypia To Be Offered New Liverpool Deals

Liverpool are ready to offer new contracts to both Peter Crouch and Sami Hyypia.

Reds boss Rafa Benitez is looking to tie the pair down to new deals in a bid to ward off growing interest in them from clubs at home and abroad.

Despite approaching his 35th birthday, Hyypia has been one of Liverpool's star performers this season and Benitez is keen to reward the long-serving Finn by offering him an extension which would see him clock up a decade of service at Anfield.

Newcastle, Bolton and Fulham are all interested in signing Hyypia but Benitez has acted quickly to give him the chance to remain at the club he joined for a bargain £2.5m in 1999.

Hyypia recently spoke of his desire to stay at Anfield despite being aware of interest from other clubs and it would be a major surprise if he was to decline an offer from Liverpool.

Crouch's situation is more complicated as he in the last 18 months of his current deal and, having been in and out of the starting line-up this season, it is unclear whether he will be prepared to commit his long term future to the club.

Under the terms of a recent landmark legal case which has had massive implications for players contracts, Crouch will this summer be in a position to take advantage of Article 17 of FIFA's regulations on the status and transfer of players.

This rule allows players under the age of 28 who have served three years of a four or five year contract to effectively hand in their notice and move to another club.

Players over 28 can take advantage of the ruling after just two years of their contract.

Crouch, 27, will finish the third year of his four-year deal at the end of this season and, as such, would therefore be able to move elsewhere if he is prepared to quit Liverpool and pay them compensation.

Benitez is ready to test just how happy Crouch is at Liverpool and a formal contract offer is expected to be made imminently.