ANFIELD, LIVERPOOL — On a day of huge upsets in the FA Cup fourth round, it probably shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that Neil Lennon's resolute Bolton Wanderers left Anfield having forced a replay.
Liverpool will be frustrated at being forced to play another game in what is already a very busy fixture list, with the replay taking place days before the Merseyside derby and in a month when Europa League competition returns.
While Bolton deserve credit for their combative performance, Liverpool were made to pay for their lack of prolificacy in front of goal—too often failing to convert their chances or being too cute in the final third, seemingly attempting to walk the ball in on more than one occasion.
Brendan Rodgers made five changes to the side that drew with Chelsea in midweek, with Javier Manquillo, Glen Johnson, Joe Allen, Adam Lallana and Jose Enrique coming into the side.
The reality is that four of those players were woefully below par. Manquillo and Enrique as the wide men in midfield were particularly a hindrance to Liverpool's style of play, playing far too deep compared to regular wing-backs Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno.
So poor was Enrique that Rodgers replaced him with Markovic at half-time, with the Serbian at least adding an attacking edge down the left.
Later in the second half, Rodgers subbed Manquillo, too, noticing the issues that were hindering his side and moving Sterling wide temporarily.
In midfield, Allen looked very rusty in his first appearance since the 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford in December. Lallana wasn't his sharpest, either, often suffering a heavy touch.
As Liverpool piled on the pressure late in the match, driven by captain Jordan Henderson, chances arrived aplenty.
For the second game in a week, the opposition goalkeeper picked up the man of the match award, with Adam Bogdan making several good stops in front of the Kop.
Substitute Fabio Borini saw his header flash wide, Philippe Coutinho had his shot repelled, Manquillo hooked an excellent chance wide, Henderson fired a volley over and Lucas' drive from the edge of the box was saved.
Liverpool could feel aggrieved by the decision of referee Kevin Friend not to award a penalty for a foul on Henderson when he was bundled over by Jay Spearing eight yards out. Rodgers said post-match that he didn't think it was a penalty.
However, he did bemoan the decision not to give the foul on Markovic by Matt Mills early in the second half. Friend gave nothing, but Rodgers said, "Matt Mills should’ve been sent off. Clearly straight red, last man."
But ultimately, their failure to show a killer instinct in front of goal was their undoing.
Raheem Sterling impressed with his goal against Chelsea in midweek, but he isn't a clinical forward, and time and again he opted to cut back inside and attempt to play in a team-mate. It was something that Coutinho and Lallana were also guilty of on occasion.
Post-match, Rodgers said, "Maybe with better finishing we’d have got the win."
Forwards—and Sturridge's return
With no Mario Balotelli in the squad, Rodgers went with Sterling and left Borini and Rickie Lambert on the bench. You do have to question why Lambert was signed if he's not going to play in these types of games. His physical presence may have been valuable to Liverpool against Bolton's physical and combative defence.
On Balotelli, Rodgers was asked if the Italian was available or injured. "No," replied the boss. "Just not selected." The Northern Irishman went on to explain how he cannot have the side return to the struggles earlier in the season when the pressing was not apparent in their game.
As ever, Liverpool fans were left wondering what might have been had Daniel Sturridge been fit and available. "Sturridge is training tomorrow with the team," said Rodgers. "Now it's just about football fitness. We'll see how he is for Tuesday, if not, then definitely for West Ham [next week]."
Such news will be hugely welcomed by Liverpool supporters who are eager for the England international's return. It also means he'll be back for the replay against the side he enjoyed success while on loan earlier in his career.
Quotes obtained firsthand.