x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hodgson can see light at end of the tunnel

A leap of six places from the relegation zone was secured by Liverpool as a drab stalemate was transformed into a hard-fought away win.

BOLTON // Twelfth place has rarely been greeted more gratefully. After four weeks of almost unprecedented ignominy, Liverpool have contrived to escape their unhappy habitat. Commonly known as the relegation zone, it housed English football's most garlanded club in a traumatic October.

In the context of a glorious history, mid-table has represented desperate underachievement. Now it is a reason for relief.

A leap of six places was secured as a drab stalemate was transformed into a hard-fought away win. Maxi Rodriguez's 86th-minute goal brought victory at the Reebok Stadium, a first home defeat of the season for Bolton Wanderers and, perhaps most significantly, respite for Liverpool and their beleaguered manager.

A picture of exasperation minutes earlier, Roy Hodgson punched the air in vindication.

Earning back-to-back wins has eased the pressure, personally and collectively, and while the ill John Henry was not present, it was the sort of result that makes it easier for the owner to fulfil his promise to back the manager he inherited. A meeting this week should proceed more smoothly and an often tetchy Hodgson cut a relaxed figure, displaying more honesty and humour than has been his habit.

"We are affected by the position in the table, we are affected by the fact we have started so badly and we have been rightly criticised for it," he accepted.

"I have always believed we are working the right way. I've been as devastated as anyone else by the lack of results, but I have never stopped believing the work will pay dividends.

"It is a longer job, it is a rebuilding job but it is nice to see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel."

Before Rodriguez's intervention, Liverpool produced a display of organisation that suggests Hodgson's rigorous methods are bringing order, if not excitement.

A clean sheet was no mean feat in a match where Bolton's blend of physicality and quality delivery resulted in more clear-cut chances than Liverpool could boast. Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Martin Skrtel, the centre-back pairing, defended stoutly and Hodgson added: "It was a very gritty performance by our back four."

The inspiration was provided by Liverpool's troubled talisman, a momentary reminder of Fernando Torres's talent unlocking the Bolton defence. A deftly executed backheel diverted Lucas Leiva's pass into the path of Rodriguez. Though Jussi Jaaskelainen got a hand to the Argentine's shot, it slithered under him.

"A nice little touch," said Hodgson of Torres. "Quality is permanent and it will come."

Striving to find the sharpness that is the surefire sign of his finest form, Torres had glided on to a pass from Steven Gerrard but prodded a poor shot that Jaaskelainen parried. The captain's radar was faulty when shooting but he brought dynamism and drive.

It was augmented when David Ngog was introduced, in perhaps the most effective substitution Hodgson has made for Liverpool, for the hamstrung Joe Cole. In the process, Rodriguez was switched to the left flank, though he cut infield to pose a threat.

An inventive overhead kick had landed on the roof of the net a quarter of an hour before he provided the breakthrough.

But, as Owen Coyle, the Bolton manager, said: "It was cruel on my team."

They applied pressure. Pepe Reina parried a crisp volley from Stuart Holden.

Then, within a matter of seconds, both Johan Elmander and Zat Knight came close. A couple of minutes later, Kevin Davies's glancing header beat Reina but went just past the far post.

There were two plausible penalty appeals when Jamie Carragher seemed to handball and Skrtel nudged Davies.

"If things even themselves out, we're due about 20 penalties by Christmas," complained Coyle.

There was no overreaction from his Liverpool counterpart.

"It's too early to be too optimistic but it is a step in the right direction," Hodgson added.

But, as Carragher said: "We need to get further up the table." They do, but, for the first time in a month, the Liverpool vice-captain can at least look at it now.

sports@thenational.ae