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Football: Festive cracker for Houllier; Wanderers stuffed as Reds succeed where Arsenal and Chelsea had faltered LIVERPOOL 3 BOLTON WANDERERS 1 Pedersen 85.

Byline: IAN DOYLE

NOT often in recent times can it be said Liverpool have succeeded where Arsenal and Chelsea did not.

But while the championship challengers were respectively beaten and held by Bolton Wanderers earlier this month,Gerard Houllier's side handed out a seasonal thumping yesterday to give their suffering supporters some much-needed post-Christmas cheer.

In doing so, the Reds at last showed signs of responding to the public lashing they were given by their manager following the Carling Cup calamity to the same opponents four weeks ago.

Of course, so slender is the tightrope Houllier walks that defeat at Manchester City tomorrow will once again crank up the pressure on the Frenchman. But while this wasn't the prettiest of victories, such has been the poor fare served up in these parts of late that any form of success was gratefully accepted by the fans and manager alike. The only axe being wielded at Anfield yesterday was by the manager himself, with both Emile Heskey and El-Hadji Diouf paying the price for increasingly disappointing displays as the Reds boss sought more pace and movement in attack.

How ironic then that all three Liverpool goals -despatched emphatically by Sami Hyypia, Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Vladimir Smicer -were headers, the department in which Heskey should thrive most.

Admittedly, Bolton yesterday fell way short of the standards they have been setting, with Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff -the stars of their Carling Cup success here -in particular disappointing. But a degree of credit must go to Liverpool for that, particularly in defence where the dangerous Kevin Davies was negated by Igor Biscan and Hyypia.

Bolton boss Sam Allardyce was probably regretting his pre-match pronouncement that coming to Anfield is ``easier than it's ever been'' by the time Smicer nodded in Liverpool's third goal inside thehour. But with just seven victories in their previous 20 home Premiership games before yesterday -this was only their fourth home win this campaign -the statistics cannot hide that Anfield has proven more hindrance than help this season. The sooner that beings to change, the sooner Champions League qualification can become reality.

Given that, the availability of the fit-again Kewell is a welcome boost. During his hour long return yesterday, the Australian underlined his importance by bringing an extra dimension to the attack which had been so sorely missing in recent weeks.

Kewell's comeback could not have been more timely,and with Jamie Carragher back in action and Michael Owen,Steve Finnan and Milan Baros nearing full fitness,Houllier's key components are returning when he needs them most.

It took Liverpool until the 14th minute to fashion their first shot on goal,Steven Gerrard's 20-yard free- kick curling into the arms of Juusi Jaaskelainen, and moments later another set-piece saw Smicer head Danny Murphy's free- kick narrowly wide.

With that spat of action, the Reds had wrested an initiative they were never to lose grip of.

Most of the action was coming at Bolton's end with the normally reliable Jaaskelainen enduring an erratic first-half display. But the goalkeeper was blameless for Liverpool's opener on 29 minutes, scored by his international team-mateHyypia.

A spell of pressure on the Bolton goal Hyypia 29,Sinama-Pongolle47,Smicer 54 Despite their dominance,Liverpool were lucky not to be punished on 41 minutes after a couple of feeble attempts to clear a Bolton attack ended with Ricardo Gardner crossing from the left and Ivan Campo heading inches past the far post.

It proved something of a turning point. Sinama-Pongolle missed a good chance by shooting weakly at Jaaskelainen after being put clear by Smicer just before the interval, but two minutes after the restart the French youngster found his range to ghost in between the Bolton centre-backs and head in Riise's fine cross from the left. It was Sinama-Pongolle's first goal in front of the Kop,and it surely won't be the last.

Allardyce had obviously seen enough and hauled off Campo, Djorkaeff and Jay-Jay Okocha. It made no difference,and on 54 minutes Liverpool scored a third when Murphy's pinpoint ins winging free-kick was headed in at the far post by Smicer,just reward for the Czech schemer after an industrious and creative display akin to his endeavours earlier in the season.

That was more or less that. Heskey and Diouf were introduced in place of Kewell and Sinama-Pongolle -Houllier obviously keeping one eye on tomorrow's assignment at the City of Manchester Stadium -and the game pet ered out, Gerrard's volley over while stretching to meet Murphy's cross the closest the Reds came to extending their advantage.

Bolton mustered a late rally and Henrik Pedersen tucked away a consolation five minutes from time by converting eight yards out after Gardner's low cross was deflected into his path.

The later revelation of Chris Kirkland's injury took a little shine off the victory,but while Houllier's declaration that his side are back may be somewhat premature, this evidence suggests they remain capable of heading in the right direction. Now they have to get there.

resulted in a series of corners which the Reds eventually made count, with Hyypia towering above everyone else from a Murphy delivery from the right to head home his first goal of the season.

Not for the first time this season, skipper Gerrard was leading by example, cajoling team-mates forward and providing the spark in midfield. From one such Gerrardprompted break,Jaaskelainen was indebted to team-mate Nicky Hunt's clearance after spilling Kewell's speculative shot.

MAN OF THE MATCH... Vladimir Smicer THERE was little to choose between Sami Hyypia,Steven Gerrard and the Czech, but he wins the award for a creative display and a well-takengoalLIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Kirkland;Otsemobor,Biscan, Hyypia,Riise; Murphy,Hamann,Gerrard,Smicer (Le Tallec 79); Kewell (Heskey 66), Sinama-Pongolle(Diouf 66).Subs: Dudek,Henchoz.

BOLTON WANDERERS (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Hunt,Charlton,Thome, Gardner; Campo (Giannakopoulos 51); Djorkaeff (Pedersen51),Frandsen, Okocha (Ba51),Nolan; Davies.Subs: Poole,Barness.BOOKINGS: Bolton's Pedersen and Hunt.

REFEREE: Mr J Winter ATT: 42,987

CAPTION(S):

Defender Sami Hyypia powers home Liverpool's opening goal at Anfield yesterday as the Reds atoned for their Carling Cup exit to Bolton
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 27, 2003
Words:1021
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