Bolton: Liverpool fought back to reach the FA Cup fifth round with a 2-1 victory over 10-man Bolton Wanderers to keep alive talismanic captain Steven Gerrard’s hopes of a Wembley swansong.
The Liverpool captain turns 35 on the day of the FA Cup final and Reds supporters had seemingly already pencilled a trip to Wembley into their diaries.
But with Liverpool trailing with just four minutes of the 90 left in this fourth-round replay at the Macron Stadium, the dream of Gerrard climbing the steps to lift the famous old trophy appeared to be in their dying embers.
However, Raheem Sterling cancelled out Eidur Gudjohnsen’s penalty before Philippe Coutinho scored a quite brilliant injury-time winner to seal a meeting with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in the next round.
“You have to keep your patience and keep the width in the game, especially against 10 men,” a relieved Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers told the BBC.
“It was a great pass by Emre Can for the first goal and a great finish for the second goal.
“This is a competition we want to do well in and thankfully we’re into the next round against Crystal Palace.”
His Bolton counterpart Neil Lennon, who has engineered a revival in the club’s fortunes since taking over in early October, was fuming over the referee Roger East’s performance.
“I’m not happy with the referee tonight at all,” stormed the 43-year-old Northern Irishman.
“Neil Danns’ first yellow card was not a booking and I’m not convinced that our penalty was a penalty either.”
Gerrard, who will leave Anfield for Major League Soccer outfit LA Galaxy when his contract expires in the summer, clocked up his 700th career appearance for Liverpool.
Only Jamie Carragher (737) and Ian Callaghan (857) have worn a red shirt with the Liverbird on their chest more than Gerrard.
With former Liverpool striker Emile Heskey absent with a hamstring injury, Lennon sprang something of a tactical surprise.
Lennon deployed defender Matt Mills as a lone forward with veteran Gudjohnsen and rookie Zach Clough just in behind as Wanderers mirrored Liverpool’s 3-4-2-1 system.
Sterling buzzed with intent in the early stages and on 15 minutes he glided past David Wheater and into the area, forcing Bolton goalkeeper Andrew Lonergan to make a diving save.
Wheater threatened for the Trotters at the other end when he got on the end of Liam Feeney’s free-kick into the box, but his header was straight at Simon Mignolet in the Liverpool goal.
Liverpool went close early in the second half and Dorian Dervite’s brilliant last-ditch tackle denied Sterling after he was put through on goal, with Lonergan clawing away the curling effort from the Reds youngster that followed.
However, it was Bolton that struck a minute before the hour when Martin Skrtel, unable to cope with Clough’s quick feet, carelessly gave away a penalty with a cumbersome challenge.
Gudjohnsen confidently stroked the resulting spot-kick past Mignolet, although Bolton’s hopes of hanging on to that lead for the remainder of the contest diminished when Danns was shown a second yellow for lunging at Joe Allen.
Rodgers introduced Fabio Borini and Daniel Sturridge in an attempt to give his side more potency in the final third and fellow substitute Henderson struck the post with a deflected shot while Emre Can rattled the crossbar.
Liverpool’s relentless pressure eventually told and Can was instrumental as he lifted a superb ball into the path of Sterling, who guided a left-foot volley through Lonergan’s legs and into the net with four minutes left.
With extra time looming Coutinho then provided a moment of brilliance in added time to complete Liverpool’s comeback when he struck a quite brilliant long-range effort into the top-right corner of the net.