Gerrard strikes a familiar pose
There are moments, late on in tense and tight games, when something - whether an instinctive awareness or a sixth sense - makes Steven Gerrard take up a position just behind the attack, where the ball might fall and somehow - whether due to a defensive clearance or a team-mate's awareness of his captain - it does. One wonderfully clean strike of the ball follows and a lustrous on-field reputation is further embellished.
Gerrard has a capacity for goals that combine importance and excellence, an ability to decide games, regardless of whether he has flourished in them, and a sense of timing that is almost unrivalled. His latest venture into the realms of the spectacular may not have had the significance of the goal against Olympiakos, which took Liverpool through to the knockout stages of the Champions League in 2005, or his last-minute equaliser against West Ham in the following season's FA Cup final. But given the context, it certainly ranked as another invaluable strike.
This has been an awkward August for Liverpool. Trailing twice at Bolton, they faced the prospect of a third defeat in 14 days. Instead, after a fight-back, Rafa Benitez's side averted talk of crisis. It was scarcely the simplest way to win a game but, courtesy of Gerrard, three points were secured.
When Glen Johnson crossed and Fernando Torres headed the ball into his path, there was a certain inevitability about the identity of the scorer, finishing wonderfully well from 15 yards. Criticised by Benitez after Monday's defeat to Aston Villa (though not to the extent some have suggested), the condemnation turned to celebration tonight. This was the sort of rejoinder that was required.
Benitez, in any event, had been correct to say that Gerrard had been performing some way below his remarkable best. Monday's meeting with Aston Villa may have ranked among his least effective displays at Anfield. Bolton, though admiring the Liverpool captain's set-pieces, felt he was similarly stifled for the first 55 minutes today, when Fabrice Muamba proved a diligent man-marker.
"It was no surprise because Gary Megson has done it on a couple of occasions," said Gerrard. "Fab's a very fit lad and he can get around the pitch." Megson was more forthright. "Fab had nullified him," he said. But then Sean Davis was sent-off and Muamba was delegated new duties in the Bolton midfield. "You can't have someone man-marking him when you've got 10 against 11," lamented Megson. "As soon as Sean went off, he [Gerrard] went deeper and deeper and orchestrated everything from there."
It proved the turning point. Davis had been cautioned on the stroke of half-time for kicking the ball away after what appeared a dubious decision by referee Alan Wiley. A second booking followed after the interval for bringing down Lucas.
The Bolton manager felt the Brazilian induced the foul, though an alternative view is that he was simply running slowly enough to be caught by Davis. "We're not cute enough to bend the rules, to slow down, wait for the hit and there you go," said Megson. "Footballers know what's going on and I don't want to criticise referees but their knowledge of what is going on, in my view, isn't there."
What went on after Davis departed was particularly one-sided. A previously profligate Torres swiftly levelled, when Dirk Kuyt diverted Gerrard's pass into his direction.
Yet what occurred beforehand was rather more closely contested. While Johnson had doubled his Liverpool tally with a crisp strike, Bolton led. There is a common denominator among the majority of the goals Liverpool have conceded this season. Both Wanderers strikes came from dead-ball situations, Kevin Davies touching the ball in after Matt Taylor's corner rebounded off Johan Elmander and then the Bolton captain flicking on Jussi Jaaskelainen's free kick for Tamir Cohen to rifle the ball in.
"To concede a goal to a corner is something that can happen here, especially here," said Benitez, reflecting on Bolton's dead-ball excellence but without entirely convincing some members of his audience that zonal marking was not the cause. "I invite you to analyse the last five years of set-pieces: Liverpool were the best team in the Premier League twice, we were fourth another year, so it is not bad."
Benitez often takes solace in the statistics. For the raucous thousands who made the short journey from Merseyside to savour another memorable comeback, Gerrard provides rather more to cheer.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Glen Johnson
A constant threat. Advancing at pace and with enthusiasm, Johnson ensured he spent more time going forward than at the back. Even Benitez may have felt that, at £17 million, he was a little overpriced, but he has made a huge impact.
BOLTON VERDICT: The league table makes for depressing viewing for the Wanderers. Three games have brought three defeats though the last two could have yielded much more. At least they have their first goal of the campaign, but the form of Elmander, yet to score in 2009, must be a genuine concern. Even his assist for Davies' goal was an attempted header that seemed to hit his knee.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: They weren't quite at their best, but there was evidence of spirit and character. Torres appeared fractious and out of sorts in the first half, but Davis' dismissal galvanised Liverpool and the Spaniard, like Gerrard, looked a far greater threat after that. But the need for the blue-chip players to perform remains apparent: apart from Yossi Benayoun and the semi-fit Martin Skrtel, the bench was a melting pot of the mediocre.