Bolton v Liverpool
FA Cup Fourth Round Replay
Wednesday 4th February, 19:45
Live on BBC 1
Wanderers will relish a second crack at the Premier League giants after earning that very creditable goalless draw at Anfield 10 days ago, thanks in the main to a virtuoso performance from goalkeeper Adam Bogdan behind a well-drilled back line.
However, they definitely suffered a cup hangover last Tuesday as they went to Rotherham and were beaten 4-2, going four goals down before a couple of late consolations gave the score line some barely-deserved respectability. And Neil Lennon will have been fuming again after his side a 96th minute equaliser at home to Wolves on Saturday and had to settle for a point having fought back from a goal down thanks to two strikes by teenage striker Zach Clough.
Prior to the defeat at Rotherham, Wanderers had been one of the form sides in the Championship, losing just once throughout November and December as the former Celtic boss turned things around, banishing memories of Dougie Freedman's ill-fated era. Lennon will feel his side now have a comfortable cushion above the relegation zone but 13 points to sixth place is probably too great a gap to try and narrow by the end of the season so he has nothing to lose by throwing the kitchen sink at his opponents here and trying to claim a notable scalp.
Only players registered for the original tie are eligible here so Lennon can't call upon striker Adam LeFondre, midfielder Barry Bannan or any of the other deadline days signings he made during Monday's transfer fun and games.
Brendan Rodgers' outfit are one of the hottest sides in the Premier League right now and it was slightly surprising they weren't able to see off their Championship opponents at the first time of asking, although he will feel that only an some inspired goalkeeping and a couple of strong penalty shouts not given prevented his men from finding a way through. This means they now face the short trip up to the Macron Stadium here to book a place in the fifth round but asides from the inconvenience of an extra game, Rodgers shouldn't have anything to fear.
His side top the Premier League form table with five wins and a draw from their last six games and the goal-scoring return, off the bench, of Daniel Sturridge at home to West Ham on Saturday will only have increased the feel-good factor, which has returned to Anfield over the past couple of months. And the new five-year deal signed by Philippe Coutinho, who's been in sparkling form in recent times will have been the icing on the cake for Reds' fans - it's certainly been a good start to 2015 for them.
Much here will depend on the team news and while Rodgers will probably want to put out a slightly stronger side than the one at Anfield 10 days ago, the Merseyside derby this weekend will be looming large in his thoughts and those of the players and supporters, no matter how much he tries to focus on this game. He will make a late decision on Steven Gerrard, who missed the win at Upton Park with a tight hamstring, while Sturridge will surely start on the bench again and come on in the second-half should the game still be in the balance. If the Liverpool skipper does play it will be his 700th appearance for the club.
Half Time/Full Time
Liverpool's form on the road in the Premier League has been mixed with six wins but five defeats, including losses at Newcastle, West Ham and Crystal Palace. That trio are, though, all a few notches above their opposition here and in the Capital One Cup in October, Rodgers' side were also comfortable 3-1 winners away to high-flying Championship outfit Bournemouth. Their high-profile televised third-round visit to AFC Wimbledon wasn't without its moments either but with Gerrard leading from the front, the visitors dug deep and should be able to do likewise here and progress. The question we have to answer is how hard Bolton will push them and work out how to profit from our conclusions.
We can assume Rodgers will put out a side he feels has enough to earn the win, without playing a full-strength XI and also conserving as much possible of his squad's energies for the big derby at the weekend. With the away win short enough at 1.594/7 in the match odds market , I'll look elsewhere for some value.
Wanderers are unlikely to vary their game plan too dramatically from that at Anfield and we should expect to see them keeping it tight, seeking to restrict the visitors' chances and trying to pinch something on the break or from a set-piece. Ultimately Rodgers should have too much quality to call upon from his bench if needed and a scenario where he brings on the likes of Sturridge and Raheem Sterling after the interval to prise open a stubborn home defence is easy to envisage. That makes Draw/Liverpool in the half-time/full-time market look a price worth taking at 4.77/2.
Liverpool Win to Nil
Liverpool's defence has improved markedly in recent weeks and I don't think Bolton have too many weapons they can hurt them with. The veteran forward partnership of Eidur Gudjohnsen and Emile Heskey raised a few wry smiles and plenty of friendly applause from the Kop but the duo didn't give the home defence to much to think about. The former Liverpool man is struggling with a hamstring injury (perhaps hardly surprising given his advanced years) and may miss out though he would dearly love to face his old team again.
That leaves Lennon hoping Craig Davies may have recovered from an injury of his own with LeFondre unavailable and while young Zach Clough has some talent from what we've briefly seen of him, they shouldn't be overly troubling the Reds' rearguard. No doubt the Trotters have improved considerably since the Irishman took over but they are still a mid-table, second tier side and at the moment Liverpool seem to have regained a fair chunk of the momentum and swagger which they were displaying at this time last year as they swept all asides before them.
Out of the Capital One Cup and the Champions League, fourth place and an FA Cup are the dual targets for Rodgers for the rest of this season so all in all the 2.526/4 available about the visitors recording a victory without conceding looks good value and is the second recommended bet here.
Back Draw/Liverpool in the Half Time/Full Time market at 4.77/2
Back Liverpool to win to nil at 2.526/4