Goals by Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard ensured Liverpool's title surge gathered momentum with a hard-fought 2-0 win at Bolton Wanderers. The Dutchman's seventh goal of the season set his team on the way, before the England midfielder struck after half-time to send the Reds three points clear at the top of the Premier League table, at least for a few hours.
Rafa Benitez surprisingly left star striker Fernando Torres out of his starting line-up, three days after the Spaniard made his first start for five weeks during the League Cup defeat at Tottenham Hotspur. The prospect of the striker being omitted seemed unthinkable not long ago.
But the belief oozing through the Liverpool side is such that the manager can afford to leave him out, especially as he believes Torres is still three weeks from returning to peak form following hamstring problems. Yet the former Atleico Madrid player still managed to play a key role in the win, rising from the substitutes' bench to provide the cross for Gerrard to score.
Benitez had fielded a side made up mainly of fringe players at Tottenham. But key men Gerrard, Robbie Keane, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso were recalled as Liverpool looked to build on their best start to a Premier League season under the former Valencia coach.
They were made to work hard for the three points by a stubborn Bolton outfit, but few at the Reebok Stadium would deny that Liverpool were worthy victors. They would have won by a more handsome margin had the lively Kuyt not been denied by the crossbar, while Gerrard and Keane were both guilty of glaring misses.
Mid-table Bolton went into the game looking to build on back-to-back victories over Manchester City and Hull City, but the hosts soon found themselves under the cosh when Denmark defender Daniel Agger headed narrowly wide before Keane forced Jussi Jaaskelainen into a 21st-minute save. With Albert Riera inspirational down the left flank, Liverpool continued to carve out chances.
Bolton were saved by the woodwork in the 22nd minute, when Kuyt let fly from 12 yards following good work by Gerrard, before the former made the breakthrough six minutes later with his 20th Premier League goal since joining from Feyenoord in August 2006. The goal was made by Fabio Aurelio, whose inch-perfect cross floated over Bolton's defence and found the head of Kuyt, who in turn found the corner of the net.
By now Liverpool were well in control, yet Keane wasted a glorious chance to double his side's lead in the 30th minute when he somehow missed the target from two yards out from Kuyt's cross. Gerrard was guilty of a similar miss in the second-half after a Torres cross.
Those misses could have proved ever so costly, but, fortunately for Liverpool, Bolton's finishing was just as poor. Jamaican international Ricardo Gardner, a half-time substitute, did well to power his way through the visitors' defence before rounding Reina in the 52nd minute, but just as the home fans got ready to celebrate, he screwed his shot horribly wide after slipping at the crucial moment.
Liverpool's second goal arrived in the 72nd minute, Torres producing a superb cross for Gerrard to glance a header past Jaaskelainen. The Bolton keeper then made fine saves to deny the lively Torres and Alonso as the Reds finished strongly.