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Sunday, December 28, 2008


Robbie Keane hit a second-half double as Liverpool retained top spot in the Barclays Premier League with a stylish 3-0 win over Bolton at Anfield.

The Ireland international fired two goals in six minutes to put an end to a run of three straight league draws on home turf after Albert Riera had got us off to the perfect start with a neat finish on 26 minutes.

It means we retain our one point lead at the summit of English football with a seventh straight win on the spin against the Trotters in L4, and have now gone the entire calendar year undefeated at Anfield.

The Reds went in to the clash having topped the table at Christmas for the first time since 1996, but with Chelsea beating West Brom in an earlier kick-off, the home side knew three points were essential if they were to remain there come quarter to five.

The presence of Rafael Benitez in both the dressing room and the directors' box following illness would have provided the perfect lift ahead of the match and the players would have wanted to give the boss some belated Christmas cheer with a fast start against Gary Megson's men.

However, it was the visitors who carved out the first opening of the contest on two minutes when both Sami Hyypia and Daniel Agger failed to clear, allowing Kevin Nolan to burst in to the area.

The Liverpool-born midfielder had Johan Elmander in support but his clipped effort was neither clever enough nor high enough to trouble Pepe Reina in the Reds goal.

It was the chance of the match as far as Bolton were concerned, and as they struggled to keep pace with Liverpool's attack, they were fortunate not to fall behind just seconds later when Riera's drilled volley was directed wide by Robbie Keane in the six yard box.

It inspired a roar of approval from the Kop and after Riera drilled another near post effort well wide of target, Emiliano Insua went close with a sizzling volley that brought a fine save out of Jussi Jaaskelainen.

So often this season the Reds have been made to pay for contriving to miss a number of good opportunities against stubborn opposition, and after Dirk Kuyt put a free header over the bar on 20 minutes, Kopites could have been forgiven for thinking it was going to be another one of those days.

Earlier in the week Riera had suggested the Reds needed to try more long distance shooting in order to bring an end to their Anfield frustration, and it was perhaps fitting that it was he who found the key to unlock the Trotters defence - albeit from six yards out.

The Spaniard has enjoyed a promising start to life at Anfield since his summer arrival from Espanyol and he added to his stock on 26 minutes when he arrived late at the near post to stab home Steven Gerrard's right-wing corner and claim his third goal in Liverpool colours.

The relief was visible throughout the whole of Anfield and Bolton will have been happy to have gone in at the interval just the one goal behind as the Reds pushed forward in their search to hammer home their advantage.

Yossi Benayoun, who was enjoying a productive game, flashed a volley just wide of the far post before Jamie Carragher popped up on the left to crash a 25 yard drive inches over the top.

The second-half brought with it a change of tact from Gary Megson's side, with the attacking figure of Kevin Davies brought on in place of former Aston Villa full-back Jlloyd Samuel.

Not that it had any effect on Liverpool, who swept forward and added a second within seven minutes of the restart.

Gerrard found space just inside the Bolton half before striding forward and playing a neat through ball to Keane, who made no mistake with a clinical first-time finish from just inside the area.

It was a goal that knocked the wind out of the away side and six minutes later it was all over bar the shouting.

A lightning break saw Reina feed Alonso, who in turn played in the marauding Benayoun. The Israeli raced into the penalty area and steered an instant ball into Keane who flashed home from six yards out.

It was the 28-year-old's seventh goal of the season and follows on from his superb strike in last week's 1-1 draw at Arsenal.

With the three points in the bag, Liverpool eased through the remainder of the encounter and although there was to be no hat-trick for Keane, it was the perfect pick-me-up for Rafael Benitez who watched his side claim their highest points total in a calendar year since 1990.

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