It was so close. So close to becoming one of those nights. You know the nights; the ones where you’ve done everything but score. The ones where it looks like the last thing you’re ever likely to do is score.
The ones where Sterling has managed to bamboozle an entire defence by standing, almost motionless, almost zen-like in the middle of the box and clip the post with an exquisitely curled shot. Where Andy Lonergan can save from Sterling after Devite has blocked an initial attack with a ludicrous burst of pace. Where Lonergan can touch an Emre Can shot onto the bar, Henderson can hit the post. Where woodwork and keeper conspire to create the romance of the underdog.
Where, crucially, you can be trailing to a disputed penalty converted by a man who has troubled you so often in the past and wiping the sweat from your brow as he fails to add to his tally with a weak header at an open net.
Where your own dreams, your own romance - the idea of Steven Gerrard lifting the FA Cup in his last game, on his birthday - is vanishing and your season is taking a downward turn before your eyes.
And then fate, quality, weight of numbers and firepower step in.
On seventy minutes Neil Danns - a scouser, a red and already booked - flies into an ill-judged tackle and Bolton are reduced to ten men. Liverpool camp in Bolton’s half. Camp in it. Practically annexe it as part of Anfield. Our 3-4-3 formation has transformed into a 2-1-the rest of you just attack.
For those who wondered what Emre Can could do as a midfielder, there’s your answer. He can do that. He can do everything. The lad’s ridiculous. He’s some player. He’s 20 years old, we’ve seen nothing yet but he can do that. He controls the game, he probes, he prods, he carries, he creates. He creates Sterling’s gloriously volleyed, brilliantly nutmegged equaliser with this….chip is too small a word but let’s say chip..over the Bolton defence.
The whole night had been about the sumptuous nature of our midfield. About the small triangles under pressure, about the constant passing, about the interplay between Sterling and Coutinho. The outrageous, audacious interplay. They’re doing everything but put the ball in the back of the net. They’re determined to thread the ball through Bolton’s defence, determined that any goal they create will be a thing of beauty.
Until they do. Until they both do. We can put Sturridge on and see him not threaten but not need to, just be present. We can put Borini on and watch him do whatever it is that Borini does. We can play with all the forwards and move them round until we find an answer. We can have our central defenders on the edge of the opposition box and still be our last line of defence because everybody else is in the box. And you can argue that we only did this against Bolton, against the tired legs of Bolton and I’ll say two things:
They didn’t do this. They didn’t change things enough to win through against lower league opposition. They didn’t do enough to have the courage to, having equalised in the 85th minute, go and get a winner because they really didn’t fancy extra time with a derby at the weekend. And they didn’t do all this so that Phillippe Coutinho could do that.
Great player that Coutinho. Everyone’s said so all week. We already knew like, but it’s nice to have everybody agree with us. All he has to do, they said, is add goals to his game. Phillips Coutinho can do that. It’s a goal that wins World Cup finals. It’s a goal that Barcelona players score. It’s the answer to ‘yes but can he do it on a cold Wednesday in February at Bolton?’ It’s the answer, ‘yes, he bloody can.’ It’s from nowhere, with nothing on and it’s curled but it’s a thunderbolt and it’s utterly, utterly beautiful.
So we pulled through. There have been other nights when we wouldn’t have but on those other nights we wouldn’t have had players who have realised that they’re geniuses. Crystal Palace away next then. We can spend the next ten days watching replays of that sodding Alan Pardew goal and listening to Alan Pardew being interviewed about that sodding Alan Pardew goal.
And then we can roll the lads out again and do that.