Hodgson struggling to halt Liverpool decline

LONDON - Two years ago Liverpool went into the New Year top of the League with 45 points from 20 games but they host Bolton Wanderers on Saturday in 12th with a paltry 22-point return from a painful first half of the season.

Things reached a nadir on Wednesday when a Wolverhampton Wanderers team who had collected a solitary point from their eight previous away games as they slid to the bottom of the league won 1-0 at Anfield - Liverpool's eighth defeat of the season.

If it had been a backs-to-the wall defensive effort with a breakaway goal then maybe Liverpool's fans could have swallowed the latest setback but it was anything but a fluke. Wolves dominated from start to finish, kept their first clean sheet of the season and should have had more goals.

Liverpool, even with Steven Gerrard back for the first time in six weeks after a hamstring tear, were awful and it was entirely predictable that they were booed off.

"The fans have left angry and that's understandable," said manager Roy Hodgson, who cuts an increasingly desperate figure on the touchline with each passing match.

"However, it would be dangerous to clear a lot of players out on the basis of one game. We wanted our renaissance to start today but it hasn't happened. Panic would be the wrong thing to do but I'm not the sole arbiter of that."

They were hardly the words of a man revelling in one of the top jobs in English soccer, which he took on at the start of the season following the departure of Rafael Benitez, and Hodgson will be desperate to bring in some new blood in the January transfer window.

Last time Liverpool lost at home to Wolves, 26 years ago, they recovered well enough to win the title and the European Cup and Wolves were relegated.

Mick McCarthy's team might still go down but Liverpool's European ambitions are limited to the Europa League while their domestic target looks like being to climb above the likes of Blackpool, Stoke City, Blackburn Rovers and Sunderland for an upper mid-table finish.

They are unlikely to find an easy way back against sixth-placed Bolton either, as their Lancashire rivals are playing well and were unlucky to lose 1-0 at Chelsea on Wednesday.

That victory was Chelsea's first since Nov. 10 and lifted them back into the top four - four points behind leaders Manchester United and Manchester City and two behind Arsenal.

United, with games in hand on all their title rivals, visit West Bromwich Albion in Saturday's lunchtime kick-off while City are at home to irrepressible Blackpool later in the day.

Arsenal, who would have been joint-top if they had not given up a late equaliser in Wednesday's 2-2 draw at Wigan Athletic, visit Birmingham City while Chelsea host an Aston Villa side in freefall on Sunday. Fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur are at home to Fulham on Saturday.

All the top four are in action again next Tuesday and Wednesday as the holiday fixtures will begin to take a toll on stretched squads.