With two league defeats in their first three matches, Liverpool's title credentials were already being called into question.
And doubts still remained after another unconvincing performance against a Bolton side also struggling for form.
Benitez had singled out Gerrard as having been below par in their opening games but the skipper responded in the perfect manner.
Although he was still not at his thrusting, influential best, Gerrard's main contribution was a decisive one as he thrashed in a volley in the 83rd minute to seal three points for his side.
Early in the match, Benitez prowled the touchline looking frustrated and unimpressed and his players showed little invention to lift his mood.
They looked uncertain at the back with debutant Sotirios Kyrgiakos having a few nervous moments - and they were punished for failing to clear a corner when Kevin Davies poked him from close range to give Bolton the lead.
Steven Gerrard talks about the winner
Soon after, Torres incurred the wrath of the Bolton players after they felt he had looked to win a penalty despite Zat Knight cleanly taking the ball.
But from the resulting corner, the ball was only half cleared and fell to Johnson who struck a low shot beyond Jussi Jaaskelainen for his second goal of the season.
Bolton went into the interval feeling aggrieved but were back in front just moments after the restart.
Jaaskelainen punted the ball upfield, Davies flicked the ball on and Cohen volleyed home against the team his father, Avi, used to play for despite a despairing attempt to block by Jamie Carragher.
Benitez pleased with Liverpool's response
The two goals were the first that Bolton had scored in the league this season and at that point, another shock defeat looked on the cards for Liverpool.
But the decision to send off Davis changed everything and within seconds, Liverpool came piling forward and Gerrard smashed a vicious shot against the bar.
Moments later parity was restored when Dirk Kuyt chested the ball into the path of Torres and the Spaniard lashed home.
And although Bolton did their best to hang on as Liverpool chased the victory, it proved a fruitless task when a corner fell to Gerrard, the England midfielder found the top corner.
Liverpool almost scored again when Torres had a shot hacked off the line, but a wider margin of victory would have been flattering.
While Liverpool still need to improve to challenge for the title, they will be relieved to have won and Benitez will be pleased by his side's spirit.
Bolton, however, can also take some positives from a performance that gives them hope for the rest of the campaign.
Bolton boss Gary Megson: "Being reduced to 10 men at this level always has an impact, and when it happens against a team of Liverpool's quality even more so.
Our players don't go down - Megson
"We were man-marking Steven Gerrard up until that point, and he was under a measure of control.
"But when Davis was sent off we were unable to use (Fabrice) Muamba as a man-marker from then on, you can't do that when you only have 10 men.
"Steven is clever, he dropped deeper and deeper and orchestrated the game from then on."
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez: "All our players wanted to impress and do well. Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, among others, knew they needed to improve.
"We showed we have quality players and they all fought hard to show their improvement.
"We had a lot of possession and were in control for much of the game. To concede two goals like we did is disappointing, but the team hit back and proved their quality."
90:00+4:17 The referee blows for the end of the match.
90:00+0:29 The referee gives a free kick against Andriy Voronin for handball. Free kick taken by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
90:00+0:02 Drilled left-footed shot by Yossi Benayoun. Save by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
89:26 Substitution Mustapha Riga on for Fabrice Muamba.
88:09 Substitution Dirk Kuyt goes off and Andrea Dossena comes on.
86:04 Fernando Torres takes a shot. Brilliant save by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
85:10 Corner taken by Matthew Taylor from the right by-line, clearance by Dirk Kuyt.
84:34 The ball is crossed by Fernando Torres, Effort from the edge of the box by Yossi Benayoun goes wide of the right-hand upright.
82:21 Fernando Torres provided the assist for the goal.
82:21 GOAL - Steven Gerrard:Bolton 2 - 3 Liverpool Steven Gerrard finds the back of the net with a brilliant goal from the edge of the penalty area to the top left corner of
the goal. Bolton 2-3 Liverpool.
82:09 Yossi Benayoun takes a short corner.
79:40 Emiliano Insua decides to take a short corner, Leiva Lucas sends in a cross, clearance by Zat Knight.
78:40 Headed effort from inside the area by Fernando Torres misses to the left of the target.
77:07 Free kick taken by Emiliano Insua.
77:07 Substitution Tamir Cohen goes off and Gretar Rafn Steinsson comes on.
77:07 Free kick awarded for a foul by Fabrice Muamba on Fernando Torres.
76:30 Steven Gerrard crosses the ball, clearance by Samuel Ricketts. Shot from 12 yards from Sotirios Kyrgiakos. Jussi Jaaskelainen
makes a save.
75:53 A cross is delivered by Steven Gerrard, Tamir Cohen gets a block in. Outswinging corner taken right-footed by Steven Gerrard
from the right by-line, clearance by Chris Basham.
75:08 Fabrice Muamba has an effort at goal from outside the area which goes wide left of the target.
74:42 Glen Johnson takes a shot. Save by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
73:06 Outswinging corner taken right-footed by Leiva Lucas from the right by-line, clearance by Fabrice Muamba.
73:06 Substitution Javier Mascherano leaves the field to be replaced by Andriy Voronin.
73:06 Centre by Glen Johnson, blocked by Matthew Taylor.
72:11 Effort from deep inside the area by Dirk Kuyt misses to the right of the target.
70:43 Dirk Kuyt crosses the ball, clearance by Zat Knight.
70:12 Foul by Fabrice Muamba on Emiliano Insua, free kick awarded. Direct free kick taken by Steven Gerrard.
69:31 Emiliano Insua delivers the ball.
69:00 Matthew Taylor challenges Dirk Kuyt unfairly and gives away a free kick. Leiva Lucas crosses the ball from the free kick right-footed
from right by-line.
67:55 Steven Gerrard takes a shot. Tamir Cohen gets a block in. Shot by Steven Gerrard from outside the area goes high over the
66:45 Dirk Kuyt sends in a cross.
65:42 Short corner worked by Leiva Lucas, Glen Johnson delivers the ball. Shot by Steven Gerrard from just outside the area goes
over the net.
64:28 Dirk Kuyt concedes a free kick for a foul on Jlloyd Samuel. Direct free kick taken by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
63:00 The assistant referee signals for offside against Yossi Benayoun. Jussi Jaaskelainen restarts play with the free kick.
62:18 Substitution Yossi Benayoun on for Albert Riera.
61:30 Shot by Javier Mascherano from 35 yards. Save made by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
58:53 Direct strike on goal from the free kick comes in from Matthew Taylor, blocked by Albert Riera.
58:53 Booking Booking for Steven Gerrard for unsporting behaviour.
58:51 Steven Gerrard concedes a free kick for a foul on Tamir Cohen.
58:27 Substitution Johan Elmander goes off and Chris Basham comes on.
57:25 Albert Riera produces a cross.
55:49 Assist by Dirk Kuyt.
55:49 GOAL - Fernando Torres:Bolton 2 - 2 Liverpool Fernando Torres gets on the score sheet with a goal from inside the box to the top left corner of the goal. Bolton 2-2 Liverpool.
53:57 Free kick crossed right-footed by Steven Gerrard from right channel, clearance made by Samuel Ricketts. A cross is delivered
by Leiva Lucas, Shot by Steven Gerrard. Leiva Lucas decides to take the corner short. Shot by Steven Gerrard. Jlloyd Samuel
gets a block in. Corner taken by Steven Gerrard from the right by-line to the near post, clearance by Jlloyd Samuel.
53:57 Sent off The referee shows Sean Davis a red card for second bookable offence.
53:34 Free kick awarded for a foul by Sean Davis on Leiva Lucas.
52:10 Foul by Sean Davis on Fernando Torres, free kick awarded. Steven Gerrard fires a strike on goal direct from the free kick,
blocked by Matthew Taylor. Inswinging corner taken by Steven Gerrard from the left by-line.
50:06 Free kick awarded for a foul by Fabrice Muamba on Steven Gerrard. Steven Gerrard produces a cross, Sotirios Kyrgiakos has
a headed effort at goal from close in which goes wide right of the goal.
48:53 Unfair challenge on Jamie Carragher by Kevin Davies results in a free kick. Jose Reina restarts play with the free kick.
46:15 Assist on the goal came from Kevin Davies.
46:15 GOAL - Tamir Cohen:Bolton 2 - 1 Liverpool Tamir Cohen grabs a goal from deep inside the penalty box low into the middle of the goal. Bolton 2-1 Liverpool.
46:01 Tamir Cohen fouled by Emiliano Insua, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
45:01 The referee gets the second half started.
45:00+2:12 The referee calls an end to the first half.
45:00+1:41 Emiliano Insua takes the direct free kick.
45:00+1:41 Booking Booking for Sean Davis for unsporting behaviour.
45:00+1:38 Leiva Lucas fouled by Sean Davis, the ref awards a free kick.
44:10 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Matthew Taylor by Leiva Lucas. Shot on goal comes in from Matthew Taylor from
the free kick, Jose Reina makes a fantastic save. Corner taken by Matthew Taylor from the right by-line, clearance by Jamie
Carragher. Corner taken by Fabrice Muamba from the left by-line to the near post, clearance by Emiliano Insua.
43:00 Shot by Tamir Cohen from just outside the area goes over the net.
41:10 Sean Davis fouled by Leiva Lucas, the ref awards a free kick. Matthew Taylor fires a strike on goal direct from the free kick,
Emiliano Insua gets a block in.
40:20 GOAL - Glen Johnson:Bolton 1 - 1 Liverpool Glen Johnson gets on the score sheet with a goal from just outside the area to the bottom right corner of the goal. Bolton
39:33 Corner taken right-footed by Steven Gerrard, clearance made by Johan Elmander.
38:42 The ball is delivered by Glen Johnson, Shot from close range by Fernando Torres misses to the right of the target.
37:27 The ball is swung over by Glen Johnson, clearance by Johan Elmander.
36:32 Free kick crossed right-footed by Steven Gerrard, Tamir Cohen manages to make a clearance.
36:32 Booking The referee cautions Fabrice Muamba for unsporting behaviour.
36:30 Albert Riera fouled by Fabrice Muamba, the ref awards a free kick.
35:40 Gary Cahill has an effort at goal. Javier Mascherano gets a block in. Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Matthew Taylor
from the right by-line, Jamie Carragher manages to make a clearance.
34:41 Dirk Kuyt delivers the ball, clearance by Gary Cahill.
32:49 The assist for the goal came from Johan Elmander.
32:49 GOAL - Kevin Davies:Bolton 1 - 0 Liverpool Kevin Davies grabs a goal from close range to the bottom right corner of the goal. Bolton 1-0 Liverpool.
31:47 Sotirios Kyrgiakos challenges Kevin Davies unfairly and gives away a free kick. The free kick is swung in left-footed by Matthew
Taylor, clearance by Fernando Torres. Corner from the right by-line taken by Matthew Taylor,
30:40 Shot from 12 yards by Fernando Torres. Save by Jussi Jaaskelainen.
30:26 Centre by Matthew Taylor, Jamie Carragher makes a clearance.
27:36 Corner taken by Steven Gerrard, clearance by Zat Knight.
23:04 Kevin Davies crosses the ball, save by Jose Reina.
21:31 Albert Riera has an effort at goal from outside the penalty box missing to the wide left of the goal.
21:00 Centre by Matthew Taylor, Sotirios Kyrgiakos manages to make a clearance.
18:40 Dirk Kuyt takes a shot. Blocked by Jlloyd Samuel.
17:50 Albert Riera crosses the ball.
15:34 Fernando Torres produces a drilled left-footed shot from 12 yards. Zat Knight gets a block in.
13:57 The ball is crossed by Javier Mascherano.
12:53 Free kick taken by Javier Mascherano.
12:53 Booking Gary Cahill booked for unsporting behaviour.
12:47 Fernando Torres fouled by Gary Cahill, the ref awards a free kick.
12:08 Shot from just outside the box by Glen Johnson misses to the left of the goal.
11:45 Albert Riera sends in a cross, Zat Knight makes a clearance.
11:15 Sean Davis gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Javier Mascherano. Direct free kick taken by Jamie Carragher.
8:45 Free kick awarded for a foul by Samuel Ricketts on Albert Riera. Free kick taken by Emiliano Insua.
7:58 The ball is sent over by Jamie Carragher, Header from close in by Leiva Lucas misses to the left of the target.
7:02 Tamir Cohen concedes a free kick for a foul on Dirk Kuyt. Direct free kick taken by Jamie Carragher.
5:19 Johan Elmander concedes a free kick for a foul on Sotirios Kyrgiakos. Jose Reina restarts play with the free kick.
4:18 Sean Davis fouled by Javier Mascherano, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick crossed by Matthew Taylor, Sotirios Kyrgiakos
manages to make a clearance.
2:27 Fernando Torres has a headed effort at goal from close range which goes wide of the left-hand post.
0:00 The game gets underway.
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