Football: Forest douse the fire

Nottingham Forest 1 Woan 30 Liverpool 1 Fowler 4 Attendance: 2 9,181
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The Independent Online
The words flatter and deceive leap once more to mind in connection with Liverpool. Beginning breathtakingly but continuing carelessly, they lost ground again to Manchester United in the Premiership title race and more and more it looks as if they will have to win the contest between the two at Anfield next month.

A typical piece of penalty-box pickpocketing by Robbie Fowler gave Liverpool the perfect start but, having squandered chances, they allowed a Forest growing in spirit as the game wore on to recover for a point that furthers their own cause at the other end of the table. It came courtesy of another error by David James, who seemed to be seeking to extend Comic Relief by a day.

"It happened again," the Liverpool manager Roy Evans said. "We didn't batten up and in the end we had to battle. We should have killed it off in the first 20 minutes but it's that little word 'if' again, isn't it? Forest changed it, started to throw some long balls at us and we didn't deal well with it. We defended 15 yards too deep for me."

It might have been worse for Liverpool, better for Forest, on a day when the City Ground's optimism, based on the recent takeover, appointment of Dave Bassett as general manager and record pounds 4.5m signing of Pierre Van Hooijdonk from Celtic, appeared to have some substance. The Dutchman's promising presence was an important factor in yesterday's revival.

How different it might have been had Liverpool built on an easy, early dominance that saw their one and two-touch passing and elusive running near its best, if not at the peak of Monday's first-half display against Newcastle - "the finest I have seen by any team anywhere this season," Dave Bassett said.

The lead came from a stunning move. From the centre circle, Jamie Redknapp picked out Jason McAteer's run on the right with an extravagant pass and, after the wing-back had rounded Ian Woan, Fowler took one touch to control the low cut-back and with his second dispatched a shot across Mark Crossley and into the net.

After his 16th league goal of the season - and 26th in all - Fowler might have had another moments later. Patrik Berger, whose selection denied the roundly jeered Stan Collymore a starting appearance against his former club, crossed low from the left only for Fowler to miss his kick in front of goal.

At this point, all Liverpool did when in possession was easy on the eye. When without the ball, though, there was clear evidence of why they have squandered so many advantages this season. Scot Gemmill, for example, was allowed to drift unopposed into their defensive territory and went round James but from an acute angle his cross drifted over the crossbar.

Then, from Alf Inge Haland's low cross, Dean Saunders was first to the near post only to scoop wide. Further alarm for Liverpool came when Redknapp passed the ball across his own penalty area and Saunders pounced, though his shot was blocked.

The pressure duly culminated in an equaliser. James raced off his line to chase a deep free-kick by Stuart Pearce but, challenged by Van Hooijdonk, could not claim it. The ball fell to Haland who rolled it to Woan, his left foot finding the net from the edge of the area with James still scrambling back. The goalkeeper blamed his erratic performance against Newcastle on having played too many computer games pre-match; perhaps yesterday the Nintendo adverts around the ground were distracting him.

Liverpool stirred themselves before half-time, with Crossley having to save with his legs from Berger before watching Redknapp's 25-yard drive flash just wide, but Forest had by now played themselves in.

After the interval, Des Lyttle found time away from his effective marking job on Steve McManaman to send Saunders clear, only for the excellent Bjorn Tore Kvarme to intervene, and McAteer headed Steve Chettle's flick off the line as Saunders closed in, inflicting a head wound that required eight stitches.

Thereafter, a linesman's flag denied the substitute Collymore a run on goal for a winner but that and a few Redknapp shots represented a poor attacking response. You could see again why Liverpool are only thereabouts when they might already have been nearly there.