PIERRE VAN HOOIJDONK'S stoppage-time free-kick salvaged a point for Nottingham Forest and denied a lackadaisical Liverpool victory as a match of only sporadic incident ended amid controversy.
Paul Ince, who had been less than his usual impassioned self up to that point, had to be pulled away from the referee, Dermot Gallagher, as the teams left the field after the Banbury official had penalised the Liverpool captain to set up the chance for Forest's equaliser, expertly curled out of David James's reach by the Dutch striker.
Trying to usher the ball away as Forest made a last attempt to prevent a sixth successive home defeat, Ince stumbled under a challenge five yards outside the Liverpool penalty area and was furious when Mr Gallagher awarded a free-kick against him for handling the ball as he fell.
The position of the kick was perfect for Van Hooijdonk, who has few peers in the art of bending the ball around defensive walls and on this occasion he gave James no chance.
After the unwelcome repercussions of Robbie Fowler's latest ill-chosen actions in the Merseyside derby, the Liverpool manager, Gerard Houllier, was understandably reluctant to stir up another fuss and made little comment on the incident, preferring to blame his team for allowing a winning opportunity to slip from their grasp.
"We let ourselves down because we had chances to kill the game and we allowed Forest back," he said. "After Michael Owen's goal put us back in front we should have kept the lead. But before Forest scored we should have been 2-0 or 3-0 up."
Liverpool had taken the lead after 17 minutes through Jamie Redknapp, whose fine goal stemmed from a free-kick in more or less the same place as Van Hooijdonk's. Ironically, this one was awarded for a foul on Ince by Richard Gough. Ince took the kick, wrong-footing Forest's defensive wall by rolling the ball through Patrik Berger's legs, and Redknapp's strike found a gap.
After that goal Liverpool coasted, although there were chances for Fowler, Owen and Dominic Matteo to give them control. Forest seldom looked impressive, but drew level 13 minutes into the second half when a throw-in taken by Alan Rogers was flicked on by Gough and again by Van Hooijdonk before Dougie Freedman bundled it home.
Forest sensed then that a Liverpool side lacking momentum might just keel over but a misdirected clearance by Gough, who did not enjoy the best of 38th birthdays, allowed Redknapp to release Owen with a first- time pass and the young striker had the pace to escape his marker before lifting the ball over and wide of Mark Crossley.
Houllier, who had already taken off Steve McManaman, replaced Fowler with Steven Gerrard, a defender, and that should have been that. But Van Hooijdonk, never reluctant to back his ability from any dead ball, had the last word.
Nottingham Forest (4-3-1-2): Crossley; Louis-Jean (Shipperley, 89), Gough, Edwards, Bonalair; Johnson, Palmer, Rogers; Van Hooijdonk; Freedman (Allou, 77), Harewood. Substitutes not used: Beasant (gk), Chettle, Woan.
Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Song, Carragher, Staunton, Matteo; McManaman (Riedle, 67), Ince, Redknapp, Berger; Owen, Fowler (Gerrard, 79). Substitutes not used: Friedel (gk), Leonhardsen, Bjornebye.
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).Reuse content