Football: Liverpool carved up by Pearce

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Nottingham Forest 1 Liverpool 0

These may be lean days for British beef, but that rare rump steak among defenders, Stuart Pearce, chose an opportune time to emphasise that his appetite for the blood and guts of the Premiership fray is undiminished.

Not long ago, the Forest left-back looked to have surrendered his England berth to Graeme Le Saux. Then, with the Channel Islander a long-term casualty, Terry Venables took a look at Philip Neville and liked what he saw. Yet if Wednesday's friendly against Bulgaria is to be a serious warm-up for the European Championship, Pearce should not only play, but could even push David Platt for the captaincy.

Liverpool, previously unbeaten in 20 games, came armed with a "Razor", aka Neil Ruddock. However, in terms of meaty tackling and indomitable presence, he was not in the same league as Forest's "Psycho". Pearce made the game's crucial challenge, forcing Ian Rush to shoot hurriedly when he had the goal in his sights, and found Jason Lee with its best first- time pass.

Then there was his part in Steve Stone's goal. A fierce drive, a throwback to Pearce's bullish prime under Brian Clough, was spilled by David James, allowing Colin Cooper to set up Stone. In trying circumstances, which had included the prospect of Stan Collymore returning to compound the misery inflicted by Bayern Munich, it capped the definitive captain's contribution.

As the Forest manager, Frank Clark, noted, Pearce also demonstrated his flexibility in the face of modern systems. Pitted against one of the more forceful wing-backs in Jason McAteer, he did not invite pressure by defending deep, but pushed into an advanced role himself whenever possible.

That said, Forest were jaded as a creative force, understandably so, and owed victory chiefly to a backs (and forwards and midfielders) to the wall approach. But while Liverpool hit the bar from a Robbie Fowler chip that oozed the ebullience Venables must seek to harness, and saw an "equaliser" dubiously disallowed, their form fell below that required of champions.

There were echoes of "Black November", when Roy Evans' side were passing, endlessly, without penetrating. They seldom got in behind Forest, who were content to let Liverpool switch the ball around as they massed behind it. And when the tireless Steve McManaman did break through late on, Mark Crossley saved superbly.

By then, Collymore had been hauled off the stage he once strutted with such swagger, departing with a caution from a spat with Stone and abuse ringing in his ears. To borrow a phrase Barry Fry once used to describe one of the striker's off-days at Southend, he had "run around like a limp lettuce".

Which was a pity, for it suggested that the sustained hostility actually worked. It was reminiscent of the kind Eric Cantona receives at Leeds - "Judas" being one of the more polite chants - and reflected poorly on the home support.

Clark admitted the atmosphere was unpleasant, adding with an air of resignation: "That's football nowadays". But Evans risked losing the sympathy vote when he said it was "sad when someone who's given great service gets that sort of reception".

Forest's beef with Collymore centres on his alleged greed. Whatever the facts, many spectators spent an afternoon for which they had paid good money absorbed in acrimony rather than in appreciation of Pearce's efforts. Mad Crowd Disease, even in this milder form, is unpalatable. All the more so with the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster looming.

Goal: Stone (42) 1-0.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Lyttle, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Stone, Gemmill (Phillips, 63), Bart-Williams, Woan; Lee, Roy (Allen, 80). Substitute not used: Howe.

Liverpool (3-4-1-2): James; Wright, Scales, Ruddock; McAteer, Thomas, Barnes, Matteo (Redknapp, 70); McManaman; Collymore (Rush, 70), Fowler. Substitute not used: Warner (gk).

Referee: P Danson (Leicester).

Bookings: Nottingham Forest: Stone, Lee. Liverpool: Wright, Collymore, Ruddock.

Man of the match: Pearce. Attendance: 29,058