Liverpool take over at the top

Liverpool 4 Nottingham Forest 2
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The Independent Online
The season to be jolly came early for Anfield last night. An exact repeat of their New Year's Day victory over Nottingham Forest, led with a certain inevitability by Stan Collymore's two goals, restored Liverpool to the Premiership summit for the first time since early October.

On Forest's last visit, when Liverpool came from 2-0 down to triumph 4-2, Collymore also scored twice. On this occasion he performed as if nursing a grievance over failing to share in Saturday's five-goal spree against Middlesbrough, responding to the taunts of his old club's fans with his sharpest showing of the season.

Coventry's defeat of Newcastle may have been good news for Liverpool, who visit Tyneside next Monday, but it completed a wretched evening for Forest. They are now three points adrift at the bottom, their 16th game without a win having relieved Swindon of an unwanted record for the Premier League.

As if the sight of Collymore running amok were not painful enough for their embattled manager, Frank Clark, Forest's next two games are against Arsenal and Manchester United. They have not won since the opening day, although there were signs, as in last week's draw with Newcastle, that there is no lack of resilience at the City Ground.

Spirit alone was never going to be sufficient to stop Roy Evans' side in their present mood. It seems it is either feast or famine for Liverpool: after three home fixtures which yielded only two points and two goals, they have now amassed nine goals in two emphatic victories.

They did not need to be at their best here. Two goals came gift-wrapped, the first following their recent pattern of scoring early at Anfield. When the Forest keeper, Mark Crossley, cleared weakly in the sixth minute, Robbie Fowler headed the ball back towards the penalty area. Crossley should have reached it before Collymore, but a lumbering approach and missed tackle enabled his former colleague to touch the ball past him and roll it into an unguarded net.

Alf Inge Haland, Forest's best player on the night, fluffed a free header four minutes later and also clipped the bar with a deflected shot. But Liverpool's mounting pressure brought a second goal in the 27th minute, when Collymore pursued Phil Babb's long pass before crossing for Fowler to head his 18th goal of the season.

Sloppy defending, notably by Neil Ruddock, enabled Kevin Campbell to reduce the arrears seven minutes later with a scrambled goal, his first since 4 September. Liverpool, however, restored the two-goal margin three minutes into the second half. Des Lyttle headed into his own net as the ball looped into the air after Fowler's attempt to convert Jason McAteer's cross.

Stuart Pearce cut the deficit again on the hour with a trade-mark drive from 18 yards after a short free-kick. Despite the loss of Fowler with an ankle injury, Liverpool appeared almost to be able to score at will and did so again within three minutes. Patrik Berger, on for Fowler, made a strong run before crossing for Collymore to side-foot his sixth of the season.

"It's nice to go top, but there's a long way to go," Evans cautioned. "We're not even half-way through the season yet."

Clark considered that Liverpool would be "there or there abouts" come May, yet there was an air of fatalism about his view of Forest's circumstances.

"The first goal was horrendous," the Forest manager sighed. "It was generosity to an old team-mate gone mad - and to Stan of all people."

Liverpool (3-4-1-2): James; Wright (Matteo, h-t), Ruddock, Babb; McAteer, Thomas, Barnes, Bjornebye; McManaman; Collymore, Fowler (Berger, 57). Substitutes not used: Redknapp, Kennedy, A Warner (gk).

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Lyttle, V Warner, Cooper, Pearce; Haland, Phillips, Woan, Allen; Saunders (Howe, 83), Campbell. Substitutes not used: Gemmill, Lee, Roy, Fettis (gk).

Referee: G Barber (Worthing).