Pleasing decline in cant count

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With apologies to the Chinese, 1995 is in danger of becoming football's Year of the Prig. From the host of a certain radio phone-in to those occupying the very pinnacle of the Premiership, righteous indignation, particularly over refereeing decisions, isrampant.

The managers of Nottingham Forest and Liverpool had a chance to join the tumult after this stalemate. Frank Clark to question why Gary Willard allowed several minutes of stoppage time, during which Robbie Fowler cancelled out Stan Collymore's early goal;Roy Evans to argue that Phil Babb had unjustly incurred Liverpool's first red card this season. Mercifully, it was an opportunity both scorned.

As Evans observed, there has been much criticism of referees lately. Not least by himself, though his outburst after a fraught Mersey derby was out of character. "They should be allowed to do their job, which is very difficult. They see it once, we see it once, and we all make our judgement on that basis," he said, declining to comment specifically on the 53rd-minute incident in which Babb brought down Steve Stone.

While there may be an argument for an official to monitor action replays like the third umpire at Test matches, viewing an incident more than once would not guarantee rectitude. The angles from which Match of the Day analysed Babb's offence, though suggesting the referee was probably right, did not, for instance, clarify whether there was a covering defender. What Babb did was not cricket, as it were, yet neither is football. Part of the game's appeal is that it works on less regimented guidelines.

What was beyond dispute was that Liverpool's 10 men, parted from their cherished system of three centre-backs, suddenly went from dour to dynamic. Their reward may make the difference between qualifying for Europe and not doing so. Clark, eschewing the customary cant in favour of candour, seemed to sense as much. "We kept giving them hope," he said, bemoaning Forest's lack of professionalism. "I don't consider us unfortunate to get only a point.''

The match was not of a quality befitting two highly placed sides. There was no one, to paraphrase the old quip about Stan Bowles and betting shops, who could pass the ball like the FA can pass the buck. Lars Bohinen was suspended, while John Barnes, a ponderous presence, often gave it away, never more significantly than in the seconds before Bryan Roy set up that rarity, a mundane Collymore goal.

England's surfeit of strikers means that Forest's 15-goal forward is unlikely to be in Terry Venables' squad for Dublin, which is named today. Collymore may indeed be a Liverpool player by the time he gains such recognition. Clark still hopes to persuadehim to sign a new contract, but conceded it might be meaningless even if he did. Evans confirmed he had asked to be kept informed, adding: "If Forest do decide to sell, we've got be interested.''

Fowler, whose goal following Steve McManaman's flick was his 23rd of the season, may also have to wait his turn internationally. Despite reacting to Babb's exit with the resilience of youth, he had previously cut a ragged figure, in need of the rugged support Collymore could provide.

Goals: Collymore (11) 1-0; Fowler (89) 1-1.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Lyttle, Cooper, Chettle, Phillips; Stone, Haland, Gemmill, Woan; Roy (Lee, 87), Collymore. Substitutes not used: Warner, Filan (gk).

Liverpool (5-3-2): James; Jones, Scales, Ruddock, Babb, Matteo (Walters, 80); McManaman, Redknapp (Thomas, 73), Barnes; Fowler, Rush. Substitute not used: Stensgaard (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).