Stone rocks Liverpool

Nottingham Forest 1 Stone 42 Liverpool 0 Attendance: 29,058
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The Independent Online
IT SEEMED it would never happen. But on a fraught afternoon at the City Ground yesterday the tension finally got to Liverpool as Nottingham Forest inflicted their first defeat in 21 matches on them.

The fact that Newcastle lost at Arsenal did not make the result any less disappointing for the team whose insistent progress over the last four months has enabled them to hang on in the race for the Premiership title. Quite the reverse, in fact.

The challenge for Liverpool is to believe they can still become champions - receding prospect though it is - and for their next Premiership match to be home to Newcastle, on Wednesday week, could hardly be more timely. But as their manager, Roy Evans, said, this was a day when "only Manchester United are laughing".

The goal that won the match, by Steve Stone two minutes before half-time, was all the more a matter of regret for Liverpool through the unwitting contribution made to it by their goalkeeper, David James. But nobody had an unhappier day than Stan Collymore, back at the City Ground for the first time since his contentious departure for Anfield at the end of last season and the victim of some disgraceful abuse by people who once worshipped him.

Both managers condemned it. "It's something that seems to be part of the game and you wish it wasn't," Frank Clark of Nottingham Forest said."It's a bit sad when a guy has done great service at a club and gets that kind of reception," Evans said.

To make matters worse, Collymore was booked after an altercation with Stone - it was that kind of match - and substituted with 20 minutes left. "He wasn't having the best of days," Evans explained.

From Forest's point of view, the victory said much for their resilience in the wake of the 5-1 defeat they suffered at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Uefa Cup in midweek. But that result never meant they were a bad team. With Chris Bart-Williams outstanding in midfield, their attacks, although less frequent than Liverpool's, had more edge, and the backs- to-the-wall experience they have gained in Europe this season stood them in good stead as the pressure mounted in the second half.

For a while, the Collymore sub-plot threatened to overwhelm the main drama. Certainly he had the best chance of a first half in which Liverpool failed to make their greater possession count. Forest's initial thrust had been repelled when, after 31 minutes, Collymore found space on the left side of the Forest area before collecting a pass by Michael Thomas. The ball did not quite sit for him, which might have explained why he mistimed a shot which Crossley was able to get down to comfortably.

Four minutes later Liverpool went as close as they did at any stage of the game through a brilliant piece of skill by Robbie Fowler, whose touch otherwise was slightly off. Gathering a pass from Dominic Matteo in his stride, he chipped Crossley from 30 yards but only succeeded in clipping the top of the bar.

While the midfield distribution of Bart-Williams and Ian Woan was always subtly testing, Jason Lee's finishing was distinctly poor and it needed a trademark blast from Stuart Pearce to turn the match Nottingham Forest's way. A 30-yard shot bounced out of James's arms, Colin Cooper collected it and from his pass across the face of the area, Stone drove the ball into the roof of the net.

Liverpool threw everything at Forest from then on, but while Steve McManaman made some superb runs, there were too many players trying to do their own thing. Rescue operations need teamwork, and, unusually for Liverpool, theirs was lacking.

When they resorted to their old talisman, Ian Rush - the replacement for Collymore - he found himself with the best chance of the second half, but his 76th-minute shot was sliced wide.