As we enter the final games of the season, the relegation battle is really heating up. Every week another team seems to take a huge step towards safety as Forest are left marooned in the relegation zone. A daunting trip to Anfield was next, somewhere Forest hadn’t won since 1969.
Facing a side in electric goal-scoring form, Steve Cooper made a single change from his side’s defeat against Manchester United, with Orel Mangala replacing Brennan Johnson as Forest turned to a more defensive 3-5-2 formation. Liverpool were unchanged from their 6-1 demolition of Leeds in midweek, as they looked to avoid losing both games against newly promoted Premier League sides for only the third time.
Forest got proceedings underway and from early on it was clear that they would see little of the ball and would have to put in a concentrated performance. Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo had the game’s first opening as he saw a long shot drift well wide, before Anfield rose in applause during the sixth minute to pay tribute to the 97 people who lost their lives at Hillsborough in 1989.
The Reds grew in confidence as the half went on and weren’t shy to break forward when the chance arose, but it was the hosts who were looking the most likely to get the breakthrough. A Trent Alexander-Arnold free-kick found the head of Virgil van Dijk on 26 minutes, with Keylor Navas producing a sensational diving save to deny the Dutchman.
Just five minutes later, Forest wing-back Neco Williams had to be alert on the goaline, as Gakpo’s close range strike was saved by a crucial clearance by the Welshman. On 37 minutes Anfield was up and celebrating but a deceiving back-post header from Diogo Jota flew into the side netting, with the striker unmarked.
As the first half concluded, Forest would be content with their resilient display, limiting the hosts to mainly chances from set pieces and Alexander-Arnold’s wicked deliveries. They just had to settle in the second half like they did in the first and keep doing what they were doing.
That, though, didn’t happen, as Forest conceded merely minutes after the restart. No surprise that it was from a corner based on the first half, with the ball dropping to midfielder Fabinho. He was able to pick out Jota with his head, the Portuguese making no mistake to divert into an empty net.
A feeling of deflation engulfed the away end and based on the Reds’ recent away woes, you can understand why.
However, deflation would evaporate into elation after six minutes of the second half, as Forest grabbed the equaliser. Gibbs-White hopped past two and into space and saw Williams in acres of space on the right, picking him out wonderfully. Williams powered a first-time strike goalwards from just inside the area, with a deflection taking Liverpool ‘keeper Alisson out of the equation.
Anyone who stayed in the concourse for a cheeky pint was punished as the second half started in style.
The riveting action continued as the pendulum swung in Liverpool’s favour again just four minutes later, with a second goal for Jota. A free-kick from the left was swung in by Andy Robertson, as Forest’s defence was inexplicably asleep. Jota was certainly alive, as he took a neat, chested touch, flicked it up and then volleyed across Navas and into the far corner.
A frantic few minutes at Anfield saw Forest behind, with set-piece switch-offs at the heart of their downfall.
Jota nearly grabbed his hattrick on 64 minutes as Ibrahima Konaté flighted an excellent pass over the top of Forest’s defence, as Jota’s first-time headed attempt was tipped over by an alert Navas.
A mesmerising contest took another turn three minutes later, a turn in Forest’s favour. Moussa Niakhaté’s long throw found the head of van Dijk, but the centre-half’s header dropped kindly to Gibbs-White on the volley, with the midfielder lashing a leg at the ball and finishing nicely into the bottom right corner, from the centre of the box.
Two goals away from home? Somewhat of a surprise to the ever vocal and now jubilant away following — the first time in the league since Blackpool away, over a year ago.
Forest just couldn’t hold Liverpool out though, and the hosts regained the lead just three minutes after Forest had re-entered the ring. Once again it was a set piece, as Alexander-Arnold’s right-wing delivery found Mo Salah at the far post, the Egyptian making no mistake to strike past Navas, kissing the post on the way in.
Could Forest conjure up their third goal and shock Anfield again? Well, they certainly threw everything at it.
Following a tussle between Niakhaté and Jordan Henderson, another one of the Senegalese’s long throws produced a chance, this time for striker Taiwo Awoniyi. Following a short game of head tennis, the ball sat up nicely for the Nigerian eight yards out, with his sensational acrobatic effort flying narrowly over Alisson’s crossbar.
These throw-ins were causing havoc and once again Forest came close on 79 minutes. Gibbs-White nodded into a dangerous area where substitute Johnson won the race, but his chipped effort crashed agonisingly off the crossbar before Liverpool cleared.
Late efforts from Mangala and Johnson would fly off target as the full-time whistle blew, offering optimism for both sides. Yet another win for Liverpool in their late climb up the table, but Forest would come away equally as hopeful.
Even though they dropped a place following Leicester’s win, they really gave as good as they got and ended the game with more shots than their hosts in the second half. Disappointment will be in the air but this kind of passionate performance has been missing of late, and if it continues into the final six games they will give themselves a chance of survival.
Cooper said: “We didn’t defend the three goals anywhere near well enough. It’s three unavoidable situations and we can only blame ourselves for them, that’s clear. In terms of the game in general, I thought we minimised Liverpool to very little from open play which is not an easy task. The boys stuck to the plan, believed in the plan and delivered it well.
“We know that we have found it hard to score goals away from home, so to score two at Anfield shows that we’ve done some good things in the game. To come out of the game knowing that we’ve scored two goals, hit the crossbar and concede from three set pieces is really frustrating.
“We’ve got to keep believing. It’s a big week coming up and we have a home game next. It doesn’t matter who we play at home, we’re always in with a good chance of winning because of the support and the atmosphere we get and we need them more than ever.
“We’ve got to turn up on Wednesday with a lot of things we’ve done today, plus more. Everybody has got to do more and that continues until we get what we want.”