Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Nottingham Forest 0-1 Liverpool: Talking points as late Nunez strike lands Reds important victory

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Liverpool continued their impressive run on all fronts with a crucial victory away to Nottingham Forest on Saturday, courtesy of a very late goal by Darwin Nunez.

Narrow contest

Liverpool dominated the game at the City Ground, with the ball at their feet for 79% of the time, a total of 22 shots compared to eight from the home side, though both teams hit the target just twice apiece.

But for a large part of the game, the Merseysiders looked exactly the way a team severely ravaged by injuries while playing every three or four days would be expected to look, bereft of creativity, struggling to find gaps in the opposition defence, and holding the ball for large spells without causing their opponents any actual problems.

It took just under 15 minutes of the game for any sign of excitement at either end to come, and it was actually Forest who threatened first as former Anfield hero Divock Origi let one fly from range, sending the ball just wide of the target. Liverpool quickly responded through Luis Diaz, whose deflected shot came even closer, and after the ensuing corner, teenage midfielder Bobby Clark missed the top corner by around a foot.

Arguably the best chance of the game followed as Forest hit on the counter attack, when Origi released the run of former Manchester United winger Anthony Elanga, only to see him beaten by Caoimhin Kelleher in the Liverpool goal. However, a closer look at the situation later left the impression that, had Elanga scored, the goal would likely have been ruled out by the VAR for offside.

Soon afterwards, Diaz again came close for Liverpool after a scramble in the Forest box, but Murillo was there to thwart the Colombian winger on the edge of six yards.

At the start of the second half, Andy Robertson had an excellent chance to put the visitors ahead, but Andrew Omobamidele dove in to block the shot that would certainly have hit the back of the net.

With an hour gone, Jurgen Klopp withdrew Clark and Robertson, feeling it was time to steady the midfield section with Wataru Endo and try a more lively approach upfront with Nunez. Joe Gomez, who started the game at the midfield base, moved to the left defensive flank as Endo took up his original position. Harvey Elliott moved into midfield instead of Clark, and Cody Gakpo went right to make way for Nunez in the central attacking area.

The changes did bring the effect intended; it was more difficult for the Forest defence to keep things tight with the Uruguayan striker to reckon with. However, in the 66th minute, Elanda again came close for Forest after a fine team move, involving Nicolas Dominguez, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Taiwo Awoniyi and Harry Toffolo, but his shot flew just wide of the far post.

Just as it looked Nuno Espirito Santo’s team would be gaining a better grip on the game in that period, Liverpool showed how dangerous they can be in transition when Alexis Mac Allister won the ball in the middle of the park and released Nunez. The Uruguayan engaged Gakpo on the right, and though he had Nunez again and Elliott in support, the Netherlands international fired one himself, hitting no more than the outside of the net.

Liverpool turned up the pressure as the match went into the final 15 minutes. They came close once more through Diaz, who played a one-two with Mac Allister and fired a shot wide from the edge of the box. At the end, Hudson-Odoi tested Kelleher on the stroke of 80 minutes, but the Irish goalkeeper was alert.

Tensions started rising towards the end, after Liverpool substitute Jayden Danns picked up a yellow card for needlessly clattering Forest goalkeeper Matz Sels, who needed quite a long treatment before play was resumed.

At the end of the 90, the fourth official announced the decision of referee Paul Tierney that there would be no less than eight minutes of stoppage time, much to the annoyance of the home supporters, and in that period, only Liverpool were playing to win. The Reds came as close as ever in the 94th minute when a corner deflected off Murillo prompted a stunning reflex save from Sels. Forest threatened only once in stoppage time, through a Morgan Gibbs-White shot blocked by Virgil van Dijk.

And as Tierney added another minute into the reckoning after booking two Forest players for time wasting, it all came down to a final corner for Liverpool. It was taken by Szoboszlai and initially cleared by Omobamidele. Kostas Tsimikas then fired into the crowd from just inside the box. It was picked up by Hudson-Odoi and Awoniyi, but between them, the two Forest attackers messed things up and lost the ball to Mac Allister. The Argentinian turned around Awoniyi to send one final cross in, catching the Forest defence on their heels as Nunez pounced to score, sending the away section of the stands into ecstasy, and the rest into groans of disappointment.

Controversies

Rarely has Paul Tierney officiated a Liverpool game without his decision being analysed and argued over, and though this time he largely did a good job, Forest still believe they had cause to complain for a few things. They obviously had an issue with the eight minute of stoppage time, compounded by the fact that the clock was showing 99:38 when Nunez scored. But most of all, they had a problem with the ball not being returned to their possession two minutes before the goal, when Tierney stopped the play for a possible head injury of Ibrahima Konate in the Liverpool box.

The fact of the matter is, it was indeed a mistake from Tierney. Had he blown the whistle to stop the play straight away, he would’ve been right to give it back to Liverpool later. Unfortunately, he blew it a second or two too late, in which time the ball had already gone to Hudson-Odoi, and therefore it should’ve been given back to the Forest winger. On the other hand, Forest’s right to complain is questionable, on the grounds that two minutes passed between the restart of the play after that incident, and Nunez heading past Sels. There was plenty of play in between, and they can’t really argue that Tierney’s mistake led to Liverpool scoring.

Still, Mark Clattenburg, the former Premier League referee now working for Forest as a refereeing analyst, believes otherwise.

Be that as it may, nothing will obviously come of Forest’s protests, as Liverpool themselves learned when they had a perfectly legitimate goal ruled out against Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season. After that game, the Merseysiders loudly called for the falling refereeing standards in the English top flight to be addressed and were mostly told to “get over it and move on”, because “mistakes happen”.

Other teams, including Liverpool’s title rivals Manchester City and Arsenal, have since been hard done by officials. Now Forest have as well, though obviously not as hard, despite Clattenburg’s desire to make noise.

Get over it, Mark. Move on. Mistakes happen.

Table rankings

The point lost through Nunez’s late goal might well come back to haunt Forest at the end of the season. For the time being, they’re four points clear of the relegation zone, though Luton Town in 18th place have a game in hand. It’ll certainly be a tough battle for survival. For Burnley and Sheffield United, both on 13 points from 27 and 26 matches respectively, it seems already lost.

Looking at the other end of the Premier League table, Liverpool will remain at the top after this weekend. They’re four points above Manchester City in second place, and Pep Guardiola’s side face city rivals Manchester United at the Etihad on Sunday. Arsenal, who play away to Sheffield United away on Monday, are a point below City.

Klopp will surely be glad to have Nunez and Szoboszlai back from injury, not to mention Mohamed Salah who is expected back in contention for the Manchester City clash at Anfield next week. And even then, Liverpool will still have the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Curtis Jones and Ryan Gravenberch to come back. Diogo Jota will probably take a while longer than the rest, as will Stefan Bajcetic. The season is over for Joel Matip and it may be the case with Thiago Alcantara as well, and the pair of them may have already played their last games for Liverpool with their contracts expiring in the summer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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