NOTTINGHAM Forest, left clutching at straws as their Premiership status slowly ebbs away, prolonged the inevitable conclusion to nine months of misery with a goal of rich irony. Pierre van Hooijdonk, the one-time City Ground outcast who forecast Forest's relegation as long ago as last summer, bent in a sensational injury-time equaliser.
Its true worth can surely be nothing more than a delaying tactic. Forest are now 10 points adrift of safety and have only 18 left to play for. Manager Ron Atkinson, who has talked of needing snookers, now requires a miracle as well.
That Forest's confidence is in short supply is hardly surprising given their plight, but even the basics were beyond them in a dire first half. Liverpool were not much better, and the stunning goal that gave them the lead was hardly reflective of some desperate exchanges.
Richard Gough's challenge on Paul Ince allowed Liverpool the chance to line up a 25-yard free-kick, and when Ince tucked it through Patrik Berger's legs, Jamie Redknapp's unstoppable drive hit the top corner.
Forest found some fire after Dougie Freedman poked in a close-range equaliser just past the hour, when Liverpool were found wanting from a long throw by Alan Rogers. For 15 minutes they burned brightly as the visitors were forced into some anxious defending.
Liverpool continued to look sharp on the break, but Michael Owen's clinical eye in front of goal deserted him when he drove wide with only Mark Crossley to beat. However, Redknapp picked Owen out again and this time he obliged with a devastating finish on the run. That should really have been that.
Robbie Fowler, who is likely to face another misconduct charge following Saturday's 'cocaine-snorting' mime against Everton, was squeaky clean to the point of anonymity, and he was substituted 11 minutes from time. His manager, Gerard Houllier, was full of support, though: "I believe in Robbie and I am supportive of Robbie. I understand what he did was the wrong way to celebrate a goal; he gets a lot of abuse but, as he said in his statement, he has to put up with it and get on with it even if it's a derby game."
Even with Fowler and Steve McManaman withdrawn, Liverpool appeared to be cruising again but Forest were presented with one last chance when Ince was judged to have handled as he went to ground outside the box. Van Hooijdonk did the rest by bending the ball past David James, and while it sparked brief acclaim, it could not prevent a 300-strong protest against the Forest board outside the ground.
Goals: Redknapp (15 mins), Freedman (60), Owen (72), Van Hooijdonk (90).
Half-Time : 1-0 to Liverpool.
Booked: No Liverpool players.
Attendance : 28,374.
Team (4-4-2): James, Carragher, Matteo, Song, Staunton, McManaman (Riedle 64), Ince, Redknapp, Berger, Owen, Fowler (Gerrard 78).
Substitutes (not used): Bjornebye, Friedel, Leonhardsen.
Referee : Dermot Gallacher (Banbury).
League position: 8th (43 points after 30 matches).
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