Bob Paisley, who last week refused to believe in advance that Zurich would be inferior opposition for Liverpool in the European Cup, continued to be stubbornly cautious after Manchester City had been shaken off the championship trail at Anfield on Saturday. The official line following last week's easy victory was still "We at Liverpool never count our chickens," and any mention of Rome and the final was met with a cool silence. That did not stop the players being optimistic or Manchester City's manager, Tony Book, conceding that Liverpool were capable of winning the "treble". But on Saturday evening Mr Paisley would still say no more than: "We must be in with a chance of something."
Manchester City lost 2-1 after being unable to alter their tactics which were geared to a constraining game. When Liverpool scored a minute from half-time the pattern should have changed but City were already under strength and at full stretch fending off incessant attacks. They then probably lost their chance of the championship in one minute out of a nine month season.
Their scrambled equaliser was more than they deserved and Liverpool immediately regained the lead. Mr Book commented that Liverpool "never know when they are beaten". True enough, but there was never any question of his team winning and that minute in the second half was enough to distinguish between champions and also-rans.
City's defensive attitude was stoic but understandable. They were without Tueart to give them attacking ideas. Doyle, playing in midfield, aggravated his knee injury during the first half and Royle was also hurt. Royle later left the field to be replaced by Barnes, who slightly improved the quality of City's play which was unrelentingly abrasive and often bad tempered. This now seems to be City's adopted outlook even when the demands are not as testing as at Anfield in this game, and it can only tarnish what could be an interesting team.
Watson and Booth commanded the penalty area without aerial challenge as Liverpool were still without Toshack, yet it was only when given generous time that either did anything remotely constructive. Indeed there were black moments when it seemed that the whole City side had abandoned any thoughts of counter-attack. Liverpool were admirably patient. Keegan, looking less stale than in some recent games, joined Heighway in running at this entrenched defence and Case and McDermott worked well to build the attacks. Fairclough wobbled on rubbery legs but still did some original things.
Keegan's persistence eventually brought a break through. Just after he had wriggled into the penalty area to hit the side netting, City conceded another in a series of corners and after the ball had been headed to and fro Hughes aligned it for Keegan whose header could not be gripped by Corrigan although he got a hand to it.
Several times during a physically hard match Liverpool seemed determined to dismiss the remnants of the argument that they lacked subtlety and variety.
Hughes, perhaps the epitome of the traditional view of the team, was himself remarkably inventive when he was left trapped near a corner flag. Cleverly, he weaved past flailing tackles and found Fairclough with a deliberately weighted pass. Fairclough quickly pushed the ball through the middle for Keegan who ran into trouble after Corrigan came out to meet him. It could have been one of the season's finest goals. It could also have been one of Liverpool's most painful errors.
Five minutes later City managed to get several players into the penalty area when Barnes centred low. Kidd prodded the ball across the line and for a moment the Kop was quiet. But within seconds Case was rapping the crossbar with a fine long shot and Heighway followed through to score from the rebound. There was only a minute between the goals. It was like the experienced politician's well rehearsed reply to a heckler.
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