For the second time in 4 seasons, Liverpool reached the final of the UEFA Cup and so gave Bob Paisley an early chance to repeat the success of his predecessor Bill Shankly by winning the League championship and a European trophy in the same season. But in 1973 Liverpool had already won the title before they faced Borussia Monchengladbach. This time it was different. A run of 8 wins and a draw in 9 League matches had given the Reds a slight advantage in their battle with unfancied Queens Park Rangers at the top of the First Division. By the time Bruges came to Anfield for the first leg of the final on April 28th, Rangers had already completed their programme and were a point clear. Sandwiched between the two European ties was Liverpool's own final match of the domestic season, where a win or a low-scoring draw would give them the championship. It was too close to call and there was also the danger of finishing up with nothing at all after a long, hard season.
The club's priority was always the League trophy but there is no doubt that the 1973 success, when added to a number of memorable nights at Anfield in the three European club competitions, had whetted the appetites of the supporters for more European success too. Liverpool might have gone out in the first round. After losing by a single goal at Easter Road, they overcome the Scottish challenge of Hibernian by winning 3-1 at home with John Toshack scoring all the goals. However, a penalty save by Ray Clemence late on in the first encounter proved crucial, otherwise the Scots would have won on the away goals rule. After comfortable wins over Real Sociedad (Spain) and Slask Wroclaw (Poland), it was Clemence who again preserved Liverpool's interest in the competition with another penalty save in the 0-0 draw in Dresden. Once again it proved vital as a 2-1 win at Anfield gave Liverpool an uneasy passage into the semi-finals. There a wonderful performance in the awesome setting of the Nou Camp produced a 1-0 win over Barcelona; again Liverpool triumphed 2-1 on aggregate. Bruges' path to the final had been tougher. They scored 6 times against Lyon and then overturned a 0-3 deficit to beat Ipswich Town. But beating Roma, AC Milan and Hamburg after that showed that they had to be taken seriously, even though the English club were firm favourites with the bookmakers.
The first leg at Anfield got off to a sensational start. Nobody could have envisaged the visitors taking a two-goal lead inside the first quarter of an hour. Phil Neal's dreadful back-header fell well short of Ray Clemence and Raoul Lambert nipped in to lob Bruges into the lead. As if that wasn't bad enough, only a few minutes later a terrific move started and finished by Julien Cools ended with a brilliant shot on the turn high into the home goal. Anfield was stunned. Even though there was a long time to go - and a second leg, of course - it would need a mighty effort now to avoid going over to Belgium with some sort of deficit. At this stage, even a scoring draw would probably have been seen as acceptable.
It took Liverpool a long time to get any sort of rhythm going and they didn't create too much in the opening half. Bruges, overjoyed by their unexpected lead, seemed happy to try and consolidate instead of continuing to go forward looking for more goals. During the interval, Bob Paisley made the decision to replace John Toshack with Jimmy Case. Paisley was a shrewd tactician and used substitutes much more regularly than Shankly. Case had already scored 4 times in Liverpool's cup run and even though it was only his first full season as a first-teamer (he had made his League debut in the last match of the previous campaign), he had become an important member of the squad. The move paid dividends almost immediately. After 59 minutes Heighway cut the ball back from the left for Ray Kennedy to strike a wonderful shot into the roof of the net from just outside the area. Amazingly, only 5 minutes later, Liverpool were ahead. First Case tucked away a rebound from close range after another Kennedy shot had hit a post and then Heighway was brought down, leaving Keegan to send Bruges' Danish goalkeeper Jensen the wrong way from the spot. With nearly 25 minutes left to play, the home team could and should have added to their lead but were probably thankful just to win on the night after the way they had started, especially as Bruges missed a good chance to equalise right on time.
Thousands of Liverpool fans made the short trip over to Belgium for the second leg, having already had the chance to celebrate another championship when the title was won on a memorable night in Wolverhampton. The players were adapting well to the different challenge that Europe gave and this was to become more evident in the years that followed. For an away match, the game-plan was usually to try and quieten the home support in the early stages - with luck getting their impatience through to the home players - and see what they could grab on the break. But if that was their intention, it didn't work out too well to start with. Only 10 minutes had gone when Tommy Smith was penalised - perhaps harshly - for handball and Lambert blasted his spot-kick just underneath Clemence's crossbar. Level on aggregate but behind on away goals, Liverpool were forced to be more adventurous and equalised only 4 minutes later. Awarded a free-kick in a central position just outside the Bruges penalty-area, Emlyn Hughes flicked the ball sideways to Kevin Keegan who drove his shot through a crowd of players and into the goal.
Liverpool were ahead on aggregate again and it was Bruges who were forced to attack more. But there was no more scoring, although there were certainly some near misses for the home team, notably when Lambert crashed a shot against the post mid-way through the second half. But as time ran out, they become more desperate while Liverpool became more determined to hold on to what they had got. Bruges seemed happy just to be in the final but Liverpool were determined to win it. Maybe that was the main difference in the end. It had been close (4-3) but it was a proud Emlyn Hughes who stepped forward to raise the U.E.F.A. Cup high into the air. He was getting plenty of practice at this sort of thing and whilst the European Cup run the following year is another story, the experience the players gained in the run which culminated in success in Belgium was hugely relevant to what was to follow a year later.
Liverpool: Clemence, Neal, Smith, Thompson, Kennedy, Hughes, Keegan, Fairclough, Heighway, Toshack (Case), Callaghan.
The line-up was identical for the second leg in Belgium except that Jimmy Case started the game instead of David Fairclough, with the latter coming on as a second-half substitute for Toshack.
Copyright - Chris Wood ([email protected])