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  • Writer's pictureJourneyman

Casual Fans

Liverpool 3-0 Nottingham Forest (Premier League)

The wife’s sorted tickets for me and the lad to watch Forest play at Anfield. He’s been an avid Liverpool fan since they won the league in 2020 and has seen them play twice live so will be happy the seats are in the home end as he joins his fellow die-hards.

Her company has some corporate numbers in the swanky Carlsberg Dugout Club and we’ve both been before and enjoyed our day out. Free food before the match, a free pint at half time, a free programme and a wristband like the ones you get in a tacky night club or all-inclusive hotel, it’s very hospitality aimed but beneath the skin of paying over the odds it’s something which has annoyed the Liverpool locals of late, who have felt priced out of watching their team play for casual fans, tourists and people like me who are actually hoping their opponents on the day will win instead.

Those opponents, Nottingham Forest (who I've supported since birth in 1978), have being doing ok this season since they survived their debut campaign in the Premier League last. So far, they’ve only been beaten by Manchester City, Man United and Arsenal, whilst Liverpool have been picking up their form and are knocking around those sniffing out a championship threat.

The Venue

We’ve set off at 9:30am, a two and a bit hour drive from Nottingham to Liverpool, across the A50 and Stoke where we stop off for petrol and a subway brunch at Burton services before heading up the M6 and back across the M62 west hitting the M57 and A580 towards not Anfield, but Goodison Park which is the other side of Stanley Park, where we park ripped off at the cost of £20. “London prices” I say as I swipe my card on a machine held by a woman in high vis.

No time for arguing, we’re walking over Stanley Park as we leave Everton’s old looking blue home in our wake towards a newer, better, bigger maintained effort at Anfield, as we approach the huge new Anfield Road Stand there’s music playing in the distance as the ‘Si Senor’ Bobby Firmino song is sang by a guitarist.

In front of us and above our eyeline is the Main Stand magnificent in stature, the place we’ll be watching the game today, as fans line up for the team buses outside, opposite the corner of a terraced house has an Ian Rush mural painted onto its wall.

We walk down to the club shop which is packed, spread over two floors it has an enlarged copy of Clive Tyldesley’s commentary sheet for the 2005 Champions League Final and a few changing rooms seats that have the players names above, where fans are getting selfies in and sitting down to rest their legs.

Back out and through the crowd, we're up the steps and some more to level two of the Main Stand it's plush inside, swabbed in and wrist wrapped we’re into the dugout, a cool looking large bar area, after a smile by the hostesses and having been handed a programme by a gentleman on the door.

The lad’s hot and bothered after bringing his hoody, hat and coat so we head straight out, an hour before kick off and take it all in. Pitched on the middle section of the huge three levelled stand we’re in the corner on the back row, near the Anfield Road Stand under development is its top tier which now dwarfs the Kop to our right, in fact the Kenny Dalglish Stand opposite also looks tiny in comparison, but the venue is fab all in red, sun blessed onto the surface. A real welcoming thoroughbred of great football homes.

The Game

We’ve gone for a quick Katsu Curry at one of the street food stores and a pint back down to the dugout which is packed, there’s nowhere to sit as we place some bets on our phones ahead of the game and get back out, in the open, where the two teams come out to play.

‘You’ll never walk alone’ is sung by the home crowd as the Forest fans below boo before chanting their own scouse chart hit from Paul McCartney, the atmosphere isn’t too hostile though, a lot of tourists these days, it’s nice but flat, Liverpool expected to win, Forest expected to sit back, I think everyone expects this not to be a classic.

And true to a word Forest start in 5-4-1 formation with little ambition but to defend as deep as they can, Liverpool prodding, probing from side to side as they dominate possession, only looking on the odd occasion like giving Forest glimmer through their high defensive line.

There’s been a few sniffs for the home side but Forest are getting their confidence up. They have men in front of the ball on the half hour as Murillo takes a chance on half way to dribble past Liverpool attackers. He’s robbed as Salah is set free before the Egyptian plays in Nunez who’s shot is saved and the rebound blasted home by Diogo Jota. It's a counter attack goal against a side that have done nothing but defend.

That goal quickly leads to a second as Forest like a boxer wobbled for the first time go down again in the same round, this time Salah threads Szoboszlai who’s been brilliant on the day, he plays low to Nunez and he fires in from close range.

The Score

It’s certainly what the home team deserved as we head in for half time where I’m fuming with how Forest gave that first goal away, having defended commendably for half an hour. Luckily I have a free pint of lager to wash my anger away.

Drink drank, bladder emptied and back out, my expectancies for the second half aren’t too high and neither are the away sides, they continue to play damage limitation which frustrates the crowd, one Liverpool fan saying ‘they’re two-nil down, why don’t they have a go?’

That ethos to ensure the goals against column isn’t breached is sensible but when Szoboszlai plays a long hopeful ball over the top and Forest goalkeeper Matt Turner rushes out to completely miss his clearance, Mo Salah has the simple inevitability of tapping home into an empty net to ruin the 'other' Reds defensive record further.

A goal gifted without having to work too hard? It’s been that sort of game. Liverpool given a third, they were given a first and scored the second when Forest were wobbling at their worst. They’ve not needed to be at their best today but have been clinical when it mattered.

To be fair to Forest, the last ten they have a go but by then Liverpool have downed the gears. Anthony Elanga crashes the bar with a sensational volley before Gakpo at the other end has a goal ruled out, both fans clap off their teams at the end of the match as Klopp punches the air to the Kop, Cooper and co walk out heads held with relief that they won't have to play here again this season.

The Stars

Liverpool were largely in second gear but at the top of his game is Hungarian midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai who is fastly becoming one of the best midfielders on the planet. He's a player I've kept an eye on for many years and is one that on a couple of occasions has helped the Magyars beat England, if he continues his early Liverpool form I can see him being regarded as one of the best to play for the club, he really is that good.

Next to Szoboszlai, or rather, allowing him to strut his stuff, Alexis Mac Allister is one of those under-appreciated grafters that keeps it all ticking along... The ball playing of Trent Alexander-Arnold and constant threat of Mo Salah giving the right wing real substance. All over the park Liverpool looked in good shape but they'll have bigger tests to come.

For Nottingham Forest, tactically their shape and lack of forward creation didn't allow for any stand out performers of note. No doubt Morgan Gibbs-White is star playmaker but he rarely has a player to pass to in front of him. Good shifts from Boly, Niakhate, even Murillo who's mistake led to a goal, but not many Forest players would get in the Liverpool squad, let alone side.

The Verdict

Liverpool have a fighters chance, the championship isn't out of their reach but they'll need to be on their 'A' game and keep the likes of Salah, Szoboszlai and co, fit throughout the season... Forest will need to hope there's three worse sides than them below... If there is... And there should be... The two teams will meet again here next season, where I hope to get another free ticket, and where I hope to see a better performance provided to please those travelling fans that pay to see their team do more than just, turn up, and try to defend, badly.

The Teams

Liverpool: Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold (Joe Gomez 89), Ibrahima Konate, Virgil van Dijk, Konstantinos Tsimikas, Dominik Szoboszlai, Alexis Mac Allister, Ryan Gravenberch (Harvey Elliott 59), Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez (Wataru Endo 80), Diogo Jota (Cody Gakpo 58).

Nottingham Forest: Matt Turner, Serge Aurier, Willy Boly (Taiwo Awoniyi 69), Moussa Niakhate, Murillo, Ola Aina (Harry Toffolo 69), Nicolas Dominguez (Ryan Yates 69), Ibrahim Sangare, Orel Mangala (Andrey Santos 83), Morgan Gibbs-White (Neco Williams 83), Anthony Elanga.

2:00pm Kick Off. Sunday 29th October 2023, Anfield, Liverpool (att 50,143).

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