BY STEVE MITCHELL
Liverpool’s dream of claiming a third consecutive European Cup suffered a huge blow at the City Ground last night as Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest side took a commanding 2-0 lead in the first-leg of their first-round encounter.
Goals from young striker Garry Birtles (his first for the club) and one three minutes from time for defender Colin Barrett put the First Division champions in a commanding position ahead of the return at Anfield in two weeks’ time.
The real loser in all this was English football with both sides claiming before the match that they felt a sense of deflation at being drawn together in the opening round of the competition. Forest took Liverpool’s league title from them last term and also beat them in in the League Cup Final after a replay at Old Trafford.
The East Midlands side have had a poor start to the defence of their league crown but rediscovered their form on a balmy night in front of a fervent crowd bathing in the excitement of their first European Cup campaign.
After a cagey start to the contest, young Birtles broke the deadlock after 26 minutes. Defender Kenny Burns launched the ball forward, which was flicked on by Ian Bowyer to Tony Woodcock who unselfishly squared the ball to Birtles to tap into an empty net.
Forest’s pragmatic approach was stifling Liverpool’s play and the visitors were reduced to half-chances that never troubled goalkeeper Peter Shilton. After the break the Merseysiders continued to knock on the door having scored in every league game so far this season.
With the match looking likely to end in just a single goal victory for Forest, Birtles found himself on the left wing in acres of space with Liverpool pushing for a precious away goal; the youngster headed for the by-line, skipped a challenge from Thompson before crossing the ball for Woodcock; the Englishman then cushioned a header for defender Barrett who smashed a superb volley past Clemence.
Liverpool boss Bob Paisley looked stunned as did most of the City Ground as Barrett peeled off in delight at getting what could turn out to be the decisive goal in the tie. After the match Birtles couldn’t hide his delight when he told reporters that; “After I’d scored Phil Thompson told me a single goal wouldn’t be enough to take to Anfield. So when we scored again, cocky young thing that I was I went up to him and said: ‘Will two be enough then?’ He was speechless.”
The second-leg takes place at Anfield in two weeks’ time with Liverpool now facing the very real prospect of first-round elimination.
Nottingham Forest 2-0 Liverpool (Birtles, Barrett)
Forest: Shilton; Anderson, Barrett, McGovern, Lloyd, Burns, Gemmill, Bowyer, Birtles, Woodcock, Robertson
Liverpool: Clemence; Neal, Kennedy A, Thompson, Kennedy R, Hughes, Dalglish, Case, Heighway, McDermott, (Johnson), Souness
Juventus 1-0 Rangers (Virdis)
Linfield 0-0 Lillestrom
FOLLOW THE WHOLE 1978-79 SEASON IN THE ENGLISH FIRST DIVISION WITH STEVE MITCHELL HERE ON THE FOOTBALL PINK. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @barafundler