Nottm Forest 0-1 Liverpool: Nunez the hero after late strike

Liverpool’s Darwin Núñez celebrates after his late goal finally breaks Nottingham Forest’s resistance. Photograph: Rui Vieira/AP

Jürgen Klopp’s lengthy bear hug with Darwin Núñez on halfway at full time underlined the magnitude of a seemingly priceless and potentially pivotal moment in the Premier League title race, but it was far from the only lasting image. And certainly not from a Nottingham Forest perspective. In the immediate aftermath, there was a wild tableau in full view.

Evangelos Marinakis, the Forest owner who was pitchside at full-time, followed the referee, Paul Tierney, down the tunnel, airing his anger and expressing bewilderment at more decisions going against them. Mark Clattenburg, recently hired by Forest on a consultancy basis as a referees’ analyst, explained why the club felt so wronged after being denied entry to the officials’ dressing room. By that point, Steven Reid, the Forest first-team coach, had already been sent off for labouring the point.

This game only really came alive in second-half stoppage time. Then, 36 seconds over the initial eight minutes of added time indicated by the fourth official, Graham Scott, bedlam ensued. Núñez, who arrived to a great ovation on the hour, leapt high to meet Alexis Mac Allister’s chipped cross and generated just enough power to drop a header inside a post.

Almost two minutes earlier, Forest were incensed. Tierney, according to Ifab laws, mistakenly handed the Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher the ball to restart play despite Callum Hudson-Odoi being in possession of the ball outside the Liverpool 18-yard area after a collision between Kelleher and his teammate Ibrahima Konaté. Liverpool argued Tierney made the same error in the first half – but without the same implications.

Liverpool will also argue a lot happened between that moment of controversy and Núñez swivelling above Neco Williams, the former Liverpool defender, to extend his side’s lead at the top to four points, with champions Manchester City not in action until Sunday. The ball went out of play, for one.

After the goal Klopp was mobbed by Adrián, the third-choice goalkeeper who had a place on the bench in the absence of Alisson, and the rest of Liverpool’s substitutes flooded the pitch.

For Forest, deserving of a crucial point in their fight to avoid relegation, it was a thoroughly demoralising end to a frenetic finale. By the end, this game had turned bad-tempered, Tierney heading down the tunnel to a wall of boos from the angry home support.

Nottingham Forest’s dejected captain, Ryan Yates, after the final whistle against Liverpool. Photograph: Rui Vieira/AP

Forest had defended stoutly for so long, the 21-year-old pairing of Murillo and Andrew Omobamidele resolute at centre-back. Murillo almost inadvertently sent the ball past Matz Sels off his right shoulder at a 95th-minute corner but Forest’s goalkeeper, a January arrival, thought he had earned a point.

For so long it seemed at the end of Klopp’s long Liverpool farewell that, down the line, this would be one of the few grounds he could not consider a happy hunting ground. Ryan Yates, the Forest captain who crouched on all fours at the final whistle, made a superb block to deny Núñez heading into stoppage time. Liverpool’s last league win here was in 1984, when Ian Rush and Ronnie Whelan were on the scoresheet.

Nuno Espírito Santo, arms folded, stood bereft on the edge of his technical area as Liverpool’s bench emptied on to the pitch.

Klopp made four changes from the team that overcame Southampton to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals in midweek, with Konaté, Mac Allister, Andy Robertson and Luis Díaz returning to his starting lineup. Bobby Clark made his first top-flight start in a three-man midfield alongside Joe Gomez and Mac Allister but was replaced by Núñez on the hour.

For Klopp, there were a couple of familiar faces in the Forest XI in Williams, who spent 15 years on the books at Anfield, and Divock Origi, for ever a Liverpool cult hero after his goals en route to lifting the Champions League in 2019. Another arrived off the bench in Taiwo Awoniyi, who scored the only goal in this fixture last season. It was Williams and Origi who combined in the seconds after kick-off, forcing Virgil van Dijk to concede a corner.

It was hardly a vintage Liverpool display but there was a sense Forest were waiting for the visitors to turn the screw. Omobamidele diverted an Robertson effort clear of goal after Nicolás Dominguez prevented Conor Bradley’s cross from landing at the feet of Díaz on the penalty spot.

Núñez stretched his legs with his first touches, haring down the left channel, but Omobamidele tracked him all the way to the goalline and later rattled a shot against the side netting. Núñez, though, had the final say.