Liverpool’s minute of mayhem: ‘Karma’, Van Dijk the cameraman and title hopes ignited – The Athletic

By James Pearce7h ago

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A minute of mayhem.

From the brink of a damaging stalemate to the euphoria of Liverpool’s latest winning goal on record in the Premier League era.

If Jurgen Klopp gets the dream farewell and his team are crowned champions in May, the events of the 99th minute at the City Ground on Saturday will enter club folklore.

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Liverpool were depleted, fatigued and seemingly out of time and ideas against Nottingham Forest. Title rivals Manchester City and Arsenal fans were awaiting the final whistle with glee.

When Joe Gomez won a corner, Dominik Szoboszlai raced across to take it. This was the last chance, but after Kostas Tsimikas’ shot was blocked, hope seemed to have been snuffed out.

But not all of it. After Forest’s Callum Hudson-Odoi and Taiwo Awoniyi both attempted to dribble their way out of the box, Liverpool engineered a turnover thanks to Wataru Endo pursuing them and the ball dropped to Alexis Mac Allister, who coolly turned onto his left foot before clipping an inviting cross towards Darwin Nunez, on as a substitute after missing the previous three games with a hamstring injury. Nunez sent a glancing header past Matz Sels to spark wild celebrations among players, staff and supporters. The clock read 98 minutes 35 seconds.

Nunez heads in Liverpool’s winner (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Titles are won on days like this and a dramatic victory ensured Liverpool will remain top before next Sunday’s crunch showdown with City at Anfield. This is the story of the epic finale.

The players

“No, no, no, the game was not over so I still had the belief,” insisted captain Van Dijk, sheltering from the rain, when asked if he had reluctantly accepted deep into stoppage time that it wouldn’t be their day.

“We’ve shown in my time here that we never give up. We found a way. Darwin has been so important this season and it’s great to have him back. It’s a big goal and a well-deserved win in the end.”

It was the 18th time in the top flight Liverpool have scored a winner in the 90th minute or later during Klopp’s reign — more than any other team over that period.

Nunez’s knee slide was followed by the sight of him manically kicking the advertising hoarding before his team-mates mobbed him in front of the away end.

Nunez celebrates his goal (Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

Nunez is a popular figure in the dressing room and boasts 14 goals and 11 assists in all competitions this season. That’s a goal involvement every 87 minutes. In 2022-23, that figure stood at 124 minutes.

Tsimikas certainly had his hands full after the winner. He took it upon himself to remove a red flare thrown by the travelling Liverpool fans from the pitch. Then, an irate Forest fan ran onto the pitch to confront the Greece international before being intercepted by home defender Murillo and stewards.

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It was telling that Szoboszlai made a beeline for Mac Allister, whose clipped pass provided the chance, and lifted him off his feet.

“We always believe, we always go to the end,” said Mac Allister, who has proved to be such an asset since his move from Brighton & Hove Albion. “With it being the last minute, I had to put the cross in and then Darwin did a very good job.”

Van Dijk added: “Macca is an outstanding player with and without the ball. He’s made such a big difference to how we play.”

The Liverpool captain added to the chaos, too, grabbing a camera phone from a member of Liverpool’s media department stationed in front of the away fans and filming the celebrations himself.

Van Dijk also found himself caught up in Forest’s angry protests after the final whistle, which saw coach Steven Reid shown a red card. Referee Paul Tierney had wrongly given the ball back to Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher rather than the home side after stopping play when Ibrahima Konate was hurt. The goal arrived one minute and 50 seconds later.

“But there was a moment earlier in the game when the same thing happened. Forest got the ball back when we had possession when the game was stopped,” Van Dijk pointed out. “When you lose in the last minute it’s never nice. I can understand that. We came here to get the three points and luckily we got them.”

The joyous chaos was summed up by the sight of Harvey Elliott wearing the Forest shirt of former Liverpool striker Divock Origi and carrying a delighted young fan.

The manager

Given the timing of the goal at such a pivotal stage of the title race, Klopp was relatively reserved with his celebrations after Nunez struck as he embraced his backroom staff.

There was no triumphant flurry of fist pumps in front of the away end after the final whistle as he simply applauded them for their support. Relief seemed to be the overriding emotion as he wrapped his arms around the match-winner Nunez. Klopp knew any slip-up after such an energy-sapping week could have had major consequences. Liverpool’s first league win at the City Ground since 1984 was precious.

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“If you would have told me 12 days ago we could win all four games, I would have said no chance with the squad situation,” Klopp said. “Now we need to regroup.” He talked about his side lacking “rhythm” and feeling the “intensity” of recent matches.

Jurgen Klopp salutes Liverpool’s fans (Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

The Liverpool manager likened this gutsy result to the 2-1 away win at Aston Villa in November 2019 when Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane scored late goals.

The following weekend, Liverpool beat Manchester City at home and went on to clinch the title. How he would dearly love history to repeat itself.

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Klopp highlighted the folly of rival supporters who continue to chant, “You’re just a s*** Andy Carroll” in the direction of Nunez. He’s making a habit of silencing those taunts: he has 28 goals in 79 appearances, including five winners this season, and has helped equal a club record of 21 goals from substitutes in a season, which was set in 2005-06. He gave Liverpool’s attack a focal point they had previously lacked when he came off the bench against Forest.

“People singing that song more often, it’s the best way to calm it immediately down, but they can sing it if Darwin responds like he did today,” Klopp said.

“In the last second, the guy who looks like a former Liverpool player thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll score a goal and decide the game’. Wonderful. I’m so happy for Darwin. He came on and was a real handful. The calmest man on the pitch was Macca with a super assist.”

The away fans

For the 2,900 away supporters in the City Ground’s away end, the scenes sparked by Nunez’s winner were already being talked about as one of the all-time great celebrations.

“There was a group of six of us. Some ended up two rows in front when Darwin scored,” says a hoarse but exultant Kristian Walsh, 37, after completing the two-hour journey back to Liverpool.

“You see Darwin’s header drop in and lose all control. The 30 seconds that followed are a blur. You found yourself hugging people you didn’t know.

“Drawing 0-0 would have been damaging against a team battling relegation, so to win it like that feels massive. It’s the apex of the season so far. Nunez’s late winner at Newcastle with 10 men in August was incredible, but this was more visceral. There’s a title on the line. That goal makes you think, ‘It’s on’. It ensures we’ll still be top when we face City. Anfield is going to be feral.”

There was an ironic rendition of the Carroll song from the away end as they serenaded Nunez after the final whistle and “Allez Allez Allez” was ringing out long after the home stands had emptied.

But for Tage Herstad, who has attended more than 1,000 consecutive Liverpool games played in front of supporters, there was poetic justice in Nunez’s late intervention after some home fans had aimed “poverty” chants at the away contingent.

“It’s up there with the best away trips in 20 years,” he said. “It was karma with their anti-Scouse songs. We all knew Darwin would do something when they were singing the Carroll song and he did. Marvellous.”

A minute of mayhem. A moment to treasure. Liverpool remain out in front.

(Top photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

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James Pearce joins the Athletic after 14 years working for the Liverpool Echo. The dad-of-two has spent the past decade covering the fortunes of Liverpool FC across the globe to give fans the inside track on the Reds from the dressing room to the boardroom. Follow James on Twitter @JamesPearceLFC

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