Monday, September 5, 2011

English Leagues the 70s: Liverpool Aston Villa Division One 1976 1977

30 October 1976
Anfield Road,

  Liverpool made their traditional close season swoop into the transfer market in August 1976, signing the England international, David Johnson from Ipswich for £200,000. The Liverpool-born Johnson had been on Everton's books for three years before joining Ipswich but his transfer to Liverpool confused many as they totted up the number of strikers already at Anfield. But there was sense to the signing. Unknown to the general public, Kevin Keegan had approached the club expressing his interest in playing abroad and Real Madrid had already made a tempting offer for his services. A deal was struck: if Keegan remained for one more year while the club attempted to win the European Cup, his request to leave would be granted. Johnson had, in fact, been purchased to provide extra firing power when Keegan left and Toshack moved on.
The foray into Europe began at Anfield where the Reds took on the Irish champions, Crusaders. It was the first time they had met an Irish League club in a European tournament and Liverpool schemed and sweated to break down their tight, well-organised defence. In the end it took a Phil Neal penalty and a John Toshack goal to make the scoreline look reasonably respectable and over in Belfast Liverpool fared better hammering five goals past the part-timers. The next round saw Liverpool breaking new frontiers again as they journeyed to the Black Sea to meet the Turkish champions, Trabzonspor. Weary after their long journey and with a bumpy pitch and poor quality match ball to add to their problems, the Reds struggled to find their rhythm. They conceded a hotly-disputed penalty but held on to keep the score down to a single goal.
Over the years the club had studied and smartly learned the lessons of European travel. In the mid-sixties they would fly out by schedule plane a few days beforehand, returning the day after the match but now they flew out by charter the day before the game and returned immediately. This itinerary reduced boredom to a minimum, avoided diet problems and kept the players fresh for the continuing League programme. Shankly and Paisley had also instilled into them a discipline of never retaliating when provoked by continental teams. 

Liverpool began their League challenge in sparkling form, losing only two of their first sixteen games and by September had already climbed to the top of the table. There were fine wins against Everton at Anfield by three goals to one and a five-goal hammering of Leicester but then shortly before Christmas, Liverpool were astonishingly thrashed by five goals to one at Aston Villa. It was the first time any team had put more than four goals past the Liverpool defence since Ajax. To that date Liverpool had only conceded more than three League goals on seven occasions since their return to the First Division in 1962. The week after their humiliation at Villa Park, Liverpool lost at West Ham by two goals to nil and the prophets of doom began to write the team's obituary. But they bounced back the following week to end 1976 by beating Stoke City 4-0. The Football League Cup was soon brushed aside when they lost their replay at the Hawthorns after drawing one goal each with West Bromwich at Anfield. But the FA Cup was a far more serious proposition. In their opening game, Liverpool faced Third Division Crystal Palace but could only draw 0 - 0 at Anfield and it began to look as if this competition might be short-lived as well. Down at Selhurst Park, however, in front of a near record crowd of 43,000 Liverpool dismissed the South Londoners by three goals to two and drew Division Two's Carlisle for the fourth round. They proved to be easier opposition going down 3-0 at Anfield. There were further lower division opponents when Oldham came out of the famous bag for the fifth round but they too went out by three goals to one. 

 The quarter-finals brought Middlesbrough to Anfield with Fairclough and Keegan combining to dismiss them 2-0 but if the draw had been lucky until then, it turned against them in the semi-final when all Merseyside had hoped they would avoid Everton. So, the eighty-year long prospect of an all-Merseyside final disappeared yet again and instead the two lined up against each other at Maine Road in a semi-final for the fourth time. Like most of their previous cup encounters it was a gruelling contest. The first game ended two goals apiece with local players McDermott and Jimmy Case saving their blushes and they returned to Manchester four days later to recommence battle. This time Liverpool's superiority shone through as they hit three goals past their rivals and the Reds were through to their sixth FA Cup final. The League Championship was wrapped up at Anfield on 14 May, 1977 a week before the FA Cup final as Liverpool clinched the one point they needed against West Ham in a goalless draw. Just over 55,000 saluted Liverpool's tenth championship with more than 10,000 locked out an hour before kick-off. Their final run-in had been remarkable with not one game lost since 22 January until the title had been secured. They had gone sixteen games without defeat to win the championship by one point from Manchester City. Keegan lead the goalscoring list with twelve League goals, followed by Toshack with ten. In all, thirteen Liverpool players had contributed goals during the season, showing the depth of goalscoring strength throughout the team. With the League trophy safely secured and with two finals impending, Liverpool glimpsed the beckoning vision of an astonishing treble.




No comments:

Post a Comment