By Ian Hine
A trip to Liverpool is pretty daunting at the best of times and the Reds’ recent form would seem to indicate that Albion are on a hiding to nothing this weekend. A look back into the past shows that there is a glimmer of hope for Graham Potter’s team.
Our twenty-nine meetings with Liverpool have seen just four victories for Albion. The first of those came back in 1961 when both clubs were in the second division. Albion won 3-1, with goals from Tony Nicholas, Denis Windross and a penalty converted by Roy Jennings. Our only other home victory came in the FA Cup in 1984, when Gerry Ryan and Terry Connor scored in a 2-0 victory.
The previous season we were also drawn against Liverpool in the FA Cup and our 2-1 victory ranks as possibly our greatest-ever win, on the way to the Cup Final. A year before that, we travelled to Anfield for a Division One fixture, again more in hope than expectation, although we were enjoying a great season.
Albion, under Mike Bailey, were in 9th position after a run of just two defeats since the start of the year. The manager built his team on a foundation of solid defensive structure and ultra-cautious tactics. Despite the decent results, this did not go down too well with Albion fans and attendances were beginning to dwindle.
Liverpool were the only side to attract more than 20,000 to The Goldstone and some dismal performances led to a number of questions being asked of Mike Bailey.
Despite this, there was also talk of pushing on for a possible European place, so Bailey felt his approach was vindicated. For the game against Liverpool he made a couple of changes from the team that had won against Leeds United the previous week.
Perry Digweed came into the team at the expense of Graham Moseley but the tried and tested back four of Gary Stevens, Steve Foster, Steve Gatting and Sammy Nelson was unchanged. In midfield, Gerry Ryan came in for Mickey Thomas, alongside Jimmy Case, Tony Grealish and Giles Stille, making a rare start. Up front, Michael Robinson and Andy Ritchie had been responsible for over half Albion’s goals so far that season.
Liverpool, the European Champions, were lying in fourth place behind Southampton, Swansea City and Manchester United. A slow start to the season had seen them in twelfth place at Christmas but by the time Albion visited, were running into some form.
Their team had a familiar look to it, with Bruce Grobbelaar in goal behind a back line of Phil Neal, Mark Lawrenson, Alan Hanson and Alan Kennedy. In midfield, Sammy Lee and Terry McDermott were partnered with Graeme Souness and Ronnie Whelen.
Up front, the potent strike force of Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish was, surprisingly, slightly less prolific than Albion’s front pairing so far that season.
A crowd of 28,574 at Anfield were expectant of a Liverpool victory. In the ten previous fixtures they had won nine and lost once, at Swansea City. In those games, they had scored 25 goals and conceded just 6.
The weather was atrocious and in the first half Albion, playing towards the Kop, faced a howling gale. Liverpool were wasteful in front of goal in the early stages, with Ian Rush off-target a number of times. The Seagulls defence was coming under more and more pressure as the half went on, but we had our moments, with Tony Grealish sending one shot narrowly wide.
Just before half-time and completely against the run of play, Albion took the lead. Jimmy Case gathered the ball wide on the right, midway inside the Liverpool half. His deep cross found the head of Michael Robinson, who laid the ball down at the feet of Andy Ritchie.
He shot towards goal and although Grobbelaar got a hand to the ball, he could only palm it against the legs of Hanson and into the net.
After half-time, Albion continued to carry the fight to Liverpool, playing with a purpose and method that was characteristic of many away performances that season. Chances came at both ends with Gerry Ryan squandering a great opportunity to put the game beyond reach. He hesitated when clean through, allowing the keeper to save.
Liverpool laid siege to the Albion goal for the last twenty minutes, but Steve Foster was dominant in a rock-solid defensive line. Tony Grealish was having his best game since joining Albion, but he almost spoiled a perfect day with 12 minutes to go.
His back-pass was seized upon by Ian Rush who drew Digweed from his goal and slipped the ball through his legs towards the goal. The Kop started to celebrate but the ball then stuck in the mud just 12 inches from the goal line and Steve Foster calmly cleared the ball. Albion hung on for a famous victory.
Liverpool won 13 of their 16 remaining games, drawing the other three, to surge to the title. Albion on the other hand, won just two of their remaining 14 games to finish in 13th place. This remains our highest-ever league finish but who knows what might have happened if the form of earlier in the campaign had been maintained.
This weekend Albion will have to be just as resolute as the class of ’82 if we are to get anything from Liverpool. The pitch will be better than the mud-bath of that season, and Graham Potter’s tactical planning will have to be spot on if we are to take anything from the game, but it can be done!