Whilst the England team were struggling through the darkest period in the history of the national side, things were about to get very rosy on the club scene, with a period of unprecedented domination about to get underway, which would see the name of an English club etched on at least one of the three main European club competitions every year for the next seven seasons. It was fitting that it would be the most successful of those sides who would get this era underway.
Liverpool were on their way to clinching the League title and were firm favourites heading into the tie against the Belgians. However on a classic Anfield European night they would have to produce a stirring performance to complete a come from behind victory.
Highlights of the game were shown on ITV’s Midweek Match, with Granada’s resident commentator Gerald Sindstadt on duty in the box. He would have the pleasure of describing one of the most remarkable matches in Liverpool’s starred European history.
Bruges were in front after just five minutes. A long ball over the top of the Liverpool defence put Tommy Smith in trouble and his weak header back towards Clemence fell short allowing Raoul Lambert to nip in and lob over the keeper, with Sindstadt needing no other words to describe the goal as “the look on Lambert’s face says it all.”
Liverpool were denied a quick fire equalizer by Birger Jensen, the Bruges keeper, who produced a superb save to tip over a Kevin Keegan free kick from 30 yards out. It was to prove to be a big save a few minutes later as the Belgian side doubled their lead.
Once again the Liverpool defence were partly to blame as they failed to effectively deal with a ball that bobbled around the penalty area, and were punished as the ball fell to Julien Cools on the edge of the box. He struck a delightful volley into the top corner to make it 2-0 and silence the Anfield crowd.
Nowadays going 2-0 down at home would probably see a team shut up shop at the back, hope to nick a goal and try to do things in the away leg. In the 70’s football was a much more swashbuckling affair and Liverpool continued to pile forward in an effort to get back into the match, fully aware that they were leaving themselves open to further damage.
The Reds were unable to get back into the game before half time as they were denied by the superb Jensen in the Bruges goal. Smith was denied a chance to make up for his error as the Dane scrambled away a 30 yard scuffed effort before reacting quickly to block Ray Kennedy’s follow up effort.
Liverpool made a change at the break with Jimmy Case coming on in place of John Toshack. The substitute had a golden chance from the off as he was left unmarked on the edge of the area but screwed his shot horribly wide.
Liverpool were leaving themselves extremely vulnerable to the counter attack and were grateful to Clemence for keeping them in the tie when he got down well to save an effort from Lefevre from the edge of the box.
Wave after wave of attacks were launched at the Kop End, but Liverpool must have felt that it was not going to be their night when Jensen pulled off a miracle save to deny Kevin Keegan. Liverpool’s talisman was found by a superb ball from Emlyn Hughes and he struck a shot from the edge of the box which took a deflection of a Bruges defender. Despite Jensen being totally wrongfooted he managed to stretch up an arm as he dived the wrong way, touching the ball away from the goal.
Liverpool were not to be denied and in a six minute period around the hour mark turned the tie decisively in their favour with a three goal burst. On 59 minutes Ray Kennedy made it 2-1 with a stunning strike. Heighway rolled the ball into the midfielders path and without breaking stride he drove a shot from the edge of the area into the top corner of Jensen’s net.
Two minutes later Liverpool were level with almost a carbon copy goal. This time it was Keegan who played the ball into Kennedy and although the shot was not as well struck it bobbled across the ground beating Jensen but coming off the post. Fortunately for the Reds it was straight into the path of the onrushing Case who saw the ball hit him and roll into the net.
On 65 minutes the comeback was complete. Once again the danger came down the left hand side with Heighway. The Liverpool forward burst into the penalty area and was tripped, giving referee Ferdinand Biwersi no option but to point to the spot. Keegan stepped up t0 send the keeper the wrong way and give Liverpool the lead for the first time in the tie.
Despite maintaining a dominance in the final quarter of the game, the Reds were unable to extend their lead, meaning that they faced a nervy second leg in Belgium three weeks later.