Throwback Thursday: Liverpool v Manchester City (Boxing Day 1981)

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Liverpool v Manchester City is an intriguing fixture, and often features a young team of scrappy upstarts, short on quality but long on ambition, against a veritable English and European superpower. These days, Liverpool plays the former and City the latter. But decades ago, their roles were reversed. Even so, surprising upsets were always on the table.

This week, we look back at one of the more memorable clashes in this fixture— Anfield, December 26th, 1981.

To put it lightly, Liverpool had a rough day. All three goals they conceded to City were unforced errors. The first came in the 9th minute, when a failure to clear the ball allowed Asa Hartford to slot it inside the near post. Liverpool’s sluggish efforts to get back in the game for the rest of the first half and most of the second failed to pay off.

The turning point however came in the 75th minute— a mistake from Bruce Grobbelaar allowed City to get a clear shot at an empty net, and in a moment of panic Liverpool captain Phil Thompson pushed the ball over the bar with his hand. The referee awarded a penalty which was duly converted by Kevin Bond. Ronnie Whelan struck in the 85th minute to give the home side a brief flicker of hope, but that flicker was cruelly snuffed out by Kevin Reeves in the 89th minute. The home fans went home on a bitterly cold Boxing Day with a sour taste in their mouths.

Liverpool, who were then still near the height of their powers under Bob Paisley, somehow found themselves in 12th place in the First Division after their 3-1 loss to City. An inquest followed the loss and some tough decisions were made to salvage the season, including stripping Phil Thompson of the captain’s armband. After that, Liverpool managed to pull themselves together in the second half of the season, rallying to win the league championship. Manchester City, meanwhile, slipped from their lofty fourth place spot following the victory at Anfield to finish in a comfortable, albeit disappointing, tenth.

The Reds and Sky Blues clash again this Saturday at the Etihad stadium, with City looking to tighten their grip on the top spot while Liverpool focusing on putting one foot in front of the other on their long road back to the Top 4. Kickoff is at 12:30pm EST, with US coverage on NBC.

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