In 1985-86 Liverpool bounced back from a disappointing derby defeat with a win at White Hart Lane to start off a run that would see them crowned as Champions.
With just twelve games to go Liverpool were eight points behind Everton in the title race, a 2-0 home defeat to the Blues the following week seriously denting their hopes. It wasn’t just Everton that Liverpool had to overhaul if they were to win the league. Manchester United were in five points ahead in second place while Chelsea, who were in fourth and separated from the Reds by goal difference, also had three games in hand.
In the game against Everton Bruce Grobbelaar had inexplicably allowed a low Kevin Ratcliffe shot to squirm under his body, the latest of a serious of gaffes that season. On BBC Grandstand’s Football Focus the day before the Spurs game, it was estimated that Grobbelaar’s errors had cost the Reds as many as fifteen points already that season.
It was a bitterly cold Sunday and Liverpool’s fans setting off for London did so in the knowledge that the game was sill in some doubt. However heavy sanding of the pitch managed to save the day as Spurs were desperate not to lose out on television revenue and late morning the pitch was declared fit for the 3.05pm kick off. There was now even more ground to make up, as the previous day Everton had beaten Aston Villa to open up an eleven point lead.
White Hart Lane, Spurs and English football in general were completely different propositions than now. Although they had been Everton’s main challengers for the title the previous season, Spurs were struggling in the bottom half of the table this time around and the pressure was building on manager Peter Shreeves after three successive home league defeats. The stadium too was crumbling, with three of the four stands dating from before World War II, although it was seen as somewhat modern (for the time) in that it offered both standing and seating on all four sides and was totally covered.
There was no need to worry about tickets, with all terraced areas being pay on the day and admission prices being below £3. Liverpool’s support was accommodated in just two of the four sections in the away end and they were only about half full, with the total crowd being just 16,436 in a ground that could hold close to 50,000.
After just four minutes Liverpool were a goal down and it was again Grobbelaar who had to take responsibility. After turning Chris Waddle’s shot around the post for a corner that was taken by Glenn Hoddle, the Reds keeper jumped for the ball and palmed it goalwards, Waddle helping it over the line. The rest of the first half was dire from the Reds, who struggled to put more than a couple of passes together on the bone hard pitch and at half time they were given a rollicking by Kenny Dalglish and Ronnie Moran.
The players came out rejuvenated for the second half and played some of their best football for some weeks. Former Reds keeper Ray Clemence made two great saves from Steve McMahon and Craig Johnston, while Jan Molby had a powerful headed bounce back off the crossbar. McMahon, returning after an injury, was dominating the midfield allowing Molby the space and vision to seek out the attackers and it was the big Dane who eventually got the equaliser in the 66th minute. From a Johnston corner, Ronnie Whelan’s shot rebounded back to Molby who scored with a low drive from the edge of the area.
Liverpool dominated the rest of the game as the temperature remained around freezing point. McMahon hit the bar and Clemence made three good saves from Rush. As the game entered injury time, it was the home side who were whistling for the referee to blow for full time. Then in the 94th minute, Whelan played a defence splitting pass into the path of Rush, who was one on one with Clemence. He calmly stroked the ball past him into the corner of the net, sparking huge celebrations amongst the visiting fans, while Rush was mobbed by most of his teammates.
Rush told the Daily Mail after the match: ‘Bruce was the most relieved man in the ground when I scored the goal. I’m glad for him that I got the winner.’ Grobbelaar himself was honest in his assessment of the mistake that could have cost Liverpool he game, saying: ‘After all the publicity I’ve been getting it was a poor show to make a mistake like that. Fortunately the lads pulled it round for me. In the past I’ve made mistakes and they haven’t been able to do that but this time it might be quickly forgotten.’
The win was the fillip for Liverpool’s title charge. They won ten out of their next eleven fixtures and clinched the league championship on the last day of the season, when Dalglish himself scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Chelsea.