Europe conquered as Reds land UEFA Cup

Europe conquered as Reds land UEFA Cup23 May 1973

Liverpool produced a combination of outstanding attacking football and resolute defending to claim the first European title in their history at the expense of Borussia Moenchengladbach.

Having seen his side suffer the injustice of a controversial European Cup semi-final defeat against Inter Milan in 1965 and endured the disappointment of an extra-time loss to Borussia Dortmund in the Cup Winners' Cup final a year later, Shankly was determined to make it third time lucky and finally get his hands on Liverpool's first piece of European silverware.

Speaking during his side's route to the final, the charismatic Scot urged his players to focus their attention on a League and UEFA Cup double, suggesting, rather prophetically, that the sides involved in the European Cup's sister competition, were teams on the verge of greater success.

"I would say that winning this could be as difficult as winning the European Cup, because those who are in it are promising to be great times," he said. "They are on the verge of greatness."

It was a rallying cry that did the trick, as his team powered their way to the final seeing off the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt, AEK Athens, Dynamo Berlin and Dynamo Dresden, before beating Tottenham Hotspurs in an all-English semi-final on the away goals rule.

As a marathon season came to a climax the Reds went into the first-leg of the clash with Moenchengladbach at Anfield already buoyed by the fact they had just been crowned Division One champions.

Ahead of the match, Shankly had opted to replace John Toshack with Brian Hall, who had been in impressive form in the tournaments' earlier rounds.

It was a move that surprised many and one that would never have the chance to justify itself as the referee deemed the pitch was unplayable after 25 minutes following some torrential rain.

The match restarted 24 hours later, but this time Toshack was back in the starting line-up in place of Hall.

Shankly had noticed the Germans were susceptible in the air during the previous evening's false start and Toshack duly went on to terrorise the visitors throughout the match.

With 21 minutes on the clock Liverpool were well on top and it was no surprise when Toshack nodded the ball into the path of strike partner Kevin Keegan, who did the rest with a smart diving header in front of the Kop.

The Germans had not taken heed of the threat posed by the big Welshman and 12 minutes later he was at it again, heading the ball down for Keegan to ram home his second of the game from 10 yards out.

The Reds were in total control and deservedly grabbed a third just after the interval with Larry Lloyd once again exposing the German's vulnerability in the air with a fine header.

It could have much worse for the visitors had Keegan not failed to complete his hat-trick from the penalty spot, although Jupp Heynckes should have reduced the arrears when Moenchengladbach were award a spot-kick of their own.

Fortunately for Liverpool, Ray Clemence produced an acrobatic save to deny him and give the hosts a clean sheet that would ultimately prove crucial in the overall outcome of the tie.

As the final whistle blew the Reds had one hand on the trophy having chalked up a deserved 3-0 lead.

It was a performance that had Shankly purring, although he did warn his side against any form of complacency.

"If anybody wants to know what Liverpool Football Club is about then let them study this game, "he declared.

"Tonight we played football that world-class against world class opposition. The second-leg will not be easy, but there's not a team on the planet that I would expect to overcome a three-goal deficit when we are playing as well as this."

They were bold words and ones that fortunately did not come back to haunt him - although the Germans did run his side close in the second-leg.

Hurt by the manner of their Anfield defeat the home side laid siege to the Liverpool goal and when Heynckes struck twice within nine minutes after the half hour mark, the Reds looked on the verge of collapse.

However, the Germans began to run out of steam and as the match wore on they looked less likely to complete a sensational comeback and Liverpool held on to secure a 3-2 aggregate victory.

It meant Shankly had become the first manager to lead an English side to European and domestic honours in a single season, although he did admit later that he had feared the worst prior to the half-time interval in the second-leg.

"After they scored the second there was a thunderstorm, and I thought we were going to get beat by about 10-0," he said.

"But then just before half-time, I could see the steam had gone out of them. And when we were in the dressing room, I said that we may even get a draw in this match."