Clark gambling on striking right option

Football: Nottingham Forest 1 Middlesbrough 0
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The Independent Online

Nottingham Forest 1 Middlesbrough 0

Put yourself in Frank Clark's position. After two defeats and four draws, you have won your last two matches. Nobody can deny this is an improvement. But both wins have been scratchy, both only 1-0. In fact, in 10 consecutive games, one goal is as much as your team have managed.

People are beginning to notice. They say you have no goalscorer. They say there is a hole in your team, a hole that used to be filled by Stan Collymore and they know you don't like to talk about him.

And, would you believe it, today you have to go to Liverpool, which would not have been a problem a couple of months ago when You Know Who was not getting in the team. But You Know Who is in the team now and, what's more, he is running nicely into form.

It is, as they say, a nightmare waiting to happen. If ever there was a day to turn over, go back to sleep and set the alarm for tomorrow, this is it.

Of course, the real Frank Clark's options do not include that one. The choices he can consider are whether to gamble on recalling Bryan Roy, still in need of careful handling after cartilage surgery, to persevere with the ill-matched partnership of Kevin Campbell and Jason Lee or to give another chance to the Italian, Andrea Silenzi, none of which seems to have much going for it.

Roy, who has played the last 15 minutes or so of the last two matches, is not yet considered ready for a full 90, but Clark is only too aware than a slump which began with Forest's 7-0 defeat at Blackburn in November has coincided with the Dutchman's absence. He is also aware that Lee is a striker of limited talent, that Campbell lacks match sharpness and that Silenzi needs more matches to adjust to Premiership pace.

"I am concerned," Clark said. "You are always going to give away a goal from time to time, so at 1-0 it tends to be nail-biting stuff.

"At the start of the season, I thought the best combination up front would be Campbell and Roy, which we have not had since September. But it would be too simplistic to blame everything on the front two because we are getting bogged down elsewhere too."

Just as well, than, that Steve Stone continues to flourish on the right wing - he won the penalty that settled this match - and that Colin Cooper is maturing as a commanding presence in defence.

It was largely down to the discipline maintained by Cooper's influence that Middlesbrough, lively even with Nick Barmby, Craig Hignett and Jan Age Fjortoft absent, could not prevent one Forest goal, on this occasion, being enough.

It will be Cooper's brief to snuff out Collymore at Anfield today, but also to remind his colleagues that one man does not make a team. "What we have to remember," he said, "is that if we all get carried away with Stan, it will just leave Robbie Fowler to take advantage."

Which could be another nightmare entirely.

Goal: Pearce (pen 8) 1-0.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Lyttle, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Stone, Gemmill, Bart-Williams, Woan; Campbell, Lee (Roy, 72). Substitutes not used: Haland, McGregor.

Middlesbrough (5-3-1-1): Walsh; Cox, Vickers, Pearson, Liddle, Fleming; Blackmore, Pollock, Moore; Juninho; Hendrie. Substitutes not used: Whelan, Moreno, Barron.

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).

Bookings: Forest: Cooper, Gemmill, Roy. Middlesbrough: Liddle.

Man of the match: Cooper.

Attendance: 27,027.