Clark hopes Pearce can provide lift

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The Independent Online
Frank Clark is putting a brave face on Nottingham Forest's plight near the foot of the Premiership table. Their 1-0 defeat at home to Everton on Monday night took their run of league games without a win into double figures.

While Clark is finding Forest's slump as difficult to take as the club's increasingly frustrated fans, he is determined to maintain a positive outlook.

"It's hurting me being where we are," he said. "I'm not enjoying the job too much and I'm not sleeping too well. But you can't walk around with a long face when people are looking to you to give them a lead."

Clark said that there had been "a lot of soul-searching" among staff and players in the wake of Forest's 4-1 defeat at West Ham in the Coca- Cola Cup last week, leading to a change of emphasis in training.

"Since then we've been trying to do more constructive work on the training field to give the players a helping hand," he said.

"When I first came here I laid down a basic structure for the players. I gave them a loose framework around which to perform. But with the team lacking confidence, we are now tying it down a bit. We're telling them to do this and that to give them a platform to turn it round."

Clark puts Forest's problems down to a combination of lost confidence and injuries to key players. "Confidence is a very elusive thing," he said. "We came here for our first home league game against Sunderland feeling full of ourselves after that marvellous performance at Coventry. But we found ourselves 4-1 down at half-time and we don't seem to have recovered from that.

"We've also lost a couple of key players in Steve Stone and Kevin Campbell and the problem has been compounded because the two players who were obvious replacements for Stone, Steve Howe and Paul McGregor, have also been injured."

Clark is hoping that Stuart Pearce and Campbell will be fit to return for Saturday's trip to Aston Villa. Pearce has missed the last two games with a back strain while Campbell, who has been out for 10 matches, recovered from hamstring trouble only to suffer an ankle injury.

"We're quite optimistic that they'll both be OK for Saturday," said Clark, who knows both players can give Forest a badly needed lift. Campbell, who scored a hat-trick in Forest's last league win at Coventry on the opening day of the season, could provide the fire-power that is missing from their attack, and Pearce is an inspirational figure.

Meanwhile, Joe Royle admits his Everton side have not been firing on all cylinders despite three successive wins in the Premiership. Royle thinks Everton were below par against Forest and in the 2-1 home win over West Ham 16 days earlier.

"We haven't done badly lately, with three wins and a draw in the last four games, but we've ground out results and I don't think we are anywhere near the finished product," he said. "We've only shown little flashes of what we can do and we can play an awful lot better."

Duncan Ferguson, who has completed a two-match suspension, is set to return for next Monday's home game with struggling Coventry.

Ferguson's suspension and the absence of Paul Rideout have paved the way for Michael Branch and Graham Stuart - both 5ft 9in tall - to form a small but nimble strike pairing.

But Royle said that Branch would be gradually eased into Premiership football. "He's an exceptional talent and he won't be overplayed," Royle said. "He'll be in and out for a while."

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