Clark is dazzled by youth culture
Glenn Moore on a night that finally came right for Nottingham Forest
It did for Nottingham Forest in their Uefa Cup third-round first-leg tie against Olympique Lyonnais on Tuesday. "The naivety of youth" was Frank Clark's description of the quality Paul McGregor and Bobby Howe brought to his team just as it appeared they would have to settle for a goalless draw at the City Ground.
It was a quality which had been lacking in Forest's approach play. While organisation is a prerequisite of good defending it does not always apply in attack. Forest, with Bryan Roy unfit and the imaginative Lars Bohinen and unpredictable Stan Collymore elsewhere, were too obvious.
Enter McGregor, 20 and yet to start for Forest, and Howe, 22 and with just two full appearances, both more than a year ago. They had pace, enthusiasm and, most importantly, an absence of fear. Howe won a penalty and McGregor scored from it, following up after Stuart Pearce's shot had been blocked.
Their success suggested Forest's strength in depth was not as thin as had been feared. Such has been the side's consistency few young players had been given a chance in recent seasons - only one of the starting XI was under 24 and that was Chris Bart-Wlliams, arguably the most experienced 21-year-old in the game.
"We do have some good young players at the club," Clark added. "I have been looking to reduce the squad to give them opportunities. McGregor's best position is wide right and if it was not for Steve Stone he would have been in the team before now. He is quick and scores goals.
"Howe was an England youth international who has not progressed as quickly as he should have. I sent him on loan to Kettering last year, to be under Graham Carr. He needed someone to bring him down to earth and show him what life was all about. Graham is not known for his subtlety in dealing with 'less committed' players."
Clark said Howe's best position was "just behind the centre-forward, where Bryan Roy plays". Roy had a cartilage operation yesterday which may give Howe (who prefers Bobby to his given name of Stephen) the chance to play in Monday's game with Manchester United.
However, come the second leg in 12 days' time, Clark is likely to prefer experience and play just Jason Lee, who should have recovered from a thigh injury, in attack. A draw will take Forest through but it will not be easy. Lyon looked dangerous at times; their predominantly young team (six players under 24) pushed forward in numbers and shot on sight. More will certainly be heard of the promising striking pair, Florian Maurice, 21, and the teenaged Ludovic Giuly.
Forest are England's only remaining European representatives but Clark said: "That does not any mean extra pressure for us. If we do well it will raise the profile of Nottingham Forest but it will not alter people's perception of English football. England would need to win, or at least do well, in Euro '96 to do that."
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