Clark plots to steal Bayern thunder

Ian Ridley talks to the Forest manager about the need for a rich return
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The Independent Online
CHARMINGLY in these brash "Simply the Best" days, they still play the old theme tune from Robin Hood at the City Ground before kick-off as acknowledgment of regional culture. For Bayern Munich's visit on Tuesday, they should turn up the volume to remind the Nottingham Forest players of the task ahead when it comes to that line about the local hero stealing from the rich.

Actually, Forest have been pilfering results in the Uefa Cup quite well so far and a fourth consecutive 1-0 win, this time required against one of Europe's strongest and wealthiest clubs, will see them into the semi-finals. In what this season has been a strong competition, it has been a laudable achievement.

But while some English honour has been upheld, the limitations of the domestic game have also been on view, with an echo of the Arsenal of recent seasons in Forest's progress, a triumph of strategy and discipline - and grimly grinding out results, with five goals scored in seven matches so far.

The Forest manager, Frank Clark, honest to a fault, concedes as much. "We are still not flowing the way I want," he admitted. "We have had moments but never quite got it together for a sustained period. We have had to battle and scrap to chisel something out. In Europe, I would have loved to have played an open, expansive game but I think we would have been out if we had done that. We have had to play a tight, cagey game."

Clark has attended two "think-tanks" with other managers who competed in Europe this season, and chaired by Terry Venables, and agrees with their conclusion about the need for better coaching and development of young players.

The main lesson he has learned personally, though, came from his first Uefa Cup match in Malmo, a 2-1 defeat. "We played in a normal way, made it a fairly open game," he said. "And we were lucky not to be facing a big deficit. I think we grew up a bit that night."

It is a pity that Forest could not have gone into Europe with the smooth- running side that ended last season third in the Premiership. Bryan Roy, Stan Collymore and Lars Bohinen formed a penetrating counter- attacking triumvirate but two wanted fresh, more lucrative, fields - such is the fate of medium-sized clubs - and the once dynamic Roy has appeared to pine ever since.

The singular Collymore could not be directly replaced so instead Clark sought a target man and to deepen the squad with some of the pounds 8.5m received from Liverpool. Between them as inadequate mix-and-match stand-ins, Kevin Campbell, Andrea Silenzi and Jason Lee have managed 15 goals; Collymore alone had 16 at this stage last season.

If Clark has been let down by his signings, he has succeeded in making the most of limited resources; the essence of good coaching. It has not gone unnoticed by the FA, on whose list for the England coach's position he will surely be if they ever get round to publishing it.

With a smile that his droopy moustache cannot conceal and that brightens the lugubrious countenance, Clark says he has not considered the England job. "I don't see it. There are able and more experienced candidates. Some of them seem to have ruled themselves out but I can't believe they would turn it down."

Nor him, you suspect, but there are more pressing matters. "I knew it was going to be harder this season because of the amount of money all the big clubs spent last summer," Clark said. "The money is becoming the big difference between clubs. But I do think that even without spending a penny, this team will be better next season."

In the meantime, pragmatism is the quality most needed. "In cups, it is about getting through any way you can within the laws of the game, even if you would ideally like to do it with style," he said. "In the league, especially at home, you have to take the initiative and the responsibility is on you."

Forest rarely look like the home side these days, rarely look like getting an emphatic goal-scoring performance from a central striker. Against Aston Villa in midweek, in what was an FA Cup quarter-final but did not feel like it, so dissipated has the competition become, their attacking was sporadic and dependent on a moment from midfield that never came.

One will have to arrive against Bayern. The left feet of Stuart Pearce and Ian Woan always have the potential to produce, while Roy's darting runs, providing he has recovered from a thigh strain, and Steve Stone's eye for a chance, even if slightly dimmer of late, offer alternatives.

It is likely to be incumbent on the defence - to which Colin Cooper should return and behind which the flying gannet Mark Crossley has improved immeasurably - to keep a clean sheet, its sixth in eight matches in the competition.

That would be some achievement against a Munich team featuring Jurgen Klinsmann and capable of more ambition when needed than they showed in the Olympic Stadium. "Their second goal out there should be a warning to anybody who thinks Bayern are not as good as they should be," Clark said. "But also, I don't want us to get caught up in the Bayern legend. I think if things don't go well for them they can get very ragged. The approach will be patient. "I feel if we go at them gung-ho they will tear us apart. We have got to take the initiative but in a controlled way. I hope it won't be a cavalry charge." It must surely, though, be a more charged quarter-final than the 1-0 loss to Villa last Wednesday.

With defeat possibly seeing the end of Forest's season, even if another Uefa Cup place remains possible and they still have matches to come against Newcastle, Manchester United and Liverpool, incentive should be high. It will be a night when heavy atmosphere and light fingers are needed.