Crossley takes revenge

By Simon O'Hagan
Click to follow
The Independent Online
AS ONE of four survivors from the Nottingham Forest team that lost to Tottenham Hotspur in the 1991 FA Cup final, Mark Crossley had a score to settle yesterday. And he did so in heroic fashion by turning into virtually a one-man show the penalty shoot-out that provided the gripping, if inevitably unsatisfactory, conclusion to this fifth-round replay.

The 26-year-old Crossley may not be everybody's idea of goalkeeping reliability, but this season has been one of his best. The three saves out of four that he made to deny Clive Wilson, Ronny Rosenthal and Teddy Sheringham were outstanding pieces of anticipation and athleticism, and thanks to them Forest can now look forward to a sixth-round tie at home to Aston Villa on Wednesday.

While, on the strength of the preceding two hours, it would be wrong to suggest Forest had presented an overwhelming case in their favour, they produced, in the opening 30 minutes, the best football of the match, and even after Tottenham had forced their way back into contention were never less than durable. That was achievement enough at the end of a week in which they had made an exacting trip to Bayern Munich in the Uefa Cup.

It was perhaps fitting that Forest's three other Wembley veterans also made vital contributions: Ian Woan, whose poise and touch early on created a sense of uncertainty in the Tottenham defence that was never entirely banished; Steve Chettle, who steadily reduced Chris Armstrong's impact on the game; and Stuart Pearce, who was unflinching at left-back and led by example in the shoot-out.

With Bryan Roy almost impossible to pin down, Forest began in exhilaratingly fluent fashion and were a goal up in nine minutes. Woan's through-ball caused the Tottenham defence to stop in expectation of an offside flag. But none materialised, and although Roy pushed the ball a little too far he caught it up in time to lift a shot over Ian Walker.

Spurs needed a moment of inspiration to get them back into the game, and Sheringham provided it in the 32nd minute with a scorching free-kick into Crossley's top right-hand corner. Absorbing a contest though it was, chances were rare until extra time, when Paul McGregor shot against Walker instead of passing to Roy and then Pearce cleared off the line from Rosenthal. Then, in the last minute, the Spurs substitute Steve Slade hit a post.

When penalties arrived, only Ruel Fox found the target for Spurs, while successful strikes by Pearce, Chettle and Woan, allied to Crossley's brilliance, meant Roy did not have to worry long about his miss.

Frank Clark, the Forest manager, praised his team for their "incredible" effort. Crossley was less effusive about his own performance. "It's just guesswork," he said of his saves, though he admitted to benefiting from some inside knowledge of Sheringham's preference to aiming his penalties left.

For Gerry Francis, the Spurs manager, there was no consolation. "There must be a better way of deciding matches than this," he said. No one could possibly disagree.