Football: Atkinson finds optimism tested

Nottingham Forest 1 Chelsea 3
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The Independent Online
TWO THINGS say that Forest are already resigned to relegation. First, they will stick with Ron Atkinson, the man hired to keep them up, regardless of whether he succeeds or fails. Second, there is Big Ron himself, still wise-cracking, only now admitting he does not know if they have it in them to survive.

Chelsea won without doing anything out of the ordinary, and what is more with a side several players below full strength. Forest made a great effort, but were not good enough.

It did not stop the joking, though. "What do you have to do to stay up?" Atkinson was asked. A raised eyebrow and half a wry smile. "Did you ask the captain of the Titanic that? No, but seriously... "

But seriously, even the quipster in chief was pushed to come up with plausible positives. "Look at Charlton," he implored, desperately. "Two weeks ago, when we were getting hammered by Man Utd, nobody gave them a chance of staying up. Now they've turned it round with three good results and they fancy themselves."

But they weren't 10 points from safety, were they, Ron? "Okay, I take your point... but, to be fair, we were up against the defence that won the World Cup and look at the chances we created. The daft thing is that's the best we've played since I came here."

Yet Chelsea still won, and comfortably. Bjarne Goldbaek, who doubled the title aspirants' lead after Mikael Forssell had been handed an opener with a large red bow attached, might have finished with four goals. Dave Beasant kept out one, Matthieu Louis-Jean another with a goal-line clearance. In the end the Dane settled for two, pouncing again on the loose ball when Tore Andre Flo, back from his six-week lay-off, tried to mark his comeback in the best strikers' tradition.

Forest created a good deal, as Atkinson said, but while Pierre van Hooijdonk made Franck Leboeuf pay for his one big misjudgement, their finishing let them down. It might seem that 12 games is time enough to pull off a great escape but, in reality, Forest would probably need to win eight - the stuff of fantasy - to be safe.

Goals: Forssell (6) 0-1; Goldbaek (25) 0-2; Van Hooijdonk (39) 1-2; Goldbaek (83) 1-3.

Nottingham Forest (3-5-2): Beasant; Bonalair, Chettle, Palmer; Louis- Jean, Stone, Quashie (Porfirio, 70), Johnson (Gemmill, 89), Rogers; Darcheville (Shipperley, 86), Van Hooijdonk. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Hjelde.

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Ferrer, Lambourde, Leboeuf, Babayaro; Petrescu (Newton, h-t), Morris, Desailly, Goldbaek; Forssell (Nicholls, 86), Zola (Flo, 61). Substitutes not used: Hitchcock (gk), Terry.

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees). Bookings: Forest: Quashie, Palmer. Chelsea: Morris.

Man of the match: Goldbaek.

Attendance: 26,351.