Football: Better Blake than never

Nottingham Forest 2 Chettle pen 22, Freedman 30 Blackburn Rovers 2 Blake 49, 90 Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 22,013
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The Independent Online
TWO GOALS from Nathan Blake - the second three minutes into stoppage time - recovered a point for Blackburn, and dashed desperate Forest's hopes of a first Premiership win since 29 August.

Dave Bassett's relegation favourites had led 2-0 at half-time after going ahead through a hotly-contested penalty but Blackburn's determination to maintain their unbeaten record under their new manager, Brian Kidd, was rewarded when Blake struck early in the second half and again at the death. For Forest, it was an agonising repeat of their experience against Aston Villa three weeks ago, when they were 2-0 in front only for the Premiership leaders to snatch a last-gasp equaliser.

Blackburn remain in the basement but the consequences of this result look likely to be greater for Forest, who have failed to win any of their last 15 matches and slip into last place for the first time. Indeed, it is hard to think of a Premiership team less equipped for survival. To bracket Blackburn with them as fellow-strugglers seems absurd given their relative spending power. With Jack Walker ever willing to raid the piggy bank, Kidd has already been able to sign Keith Gillespie for pounds 2.35m from Newcastle and has reportedly raised his offer for Barnsley's Ashley Ward to pounds 5m. By contrast, unless he can find someone willing to take Pierre van Hooijdonk, Dave Bassett has his hands buried in empty pockets.

At least the reality of their plight is beginning to dawn on the Forest players. Blackburn, with their new coach, Brian McClair, taking his place alongside Kidd on the bench, began tentatively, and the home side took a firm grip on the contest with two goals in the space of eight first- half minutes.

Controversy surrounded the opener, blasted home from the penalty spot by skipper Steve Chettle. Stephane Henchoz dispossessed Andy Johnson with what appeared a legitimate challenge and was horrified when the referee, Stephen Lodge, prompted by a linesman, pointed to the spot. A pack of Blackburn players immediately rounded on the linesman, and Billy McKinlay was booked.

Matters worsened for Blackburn when Chris Bart-Williams released Neil Shipperley on the left. The former Crystal Palace forward used his strength to retain possession before launching a pass-cum-shot across the Blackburn goal, where the attempted interception by the goalkeeper, John Filan, merely helped the ball reach Dougie Freedman, who bundled it over from two yards.

Forest were aware from recent experience against Villa that a two-goal advantage guarantees nothing and there was justifiable frustration among their supporters when Freedman, allowed a clear run at Filan early in the second half, wasted a chance to capitalise on a mix-up between Henchoz and Christian Dailly.

Blackburn reacted by pulling a goal back almost immediately when Blake stretched out a leg to poke Tim Sherwood's cross wide of Dave Beasant. Stone then forced a fine save from Filan with a dipping left-foot shot from wide on the right but controversy followed the resulting corner, with Beasant fortunate not to be sent off for denying Sutton a run at goal.

The Forest goalkeeper was positioned in the centre circle when Scot Gemmill's corner was cleared to him but hesitated over playing it forward, allowing Sutton to charge him down. Beasant clearly impeded the Blackburn forward but the ball ran loose to Wilcox, who then missed the unguarded target.

Lodge did not award a free kick, but produced only a yellow card for Beasant, an act of apparent charity for which Forest were especially grateful when the goalkeeper made an astounding save to deny Sherwood.

As the final whistle loomed, Forest seemed to have survived the wave of attacks that Blackburn threw at them, but in the third minute of stoppage time Blake pounced again after a header by Sutton had come back off the crossbar.

"It said a lot for the players' character that they came back in the second half," Kidd said. "It shows just how much they were determined not to lose."