Football: Bright shines as Forest lose their way in the gloom

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Nottingham Forest. . .1

Sheffield Wednesday. .2

THE unused red and white seats in Nottingham Forest's nearly completed new grandstand glistened in the autumn sunshine yesterday. The metaphorical clouds over the City Ground, however, show few signs of clearing.

Sheffield Wednesday's victory, their second in the Premier League, extended Forest's worst sequence since Brian Clough became manager to six consecutive defeats. Forest were often in control, especially in the first half, but Wednesday were able to expose their defence's frailties at critical moments either side of half-time before Forest's refusal to lie down brought a late reply.

Before Gary Bannister beat Chris Woods with a spectacular flying header in the last five minutes, Forest had rarely looked incisive enough to make midfield superiority tell, even against a Wednesday defence lacking three regular starters through injury. Brian Clough insists that he is 'too old to be miserable' about such matters as losing football matches, but if he can forget his side's shortcomings as an attacking force, there is always the regularity with which they are conceding goals to furrow his brow.

The Trent End home fans, ever loyal to a man just promised the freedom of Nottingham, proclaimed Clough as a 'football genius' even as defeat was looking certain. But it was an inspired selection by one of his former players, Trevor Francis, that paved the way for his undoing yesterday.

Having completed the signing of the Crystal Place striker, Mark Bright, 20 minutes before Friday's eligibility deadline, Francis teamed him with Paul Warhurst, normally a central defender, as stand-in for his injured England forward, David Hirst. The choice was almost rewarded in Wednesday's first attack when Warhurst missed Bright's low cross by inches. If Hirst might have made that opportunity count, he could have done no better than the crisp left-foot shot with which Warhurst beat Mark Crossley in the 40th minute.

Forest, who must surely spend soon to replace Des Walker in the back four, were caught square as Chris Waddle surged in from the right flank and released Warhurst behind the right-back Brian Laws with a clear sight of goal.

This was a setback for the home side. Wednesday, without Philip King, Nils Nilsson and Nigel Pearson at the back, had twice been grateful to the former Forest defender, Viv Anderson, for saving tackles and were fortunate to escape unpunished from two direct free-kicks conceded in Stuart Pearce's striking range. But Forest could not turn clearer chances than those into goals and both Bannister and Gary Crosby wasted openings that cannot be squandered.

Wednesday began the second half with their self-belief reinforced and needed to wait only 12 minutes to increase their lead. Graham Hyde, a 21-year-old midfield player of some promise, skipped through Forest's defence almost unchallenged after Bright had knocked down Waddle's throw-in from the right and was then shown an inviting gap inside Crossley's near post.

Forest, in particular Nigel Clough, had produced enough pleasing, innovative football to merit sympathy for their plight and earned more for attempting to fight back when other sides might have crumbled and Bannister's goal created an anxious last few minutes for Wednesday.

Francis applauded Forest's commitment to the football which has won them so many friends and suggested that one victory might restore their equilibrium. But more than that is probably needed and Brian Clough faces the biggest test of his managerial skills since his appointment here 17 years ago.

Nottingham Forest: M Crossley; B Laws, S Pearce, C Tiler, S Chettle, R Keane (R McKinnon, 83 min), G Crosby, S Gemmill, N Clough, G Bannister, K Black. Subs not used: L Glover, A Marriott (gk). Manager: B Clough.

Sheffield Wednesday: C Woods; J Harkes, V Anderson, C Palmer, P Shirtliff, P Warhurst (G Watson, 83 min), G Hyde, C Waddle (D Wilson, 70 min), M Bright, C Bart-Williams, N Worthington. Sub not used: K Pressman (gk). Player-manager: T Francis.

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Goals: Warhurst (0-1, 40 min); Hyde (0-2, 57 min); Bannister (1-2, 87 min).