Football: Clarke checks Forest

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest. .1

Wimbledon. . . . . .1

THE GREEN shoots of Forest's recovery, which appeared briefly at the start of the month, withered and retreated in the face of a footballing frost known as Wimbledon at the City Ground yesterday.

A dispiriting draw against the side two places above them means that Forest will approach the half-way stage of the season, at home to Queen's Park Rangers on Boxing Day, four points adrift at the foot of the Premier League. On this showing, their position is anything but false.

Forest had the perfect start, Nigel Clough firing them in front after virtually their first attack. But a bad blunder by their error- prone keeper, Mark Crossley, allowed Wimbledon an equaliser, and they found a one-man strike force of Clough all too easy to freeze out thereafter.

Indeed, Wimbledon belied their reputation for Chippendale muscularity, often working the ball neatly out of defence. Even so, it was a sad indictment of Forest that Vinny Jones looked as accomplished a passer as Neil Webb or anyone else in a five-strong home midfield.

Such a scenario seemed implausible in the fourth minute, when Roger Joseph conceded possession to Kingsley Black on the left flank. Black's angled pass found Clough, who managed to evade two defenders and score what was only Forest's sixth home goal this season from the edge of the area.

Eight minutes later, Jones played an innocuous pass into the Forest box. Crossley hesitated initially then decided to come and collect, but failed to gather the ball which squirmed free to Andy Clarke. His shot rolled almost apologetically across the line.

Two reckless lunges by Jones at Stuart Pearce stirred the crowd slightly - there is evidently no love lost by the two former Wealdstone players - though there was an atmosphere of apathy and resignation long before the end. Scot Gemmill blazed over from Forest's best chance, and Hans Segers did not make his first real save until the final quarter-hour.

Wimbledon actually came closer to a second goal. Shortly after half-time Forest's hapless centre-backs, Steve Chettle and Carl Tiler, contrived to let in Clarke, but his low drive passed a foot wide. Nine minutes from time, a splendid curling shot by Robbie Earle gave Crossley a chance of partial redemption, when he arched to tip the ball over.

The centre spread of the programme was given over to a Christmas tree with a picture of a beaming Brian Clough at the top. For Forest, however, this was an afternoon for alarm bells rather than jingle bells.

Nottingham Forest: Crossley; Laws, Pearce, Chettle, Tiler, Keane, Crosby, Gemmill, Clough, Webb, Black. Substitutes not used: Woan, Bannister, Marriott (gk).

Wimbledon: Segers; Ardley (Miller, 57), Joseph, Jones, Scales, McAllister, Blackwell, Earle, Holdsworth, Talboys, Clarke (Fashanu, 71). Substitute not used: Sullivan (gk).

Referee: R Hart (Darlington).

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