Football: Clough continues to enjoy chairman's confidence: Forest stand by their veteran manager as the fight to preserve Premier status enters its final stages

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RENEWED speculation over the future of Brian Clough has been met with renewed support from the club he has managed for the past 18 years.

Clough was jeered and booed after Forest's 10th home defeat moved them closer to relegation on Wednesday night, but the club chairman, Fred Reacher, dismissed the crowd's reaction to Blackburn's 3-1 win as 'mild, considering that we're bottom of the table' and reaffirmed his loyalty to Clough.

'I'm obviously very worried and Brian is as disheartened as I am. When you look at the heights we have reached in the past, this is as big a fall from grace as we have experienced. But there are still 18 points to play for and Brian Clough is the best guy to get them for us,' he said.

Commenting on Clough's future, he repeated the message of personal support he voiced earlier in the season, Reacher said: 'Brian is under contract until May 1994. He has been sincere in staying with us over the years when he could have gone elsewhere. I am also a loyal man.'

Clough was recently made a Freeman of Nottingham but has faced growing hostility from some sections of the City Ground crowd, and was asked by the FA to explain himself after appearing to make a two-fingered gesture to supporters during a home game last month.

His lack of success in the transfer market has prompted suggestions that his talents are on the wane, and it was ironic that a part was played in all three Blackburn goals on Wednesday by Kevin Gallacher, whom Clough bid for before the striker's move to Ewood Park from Coventry on transfer deadline day.

Perversely, Forest's deepening predicament has coincided with a marked rise in gates at the City Ground. Their three largest crowds of the season have come during the last six home games, and Reacher sees this as an expression of backing for Clough as much for the team.

'I think the fans are paying Brian his due,' Reacher said. 'They know that Brian has been loyal to us and they know how much he has done for the club. I thought their reaction was mild, considering where we are in the table.'

Forest, who face QPR and Tottenham over the Easter weekend, have taken only five points from their last eight matches, and with Stuart Pearce and Neil Webb out of the picture - and now Gary Charles facing suspension after his sending-off on Wednesday - the odds against a Clough-inspired miracle are lengthening.

The stress of being caught up in a relegation battle is beginning to tell on Terry Butcher, the manager of First Division Sunderland. The former England defender apologised yesterday for his behaviour towards some of the supporters who travelled to the 1-1 draw at Brentford this week. He had been reported by the police for using foul and abusive language.

'I think with all the frustration and attention to play and being manager of a team, as well as the worries and the pressure - I just snapped,' Butcher said. 'A few supporters did state their feelings in no uncertain terms. I said something back which I obviously regret. It was a heat-of-the-moment reaction.'

The heat is building at Liverpool as the friction between goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar and his manager, Graeme Souness, shows no sign of easing. Grobbelaar insisted on flying home to Zimbabwe to play in successive matches against Zambia, Egypt and South Africa. Souness wanted Grobbelaar to return after next Thursday's World Cup qualifying competition rematch against Egypt, which is to be played in France.

Whatever the outcome of that dispute one of the familiar sights at Anfield will disappear at the end of next season. The club has confirmed that the Kop is to be flattened in May next year and may seek sponsorship for the seated area that will replace it at a cost of about pounds 5m.

West Ham will call the new south stand at Upton Park 'The Bobby Moore Stand', in honour of England's 1966 World Cup-winning captain and their greatest player, who died in February.