Football: Clough the centre point

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The Independent Online
Stockport County. . . 2

Nottingham Forest. . .3

NOTTINGHAM FOREST survived a few moments of now all too frequent indignity to salvage their first victory since the opening weekend of the Premier League, and give themselves a little breathing space for the return leg of this Coca-Cola Cup-tie. Stockport doubtless feel they will not travel in vain, but they must fear they threw away their chance last night.

Much of Forest's early play was symbolic of their season. They produced the familiar, neat, passing game which has traditionally served them well, yet suddenly appears to be leading them nowhere. Nigel Clough was central to the operation, collecting and sorting with calm efficiency. Too often, however, Forest's moves simply ground to a halt.

Stockport, second in the Second Division, also sensed Forest's vulnerability at the back, Chris Beaumont attacking them with relish and never scorning the opportunity to shoot.

Forest creaked once too often after 23 minutes. David Frain chipped the ball forward to his giant centre-forward, Kevin Francis, whose hooked shot defied the attentions of Carl Tiler and cleared Mark Crossley to give County the lead. They enjoyed that advantage for barely a minute. Forest's measured approach was at last rewarded when Thorvaldur Orlygsson cut back the ball for Gary Bannister to sweep in the equaliser.

Stockport's less sophisticated football might have restored the lead before half-time. Jim Gannon volleyed over a beckoning goal and Beaumont sliced an effort past the angle. Forest's finishing was similarly erratic, Clough and Scot Gemmill wasting opportunities.

Forest's defence was subjected to intense pressure at the start of the second half and Crossley made an important save from Alan Finley's header. Somehow Forest survived the bombardment and Stuart Pearce led the counter-attack in the 54th minute. His shot was beaten out but Clough scored from the rebound. Four minutes later, Orlygsson stroked in Forest's third.

Still, though, there was life in the home side. Paul Masefield's 64th-minute cross from the right reached an unchallenged Francis, who headed a simple second.

Stockport County: Edwards; Masefield, (Knowles, 80), Todd, Frain, Miller, Finley, Gannon, Carstairs, Francis, Beaumont, Muir. Substitute not used: Preece.

Nottingham Forest: Crossley; Laws, Pearce, McKinnon, Tiler, Keane, Crosby, Gemmill, Clough, Bannister, Orlygsson. Substitutes not used: Chettle, Glover.

Referee: J Key (Sheffield).