Football: Collymore makes the difference

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Notts County. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0

AFTER the night of the blunt knives, the afternoon of the anaemic derby. Just as boardroom divisions, bungs and booze were swept under the carpet at Forest's annual meeting, so their 85th League meeting with County was a curiously bloodless affair.

Stan Collymore was an honourable, and literal, exception. After going off for repairs to a gashed forehead during a first half shaded by County, Frank Clark's pounds 2.2m recruit reappeared in a turban of bandages and later needed stitches. In between he rewarded Forest's growing ascendancy with the winner - a header - right in front of 4,000 grieving Magpies.

The goal was so simple, the kind the Manageress might have talked her squad through on a blackboard, that it made you wonder why both sides made such hard work of things. Scot Gemmill threaded a pass down the right to David Phillips, and he delivered a perfect cross from near the corner flag which Collymore converted.

While condemning the poor relations from across the Trent to a 27th away game without a win, the big striker's 10th goal in as many matches also secured a second successive victory for Forest. In midweek, they put West Ham out of the Coca-Cola Cup. Having started the season as First Division favourites but begun the day in the bottom six, are they finally adjusting to life without Brian Clough?

His successor was reluctant to claim as much, even after County's Gary McSwegan had blown a late chance to equalise. The story of five months in charge explains his caution. Littered with defecting stars and debilitating injuries, it would hardly merit the title Frankie Clark Ha Ha Ha. Yet the supposedly dour North-easterner retains a sense of humour and dignity not always associated with the Forest job.

Clark revealed that Collymore, who could not see properly after colliding with Phil King, had wanted to stay off. Overruled by the doctor, he proceeded to send a succession of booming shots high into the near- 27,000 crowd. 'We did wonder whether he thought the goals were at the back of the stands,' Clark said.

His own vision is unimpaired by the club's off-the-field problems. Forest have certainly looked sounder since Clark bought a goalkeeper, Newcastle United's Tommy Wright, as Clough should have done; Phillips, probably the only player in the country to switch from centre-back on Wednesday to wide- midfield on Saturday, has brought good habits learned with Norwich and Wales; and Gary Bull is almost fit to come in up front for the first time.

Then there is Stan the Man. 'A few people said Collymore didn't have the best of attitudes,' Clark confessed, 'and he is a bit lazy in training sometimes.' He also has the raw talent to turn the tightest of contests. And as Clark said (quoting a truism by 'my predecessor', as if avoiding the name might help Forest start afresh), the bottom line for any manager is that he has to win games.

Goal: Collymore (75) 1-0.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Wright; Laws, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Phillips, Stone, Gemmill, Black; Glover, Collymore. Substitutes not used: Crosby, Webb, Crossley (gk).

Notts County (1-4-3-2): Cherry; Turner; Gallagher, Johnson, Walker, King; Devlin, Draper, Thomas (McSwegan, 76); Lund, Agana. Substitutes not used: Cox, Catlin (gk).

Referee: H King (Merthyr Tydfil).