Queen's Park Rangers 2
STAN COLLYMORE, keeping his powder dry until two minutes from time in incessant rain at the City Ground, swept Nottingham Forest into second place in the Premiership and deprived Queen's Park Rangers of a deserved point yesterday.
Rangers, who dominated a first half that was a damp squib in more ways than one, had just equalised for a second time in an altogether more combustible second period when Des Lyttle headed the ball hopefully forward. Collymore left Rufus Brevett trailing before squeezing his sixth goal of the season between Tony Roberts and the near post.
Forest joy was unconfined - victory narrowed the gap on Newcastle to two points - but they will treasure the result longer than the performance. Collymore, for one, had scarcely endangered Roberts's goal all afternoon, and the ease with which Rangers prised them open led Frank Clark to castigate his team's 'sloppy defending'.
The resurgence of Forest since the dark days of Brian Clough's final months reflects enormous credit on Clark. That season, which ended less than 18 months ago, they needed until the new year to accrue as many points as they have today. Even during their promotion campaign, Forest did not reach their present tally until mid-November.
Expectations may therefore have been artificially high, but like Newcastle 24 hours earlier, Forest managed to win when not at their best; supposedly the hallmark of title contenders. In the first half, however, Collymore and Bryan Roy were marked out of the match by Danny Maddix and Steve Yates respectively, with the home midfield also unable to provide them with any worthwhile service.
Rangers, who used Les Ferdinand as a lone forward until they fell behind, held the upper hand without causing Mark Crossley many problems. While it took something of a freak goal to end the stalemate seven minutes after the break - a curling shot by Kingsley Black looked suspiciously like a cross - the game was suddenly transformed.
Although Rangers retaliated inside four minutes, Ian Holloway robbing Colin Cooper to send Ferdinand clear for his sixth goal this season, Forest now had their tails up. When a corner by Lars Bohinen smacked against the far post, Cooper swung and missed as the ball wedged between Roberts and the upright, only for Roy to prod it over the line for his fifth goal since Forest's inspired swoop on Foggia.
Rangers hit back again with five minutes remaining, the substitute Bradley Allen being allowed to turn and fire low beyond Crossley from 20 yards. That seemed to be that before Maddix drifted away from Collymore for almost the first time - 'a fatal lack of concentration', according to Gerry Francis - with decisive consequences.
The Rangers manager complained that rather than Forest winning, his side had given the game away. For his part, Clark admitted Forest had passed the ball poorly up to half-time, but said he had tried to be constructive rather than reading the riot act.
As for Collymore, Terry Venables had not ventured out of London to watch him, which may have been just as well. Clark is not the type to demand England selection for his players, but said: 'It makes a big difference having a striker who can score goals from nothing. Today it was the difference between winning and not doing so.'
Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Lyttle, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Stone, Phillips, Bohinen, Black; Roy, Collymore. Substitutes not used: Lee, Woan, Wright (gk).
Queen's Park Rangers (5-4-1): Roberts; Bardsley, Yates, McDonald (Allen, 65), Maddix, Brevett; Impey, Holloway, Barker, Sinclair; Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Ready, Caldwell (gk).
Referee: K Morton (Bury St Edmunds).