Two goals and three points brought relief at last to an annus that was becoming more horribilis almost by the week. To lose their Premier Division status last May was bad enough but the team everyone said was too good to be relegated began yesterday only a better goal difference from the relegation places in the First.
On top of that there is the Brian Clough legacy - not the sound club with a promising playing staff that appeared likely only a few years ago but investigations into allegations of 'backhanders' and irregularities in ticket sales. Little wonder, crippled as they are with injuries, Forest appear to be a club in trouble if not crisis.
And few teams could confront them with their reduced circumstances more strikingly than Tranmere. When Forest were winning their first European Cup in 1979, Rovers were beginning a 10-year fight for survival in the Fourth Division. Yesterday, however, they arrived as division leaders with only one defeat on their travels. Forest, by comparison had not won in the League since 28 August.
Which made the match a surprise. Tranmere, all intelligence and passing at the start, were brushed aside to such an extent that the Merseysiders had barely a shot on target until Chris Malkin played upon home anxieties to head a consolation goal with two minutes remaining. In truth they should have been beaten far more comprehensively.
That was due mostly to Stan Collymore, who danced on the nerves of the Tranmere defenders every time he got scent of the ball. The pounds 2.2m striker Forest bought from Southend is blessed with outstanding pace, quickish feet and the upper body to brush aside attempts at obstruction. He got a goal yesterday, his eighth in 10 matches. But he could have had two more himself and such was the havoc he created that others might have profited too.
His goal was an excellent example. Kingsley Black dispossessed Tony Thomas on the left in the 16th minute and found Collymore, who reacted like he had seen Stuart Pearce (back after missing three games with injury) shaping up for a slide tackle. With one touch he was beyond any hope of a Tranmere intervention and he swept the ball past Eric Nixon with the aplomb most players reserve for practice matches.
Collymore had a hand, too, in Forest's second goal, spinning away from his marker inthe 55th minute and delivering the ball in the direction of Robert Rosario. Via a defender's boot, the ball bounced to Scot Gemmill, who fired into the roof of the net.
Forest have won only once in the League at the City Ground, so their supporters had every reason to treat what they were seeing with suspicion and Malkin's late goal for Tranmere was greated first by shocked silence and then a volley of whistles.
In the end it was too little, too late but it was enough to act as a reminder that a tough winter could lie ahead for Forest.
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