Football Commentary: The doyen in desperate need of devilment

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The Independent Online
BRIAN Clough breezed out of Goodison Park full of bonhomie, urging all and sundry to 'look after yourself'. Much appreciated, I'm sure, but the suggestion would be better made at his next team talk.

Winning fair play awards is all very laudable, but there comes a time when it is more important to win a few tackles, and Nottingham Forest will have to find a bit of devilment from somewhere if Clough is not to spend his managerial dotage down among the head-hunters of the old Second Division.

The switching of The Big Match to Sunday and the humdrum nature of what was left signposted the road to Merseyside for a check on the doyen and his team. Sad to relate, the prognosis is not good.

Forest, depressingly effete, subsided to a 3-0 defeat against run- of-the-mill Everton without so much as a whimper. No pride, no passion, nobody prepared to roll their sleeves and fight. No chance.

To borrow their manager's text, they have lost the art of looking after themselves. For those who admire their tradition and principles, and dread their loss to the Premier League, there was an overwhelming urge to scream: 'Stand up and fight.'

They have never been very good at that sort of thing, of course, but in the days when no one beat Des Walker, and they had Parker, Webb and Hodge to cream it around, there was no need to be.

Today, too many good men have gone, and Forest are no longer good enough to pass their way out of trouble. They need a few battlers, and they need them now. In fairness, what is a poor team, even at full strength, was further enfeebled by the loss of important players, including Keane, Webb and Gemmill - the first-choice midfield. Ominously, though, the problem seems to be more to do with attitude than personnel.

In adversity, good sides close ranks and come out scrapping. Forest lack that spirit, and stand around looking sorry for themselves when they should be bristling with defiance.

Everton are in a trough of their own, having lost many more matches than they have won this season, and yet they should have scored six. After a tentative start, when everyone wanted to huddle behind the ball, they twigged the fact that the opposition were even more apprehensive and seized complete control. Forest's patchwork quilt of a team unravelled at the first hint of pressure, the poverty of their resources leaving them bereft tactically, too.

Damage limitation is the only explanation for the puzzling, timorous decision to withdraw Nigel Clough into a quasi-sweeper's role after half an hour, when they were 2-0 down. The stable door was duly bolted, but by that stage the runaway was half-way to Aintree.

Worse, with junior out of the firing line the potential of a powder-puff attack was reduced still further, and there was never the slightest likelihood of Forest scoring to get back into the game. It took them 78 minutes to come up with a decent goal attempt, and then Clough's hit and hope 20- yarder was easily saved.

As a contest, it was all over well before half-time, which found Everton three up and cruising. That they failed to widen the margin in the second half was down to a slackening of their own resolve rather than a stiffening of Forest's.

The matchwinner was livewire proof that strange decisions are not BC's exclusive preserve. Tony Cottee has always been a goalscorer, averaging one every two games for nearly a decade, yet in the first half of the season, when Everton were suffering for want of a decent finisher, he was ignored to the point of perversity.

Recalled in extremis two months ago, Cottee responded by scoring four in his first two appearances, and has been tucking them away ever since.

A couple more on Saturday made it eight in 11 games and yet, true to type, he was not satisfied, pointing to the two that got away. The goals he did score underlined the frailty and disorganisation of the Forest defence, who allowed him the half-yard which was all he needed to score at close range, with head and boot. To his irritation, the two he missed were easier chances, both spurned inside the six-yard box.

Everton's third, driven in by Andy Hinchcliffe, was no more than an embellishment, but it served as a reminder that Forest's vaunted discipline is beginning to disintegrate, along with their form.

Ian Woan was booked for disputing the free-kick which led to the goal, Mark Crossley chased after the referee to protest, and Carl Tiler also had his name taken for dissent. Uncharacteristic stuff from a team who enjoy a reputation for exemplary behaviour - and this in a week when Roy Keane was again in trouble off the field.

Sad days, indeed, for a club which has shone like a beacon in these grey days of kick and rush and Vinnie-style skulduggery.

Too good to go down? Clough, as ever, kept his thoughts to himself, but Kendall, smiling wryly, had it right. 'When you were asking me that question, I said nobody is.'

Forest aren't, and they probably will. Everton look safe.

Goals: Cottee (15) 1-0, Cottee (26) 2-0, Hinchcliffe (38) 3-0.

Everton: Southall; Jackson, Hinchcliffe, Snodin (Barlow 71), Watson, Ablett, Ward, Beardsley, Cottee, Kenny, Radosavljevic (Sansom, 79). Substitute not used: Kearton (gk).

Nottingham Forest: Crossley, Charles, Laws, Chettle, Tiler, Orlygsson, Crosby (Glover, 80), McKinnon, Clough, Bannister, Woan. Substitutes not used: Williams, Marriott (gk).

Referee: V Callow (Solihull)

(Photograph omitted)