Football / FA Cup: Webb's chip inspires Forest

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest. . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Southampton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

A GOAL of rare quality by Neil Webb, his first since returning from Manchester United in November, ensured that Forest yesterday joined Tottenham, Arsenal and Blackburn as the only Premier League clubs definitely through to the FA Cup fourth round.

Southampton, who had seen their early lead wiped out by two goals in as many minutes immediately before half-time, left the City Ground convinced they had been denied a legitimate late equaliser. Television evidence indicated otherwise, and Forest's enterprise just about earned them the benefit of any doubt.

Brian Clough, embarking on his 28th FA Cup campaign and his 18th year in charge at Nottingham, observed in the programme that Forest's plight at the bottom of the table meant people were neglecting to remind him that he has never won the trophy. For much of the first half it looked as if Forest might soon be free to concentrate on maintaining his record of never being relegated either.

They fell behind in the 14th minute to that collector's item, a Matthew Le Tissier header. Mark Crossley, whose name had been jeered when the Forest team was announced, punched a Micky Adams corner straight to Glen Cockerill near the penalty spot. He headed it back into the six- yard area, where the unmarked Channel Islander glanced home his ninth goal of the season.

While Forest's response was impressive in intent, they were initially betrayed by their familiar lack of ruthlessness in front of goal. Nigel Clough prodded one chance feebly against Tim Flowers' legs, and Roy Keane rolled his shot wide as Flowers advanced.

The vast majority of Forest's lowest crowd of the season also claimed a penalty when Keane went down under Kenneth Monkou's challenge. The reaction of the Irishman, who recently pursued the referee after being toppled by Paul McGrath at Aston Villa, indicated that Mr Lewis got that one right too.

Catharsis in the cold finally arrived in the 43rd minute. From a Gary Crosby corner, Keane began his run on the edge of the penalty area before rising to plant a majestic header past the helpless Flowers.

Suitably encouraged, Forest scored what proved to be the winner in first-half injury time. Webb, receiving from Scot Gemmill just inside the box, turned sharply to chip the ball beyond Flowers. The former England midfielder's fleetness of foot was all the more exceptional considering the treacherous covering of frost on the pitch.

Le Tissier hit the underside of the bar a minute after the interval, and Forest endured an even narrower escape when the same forward lunged with Crossley at Adams' 73rd-minute cross. The ball seemed certain to cross the line, but Pearce's 'weaker' right foot slid it clear as Southampton claimed a goal.

Four minutes later, Crossley saved one-handed from a Kerry Dixon header. The fans forgot their antipathy, and Forest departed to an ovation that suggests the faithful are still believers.

Nottingham Forest: Crossley; Laws, Pearce, Chettle, Tiler, Keane, Crosby, Gemmill, Clough, Webb, Woan. Substitutes not used: Glover, Black.

Southampton: Flowers; Kenna (Groves, 67), Adams, Dodd, Hall, Monkou, Le Tissier, Cockerill, Dixon, Maddison, Benali (Banger, 85).

Referee: R Lewis (Great Bookham, Surrey).