Football: Forest bid their long goodbye

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest 2 Sheffield Wednesday 0

JUST WHEN it seemed there could not have been less incentive to perform, Forest scored their first Premiership victory on home soil for eight months. How contrary, you might think. And there might be more perversity to come: their opponents when they say their goodbyes on Sunday week are Leicester, despised East Midlands rivals.

Do not discount a winning send-off. This result and that one are, of course, quite meaningless and not only because Forest are relegated whatever happens. By the beginning of June (when Ron Atkinson's contract runs out), a new manager will surely be in place and by the time the First Division kicks off in August the team may bear little resemblance to the one at the bottom of this report.

The club intends by then to have reduced the wage bill for the playing staff from the current pounds 9m to pounds 5m per year, which will entail some savage pruning. Of the 15 players on the field or the bench on Saturday, eight or more may have to go. Three - Mathieu Louis-Jean, Hugo Porfirio and Jean-Claude Darcheville - are on loan, another two - Dave Beasant and Des Lyttle - are at the end of their contracts, while Richard Gough came only to play out the Premiership campaign. Pierre van Hooijdonk is certain to be sold, even at a knock-down price, and others are seen as saleable assets by the plc board, among them Chris Bart-Williams.

When Forest were last in the Nationwide League, the club's wage bill was pounds 7.5m and the words of former chairman Nigel Wray at that time remain central to fiscal policy despite Wray's recent resignation. "We have been operating as a Premier League club on Division One income," Wray said. "We simply can't afford to let it happen again."

Quite right, too, the accountants might say. But altogether too sensible for the average fan, or for that matter for the genuinely football-driven football club director. Stick to a plan as undeviatingly hard-nosed as that and Forest can probably anticipate a long and rather dull future removed from the elite.

It was ironic that Sheffield Wednesday, the club which dumped Atkinson last summer, should hand him possibly his last win in club football. It was ironic, too, that Wednesday could could end up signing Kevin Campbell, whose unwise sale to the Turkish club Trabzonspor last summer was one of the factors that sparked Forest's decline.

Another was that Van Hooijdonk's rebellion was in part due to Forest's failure to sign his Dutch compatriot, Wim Jonk, who instead joined Wednesday. Wednesday have not pulled up any trees in the Premiership this season but did look, at one stage, as though they might have a Uefa Cup place in them, and not merely through the ludicrous Fair Play award.

It is because they lack firepower, Wilson suggests, that their form has dipped and created a record of only one win in the last 10 matches. "We have given away goals through defensive mistakes and unless you have people scoring goals to take the pressure off the back players then you cannot afford to do that," he said. Saturday's match illustrated the point.

A needless loss of possession and a poorly defended corner gave Forest two goals in the first 17 minutes as the injury-dogged Porfirio, starting a game for the first time, seized on Petter Rudi's mistake and then Alan Rogers rounded off some penalty-area pinball with a shot that found the net via a huge deflection.

Thereafter, Wednesday largely ran things but rarely looked like denying Forest the points. Indeed, even when referee Jeff Winter awarded them a penalty, they could not score, Mark Crossley diving to his left to beat away Benito Carbone's kick.

Goals: Porfirio (13) 1-0; Rogers (17) 2-0.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Louis-Jean, Gough, Chettle (Edwards, 33), Bonalair; Porfirio (Van Hooijdonk, 65), Palmer, Bart-Williams, Rogers; Freedman, Harewood (Darcheville, 88). Substitutes not used: Lyttle, Beasant (gk). Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Srnicek; Atherton, Walker, Thome (Cobian, 32), Stefanovic; Alexandersson (Cresswell, 72), Jonk, Sonner, Rudi (McKeever, 32); Booth, Carbone. Substitutes not used: Haslam, Pressman (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees). Booking: Wednesday: Atherton.

Man of the match: Porfirio.

Attendance: 20,480.