Football: Forest challenge falters

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Bristol City . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

FOREST'S hopes of cutting Crystal Palace's lead in the First Division to five points - with a game in hand - were frustrated by a Bristol City team who seldom had to rise above the workmanlike at the City Ground yesterday.

On an afternoon that started in a blizzard and ended in sunshine, Forest produced a patchy performance to match. While they maintain a healthy advantage over Leicester, Millwall and Notts County, their only rivals for the second automatic promotion place, Frank Clark's side face an awkward run-in with only two of their seven fixtures at home.

Forest badly missed the pace and penetration of the suspended Stan Collymore, whose absence prompted Clark to abandon his five-man midfield for an orthodox 4-4-2 formation. In theory, that ought to have enhanced their scoring potential; in reality, Keith Welch in City's goal was often a spectator.

Welch did, however, make two vital saves, both within seconds of each other, after 32 minutes of midfield stalemate. Having parried Stuart Pearce's full- blooded free-kick, he reacted quickly to block the follow-up by Colin Cooper, and City cleared hurriedly.

Pearce, tellingly, looked the Forest man most likely to score, perhaps not surprisingly in view of the less than prolific pedigree of Jason Lee and Robert Rosario. One typical, storming run by the former England captain carved City open in the 13th minute, only for his shot to clear the bar.

At the opposite end Wayne Allison sent a swerving drive narrowly too high two minutes later. But apart from a diagonal shot by Brian Tinnion which drifted wide in the closing minutes, the visitors' ambition appeared not to stretch beyond avoiding a repetition of December's 4-1 home defeat by Forest.

Forest's build-up was invariably too slow, and they showed an uncharacteristic reluctance to use the less muddy wide area. When at last they did, Ian Woan's 86th-minute cross was turned into the net by Lee, but the flag was up for offside.

Pearce has apparently been bringing his ghetto-blaster into the dressing-room, where Forest have developed a pre-match ritual of listening to Madness tapes. The Nutty Boys of Nottingham does not have quite the same ring as the Wimbledon Crazy Gang, and one thing is for certain: Brian Clough would never have stood for it.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Lyttle, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Stone, Phillips, Bohinen (Woan, 75), Black; Rosario, Lee. Substitutes not used: Bull, Wright (gk).

Bristol City (4-4-2): Welch; Harriott, Shail, Munro, Scott; Wyatt, Martin, Edwards, Tinnion; Milsom, Allison. Substitutes not used: Hewlett, McKop, Rudgeley (gk).

Referee: E Parker (Preston).