Football: Forest forage for scraps

Nottm For 1 Southampton 1

In the aftermath of Nottingham Forest's 3-1 home defeat to Southampton on Saturday Dave Bassett, Forest's general manager, was standing in a corridor talking of character and relegation battles, and of how you cannot survive one without the other.

Given Forest's meek capitulation in such a crucial match his comments were damningly appropriate but, on League Cup final weekend, the match also evoked other thoughts.

Eighteen years ago these teams had met in one of the better League Cup finals. Forest won 3-2 but the three-handled jug was just a bonus. They were the reigning League champions at the time and, two months later in Munich, would be crowned the best in Europe. They held on to the European Champions' Cup the following year. The side was impressive, featuring Peter Shilton, John Robertson, Tony Woodcock, Martin O'Neill, Garry Birtles and Archie Gemmill.

It would be a stretching a point to say that Southampton were also a power in the land but they had international players such as Steve Williams, Alan Ball, Mick Channon and Chris Nicholl. Three years earlier they had won the FA Cup and were newly promoted. They have been in the top flight ever since, and in 1984 were League runners-up and FA Cup semi-finalists.

The point of this history lesson is that both sides are now reduced to scrabbling for survival and it is sometimes hard to imagine they will ever recapture former glories. Forest may have reached the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup last season but they are now heading for their second relegation in four years. In a recent interview with The Independent Phil Soar, the man behind the recent takeover at Forest, said: "No city remotely the size of Nottingham has ever won the European Cup; we've won it twice." He added: "The whole period had an strong feeling of unreality."

If that is what it felt like then, at a distance of nearly two decades it seems pure fantasy. Even Manchester United have only this season managed to put together a respectable challenge. Derby may have beaten Manchester United, and Leicester played at Wembley this weekend, but that does not negate the feeling that, in the brave new world of the Premiership, provincial clubs like Forest and Southampton seem condemned to be beggars at the feast, picking up scraps like the occasional Coca-Cola Cup.

This is nothing new. Even in the days of the maximum wage, the big city clubs - Manchester United, Everton, Arsenal, Aston Villa and those of the Tyne and Wear conurbation - won many of the honours. Only the North's textile towns regularly challenged their supremacy.

The trend does, however, seem to have become more pronounced. Since the end of wage restraint the clubs of Merseyside, Manchester, Leeds and north London have ruled. Outstanding managers, and/or excellent youth systems, have led to brief periods of ascendancy for Burnley, Ipswich, Forest and Derby but, until the well-financed rise of Blackburn, no provincial side had finished in the first two since Southampton 13 years ago.

The big city clubs generate more money through higher gates and commercial spin-offs than provincial clubs. Those clubs thus find it harder to hold on to their players. Stuart Pearce and Matt Le Tissier are the exceptions, their former team-mates Stan Collymore, Roy Keane, Alan Shearer and Neil Ruddock the rule.

However, recent developments have offered some hope to such clubs. The largess of Sky TV is so generous it has reduced the relative income gap between the likes of Forest and, say, Everton. Bosman means clubs like Southampton can pick up players like Claus Lundekvam and Eyel Berkovitch cheaply. Every Premiership club now has at least one star player which has not always been the case in the past decade.

There is one catch: all this only applies to clubs in the Premiership, which is why Saturday's match was so important and why Bassett was so unhappy with some of his players. Each club is on the verge of solving individual problems - Southampton are moving from their limited ground, Forest have changed their limiting constitution - but it will be too late if they are relegated.

The tension showed in the play. Even Pearce and Le Tissier made mistakes in basic ball control. Le Tissier, who faded badly, was substituted. Pearce suffered more cruelly, his backpass allowed Southampton their clinching second goal.

That was scored by Mike Evans, who then added a third to end revivalist thoughts prompted by Pearce's penalty. His goals fully justified Graeme Souness's unpopular decision to bring him on for Le Tissier. At pounds 500,000 he was bought at a tenth of the cost of Pierre van Hooijdonk. It looks money better spent.

Southampton, who played with greater enterprise, passion and composure throughout, had gone ahead through Jim Magilton's 35-yard shot after seven minutes. Mark Crossley, unsighted and off-balance, was immobile.

Forest's response was long balls aimed at Van Hooijdonk, a betrayal of their traditions. It worked once but the Dutchman's spectacular 63rd-minute strike was ruled out. Not that their approach deserved anything. It seems odd that this tactic is apparently decided by Pearce, not Bassett, who says team selection and tactics are nothing to do with him.

If that sounded like buck-passing, Bassett's comments on the team were more forthright. "Some of them did not seem to be with it," he said. "We needed more blood and guts. It is easy for players to think if this club goes down I can always find another one. They don't lose their jobs."

Goals: Magilton (7) 0-1; Evans (85) 0-2; Pearce (pen, 88) 1-2; Evans (90) 1-3.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Lyttle, Chettle, Cooper, Pearce; Phillips, Haland, Gemmill, Woan (Roy, 57); Saunders, Van Hooijdonk. Substitutes not used: Allen, Moore, O'Neill, Fettis (gk).

Southampton (4-3-1-2): Taylor; Van Gobbel, Dodd, Lundekvam, Benali; Oakley (Neilsen, 80), Magilton, Slater; Berkovitch (Maddison, 90); Ostenstad, Le Tissier (Evans, 68) Substitutes not used: Dryden, Beasant (gk).

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-Le-Street). Bookings: Nottingham Forest Van Hooijdonk. Southampton Benali, Magilton.

Man of the match: Lundekvam.

Attendance: 25,134.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt

The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game