Nottingham Forest . . . .3
SPRING is in the air - but there is little left in Forest's step. A sterling, switchback match which saw Forest take the lead and fall behind twice was settled by Les Ferdinand's first senior hat-trick, goals that move Brian Clough's side closer to the Football League.
The Premier League will miss Clough and Co. Spurred on by raucous support Forest played a full and spirited part in what Gerry Francis, the Rangers manager, rightly termed 'a thriller, ten out of ten for entertainment'. With Nigel Clough wearing No 9 but stationed at centre-half in an orthodox 4-4-2 Forest looked to have sacrificed a considerable percentage of their attacking options.
However, with three minutes on the clock at Loftus Road Roy Keane showed why he is so dangerous, sprinting 40 yards before demanding a scrambled stop from Tony Roberts, Rangers' splendid young Welsh keeper.
The ebb and flow of a fixture full of fine football produced a first goal in the eighth minute and they kept coming, along with countless missed chances and athletic saves, until the final whistle. Forest, with a fluidity and self-belief that made a mockery of their lowly position were the first on the scoreboard with a goal from a former Rangers regular, Gary Bannister striking from eight yards after Steve Stone and Scot Gemmill had rounded Rangers' rearguard.
Roberts kept his side in contention with a smart double save from Kingsley Black and Gemmill as Forest threatened to record their first victory in London this season. Rangers needed a hefty boot from Roberts to set them on the way to an equalizer. The kick unleashed Ferdinand and Carl Tiler on a race to the 18-yard line. With the ball bouncing into the box, Mark Crossley, the Forest keeper, elected not to intervene until too late, Ferdinand held off Tiler and flicked the ball past Crossley with all the expertise of an experienced international predator.
A half of two halves suddenly swung the host's way as Andy Sinton began to hit his stride. Seconds before the interval his cut in from the left bemused Tiler and Gary Charles, who hauled the Rangers midfielder down as he broke into the area. Clive Wilson's penalty brought no argument.
Four minutes into the second half the versatile Wilson showed a lack of knowledge in the requirements of full-back positioning when he allowed himself to be bypassed by Keane and Black for Forest's leveller. Black swept on down the inside-right channel before placing the ball emphatically to Roberts' right.
Darren Peacock made a brave, last-ditch tackle to dispossess the rampaging Keane before Forest found another way through with the half barely nine minutes old. Stone crossed from the right and the rest was down to the basic instincts of Robert Rosario who laid the ball back, and Black, who scored with a fulminating volley.
Rangers climbed to fifth in the table courtesy of Ferdinand's quick-fire second-half brace. Crossley was helpless when faced with Ferdinand in the 72nd and 73rd minutes. Bradley Allen held up play before releasing the perfect ball which allowed Ferdinand to pass the last defender. He evaded Crossley's challenge and, despite some frantic lunges by despairing defenders, duly dispatched his second equalizer.
Ray Wilkins found Sinton on the left of the box and his chipped cross was nodded by Ferdinand past Crossley.
' I talked to Brian afterwards,' Francis said, 'and he's obviously very concerned but he's not going to be sitting at home with a gun to his head.'
Queen's Park Rangers: T Roberts; D Bardsley, C Wilson, R Wilkins, D Peacock, A McDonald, A Impey, I Holloway, L Ferdinand, B Allen, A Sinton. Subs not used: R Brevett, D Bailey, J Stejskal (gk). Manager: G Francis.
Nottingham Forest: M Crossley; G Charles, B Williams, S Stone, C Tiler, R Keane, K Black, G Bannister, N Clough, R Rosario, S Gemmill. Subs not used: T Orlygsson, I Kilford, A Marriott (gk). Manager: B Clough.
Referee: P Foakes (Clacton-on-Sea).
Goals: Bannister (0-1, 8 min); Ferdinand (1-1, 38 min); Wilson pen (2-1, 45 min); Black (2-2, 49 min); Black (3-2, 54 min); Ferdinand (3-3, 71 min); Ferdinand (4-3, 72 min).