Football: Forest in need of an overhaul

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest. .0

Manchester United. .2

BRIAN CLOUGH must have thought he had seen everything, with the painful exception of the FA Cup adorning his trophy cabinet, but defeat for Nottingham Forest at Norwich tonight would ensure the club's worst start in his 18 seasons at the City Ground.

Not the worst of Clough's 27 years in management - that came at Derby in 1968 when, after two defeats and three draws, they ran away with the Second Division. Twenty years later, Forest won none of their first six yet still finished third.

Clough's relaxed training regime may explain the anomaly; his teams tend to attain match-fitness by playing matches rather than by running up hills. But even by their own sluggish standards - they have taken barely 50 per cent of the points over the opening five fixtures during the Clough era - Forest are floundering.

The signs were evident before Ryan Giggs killed the game by heading United's second goal. The Trent End fell as silent as the Highbury mural, failing to mount its customary clamour even when Pearce lined up a late free-kick 18 yards out. The only Englishman who moves the ball in the air like Waqar Younis sent it straight into the defensive wall, and the rush for the exits was on.

It actually began this summer with Des Walker's departure, and continued when Teddy Sheringham followed him out. Clough has replaced the irreplaceable England defender with Terry Wilson, whose midfielder's inclination to dwell on the ball contributed to Mark Hughes's goal, and his top scorer with Gary Bannister, a trialist freed by West Brom.

While Bannister's touch belied his status, at 32 he is surely a stop- gap. Newspaper bills posed the question 'Dean Saunders for Forest?', but having refused Pearce a pay rise it is unlikely Clough would meet the demands of a player reputedly earning twice as much.

Even if Forest secure a striker - and it is more likely to be Alan Smith, Duncan Ferguson or Nigel Jemson - there are other problems. They need a keeper who commands his area, and pace in central defence, not least to allow the untypically restrained Pearce to attack.

Whether Clough, at 57, has the appetite for such an overhaul is the key. Buying is a facet of the job with which he has professed unease. Ray McKinnon, his pounds 800,000 signing from Dundee United, is already vying for the Gary Megson Invisible Man award also held by Asa Hartford and John Sheridan.

Alex Ferguson was happy to see United win twice in a row for the first time since Christmas, although their improving position does not yet signal a return to last autumn's pre-eminence.

Dion Dublin worked hard and has more ability than he has received credit for. One wonders, though, about his pairing with Hughes, who likes to hog Dublin's natural habitat down the middle. Then there is the manager's son, Darren, who shows promise but was inexperienced enough to square up to Nigel Clough early on.

A spat between the bosses' boys would have been the story of the day had it developed. The story of the season may only be at the foreword stage, but Clough Snr clearly has some forward thinking to do.

Goals: Hughes (16) 0-1; Giggs (50) 0-2.

Nottingham Forest: Crossley; Laws, Pearce, Wilson, Chettle, Keane, Crosby, Gemmill, Clough, Bannister, Woan. Substitutes not used: Orlygsson, Marriott (gk), Black.

Manchester United: Schmeichel; Phelan (Blackmore, 44), Irwin, Bruce, Ferguson, Pallister, Dublin, Ince, McClair, Hughes (Kanchelskis, 88), Giggs. Substitute not used: Walsh (gk).

Referee: K Redfern (Whitley Bay).

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