Football: Forest must start to build for leaner future

Derby County 1 Nottingham Forest 0
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GEOGRAPHICALLY DERBY and Nottingham are divided by little more than the width of the M1. In football terms the gap is about to become as big as the motorway's length and, on the Forest side, the fear is that the separation could become permanent.

Nottingham Forest's relegation to the Nationwide First Division has been inevitable almost since the season began but the manner of it has exacerbated their fans' disenchantment. On Saturday, in the interests of backing their team in a local derby, they suspended their protests against the board. However, Horacio Carbonari's late winner for Derby ensured the board's relief was only temporary.

Part of the problem for incumbents at both clubs, in the boardroom and in the dug-out, is that each have punched above their weight in the past.

Both are moderately-sized provincial towns but Forest won a brace of European Cups two decades ago while Derby, a few years earlier, were only robbed of a place in the competition's final by very dubious refereeing.

Such heady ambitions are probably beyond clubs of this size now, unless they are taken up by an extremely wealthy benefactor, which makes regional rivalry all the more important. Derby, after several years fighting to get into the Premiership, while Forest were still having European interludes, are unquestionably top rams nowadays.

What makes this all the more galling for Forest fans is that their resources are not dissimilar. Forest may still be suffering for the financial crisis which led to the takeover of Nigel Wray, Irving Scholar and Phil Soar - respectively derided by one embittered fan as a "rugger-bugger, the man who nearly sent Tottenham bust, and an anorak" - but their current squad, at pounds 17m, cost more than Derby's.

"The difference between the clubs," said one local journalist yesterday, "is management: Jim Smith's good and the Forest board's bad."

Smith, who is only pounds 770,000 down on his transfer account in four years at the club, clearly has very good contacts, a wonderful eye for a player, and a deft touch at man management. There are more than a dozen nationalities in his squad but they appear to be well integrated. While it is hard to imagine them prospering it is a shame that, due to the change in Uefa qualification, they are unlikely to be in Europe next season. (The latest mis-information by David Mellor on his Saturday night radio show, that an extra place will be available if Manchester United win the European Cup, was wrong - it only applies in the event of United also finishing outside the top three in the Premiership).

Forest, by contrast, are a mess. The appointment of Ron Atkinson was a mistaken gamble which has wasted a few bob and six months during which they could have been re-building. Richard Gough, who was impressive at Pride Park despite his late dismissal, was brutally frank after the match.

"In another couple of games we'll be relegated and then it is up to the board," said the former Rangers captain. "There has been talk about a new manager but the main thing is they have to keep the good players and strengthen. We need freshening up, whoever comes in.

"The team that won the title last year was better than the one sitting in the dressing-room now. What chance did they have? I hope lessons are learned from it, if the board do not get the right players in we could get a Man City situation."

Forest have a few decent players. Mark Crossley, who made three excellent saves from Dean Sturridge either side of half-time, is in good form while Andy Johnson could find a place in several Premiership sides. Of the other two Gough's age (37) is against him, though he would like a valedictory season in the Premiership, while Pierre van Hooijdonk is a risk. On Saturday the moody Dutchman stalked out of the ground before the end after being substituted, but Atkinson's displeasure at that could be the least of his worries. He also broke Vas Borbokis's cheekbone with his elbow as they tussled for a bouncing ball after 15 minutes. Though Smith, Atkinson, the players of both sides and the referee, who was five yards away, thought the clash accidental, it looked ugly on television. The FA may launch an investigation.

The Dutchman did little else of note. Forest's best chances, both just before the break, fell to Alan Rogers, who shot weakly from a good position, and Marlon Harewood, whose shot was cleared off the line by Carbonari.

Derby then took control but, just before the hour, Rogers went clear only to be clattered by Russell Hoult. The goalkeeper's dismissal was as much for the cynical nature of the challenge as for denying a goalscoring opportunity. Rogers was well wide and, said Gough: "I told him `it would have to be a hell of a finish for you to score from there'."

Forest pressed but, after Gough was dismissed, twice booked for fouls on Paulo Wanchope, Derby resumed the assault and, with five minutes left, their centre-half, Carbonari, was allowed to turn both his defensive counterparts before producing a finish which was far better than any of the football that had preceded it.

Goal: Carbonari (85) 1-0.

Derby County (4-3-1-2): Hoult; Lauresen, Prior, Carbonari, Schnoor; Borbokis (Sturridge, 16), Bohinen, Powell; Baiano (Harper, h-t); Burton (Poom, gk, 60), Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Dorigo, Elliott.

Nottingham Forest (4-1-3-2): Crossley; Louis-Jean, Gough, Edwards, Rogers; Bonalair; Freedman, Palmer, Johnson; Harewood (Chettle, 79), Van Hooijdonk (Shipperley, 75). Substitutes not used: Goodlad (gk), Woan, Allou.

Referee: G Barber (Tring). Bookings: Nottingham Forest: Johnson, Rogers, Edwards, Harewood, Gough. Sendings off: Derby County: Hoult. Nottingham Forest: Gough.

Man of the match: Carbonari.

Attendance: 32,217.