Football: Forest need a little devil

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest. 0

Arsenal. . . . . .1

SYMPATHY for Forest's plight and admiration for their principles is piling up like so much unwanted coal. George Graham became the latest manager to indulge in such magnanimity following Arsenal's third successive victory, but in the meantime Brian Clough is in danger of being isolated in the pits of the Premier League.

'You have to feel sorry for Forest,' Graham said, echoing Trevor Francis, Alex Ferguson, Bobby Gould, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. 'They're a good side and I'm sure it won't be long before they move up. They just need a bit of luck and a few wins to restore confidence, though it seems a shame Roy Keane has to play at the back.'

The Irishman, whose drive Graham would like to accommodate in his midfield, was the only home player, Stuart Pearce notwithstanding, who appeared to recognise that Forest's run of 10 matches without a win since they beat Liverpool on the opening day represented something more serious than teething troubles.

When Forest last fared so poorly over the first quarter of the season, Arsenal's name was still prefixed by Woolwich. Anything less than victory over Clough's home-town team, Middlesbrough, at the City Ground on Wednesday will leave them with their worst start since 1913-14 - when they finished bottom.

The choice Clough appears reluctant to confront, perhaps because everyone says what lovely football Forest play, is between idealism and pragmatism. Graham faced a similar dilemma on a smaller scale when Arsenal, championship favourites, lost their first two games. His response was to make their main flair player, Anders Limpar, an almost permanent substitute.

'We started the season too attack-minded,' Graham recalled after Alan Smith's first goal since May had lifted Arsenal into the top six. 'My attitude is different to Brian Clough's - I don't want to be bottom of the table playing good football.'

Graham believes the Forest manager will 'never change his philosophy'. If that is so, he will have to change his personnel, because the team is simply not strong enough. Weeks have passed but still none of Clough's targets - from Blanc and Short to Jemson and Foster - have materialised.

Neil Webb is the latest ex-Forest player being touted to return. But what Clough really needs is more of Keane's devil, which his most successful sides always had in the form of players like Kenny Burns and Archie Gemmill.

Their other pressing requirement is a combative front man. Gary Bannister needs to feed off a more powerful player rather than carrying the fight alone. It did not escape Forest fans' notice that three strikers sold by Clough - Teddy Sheringham, Lee Chapman and Paul Wilkinson - all scored again on Saturday.

Supposedly less 'attack- minded', Arsenal still fielded three forwards of a quality Forest could not match, as well as using Paul Merson in midfeld and Limpar as substitute. Even so, this was not a display to worry unduly the watching Aston Villa manager, Ron Atkinson, or any of their other title rivals.

Tony Adams, however, scarcely put a foot wrong under the scrutiny of Graham Taylor. After his impressive return for England, in a match which clearly took more out of Lee Dixon and Ian Wright, the Arsenal captain fittingly denied Keane as he charged through in pursuit of an equaliser in the dying seconds.

Goal: Smith (38) 0-1.

Nottingham Forest: Crossley; Charles, Pearce, Keane, Tiler, McKinnon (Black, 68), Crosby, Gemmill, Clough, Bannister, Orlygsson. Substitutes not used: Chettle, Marriott (gk).

Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon, Winterburn, Hillier, Bould, Adams, Jensen (Pates, 87), Wright (Limpar, 75), Smith, Merson, Campbell. Substitutes not used: Miller (gk).

Referee: J Worrall (Warrington).