Football: Forest on course for Premiership

Manchester City 2 Nottingham Forest 3
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The Independent Online
Manchester City 2 Nottingham Forest 3

Like all the best anthems, ``Football's Coming Home'' lends itself easily to adaptation. When Forest went three up early in the second half, the choruses of ``Forest's Going Up'' and ``City's Going Down'' from the travelling Nottingham choir seemed perfectly in tune with events at Maine Road and accurate predictions of the season's outcome.

Yet even then, the key differences seemed to be of confidence and commitment rather than skill and organisation. Forest were playing with a self-belief born of a comfortable League position and their superiority was epitomised by Pierre Van Hooijdonk. The Dutchman's control and distribution would not have turned heads in the local park, but his bustle and determination were enough to upset a City back four, and, when Michael Brown brought down Steve Stone on the edge of the box, he slammed the penalty into the roof of the net with the assurance of one who never doubts he will score.

The roots of City's uncertainty go deeper than their position near the foot of the table. When you never know from one day to the next who is going to own the club's shares or even the ground, taking ownership of the ball on the pitch seems like a secondary consideration. Their defenders were reluctant to take responsibility and their forwards lacked the confidence. Even Georgi Kinkladze twice shot from the edge of the box when a couple of extra strides might have given Dave Beasant something hotter to handle.

It was defensive uncertainty that allowed Kevin Campbell to increase Forest's lead from Des Lyttle's cross after the sort of multi-passing move Frank Clark helped to orchestrate when he was in charge at the City Ground. And when Van Hooijdonk sent his second penalty the way of the first, after Tommy Wright had brought Campbell down, Forest felt they could relax.

That is never a good idea, of course, and City's self-belief came flooding back when, a minute later, Murtaz Shelia's header from Kinkladze's cross crept inside Beasant's far post. Their pressure won them a string of corners and when Paul Dickov turned one of them in off the post with 10 minutes remaining a point seemed a possibility. Forest even sought to connive at an unlikely recovery when Colin Cooper's free-kick rebounded off Steve Stone's head to let City surge forward again. But when Beasant scrambled away Shelia's quickly-taken free-kick their last chance disappeared.

``It would have been totally unexpected if we had got something after going three behind to a team like Forest,'' Clark said. ``We gave the game away in that 10-minute spell after half-time. All three goals were preventable and we got punished for it.''

Goals: Van Hooijdonk (pen 31) 0-1; Campbell (52) 0-2; Van Hooijdonk (pen 56) 0-3; Shelia (57) 1-3; Dickov (80) 2-3.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Wright; Brightwell, Wiekens, Shelia, Vaughan (Van Blerk, h-t); Brannan, Russell, Kinkladze, Brown (Scully, 75); Dickov, Rosler. Substitute not used: Whitley.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Beasant; Lyttle, Cooper, Chettle, Rogers; Stone, Johnson (Armstrong, 88), Gemmill, Woan (Bonalair, 41); Van Hooijdonk, Campbell. Substitute not used: Hjelde

Referee: A Wiley (Burntwood).

Bookings: Manchester City: Dickov, Brannan; Nottingham Forest: Woan, Bonalair, Cooper.

Man of the match: Campbell.

Attendance: 31,839.