Football: Forest propelled by Stone

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Aston Villa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 Nottingham Forest. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2 Pearce pen 1, Stone 70 Attendance: 29,217 THUS was confirmed the Premiership ascent of Nottingham Forest and the decline of Aston Villa. Goals by Stuart Pearce, from a penalty awarded after only 34 seconds, and Steve Stone brought them their eighth win from 11 matches as they continue to erode the impression of Newcastle United as runaway leaders.

Villa, by contrast, have but one point from their last six matches, as part of a wider picture of five wins from 26. The masking agent has been cup success, in the Coca-Cola Cup last season and the Uefa Cup hitherto this, but for all that it is a run of Evertonian proportions.

In a flickering match doused by heavy rain, this was not the cavalier Forest of early- season excitement. It was, though, Villa as Roundheads, pouring forward but with little variety. 'I'm disappointed for the players because I want them to go out every week and show what a good team we are,' said the Forest manager Frank Clarke. 'We didn't pass the ball as we can, didn't play with any tempo and gave the ball away too easily.' And this from the winners.

The England coach, Terry Venables, was taking in the match and he will have left unimpressed. If he was looking at Stan Collymore, now that Andy Cole's shin splints seem likely to rule him out of next month's squad for the match against Nigeria, Venables was rewarded with few signs of his incisive distribution and only two of his characteristic runs, which were finished by wayward shots.

If Venables was seeking to discover how accurate were the recent rave reviews for Villa's young defender Ugo Ehiogu, he would have at least seen some promise, though a bad start in which he was one of three home players culpable of sloppy defending as Forest took the lead. Lars Bohinen clipped a ball in from the right flank aimed at Collymore but it bypassed him, Ehiogu and Paul McGrath, who were left flapping as the ball arrived at Bryan Roy's feet. Then, as he rounded Earl Barrett, the Dutchman received a nudge. From the resulting penalty-kick, Nigel Spink could not get down to Pearce's low drive.

Perhaps it was a game that did not need a goal, so early anyway. For afterwards, Forest seemed to feel as if they had been given licence to sit back, absorbing Villa's assaults and retaliate only on the break. All legitimate tactics, but performed without customary panache.

The Villa manager Ron Atkinson left out his captain Kevin Richardson, preferring the more attacking Graham Fenton but it was at the expense of subtlety. Only when Garry Parker replaced him in the second half, Fenton having been concussed in the first, did Villa look capable of penetrating with any consistency. Atkinson said afterwards that Villa could have done with the injured John Fashanu; surely a sign that they have regressed from the pleasing, passing side who were runners-up to Manchester United two seasons ago.

Villa's chances were few and far between. Dwight Yorke's cross in the first half found Fenton but his firm header was too close to Mark Crossley who gathered at the second attempt. Steve Staunton came close with a curling free- kick. In the second half, Colin Cooper blocked a drive from Andy Townsend and Parker troubled Crossley with a low drive. It was not until the last minute, however, that anything came from the right, Dean Saunders then heading wide Barrett's cross.

By then Forest had sealed the game. After 70 minutes Ian Woan's corner from the right was flicked on at the near post by Jason Lee and Townsend's weak headed clearance fell to Stone at the edge of the penalty area. His shot then bobbled through a crowd of players and into the corner of the net.

'We are not supposed to mention relegation at this club but the players have to be aware that it could happen,' said Atkinson. At least he was looking ahead. All afternoon Villa's in- house video service was replaying highlights from their recent win over Internazionale; they would do better to look to the league.