Nottingham Forest. . . .1
NOTORIOUS though Nottingham Forest may be for extending their summer relaxation into the opening games of the new season, this time they have gone into repose for longer than at any time in Brian Clough's 18-season reign. They have now lost four of their first five matches and face a winter of gathering discontent.
Norwich, back on top of the Premier League, have the hard resolve that was too often absent in the past. It would be a pity, though, if it were gained at the expense of attractive football. But on last night's evidence Mike Walker, their manager, is capable of combining the qualities. Forest have often achieved that rare blend. However, a defence now deprived of Des Walker and an attack weaker for the loss of Teddy Sheringham must surely cause them to seek replacements.
Being a goal down after only one minute and 41 seconds last night could hardly be portrayed as evidence of Forest's defensive weaknesses, but it did their confidence no good. Rob Newman had chested the ball down and Steve Chettle handled as he tried to intercept. A direct free-kick from some 22 yards out was no gift but Ian Crook hit it cleanly before Mark Crossley had realised he was about to be tested. Crook had not found the goal for over a year and the reunion was all the sweeter.
With Ruel Fox injured, Norwich again chose to have Lee Power and Newman at the head of their attack and for a while it suffered from the lack of Fox's quick, ball-carrying ability. As a result the benefit of their early lead drifted away. Forest quietly revived. Nigel Clough, still trying to impress the sceptical England manager, Graham Taylor, who was in the stands, began to take the initiative in midfield and Norwich made the damaging mistake of giving him some space.
Clough's ability to sneak away from his marker and into the crucial area behind the attack might have brought Forest level earlier than the 31st minute. At that point, however, it was Clough, the powerful natural goalscoring centre-forward rather than lurking ghost, who showed his versatility.
Fine building work down the left side by Stuart Pearce, Roy Keane and especially Gary Bannister, who turned elusively to keep possession, eventually brought Clough into action on the far side of the penalty area. He required no second thought nor touch before aiming at the other corner. His shot clipped the post before going in but that made it no less impressive.
Norwich still had their new signing Mark Robins on the bench, a luxury that became increasingly difficult to understand as Forest steadily tightened up in midfield.
Nevertheless, shortly before half-time Power had the opportunity to do something about it when he escaped from Brian Laws, sprinted down the line, cut in and shot low. Crossley, not the most dominating of goalkeepers, spread himself efficiently and blocked the shot.
While Newman usually exposed the frailty of Forest's central defence, he also missed terribly when lifting David Phillips's cross high and wide. The error was not to haunt him for too long, but Thor Orlygsson will long remember his ungainly attempt to intercept a through ball from Mark Bowen.
Through it went and straight on to Power in the penalty area, and the goal was too inviting to miss. Though Forest felt deprived when Scot Gemmill's shot was deflected on to Chris Sutton's arm, they have an ominous soft centre that Norwich found again in the last minute when Newman deftly chested a ball down and provided Phillips with the opportunity to drive in a third goal.
Norwich City: Gunn; Culverhouse, Bowen, Butterworth, Sutton, Megson, Crook, Newman, Power, Goss, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Robins, Sutch, Walton (gk).
Nottingham Forest: Crossley; Laws, Pearce, Wilson, Chettle, Keane, Orlygsson, Gemmill, Clough, Bannister, Black. Substitutes not used: Crosby, Tiler, Marriott (gk).
Referee: B Hill (Kettering).
Football results, page 33