Nottingham Forest. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
FOREST began the second half of the season exactly as they commenced the first, although they probably played worse at Coventry than in several of the six successive defeats which followed that illusory 1-0 victory over Liverpool on the opening day.
Without rising far above their station, which for the 19th consecutive weekend and at the start of Brian Clough's 19th year as manager is bottom of the Premier League, Forest reversed the pattern of their awful autumn. This time it was their scrappy goal, converted by Ian Woan in a congested six-yard area, earning points rather than plaudits; this time, fortune conspicuously favoured them.
In the 17th minute a cross into the Forest area skimmed off the head of Steve Chettle, leaving Coventry's Kevin Gallacher to contest a 50-50 aerial challenge with Mark Crossley. Centre-forwards of old would have buried both ball and goalkeeper in the net. Gallacher, no latter-day Lofthouse, had merely to usher the former over the line after the latter, by his own admission later, slipped.
Martin Bodenham, alas, is from the school of referees which allows all manner of nudges and bumps outside the box but cossets the keeper within it. Crossley, seldom commanding in such situations, did not protest as Coventry celebrated and the linesman remained inert: yet the effort was disallowed for alleged elbowing. 'The ref will be disappointed when he sees the 'goal' on TV,' Bobby Gould, the home manager, said with diplomacy beyond the call of duty.
It was harder to agree with Gould's assertion that this was 'a typical Forest performance - they're back to their mean ways, sucking you in and then hitting you on the break'. True, they played with only Bannister in an advanced role, though that is as much a measure of Clough's diminished attacking options as a tactical ploy, and it is difficult to recall any Forest side giving the ball away as often as they did in the first half.
Forest were fortunate, too, that Peter Ndlovu, who gave them such a torrid time at Nottingham in September, was in Angola playing for Zimbabwe. After an erratic initial flurry from John Williams, the crosses on which Mick Quinn and Robert Rosario thrived against Liverpool and Aston Villa were non-existent. Nor was there any creative impetus from midfield, where Lloyd McGrath was too busy tracking Roy Keane and Lee Hurst's talents are not those of a playmaker.
Clough's men finished well in control, the main threat to a fourth win in seven League and Cup matches being the hulking presence of Steve Ogrizovic in their penalty area at two late corners. Hans Segers, of Wimbledon, regularly makes such forays, though whether striker-keepers can expect the preferential treatment afforded to Crossley must be doubtful. Did the manager approve of his going up? 'I'd have given him a rollicking if he hadn't,' Gould laughed.
It is safe to assume there will be no such antics from Forest unless they are one down in their final fixture needing a point to stay up. That scenario now looks a little less likely, and their next opponents, Arsenal away in the Coca- Cola Cup tomorrow and Chelsea at home on Saturday, far from the daunting tasks they would have seemed a month ago.
As Woan observed, emerging from a winning dressing-room for the second week running with tongue perhaps slightly in cheek, they have a 100 per cent record in 1993.
Goal: Woan (65) 0-1.
Coventry City: Ogrizovic; Borrows, Babb, Atherton, Sansom (Pearce, 80), Williams, McGrath, Hurst, Rosario, Quinn, Gallacher. Substitutes not used: Gynn, Gould (gk).
Nottingham Forest: Crossley; Laws, Pearce, Chettle, Tiler, Keane, Bannister, Gemmill, Clough, Webb, Woan. Substitutes not used: Orlygsson, Stone, Marriott (gk).
Referee: M Bodenham (Looe, Cornwall).