Football: Forest wake up to reality: Phil Shaw sees Clough's old club sacrifice style for sake of promotion from the First Division

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The Independent Online
DURING the Brian Clough era, Neil Webb's verdict on this vital

1-0 victory might have been the definitive entry for a Nottingham Forest player in a 'things they would never say' column.

'The main object out there was to get three points for our fans, not to entertain the neutrals,' the former England midfielder explained after his goal had beaten Stoke. 'It may sound a bit cynical but . . .'

Cynical be blowed. All Forest have done - too late to save their Premiership skins or prevent a great managerial career ending embarrassingly - is make an accommodation with the real world. While the purist principles which attracted universal acclaim have not been abandoned, Frank Clark has clearly given them a lower priority than gaining promotion.

Clark has hit on a system which has propelled Forest from 17th place in the First Division last November to joint second. This involves flooding midfield and deploying one striker, a target man expected to pursue lost causes launched by defenders whose orders were once to pass their way upfield at all times.

It is seldom pretty - though Forest were still a technical cut above their hosts - but it is pretty effective. Good enough, certainly, to end Stoke's 12-match unbeaten run in the League at the Victoria Ground, as well as further discrediting the theory that Forest are nothing without Stan Collymore.

Not only was their 19-goal striker still absent - he tests his hamstring behind closed doors against Lincoln today - but so was the second top scorer, Scot Gemmill. Webb, sharper than for a long time as a result of much extra-curriculur torture in the gym since his last Achilles tendon injury, would not have played but for the latter's indisposition, yet took his goal well after good work by Steve Stone.

Forest looked an altogether more ruthless and integrated unit than when Stoke, with Mark Stein supplying striking quality for which they have unsurprisingly found no substitute, beat them 3-1 last September. Webb called it a 'battle' and Clark talked of a 'hard-earned win' - but both, perhaps, were erring on the side of magnanimity.

With Collymore close to a return, and the know-how of Webb, Stuart Pearce and David Phillips likely to prove increasingly influential, Forest finally appear capable of justifying their status as pre- season favourites, or at least following Crystal Palace back up.

For Stoke, beaten at home for the first time since Joe Jordan succeeded Lou Macari and without an away win during that period, the play-offs may be a bridge too far. However, a run-in which includes visits from Palace and Charlton plus a trip to Leicester guarantees them a sizeable say in resolving the automatic promotion places.

Goal: Webb (30) 0-1.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Prudhoe; Butler, Cranson, Overson, Sandford; Clark, Orlygsson, Foley, Gleghorn; Regis, Bannister (Sturridge, 69). Substitutes not used: Potter, Straney (gk).

Nottingham Forest (4-5-1): Crossley; Lyttle, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Stone, Webb, Phillips, Bohinen, Black; Lee. Substitutes not used: Haland, Bull, Wright (gk).

Referee: J Kirkby (Sheffield).

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