Football: Forest's currency devalued

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest 2 Blackburn Rovers 2

POOR FOREST. They fight against the current, but in time the tide will surely sweep them away. The Nationwide League can dust off the welcome mat: Forest are on their way back.

They gave a gutsy performance on Saturday but in the end fortune did not look kindly on them. Two goals up at half-time, they allowed Blackburn back early in the second half, and just when they thought a 14-match run without victory was over, cracked again three minutes into stoppage time.

Thanks to Southampton's success, Forest are bottom of the table for Christmas, a position from which teams rarely recover. Worse still, they have no money for the January sales.

Ultimately, that is what it comes down to: spending power, an area in which Blackburn are enviably placed. Last week, their owner, Jack Walker, sanctioned the pounds 2.35m purchase of Keith Gillespie from Newcastle and, it is reported, authorised the club's new manager, Brian Kidd, to go to pounds 5m in his attempt to prise Ashley Ward from Barnsley. It makes a stark contrast with the Forest manager, Dave Bassett, who knows it is pointless even to look on the same shelf.

For the Forest supporters who saw their future sold to the City two years ago, it is all a painful let-down. When the consortium financed by Nigel Wray and Irving Scholar won control, turning the old committee-run club with its pounds 1 shareholders into a go-ahead plc, those supporters envisaged prosperity, not the poor house.

But Wray and company say their investment is spent. They have put in pounds 18m, of which pounds 6m-pounds 7m amounts to Bassett's net transfer deficit. A chunk went to pay off inherited debts, which puts Forest on a sound financial footing but does nothing in the currency that supporters regard as crucial - League points.

At the club's annual meeting last month, Wray, investor and property developer, showed he will not draw on his large personal fortune to save Forest from the drop. And the bank, he says, is equally unwilling.

It is not something Walker would tell an agm. But this is the trouble with football clubs run by a plc, especially one involving men in the City. Walker loves Blackburn. What does Wray feel for Forest?

They scrapped as Bassett's sides can on Saturday. But that alone will not be enough. They coped without Pierre van Hooijdonk, out with a sore calf, but could not withstand relentless Blackburn pressure through much of the second half.

That apart, you could fault them for nothing. Neil Shipperley and Dougie Freedman fought for every ball, Steve Stone was tireless and the others in midfield all put in their maximum. At the back, Jesper Mattson, for whom Bassett paid pounds 300,000 to Halmstad of Sweden, caught the mood with a commanding display.

Forest went ahead from a contentious penalty, and increased the lead through Freedman's seventh goal of the season, created by Shipperley. But Blackburn, tentative at first, inevitably came back, although Forest were unlucky, having been within touching distance of their first Premiership win since 29 August.

One more match without a win and Forest will equal a club record. Next up: Manchester United, away.

Goals: Chettle (pen 22) 1-0; Freedman (30) 2-0; Blake (49) 2-1; Blake (90) 2-2.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Beasant; Hjelde, Mattsson, Chettle, Rogers (Armstrong, 68); Stone, Johnson, Gemmill, Bart-Williams; Shipperley (Harewood, 82), Freedman. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Bonalair, Darcheville.

Blackburn Rovers: (4-4-2): Filan; Kenna, Henchoz, Dailly, Davidson; Gillespie (Johnson, 78), Sherwood, McKinlay, Wilcox (Duff, 89); Sutton, Blake. Substitutes not used: Davies, Peacock, Fettis (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Bookings: Forest: Beasant, Bart-Williams; Blackburn: McKinlay, Henchoz, Sutton, Gillespie.

Man of the match: Shipperley.

Attendance: 22,013.