Football: Gough ready to inspire Forest

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The Independent Online
RICHARD GOUGH is poised to return to first-class action in England tonight after an absence of almost 12 years.

The former Scotland skipper, who has joined Nottingham Forest on loan for the remainder of the season, will make his debut for the Premiership strugglers at home to Newcastle. And at the age of 36, he is relishing the chance to return to a stage he graced with Tottenham.

Gough has spent most of his glittering career north of the border with Rangers but had a successful season with Spurs in the 1980s. He said: "I had offers from a number of First Division clubs but I wanted, first and foremost, to join Nottingham Forest. I'd rather be playing against the likes of Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Liverpool than First Division opposition. I don't mean to sound disrespectful but, given the choice, most people would opt to play in the Premier League."

Gough has 11 games in which to make an impact at the City Ground and try to help Forest plot a survival course. That looks to be a tall order for last season's First Division champions. They have only 17 points to their credit and are 10 points adrift of safety.

But Gough insisted: "It's not impossible that Forest can stay up, although I can't deny it doesn't look too good. At Rangers, we found that winning became a habit and the same applies to losing. It's a difficult habit to break, as Forest has found this season, but by the same token it's amazing what a couple of wins can do and hopefully we can achieve just that."

Gough is likely to take the place of Christian Edwards at the heart of the Forest defence to face a Newcastle team who stormed into the FA Cup semi-finals on Sunday with a 4-1 win over Everton.

Their manager, Ron Atkinson, is also able to recall Alan Rogers and Andy Johnson, who are both free from suspension, but Carlton Palmer and Nigel Quashie must serve one-match bans. Mark Crossley is expected to retain his place ahead of Dave Beasant. Crossley returned to the first team in Forest's goalless draw with Charlton 10 days ago after almost two years on the sidelines.

Meanwhile, George Graham is tipping his old club Leeds United to get into Europe again this season - but his sights are firmly set on Tottenham joining them.

The Spurs manager has his latest reunion with the Yorkshire club at Elland Road tonight - the third meeting since he left in October to return to north London.

Tottenham's 2-0 victory in an FA Cup fourth-round replay two weeks ago at White Hart Lane did little to pacify the Leeds fans who still feel he cynically deserted them, but Graham insists: "They've gone from strength to strength and if people thought about it properly they would appreciate the work I did in turning the club around during my two years there. Now David O'Leary is taking them on to even better things and deserves full credit for introducing a lot of talented youngsters into the side.

"I believe Leeds will finish in the top four this season and qualify for Europe again. They have a lot of quality there already and the potential to become an outstanding team."

Leeds bounced back from their cup disappointment at Spurs to move into fourth place in the Premiership with a 2-1 win at Leicester last week, and Graham admits they now represent a big threat to Tottenham's unbeaten run of 16 matches - 10 of them draws.

"It is another big game for both clubs and if it is as exciting as the cup replay in which Leeds played some superb football there won't be any complaints from the fans," said Graham, who wanted to take O'Leary with him to White Hart Lane as his No 2 but has now increased the Arsenal connection there by recruiting his former Highbury assistant, Stewart Houston.

"I'm happy with the progress we are making and I think the fans are, too," said Graham. "We are in the top 10 now, playing well and I think we are capable of going higher."