Football: Huckerby unhinges sad Forest

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The Independent Online
Coventry City 4 Nottingham Forest 0

YOU MIGHT not agree with his method of protest, but Pierre van Hooijdonk was right all along. Nottingham Forest have the ambition of a cowpat and a playing style to match.

If ever there was a match where they should have found inner strength for the fight against relegation, it was on Saturday.

Instead - Van Hooijdonk and Steve Stone aside - they appeared witless and disheartened. They allowed Coventry City, and especially Darren Huckerby - whose superbly taken hat-trick was his second treble in two weeks - to walk all over them.

"The situation needs resolving one way or the other, and I hope it is resolved next week," Micky Adams, the Forest caretaker, said after the match on the subject of a replacement for the sacked manager, Dave Bassett.

"The unsettled situation is not helping," he added, with a touch of understatement. "I would think that result would have a shattering effect on morale, and the air of uncertainty round the place needs to be resolved one way or the other."

If a copy of the Highfield Road massacre reaches Ron Atkinson in the Bahamas before he agrees, as anticipated, to take over from Bassett, he may well think again.

Then again, maybe not, as his contract would only be short-term - much like the foresight of the Forest board has seemed in recent years - and he will be in a no-lose situation.

Should Forest go down, he can hold his hands up and say he was brought in too late. If by some miracle - probably the sale of Stone and Van Hooijdonk and the recruitment of three or four players who might turn things around - they manage to stay up, he will relish the role of saviour.

What Forest probably need instead is not to bring in an Atkinson figure, but someone who will oversee the probable relegation and start to build a team capable of coming straight back up. The chances of that happening must be close to nil if past experience is anything to go by.

When promoted last season, the board oversaw a weakening of their First Division- winning side rather than a strengthening of it (which is hardly a logical way to approach the Premiership), and hence provoked Van Hooijdonk's refusal to play.

The future does not look bright at the City Ground. Coventry's fortunes, by contrast, look better. Following last week's 7-0 thrashing of Macclesfield, they took up where they left off.

No real chances fell to Forest - apart from a couple of neat touches and two free-kicks from Van Hooijdonk - before Huckerby scored a composed goal from a tight angle on the stroke of half-time to give his side the lead.

Two wonderful solo runs in the second half, both ending in precision shots, crowned Huckerby's afternoon, while a Paul Telfer volley from 25- yards was sandwiched in between.

"He's a bit scary at times," Gordon Strachan, the Coventry manager, commented about Huckerby. "I honestly don't know how good he can get."

He tactfully declined to comment on how bad Nottingham Forest have become.

Goals: Huckerby (45) 1-0; Huckerby (46) 2-0; Telfer (54) 3-0; Huckerby (75) 4-0.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Nilsson, Shaw, Williams, Burrows (Shilton, 72); Telfer, McAllister (Quinn, 87), Whelan, Soltvedt; Huckerby, Aloisi (Jackson, 66). Substitutes not used: Breen, Ogrizovic (gk).

Nottingham Forest (4-4-1-1): Beasant; Lyttle, Hjelde, Armstrong (Freeman, 55), Chettle; Doig, Gemmill (Quashie, 83), Bart-Williams (Woan, 70), Johnson; Stone; Van Hooijdonk. Substitutes not used: Williams, Crossley (gk).

Bookings: Coventry Whelan, Telfer, McAllister; Forest Chettle, Woan.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Man of the match: Huckerby.

Attendance: 17,172.