DAVE BASSETT is trying to present a brave face, but it is hard, even for a manager of his determinedly optimistic bent, to disguise the bleak present and potentially black future facing Nottingham Forest.
His transfer kitty is empty, his players are out of form, and the stand- off between his club and Pierre van Hooijdonk is as far as ever from reaching a satisfactory conclusion.
Forest's ambitious attempts to secure a pounds 4 million loan from the Premier League to buy a replacement for the striking striker look doomed to failure, largely because rivals such as Charlton would not sanction it, much as they might sympathise with the principles involved.
"No one wants to see Van Hooijdonk succeed by what he is doing and I can have sympathy with Forest's position," Charlton's manager, Alan Curbishley, said. "But I can't see it [the loan plan] happening, I can't see that it would work."
He avoided saying so, but what he meant was he could not imagine any club in the bottom half of the Premiership granting pecuniary advantage to a relegation rival.
Bassett gives the idea little hope either, but is desperate enough to try anything now that Forest have lost four matches in their last five and slipped into the bottom three. As for Van Hooijdonk, they have heard nothing from the Dutch renegade in almost two months.
Neil Shipperley and Dougie Freedman shouldered forward responsibilities, although it was hardly a fair test of their effectiveness as Forest failed to furnish them with anything resembling a decent service, particularly in the first half, when Charlton were effortlessly in control.
Nigel Quashie, bought for pounds 2.5m from Queen's Park Rangers to add creative class to the midfield, was so poor he was withdrawn with more than half an hour left. Bassett felt obliged to defend the 20-year-old afterwards on the grounds of youth but emphasised that none of the rest of the midfield quartet was much better.
He did not excuse his defence, either, after a series of elementary errors. Eddie Youds made the most of the first, lashing in a goal from 12 yards as Forest succumbed to collective inertia. Better finishing by Andy Hunt could have put the Londoners three up by half-time.
Charlton were neat and efficient, with Mark Kinsella and Neil Redfearn winning most of the midfield skirmishes, and had another chance to buttress their lead at the start of the second half, when Forest left Hunt and Clive Mendonca free with only Dave Beasant to defend the goal. Incredibly, the veteran goalkeeper batted away Mendonca's effort and took just enough sting out of Hunt's follow-up to allow Steve Chettle to race back and clear.
Finally, Forest responded and for much of the remainder had Charlton on the back foot. However, they found Sasa Ilic, whose shoot-out save at Wembley last May won Charlton their Premiership place, in outstanding form. The Australian-born Macedonian made a series of saves, none better than two one-handed efforts to deny Chettle. Unluckily, an ankle injury may deny him international duty next weekend.
Goal: Youds (5) 0-1.
Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Beasant; Louis-Jean, Chettle, Armstrong, Rogers; Stone, Johnson, Quashie (Hjelde, 58), Bart-Williams (Hodges, 82), Freedman, Shipperley. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Darcheville, Gray.
Charlton Athletic (5-3-2): Ilic; Mills, Rufus, Tiler, Youds, Powell; Redfearn (Brown, 89), Kinsella, Mortimer (K Jones, 72); Hunt (S Jones, 79), Mendonca. Substitutes not used: Konchesky, Petterson (gk).
Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).
Bookings: Charlton: Tiler, Mills, Powell.
Man of the match: Ilic.
Attendance: 22,661.Reuse content