Football: On-off day for Van Hooijdonk

Leicester City 3 Heskey 43, Elliott pen 55, Guppy 75 Nottingham Forest 1 Van Hooijdonk 14 Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 20,891
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FEW FOOTBALLERS in recent memory have created an issue out of conspicuous absence quite like Pierre van Hooijdonk. Now - whether harshly treated or not - Forest's Dutch enigma must face up to a renewed period of inactivity following his dismissal nearly an hour into a frantic and feisty Filbert Street afternoon.

Five weeks since his return from self-imposed exile and having dispatched an arrow-like drive to give Forest the lead, Van Hooijdonk's ill-timed (though hardly vicious) challenge on the Leicester captain Steve Walsh earned him a red card. The subsequent suspension, given Forest's perilous predicament with the season's mid-way point looming, is something his club can hardly afford. It is 14 games and 15 weeks since their last Premiership win.

Leicester, by contrast, are flying - albeit, at times yesterday, on the wings of luck. Having twice called on the goalkeeper Kasey Keller to keep them in touch they achieved parity by half-time, Emile Heskey finishing Steve Guppy's cross.

Then came the moment which the Forest manager Dave Bassett nominated: "The turning point in the game." Walsh headed Guppy's corner back across goal; Chris Bart-Williams, attempting to clear, lashed the ball against Andy Johnson's hand; and the referee Mike Riley awarded a penalty.

Even the Leicester manager Martin O'Neill confessed: "If it was against me, I'd feel it was harsh." Unrepentantly and forcefully, Matt Elliott - who, continuing in his role as emergency co-striker, had rattled the bar with an early header - thumped City ahead.

Then Van Hooijdonk's challenge on Walsh seemed merely to complement a frenzied derby atmosphere. As Bassett said of his little-loved striker: "Whatever else, we don't call Pierre a hard-tackling centre-forward." But for the second time in a five-minute period the referee adjudicated to Forest's disadvantage and, in so doing, effectively ended the contest.

Leicester's self-assurance grew and they set off in search of further reward. It was forthcoming 15 minutes from time when Guppy crowned an industrious and imaginative individual performance with a run, a wriggle and a rasping shot to seal his side's win.

At this stage of last season, City were three points and two positions better off than they are now. But, given the turbulence at the club for much of the early part of this campaign, O'Neill is well within his rights to be "delighted with 24 points".

Mind you, Forest - with less than half that total - could give their East Midlands neighbours lessons in turbulence. "Now to Blackburn," said Bassett with well-rehearsed gallows irony. "A clash of the giants next week." And, beyond that, into a short term without their own suspended giant. On the bright side, for Forest folk who didn't want Van Hooijdonk back anyway, there'll be a little glimpse of how it should be.