Football: Pearce and goodwill to Forest

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest 2

Haland 67, 89

Arsenal 1

Wright 63

Attendance: 27,384

Revivalism was in the chilly City Ground air yesterday as Nottingham Forest made a spirited start to Stuart Pearce's caretaker management with a remarkable recovery from a goal deficit thanks to two strikes by Alf Inge Haland, the second two minutes from time.

The Norwegian thus personified the change in Forest: the recent culprit in the missing of chances had thrillingly struck twice amid ecstatic scenes to overtake Ian Wright's 21st of the season for Arsenal. Wright, in turn, had gone from hero to zero. At 1-1 he felled the Forest defender Nikola Jerkan and was sent off, leaving his team the ultimately unfulfilled task of clinging on for a point when they should have been chasing three.

Though more than enough to deny Arsenal an ascent back to the top of the Premiership, Forest's win - their first at home this season and a first in 17 matches - was not enough to lift them from the bottom. "It was a great performance but we have only won a football match," said the Forest general manager, Alan Hill. "We need to win another 11."

It will have been, though, a considerable fillip for the relegation struggle ahead after a week of turbulence by the Trent. The honourable, hamstrung Frank Clark cited his waning powers of motivation in the dressing room as reason for his resignation on Wednesday (though the club's protracted takeover saga - an extraordinary meeting is fixed for 6 January - with its restrictions on buying players surely was also significant). His hope that someone else might provide it was duly realised.

Pearce needs little stirring himself but the aim was that he spread it instead. "Don't mess me about," was the gist of his team talk, said Hill, who added that Pearce had told him afterwards: "We did it for Frank. We owed him one."

Pearce made immediate changes. On Friday he announced that Clough was returning - Nigel, on loan from Manchester City, rather than Brian, that was - and he was made a substitute, briefly appearing late as the new manager concocted a radical formation. Restored were the recently out- of-favour overseas players Bryan Roy and Jerkan, the Croat taking his place in a three-man central defence that also included Pearce. Just ahead of them Colin Cooper played a holding role, while Dean Saunders was dispatched to play an unfamiliar right wing-back's role.

Initially all the ballyhoo, fuelled by noisy musical inspiration over the tannoy, seemed to have the desired effect as Forest tore at Arsenal with gusto. But as their renewed enthusiasm, and their crowd's, subsided - the team as if remembering they were struggling for form and confidence - Arsenal proved themselves the more incisive attacking side.

They fashioned two good chances as Wright and Dennis Bergkamp combined neatly, only for Wright to lob straight at Mark Crossley, then when Martin Keown - yes, Martin Keown - burst forward and played two one-twos with Bergkamp. The defender's shot was also straight at the Forest goalkeeper, however.

In addition, Bergkamp played a ball infield to David Platt, otherwise peripheral, who darted with an effective first touch past Steve Chettle but was then hastily wide with his shot when confronted by Crossley. The absences of David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira - though Gavin McGowan was struggling against the lively but wasteful winger Chris Allen - seemed unlikely to be significant.

The more so when they took the lead thanks to the sort of crass defensive error that has so characterised Forest this season. Crossley, though under challenge from Keown, seemed to have collected Nigel Winterburn's hanging cross when suddenly it was spilled at the feet of Wright, who does not spurn such gifts from 10 yards. It seemed Forest might be down and out now but they dragged themselves up by the bootlaces. As the Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger was to say: "They had more determination than we had."

Within minutes Saunders's cross from the right had been volleyed home, via a post, from 15 yards by Haland. In another few Wright was off, appearing to stamp on Jerkan, though he had clearly felt himself sinned against first. Forest's tails, already up, were now wagging. It culminated in the winner, the defence allowing Ian Woan's ball in from the left to reach Haland at the far post, where he scored with a low drive. Arsenal were chilled; the City Ground was thrilled.

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