Football: Platt profits as John turns saviour

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest 1

John 75

Crewe Alexandra 0

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 15,289

DARIO GRADI applauded David Platt for sticking to his principles after victory over his one-time mentor gave Forest's fledgling manager a Christmas respite.

Stern John's goal 15 minutes from time lifted the pressure on Platt, whose team had managed only one win in 11 before yesterday. Gradi, the man who 14 years ago gave Platt his second chance as a player, immediately congratulated his former pupil and told him not to desert his principles.

"So many English teams play in the same way that it is only by the colour of their shirts that you can tell them apart," Gradi said. "David wants his team to play in a different way and I just said to him, `Good for you'. He is an intelligent guy and it says a lot for his strength of character that he has not resorted to a change just because results have not gone his way."

Forest chairman Eric Barnes denies there was ever any suggestion of dismissing Platt, but after winning only five matches in five months since taking on his first job in England there had been mounting speculation over how long the club's patience would last, after seeing their ambitions for a quick Premiership return fade.

Platt concedes that he will remain forever in Gradi's debt for relaunching his career after Manchester United had cast him off as a heartbroken teenager. Glancing along the touchline yesterday, he may have mused that not all managers have to worry about the sack at the merest hint of a crisis. Gradi has been in charge at Gresty Road since 1983.

A promising display against Fulham had encouraged Platt, but a crowd that had seen only one goal in four matches began to vent their frustration as yesterday's first half turned into another failure by Forest to turn possession to their advantage. John, who had twice hit the woodwork in the goalless draw with Fulham, did so again in Forest's first meaningful attack, his shot on the turn clipping the outside of Jason Kearton's right- hand post after a penetrating run by Andy Gray on the right flank. Within a minute, Kearton had conceded a corner from Dougie Freedman.

But while John, the 23-year-old recommended to Forest by Dwight Yorke, regularly demonstrated why Platt paid pounds 1.5m to import him from the Major League Soccer side Columbus Crew, Forest seemed able to do everything bar score. The wing-back Jim Brennan was especially wasteful when he blazed over the bar after John's lay-off had given him time to line up his shot.

Gradi's team, as usual, were neat, well organised and enjoyed having the ball at their feet. But their finishing was no better than Forest's and Colin Cramb squandered perhaps the best chance to fall to either side after 49 minutes, when Dave Beasant barred his way.

Platt's answer was to make two substitutions, replacing Nigel Quashie with Andy Johnson and the ineffectual Freedman with the gangling Marlon Harewood. It provided the needed lift and John at last made another wave of attacks count when he controlled Brennan's cross and stabbed the ball past Kearton with 16 minutes left.