Football: Positive Palmer has Forest firing again

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Everton 0 Nottingham Forest 1

IF A manager can rescue a situation by pulling a trusted talisman out of the old bag of tricks, then Carlton Palmer is the likeliest man to do the business for Ron Atkinson.

The new Forest manager's admiration for the player he has made his first permanent signing stops just this side of Mills and Boon. "The only people who know what a good player he is are the people who play with him and the people who work with him," he gushed after Palmer had added the people who try in vain to get past him to that list.

Atkinson may yet use Palmer in his more accustomed position in midfield but, in the absence of Steve Chettle, employed him instead on Saturday in the centre of a defence that also included two other newcomers, both on loan.

His strength in the air, his telescopic tackling and his reading of the game made the crucial difference for Forest as they won for the first time in 20 Premiership matches. On a day when two of their relegation rivals also won, it was a victory that was vital if the gap between them and the rest was not to reach yawning proportions.

Even more significant was that Forest seemed at last to have the stomach for the fight - something for which Palmer was largely responsible in the view of the person he calls the boss-man. "He walked into the camp from day one and gave the place a lift," was the boss-man's ruling on his contribution to morale. "But there were a lot of big, big performances out there and some big attitudes from our players. We rode our luck but, when you believe, you get your luck. Everton put us under a lot of pressure out there, but we survived and our keeper Dave Beasant pulled off some great saves. All I know is that if we keep playing like that we have half a chance of escaping relegation.

Of course, Palmer and his other new arrivals were fortunate to have opposition as toothless as Everton to welcome them to the relegation dogfight.

But if there was ever a match in which Everton would have backed themselves to finally master the art of scoring goals at home, this was it; Forest had conceded more on their travels than any other side.

They had their chances, notably one blocked from Mitch Ward and one saved from John Oster in the first half and close calls from Ibrahima Bakayoko and Nick Barmby in a frenetic six minute stretch of injury time at the end.

But Everton's overall display did not merit a win and they were denied even the familiar scoreless draw by Pierre van Hooijdonk's goal five minutes into the second half.

It was richly ironic that a match dominated by the total commitment of Palmer should be won by a player whose interest in proceedings appeared so sporadic.

Van Hooijdonk's careless touch and a good opportunity fluffed shortly before his goal had triggered rumbles of complaint from the Forest fans; then he was given lavish time and space by Alan Rogers' square pass and all was forgotten, if not forgiven.

Those Forest fans had already been hailing themselves as "Big fat Ron's red and white army" before that breakthrough. Atkinson was brought in partly to engender that new optimism on the terraces. With Palmer as his lieutenant, he can maintain that same mood on the pitch, although the players might be encouraged to call him the boss-man rather than Big fat Ron.

Everton (3-5-2): Myhre; Dunne, Materazzi, Unsworth; Ward (Branch, 61), Grant (Dacourt, 62), Hutchison, Barmby, Ball; Oster, Cadamarteri (Bakayoko, h-t). Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Watson.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Beasant; Harkes, Hjelde, Palmer, Stensaas (Armstrong, 80); Stone, Gemmill, Johnson, Rogers (Porfirio, 90); Van Hooijdonk, Darcheville (Bart-Williams, 85). Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Freedman.

Referee: G Barber (Hertfordshire).

Bookings: Everton: Barmby. Nottingham Forest: Johnson, Van Hooijdonk, Darcheville, Stensaas.

Man of the match: Palmer.

Attendance: 34,175.