Football: Stone saves the day for depleted Forest

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest 1

Stone 51

Coventry City 0

Attendance: 22,546

STEVE STONE'S second-half goal was enough to give Forest victory over a Coventry side unable to follow up their exhilarating opening-day win over Chelsea and bring relief to the City Ground boardroom at the end of a troubled week.

A breathless match turned not just on Stone's strike but on a series of excellent saves by the veteran goalkeeper Dave Beasant, the best of which denied Coventry an equaliser a minute from time. However, three points and a spirited performance from Forest were not enough to stave off a post-match demonstration against the club's board by supporters angry at the sale of key players. The strikers Kevin Campbell and Ian Moore left during the summer and club captain Colin Cooper was transferred to Middlesbrough this week, adding to the unrest created by the top-scorer Pierre van Hooijdonk's refusal to return over what he perceives as their lack of ambition.

"I don't really understand what it's all about," their manager, Dave Bassett, said. Even the parading before kick-off of Nigel Quashie, the England Under-21 midfielder bought for pounds 2.5m on Friday, failed to lift the mood.

On the field, no more than 30 seconds had elapsed when Beasant was required to make his first save, tipping George Boateng's dipping 25-yard drive to safety. Coventry should have gone ahead soon afterwards when Noel Whelan, released by Darren Huckerby's pass, wasted an opportunity by shooting weakly at Beasant.

The former Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Dougie Freedman and Frenchman Jean-Claude Darcheville represented an untried front-line combination put out by Forest, for whom the presence of 35-year-old Glyn Hodges, acquired on a free transfer from Hull City, was an indication of desperate times.

But for all their limitations in personnel, the home side did not lack spirit. Quickly they replied to Coventry's opening thrusts, Thierry Bonalair capping a fine run from Stone with a shot that Magnus Hedman gathered at the second attempt. Then Darcheville, possessed of a sprinter's pace, turned and left Gary Breen before ending a 30-yard dash with a shot that brought the best out of Hedman.

The action was unstinting. Scot Gemmill unleashed a shot that crept under Hedman and rebounded off an upright before Breen rescued his goalkeeper. Then Beasant saved magnificently from Whelan, who beat Bonalair to Paul Telfer's far-post cross only to see the Forest keeper push his header against his right-hand post with a reflex movement.

The goal that broke the deadlock came in the seventh minute of the second half when the Coventry defence was caught off guard. Receiving the ball from Hodges on the left, Geoff Thomas was not challenged and found Stone in space in the opposite half of the penalty area. Hedman, for once, was badly positioned, and when Stone took aim for the top left-hand corner the Swedish goalkeeper could do no more than help his shot into the net.

Once in front, Forest were content to sit back and defend, although Hedman made an important save when Stone, 20 yards out, went close to doubling the advantage. Coventry were frustrated time and again as Forest, for whom Craig Armstrong was lucky to avoid a red card for a shirt pull on Huckerby, put eight or nine men behind the ball, but Coventry almost snatched an equaliser in the 89th minute only for Beasant to defy Breen with another great save.

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