Football: Too much sand, not enough time

AT THE turnstiles Nottingham Forest handed out paper hats enabling fans to proclaim their backing for Big Ron but the supporters knew where the responsibility for saving their team really lay.

Outside the City Ground before Saturday's 1-0 defeat by Arsenal they were offering their own giveaway, of leaflets outlining the official supporters' club's latest moves to persuade the board either to provide financial resources or sell up to someone who will.

The best of luck to them but, as fans from Brighton to Manchester City have found, it is a long and bitter process shifting a board that does not want to go. Until the Football Task Force turn their attention to complex issues like club ownership, rather than skirting around the game's vested interests, it will remain so. At present, therefore, Forest fans have to put faith in a board they have little faith in, or hope Ron Atkinson really can work miracles.

The best crowd in four months suggested many do, but without substantial investment - way above the reported pounds 2m available to him - Atkinson has little hope of repeating last season's escapologist act at Sheffield Wednesday. Then he arrived in November to take over a team whose position owed much to injuries, who had won 5-0 the previous week, and were not even bottom, let alone adrift.

Forest, by contrast, have not beaten a Premiership team since August, are seven points from safety and patently short of quality. So low is confidence that Steve Chettle's "captain's message" in Saturday's match programme included phrases like "we look set to spend next season in the First Division" and "we desperately need something to happen".

In his own column Atkinson admitted "time is not on our side", which made his decision to spend the week in Barbados, rather than coaching his new team, all the more mystifying.

It enabled him to arrive with his perma-tan topped up to an unhealthy looking degree but left him so unsure of his surroundings he initially went to the wrong dug-out, sitting down next to a startled Fabian Caballero.

Perhaps remembering the Arsenal substitute's recent elbow on Ryan Kidd at Preston, Atkinson got up sharpish as well as sheepish. It was as near as he got to success all afternoon.

While there was enough sand on the pitch to make him feel he had never left Barbados, an illusion strengthened by unexpected sunshine at kick- off, it was sleeting down by the end and the journey from Bridgetown airport to the Bridgford Stand must have seemed a long one in every respect.

Forest looked a First Division side masquerading as a Premiership one. While there was plenty of effort from all but Pierre van Hooijdonk, who seemed to believe he really was on the beach, there was a desperate lack of quality. The pitch did not help, nor the absence of Steve Stone and Chettle - identified in advance by Atkinson's coach, Peter Shreeves, as their best players - but the passing was poor and support play haphazard.

They did not so much build attacks as throw them together in the hope that one might work out. A defence of Arsenal's quality was never likely to be overly troubled by this and, though Andy Johnson hit a post soon after half-time, there was always a feeling that the champions had an extra gear in reserve. As it was, a stooping header by the excellent Martin Keown, from Emmanuel Petit's 34th minute corner, was enough.

Johnson was one of Forest's better players. Atkinson justifiably picked out the goalkeeper, Dave Beasant, and central defender, Jon Olav Hjedle, for praise and "some" of the midfielders for decent performances. He ignored the front pair altogether, though he later said Van Hooijdonk was "so-so".

Though still ready with a quip, Atkinson looked tired. The jet-lag undoubtedly contributed, but it might also have been the realisation as to the size of his task and the reality of his status in the game. While it is better to be known as football's Red Adair than Joe Dole, one suspects Atkinson, 60 next month, would rather be known as an elder statesman like Alex Ferguson, Bobby Robson and Jim Smith than a cross between Houdini and Mr Bojangles.

If he does keep Forest up he will deserve the respect his flash image has often denied him, but it is a tall order. He spoke of his "powers of motivation" but Dave Bassett, his predecessor, was no slouch in that department. Strengthening of the team is required and more than just Carlton Palmer, who expects to sign today.

In the three seasons since the Premiership was reduced to 20 clubs a tally of 39, 41 and 41 points have been required to guarantee safety, though teams have survived, on goal difference, with 38. Even getting there would require Forest to take 25 points from the final 16 games of the season, having garnered just 13 in 22.

While Forest may instead set new records for fewest Premiership points and wins (currently held by Ipswich and Swindon with 27 and five respectively), Arsenal are on course to set new standards for parsimony.

Having conceded 11 goals in 22 games, the Premiership record (set by Manchester United last year with 26 conceded) should be a doddle and the League record of 16 in 42, achieved by Liverpool 20 years ago, may be under threat.

It comes at a price and Wenger admitted: "We are conscious that we need to score more goals." But he added, in reference to events elsewhere, "whether you score seven goals, six goals or one it is still three points for a win".

Goal: Keown (34) 0-1.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Manninger; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Parlour, Garde, Petit, Overmars (Vivas, 65); Bergkamp, Anelka (Upson, 88). Substitutes not used: Wreh, Caballero, Lukic (gk).

Arsenal (4-4-2): Beasant; Lyttle, Hjelde, Armstrong, Rogers; Bonalair (Shipperley, 76), Johnson, Gemmill, Bart-Williams; Van Hooijdonk, Darcheville (Quashie, 86).

Substitutes not used: Chettle, Stone, Crossley (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Bookings: Forest: Gemmill, Johnson, Darcheville. Arsenal: Winterburn, Anelka, Garde.

Man of the match: Keown.

Attendance: 26,021.

News
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
peopleBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
News
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game