Football: United expose the holes in Forest defence

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest. . . .0

Manchester United. . . .2

THE LAST week of August is too early in a championship campaign to be talking of crises but it is evident that all is not well with Nottingham Forest. If Brian Clough, who had hinted at retirement, is to make the Premier League title the swansong of his career, there is much work to be done.

After the sale of Teddy Sheringham to Tottenham on Friday, the Nottingham public is anxious that the pounds 2.1m received for last season's leading goalscorer is reinvested rapidly and a possible move for Dean Saunders, whose position at Liverpool remains uncertain, is already being discussed, at least by the supporters.

The management insist that they will not be rushed and, in any case, Brian Clough has rather more to consider than who might score goals for him now that Sheringham has gone, namely who might stop them going in at the other end.

A week after conceding five to Oldham - an unthinkable occurence not long ago - Forest were beaten yesterday with two goals for which their defence was again direcly culpable, and might easily have given away more.

Des Walker and Darren Wassall, sold to Sampdoria and Derby County respectively during the summer, represented an act that any combination would find difficult to follow. But it is clear that Terry Wilson and Steve Chettle have much more ground to make up than Forest can comfortably live with.

Their insecurity was exposed by United in what was effectively their first meaningful attack, when Mark Hughes gave them the lead. Paul Ince slipped past Wilson unhindered to collect Ryan Giggs' neat through-pass, and though Mark Crossley, the Forest goalkeeper, kept out Ince's attempt, he could not do enough to prevent Hughes scoring with a crisp, true drive after the ball had obligingly run to his feet.

If this was an opportunist goal, United were almost handed a gift 10 minutes before half-time. The new back-pass rule is still causing confusion and Wilson, in his mitigation, was almost certainly in two minds when Giggs whipped the ball away from him near the edge of the penalty area. Nevertheless, it was a horrible error and Giggs, who successfully rounded Crossley, would have increased United's lead had Chettle not arrived on the goal-line in the nick of time.

But if Forest escaped on that occasion, they were punished again before they had a chance to mount a recovery. Five minutes into the second half they failed to deal with a quite ordinary cross from substitute Andrei Kanchelskis, raiding on the right. Crossley stayed on his line, Chettle and Laws failed to notice Giggs appearing between them and the winger's stooping header gave United an unexpected cushion.

Replacing Walker, of course, is no easy task, and Wassall's rich promise made his departure all the more surprising. To make matters worse for Clough, his England left-back, Stuart Pearce, is in dispute over his contract, which he wants improved.

But defenders could not be held entirely responsible for Forest's third consecutive defeat. The midfield efficiency that has been their hallmark was frequently absent and Clough Jnr, normally so impressive, had a wretched afternoon.

As ever, though, Forest could not be faulted for enthusiasm and naturally they had their moments. Roy Keane wasted a fine first-half opportunity, created by Gary Bannister, freed by West Brom and making a spirited bid to revive his career at the City Ground; Peter Schmeichel's agility was tested by Scot Gemmill towards the end of the first half, and by Pearce early in the second; and after Giggs had scored, Forest ought to have replied when Gary Crosby just failed to provide the finishing touch after Bannister had surged past Kanchelskis on the left.

With two away wins in a week, United may feel that their indifferent start to the season is behind them, although they did not pose many threats entirely of their own making and injuries to Hughes and right-back Mike Phelan raise fresh worries.

Nottingham Forest: M Crossley; B Laws, S Pearce, T Wilson, S Chettle, R Keane, G Crosby, S Gemmill, N Clough, G Bannister, I Woan. Subs not used: T Orlygsson, K Black, A Marriott (gk). Manager: B Clough.

Manchester United: P Schmeichel; M Phelan (A Kanchelskis, 44 min), D Irwin, S Bruce, D Ferguson, G Pallister, D Dublin, P Ince, B McClair, M Hughes (C Blackmore, 89 min), R Giggs. Sub not used: G Walsh (gk). Manager: A Ferguson.

Referee: K Redfearn (Whitley Bay).

Goals: Hughes (0-1, 17 min); Giggs (0-2, 50 min).

(Photograph omitted)