Football: Van Hooijdonk under no illusions at Forest

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The Independent Online
Pierre Van Hooijdonk came through a rough Premiership ride on his Nottingham Forest debut on Tuesday night and admitted that life in England was just as tough as he expected.

The 27-year-old Dutchman found Colin Hendry in typically uncompromising mood as Forest paraded their new club record signing in the 1-1 draw at Ewood Park.

Van Hooijdonk did not manage a single effort on goal and his night of frustration was typified when he was booked after a 70th-minute challenge on Henning Berg, even though it looked as though the striker was more sinned against than sinner.

But the man who netted Celtic an instant pounds 3m when he arrived at the City Ground on Monday to complete a deal that will see the Parkhead club paid another pounds 500,000 if Forest remain in the Premiership, maintained he had already braced himself for the ordeal.

"If you look at the quality of the players in the Premier League, then in every game you are up against the best defenders in England and sometimes in Europe," said Van Hooijdonk, who will bring Celtic another pounds 1m bonus if he breaks the 20-goal barrier in each of his first two full seasons at Forest.

"It will be hard but it will be a good experience for me and it was one of the reasons why I came to Forest. And I certainly don't think I will score as many goals here as I did in Scotland. I will try, of course, but this league is a little bit different to the one I've been playing in.

"It will be harder playing against top players but that's the point in playing in a top league, it shows you how good you really are."

Van Hooijdonk certainly never had a problem finding the net at Parkhead, scoring 56 goals in 86 starts after switching from NAC Breda two years ago, including the strike that brought an end to Celtic's six-year trophy famine in the 1995 Scottish Cup final.

But a pay dispute clouded the last six months of his time in Glasgow and, when Van Hooijdonk began to see his international chances fade under Tommy Burns, he jumped at the chance to move south of the border. It was a move that now sees him embroiled in a relegation fight rather than Celtic's top-of-the-table quest to prevent Rangers running off with their ninth title on the trot, but even that did not deter the lanky striker.

"I felt that the fact that I was not playing for Celtic could cost me my place in the Dutch squad," Van Hooijdonk said. "If I am not playing then obviously the manager will go for someone else, so the opportunity to go to Forest in the Premier League was a good one.

"I think Forest will stay in the Premier League, but even if we went down I think I would still get in the Dutch squad if I was doing well in the First Division.

"Patrick Kluivert, Dennis Bergkamp and Ronald de Boer also play in my position for Holland, and they are not the worst strikers in the world, but I usually come on when Holland need to force something. That's why it is important for me to play, whether it is in the Premier League or the First Division."

It is certainly going to be a tall order for Forest to survive. They remain just one place and three points better off than third-bottom Southampton and have played three games more than the three sides occupying the relegation places.

Blackburn, though, now look clear of danger after taking their run to just three defeats in the 18 Premiership matches since Tony Parkes became stand-in manager in October.

It now seems certain that Parkes will be handing over a Premiership club to Roy Hodgson when he arrives from Internazionale in the summer - although the Rovers midfielder Billy McKinlay is taking nothing for granted.

"They are still all big games and the quicker we get to the 40-point mark the better we will feel," said the Scot, who was booked 15 minutes into his return from suspension. "Wimbledon on Saturday will be tough, but we feel that we are capable of beating anyone at home."

Oldham are facing a losing race against the clock to make the pounds 400,000 signing of the Raith Rovers striker Tony Rougier. The Trinidad international impressed Oldham's manager, Neil Warnock, in a trial on Tuesday, but the English First Division side will have to sell before they buy.

Although Warnock is trying to move out top scorer Sean McCarthy, who could go before the transfer deadline on 27 March, it may be too late for Rougier. Oldham would have to apply for a new work permit for him and the documents may take too long to push through.