Football: Van Hooijdonk's return fails to fire Forest

Nottingham Forest 0 Wimbledon 1
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The Independent Online
IT DID not take much to win them over; a prodigious free-kick, a flick here, a flick there, and a shot into the side netting with which he ought to have scored. Pierre van Hooijdonk, in the end, was welcomed back with open arms by the City Ground faithful (aren't football fans the most ridiculous people?). Only this prodigal son is unrepentant and judging by Dave Bassett's remarks in the match programme he will be out of the door the moment it suits Forest.

Right now they need his goal-scoring capabilities and physical presence because, like it or not, he represents just about the only chance they have got of staying in the Premiership. But as Van Hooijdonk left the field, having stopped to applaud the fans - a cynical touch if ever there was - the realisation must have dawned on some of them that his return has come too late.

Their ninth game without a win saw them slip to second bottom of the table and it may take more than even a committed Van Hooijdonk to extricate them from that position, given the overall quality of the team. There was nothing about Forest's performance on Saturday to suggest that the Dutchman, at least, was not wrong about that: they are a team going nowhere - except straight back to the First Division. A visit to Manchester United on Wednesday will no doubt confirm that view and at the same time intensify Van Hooij-donk's desire to move on.

Poor Bassett is financially hamstrung, unless he can sell Van Hooijdonk at such a price that it would enable him to buy two decent players who might have a bearing on Forest's immediate future. As he pointed out, a quarter of the season has been lost, during which time he might have had either Van Hooijdonk or a suitable replacement. No wonder he was unable to let bygones be bygones. "I must admit that Pierre has amazed me by having the audacity to not even apologise to anyone at the football club", he wrote in the programme. "He has shown no remorse whatsoever for his behaviour, which is regrettable to say the very least."

As the teams were read out, the name of Van Hooijdonk, whom Bassett agreed had played "quite well', was greeted with boos and cheers in equal measure, which must have been encouraging for him. And with his very first effort in a Forest shirt in six months he very nearly scored, anticipating, but miskicking Marlon Harewood's cross to the near post.

It was not long, though, before he was bringing his physical presence to bear, which takes some doing against a team like Wimbledon. Van Hooijdonk has good skill for a big man and if he was not at the end of most of Forest's better movements he was often playing a useful linking role before a combination of lack of fitness and match practice saw his contribution dwindle.

The win, deservedly earned with another Marcus Gayle header, was almost as welcome to Wimbledon as it would have been to Forest, the Dons having gone five games without one, and their manager, Joe Kinnear, took pleasure in noting that they now had Liverpool and other "household names" behind them in the table. He was also in no doubt about how he would have handled Van Hooijdonk (as it happens, your archetypal Wimbledon player - big and strong), recalling how he had moved on John Fashanu when he became too big for his boots.

But then Fashanu, unlike Van Hooijdonk, had lost his effectiveness - and Wimbledon, unlike Forest, were not staring at relegation.

Goal: Gayle (23) 0-1.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Beasant; Lyttle (Bonalair, 73), Chettle, Armstrong, Rogers; Stone, Bart-Williams, Gemmill, Gray; Harewood (Freedman, 84), Van Hooijdonk. Substitutes not used: Shipperley, Edwards, Crossley (gk).

Wimbledon (4-3-3): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Thatcher, Kimble; Ainswoth, Earle, Hughes (Ardley, 57); Gayle, Leaburn (Roberts, 73), Euell. Substitutes not used: Blackwell, Kenn-edy, Heald (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tring, Herts).

Booking: Wimbledon: Euell.

Man of the match: Earle.

Attendance: 21,362.