Fickle Forest fans turn against Hart

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The Independent Football

Football supporters are notorious for the speed with which they can turn heroes into villains, but the sudden disillusionment with Paul Hart among Nottingham Forest fans is hard to fathom none the less.

Only a month ago, as Peter Reid's future at Leeds was under review, Forest fans were pleading with him to ignore siren voices from Elland Road. After Forest's achievement in reaching the First Division play-offs last season, Hart's departure would have been seen as a crippling blow.

Now, with seven defeats and 11th place in the table making for much less pleasant reading, Hart's love affair with the City Ground crowd is under strain, although he might have seen it coming as the club continued a campaign to drive down overheads during the summer.

High-earning senior professionals, such as Jim Brennan, Jack Lester and Riccy Scimeca, left the club, but Hart's efforts to hire replacements foundered on a newly introduced wage cap, which was a key factor in the failure to sign David Connolly, Paul Merson and Shaun Goater.

Forest's relationship with their bankers has improved as a result, but Hart is paying an uncomfortable price both for boardroom prudence and his own success. Hart now has a smaller and less experienced squad, built largely on the youthful promise of Michael Dawson and Andy Reid.

With leading scorer David Johnson out of action after breaking a leg, Dawson suffering the effects of too many games, and a flu virus working its way through the dressing-room before tomorrow's match against Watford, the shortage of experienced personnel is beginning to bite. There could be another crisis ahead if any of the clubs eyeing up the gifted Irishman Reid makes a tempting offer during the January transfer window.

"I work under the same adage that Brian Clough did," Hart said. "And that's to go out there and get a result because that will shut them all up."

Hart lost out to West Ham in his bid for Connolly but the Irish striker misses today's key top-six meeting with West Bromwich Albion at Upton Park because of injury, making way for Brian Deane to make his debut as the new manager, Alan Pardew, chases a first win.

Some West Ham supporters have been suspicious of Pardew's motives in signing Deane as a target man, but the former Reading manager has been quick to defend himself.

"You need options and over the season and Brian Deane will be a valuable player to us," Pardew said.