Forest make wrong kind of history

Queen's Park Rangers 2 - Nottingham Forest 1
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The Independent Online

In the same season that Brian Clough departed to continue his soliloquies in another place, it was grimly appropriate that Nottingham Forest, the team he turned to gold, should roll over and die, their relegation sealed at Loftus Road when quirky refereeing by Kevin Wright reduced them to 10 men and inevitable defeat.

In the same season that Brian Clough departed to continue his soliloquies in another place, it was grimly appropriate that Nottingham Forest, the team he turned to gold, should roll over and die, their relegation sealed at Loftus Road when quirky refereeing by Kevin Wright reduced them to 10 men and inevitable defeat.

While it is tempting to pronounce shame as the cause of demise, a considered verdict would be a combination of mismanagement, maladministration, bad luck and crap football. As a lifelong Forest supporter I shall be hurling darts at images of a succession of inadequate chairmen and managerial mercenaries like Joe Kinnear, Big Ron and, nice bloke though he is, Dave Bassett, as well as David Platt, a disastrous appointment who signed mediocre players on big wages, hastening Forest's journey to the wall.

All right, it is not as if the club has actually gone out of business. In fact, because of the current preposterous fashion for giving our leagues overblown titles like Premiership and Championship, Forest will be back next season in Division One, where they started league life in 1892.

However, this is a big club gone to seed. Not a major club, not a major football city either, but, under Clough, Forest won the European Cup twice, as well as the League Championship. They are certainly the first European champions to face life in the third tier of their domestic league.

"Too good to go down" was the phrase regularly uttered about Forest, despite the fact that they were relegated from the Premiership three times. Not any more. Another sad fact is that, since the pomp of Clough, Forest descended from a buying club to one which saw the exit door in regular use for a variety of excellent players. Nothing was more dispiriting than to watch the excellent crop from Paul Hart's academy - Jermaine Jenas, David Prutton, Andy Reid, Michael Dawson - sold off. To what purpose remains a mystery.

The manager, Gary Megson, said: "A club of this size, stature, history and tradition should not be getting relegated from this division. I knew the job would be tough when I joined, six points adrift and not having won an away game. Within a month it was more obvious to me that the problems were deeper than I thought. But the attraction of the club is still there and the support has been brilliant."

As for the prospect of a quick return, Megson pointed out that Peterborough, just relegated from the league Forest will be entering, "played us off the park three months ago" in a cup tie.

"There is an awful lot of work to be done between now and next season," he said. "Eight or nine players are out of contract and we need to start by addressing that, together with plans for going forward." While calling the dismissal of Darryl Powell "harsh", he added: "I am not going to say we have been relegated because of refereeing decisions. We are relegated because we got 43 points from 45 games."

Facing a win or bust situation, Forest, whose impressive following filled one end of the ground, had no option but boldness. They lined up with only three at the back, including their most successful striker, Gareth Taylor, because of a shortage of manpower, and were consequently under a lot of pressure.

Forest's urgency bordered at times on hysteria as they hurled themselves into tackles. After only a quarter of an hour Powell was undeservedly cautioned for a foul on Paul Furlong and, with another 15 minutes gone, the same player body-checked Martin Rowlands and had a second yellow card flourished under his nose. From some officials, neither offence would have been deemed serious enough to warrant a caution, an indication of the club's bad luck.

Forest's hopes of avoiding further disaster before the interval fell a minute short of fulfilment. Then Lee Cook, QPR's liveliest player, swung in a free-kick from the right and, in trying to deny Furlong, John Curtis merely managed to glance the ball past his own keeper.

Forest's fate was sealed five minutes after the restart. Paul Gerrard could not hold Cook's fierce drive and Rowlands hooked the loose ball towards an untenanted net, only for Gregor Robertson to divert it for a corner. This was never properly cleared before falling to Marc Bircham, who curled in a fine goal.

Megson sent on three substitutes in the space of 10 minutes. In the 66th minute one of them, Eugen Bopp, hit the target with a first-time left-footer. A second goal remained just out of Forest's reach, so now it is time for the club to contemplate trips to places like Hartlepool - where Brian Clough got his managerial start.

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