Fortunate Forest put Preston in red

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Two substitutes, two penalties and two red cards shaped the outcome at the City Ground, where David Platt, some people's tip to be a future England coach, is finally seeing some success as a club manager.

Two substitutes, two penalties and two red cards shaped the outcome at the City Ground, where David Platt, some people's tip to be a future England coach, is finally seeing some success as a club manager.

Forest, beaten only once in their last eight matches, are beginning to emerge as promotion candidates in the First Division, although they enjoyed substantial help from the referee in taking three points yesterday.

Preston, who conceded both penalties, had two players sent off, losing full-back Graham Alexander early in the first half and central defender Colin Murdock late in the second, on an afternoon when almost every contentious decision went against them.

Alexander was dismissed after 11 minutes, sparking anger in the Preston ranks at what did appear a high-handed decision by referee Barry Knight. Jack Lester committed a foul against the full-back and while the Preston player clearly made a move to retaliate, the reaction of his opponent certainly seemed out of proportion to the contact actually made.

It was as well for the visitors that they were in front at that stage, having gone ahead in the third minute with Forest seemingly unaware that the contest had begun. Erik Meijer did play a fine ball to send Jon Macken running purposefully through the inside-right channel, but Forest ought to have done more than stand back and watch as the young striker rocketed his ninth goal of the season past Dave Beasant.

This gave Preston a useful cushion against the pressure that inevitably followed as they tried to reorganise. Indeed it took a 23rd-minute penalty for Forest to draw level, after Rob Edwards had tripped Gary Jones in the area.

Chris Bart-Williams, Forest's captain and sweeper, scored from the spot, after which the visitors were forced to devote most of their energies to defensive duty.

After Macken had wasted a great opportunity early in the second half, two Forest substitutes were able to play a major part in securing the points for the home side.

Ben Olsen, a member of the United States Olympic team who has joined Forest on a three-month loan from the Major League Soccer side DC United, marked his third appearance from the bench with his first goal, squirting the ball past David Lucas after Lester's pass had put him clear.

Then came a second penalty, conceded when Sean Gregan checked Platt's other substitute, Marlon Harewood, just inside the box. Again Bart-Williams converted.

With that, what remained of Preston's composure deserted them. A clash between Jones and Murdock sparked a brawl on the half-way line and once the situation had calmed, it was the Preston player who was ejected from the pitch.

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