Hjelde header tips the balance

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The Independent Football

Jan Olav Hjelde's first goal for 18 months gave Forest a winning start after 78 minutes of faulty finishing had left their manager David Platt wondering whether he had made a mistake in deciding to leave his playing comeback for another day.

Jan Olav Hjelde's first goal for 18 months gave Forest a winning start after 78 minutes of faulty finishing had left their manager David Platt wondering whether he had made a mistake in deciding to leave his playing comeback for another day.

The 34-year-old former England captain had pondered coming out of retirement to help ease his side's goalscoring problems, but in the end chose to watch from the directors' box. That left charge of midfield to Andy Johnson following the collapse last week of the former Norwich man's move to Birmingham City, although Platt had to revise his strategy when Johnson limped off with a hamstring injury before half-time.

With Stern John not yet ready to return from knee surgery, the raw front-runner Marlon Harewood was partnered by the free-transfer signing Gary Jones up front. Unlike Forest, Albion have significantly strengthened their squad after narrowly beating the drop last May and their combination of Lee Hughes and the former Bristol Rovers striker Jason Roberts packed more punch.

Forest wasted two decent moves through poor finishing as two clean headers missed the target. Jones was the initial culprit, directing his effort well wide after Alan Rogers had delivered a pinpoint 22nd-minute cross from the left flank. Three minutes later, David Prutton provided one of similar quality from the right only for Johnson, unmarked at the far post, to head over the top.

Having survived those moments, Albion had cause for complaint just before half-time when Roberts, gaining a yard on Hjelde in pursuit of a Derek McInnes through ball, was haul-ed down a yard outside the box by the Forest defender. A free-kick and a yellow card seemed likely but the referee Paul Taylor waved play on after looking to his assistant for guidance.

Goalkeepers remained surplus to requirements until the 60th minute, when Forest's 41-year-old Dave Beasant reacted quickly to a low drive by Roberts to keep the scoresheet blank. By then Forest had racked up a few more misses.

Harewood, whose substitution after 56 minutes was overdue, threatened the corner flag with one attempt and Riccardo Scimeca headed another chance into the seats. Better followed when the impressive Prutton broke through the middle on 65 minutes and slipped the ball to Scimeca whose shot was saved with an outstretched leg by Brian Jensen.

By the final quarter, the home side looked the greater threat despite Albion's introduction of Bob Taylor as a third striker. But after the substitute Jack Lester had missed another opening and Scimeca was again foiled by Jensen, a goal looked beyond them until Hjelde at last broke the deadlock, arriving at the near post to head home a corner by Rogers from the left.

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