Kinnear rekindles the Forest fight

Nottingham Forest 3 Walsall 3
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The Independent Football

Forest welcomed new manager Joe Kinnear with a splurge of goals but not, alas, a victory. They took the lead against Walsall in 1 minute 51 seconds, ending a barren 12-hour spell in the League, and managed to save a point in added time. It amounted to thrilling stuff for the long-suffering home supporters but the relegation menace remains, and the last time they picked up three points was in October, 15 games ago.

If Kinnear greeted the final whistle with a shake of the head, there were positives for him to take from an exciting occasion in which Walsall ruthlessly punished loose Forest defending in the first half, only to be pulverised in the second by ceaseless pressure.

Having noted bleakly at his first training session that "there was no balance to the side" and that in his opinion the diamond formation employed by his predecessor, Paul Hart, had "never won anybody anything", Kinnear grabbed two wing-backs, Andy Impey and Forest old boy Alan Rogers, on a month's loan from Leicester and threw them into the fray as part of a 4-4-2 line-up. Rogers operated as a left-back, albeit a marauding one, and Impey created threats to Walsall from the right side of midfield, just in front of Matthieu Louis-Jean.

Kinnear called the result "not a bad start", adding, "I could have done without this game to find out more about the players but I have seen enough to know we can get out of trouble. But this is a hard club to come into. You get history rammed down your throat when you walk in the door, out-of-work players like Garry Birtles slagging you off."

Kinnear made a quiet entry seconds before the kick-off, providing the posse of cameras with upraised thumbs to a polite, rather than ecstatic, greeting from a 25,000 crowd who were fast approaching an anticipatory frenzy.

This erupted with a goal in Forest's first attack, as Kinnear's uplifted thumbs became upflung arms. Marlon King delivered a cross from the left which ran behind Michael Chopra, who still managed to get enough of a touch to direct it into the path of Impey for Forest's first goal in League play since 6 December.

What could not have been a brighter start for Kinnear rapidly descended to familiar frustration for his team. Their eagerness to move forward and build on the advantage left a defence which is normally solid looking vulnerable to the pace of Gary Wales and the Portuguese striker Jorge Leitao, prodded on by the midfield craft of the veteran Vinnie Samways.

Forest's lead lasted only two minutes before Wales crossed low for Leitao to wallop a shot in off goalkeeper Darren Ward's legs. It was a setback which silenced the crowd but encouraged Forest to redoubled efforts which at times bordered on the rash as they poured forward. Walsall's keeper-captain, James Walker, earned congratulations for a stunning one-armed save from King.

The visitors lost Ian Roper with a groin strain after 18 minutes, but this led to their second goal. His replacement, Jaime Lawrence, had been in action for five minutes before stabbing home when Ward could only parry Gary Birch's shot. Still Forest went in search of more success, only to concede a disastrous third as the interval approached. Walsall's Spanish left-back, Zigor Aranalde, lofted forward to Wales, who danced inside a challenge on the left edge of the box and curled a delightful ball just inside Ward's far post. "We are too nice in the middle of the park," Kinnear complained afterwards. There were boos at half-time for Forest but their ongoing commitment, allied to a tightening in defence, soon pushed Walsall back, and there they remained for almost all of the second half, reduced to gaining relief with time-wasting and gamesmanship.

Forest were quickly back in it as Reid, who grew in influence and authority, slung over a deep, high centre from the left which homed in so precisely on King's head that he hardly had to move to nod it in. It was only King's second goal, and his first in the League, since Hart laid out £1m to buy him from Gillingham.

Though King had by far his best game for Forest, an equaliser seemed to have eluded them. Then, as added time of four minutes was announced, on came Gareth Taylor, the other striker who has done little since joining from Burnley. This time was different, though.

Rogers (nickname "Tank") barrelled down the left once more and put over a high cross to the far post for Taylor's fair head to propel it past Walker. Justice was done. Now Forest just need to win one, or preferably more. And soon, because financial woes are reported, with Nottingham Council claiming that a repayment on their loan for Forest's new stand is overdue and former player Pierre van Hooijdonk allegedly due some £400,000.

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