Kinnear's dreams rooted in realism

Joe Kinnear, the canny chap that he is, knows only too well that saving Nottingham Forest from relegation will be but half the battle when it comes to winning the affection of supporters at the City Ground.

Given the alarming speed at which Forest have slipped down the table during a run of 14 matches without a win - eighth when they last won on 25 October but now third from bottom - it may surprise onlookers that Kinnear's sacked predecessor, Paul Hart, scarcely attracted a single murmur of dissent from the home crowd.

Part of the reason is that Hart reintroduced the kind of football Forest fans enjoyed in Brian Clough's pomp and stuck by the treasured principles of his mentor even when times became hard.

If there were any misgivings in Nottingham when the club chairman, Nigel Doughty, revealed his choice of manager this week, they surrounded not so much Kinnear's ability to galvanise a failing team but whether he would force them to exchange aesthetics for pragmatism.

However, the former Wimbledon manager, in charge for the first time against Walsall today, has pre-empted any criticism by defending his record even before a ball has been kicked. "I know Forest have a reputation for playing football and I have a tag as a route one manager," Kinnear said. "But I've never, ever told a player to play long-ball football.

"I was brought up by Bill Nicholson at Spurs and had 10 years alongside the greatest footballers in the world. It's all right being complimented as a wonderful side but if you're getting beaten every week what do you do? Are you happy with that?

"We've got to stick to the principles of playing football but we've also got to play winning football and there's got to be an end product, no matter what tactics we play."

To that end, Kinnear has already enlisted the services of the former Forest wing-back Alan Rogers and the versatile Andy Impey from Leicester on one-month loan deals and is pressing West Ham to allow the striker Brian Deane to move on a similar arrangement.

But whether their football is of the measured or macho variety, Kinnear is determined to reproduce at least some of the Wimbledon experience at the City Ground, within the dressing room if not on the field. "It seems a very quiet dressing room and players are quiet on the training pitch," he said.

"People need to express themselves. I want them to speak up and tell me what is going through their heads. If they say 'we're not scoring', that's not the answer. I want to know why not."

Meanwhile, the leaders Norwich attempt to extend an eight-match unbeaten away sequence at Coventry happy in the knowledge that their endeavours are meeting with full supporter approval. On top of regular sell-out crowds at Carrow Road, the Canaries are becoming used to a large and vocal following in away matches. Having taken 3,300 fans to the game against Wimbledon recently, Norwich expect to have almost 3,600 supporters at Highfield Road, their biggest away following in more than two years.

The second-placed West Bromwich Albion, desperate not to let a five-point deficit grow any larger, have been hit by the worrying news that their goalkeeper Russell Hoult may be out for up to nine months because of hip and back problems.

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