Wrack double shatters fragile Forest

Walsall 4 Nottingham Forest 1
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The Independent Football

If Nottingham Forest are planning a promotion challenge to rival last season's, they have to do much better than this. All the honours from a surprisingly one-sided Midlands clash went to Colin Lee's less fancied side, even if their sprightly performance was assisted by some calamitous goalkeeping.

Saturday's conversion of a one-goal lead into a 3-1 defeat at home to Norwich did not deflect Walsall from setting about their task with a relish.

Forest were fragile following two successive defeats and injury problems, and were quickly threatened by a venomous Steve Corica shot that was tipped over. Paul Merson was the provider on that occasion, although it was by more direct means that the scoring rush began on the half-hour.

Gary Birch was left in yards of space to meet Jamie Vincent's left-wing centre and he guided the ball on for Darren Wrack to run in and head home firmly from close range.

Walsall quickly had the bonus of adding to Wrack's third goal in three games. The goalkeeper, Darren Ward, blundered monumentally in trying to dribble out of his area and lost possession under pressure from Birch as Simon Osborn slid an angled first-time shot just inside the post from nearly 25 yards.

Three minutes before the interval, though, it was Walsall's Forest-supporting goalkeeper, James Walker, who was picking the ball out of his net after Andy Reid hit a left-foot shot into the bottom corner.

Forest's fans immediately rallied behind Ward following his embarrassing mistake but there was little for them to be enthusiastic about after half-time.

The visitors' manager, Paul Hart, will inevitably find himself linked with the Leeds job should Peter Reid fail to survive the Elland Road crisis. But this performance suggests that Hart has enough to worry over. Only Birch's off-target finish reprieved Forest when the youngster rounded Ward from Gregor Robertson's shocking back-pass.

The relief was temporary, though, because Walsall deservedly restored their two-goal advantage in the 65th minute. Ward was again culpable with a poor clearance towards the right-back, Wes Morgan. Wrack hungrily seized on it, cut inside and drilled in a low drive after eluding two defenders.

Birch made it four just before the end when he turned in Merson's inch-perfect cross following a fine pass from the substitute Neil Emblen.

Walsall: J Walker; Baird, Roper, Ritchie, Vincent; Osborn (Emblen, 80), Corica, Samways (Aranalde, 83), Wrack; Merson, Birch. Substitutes not used: Allaway (gk), Hay, Leitao.

Nottingham Forest: Ward; Morgan, Thompson, D Walker, Robertson; Stewart (Bopp, 60), Williams, Reid, McPhail; Harewood, Jess. Substitutes not used: Roche (gk), Gunnarsson, Sonner, Doig.

Referee: M Riley (W Yorkshire).