Forest ride out storm

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Nottingham Forest 0 Auxerre 0 (Forest win 1-0 on aggregate)

Like some militant French farmer or a Polynesian anti-nuclear demonstrator, an Auxerre defender staged a solo sit-in for fully five minutes after Nottingham Forest's status as the lone British survivors in the Uefa Cup was confirmed last night.

The pony-tailed Taribo West could scarcely have been protesting any injustice. Auxerre enjoyed overwhelming territorial ascendancy as they strove to overturn Steve Stone's first-leg goal, yet there was nothing fortuitous about Forest's progress to the last 16.

Nor, despite an aggregate victory which means English clubs have now won 16 of the 18 cross-Channel ties, could it be argued that they prevailed with any style. The splendidly named Auxerre goalkeeper, Fabien Cool, was not called upon to make a save worthy of the name. In contrast, Mark Crossley repeated his outstanding display in France, though he would grateful that his team-mates deserved credit for restricting superior opponents largely to long range.

Crossley has never quite won over the City Ground crowd. Scotland, for whom he qualifies by virtue of a grandparent's birthplace, have not fallen over themselves to claim him as their own. Frank Clark, however, is a believer.

"Mark has been playing with a badly bruised finger for six weeks, which we've kept quiet about, and did no goalkeeping work for a month," the Forest manager revealed. "His kicking was a bit off tonight, but his job is to stop the ball going in. He did that to perfection."

Just as well, with Auxerre's passing and movement enabling them to monopolise possession. Moussa Saib was the first to be frustrated by Crossley, who kept out the Algerian's goalbound drive after 10 minutes. Soon it was the turn of Corentin Martins, a wonderfully live midfielder, whose fulminating free-kick from 25 yards was clawed aside by Crossley at full stretch.

On one of the few occasions Auxerre penetrated to within the six-yard area, Crossley was bailed out by Steve Chettle. The centre-back hoofed the ball off the line after the leaping Lilian Laslandes had distracted Crossley as he shaped to catch Franck Rabarivony's hanging centre shortly before the hour.

In the closing minutes, the substitute Stephane Guivarc'h gave Crossley a final chance to show his saving grace. This was clearly the last straw for West, who had to be coaxed off at the end by a member of the coaching staff.

It will be scant consolation to Auxerre that Clark described them as: "The best side we've played in my time as manager." It was, he added, a triumph of "traditional English virtues". If the Scots see the video of Crossley's heroics, they may might be tempted to assert otherwise.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Lyttle, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Stone, Bart-Williams, Gemmill (Haland, 67), Woan; Roy (McGregor, 89), Lee.

Auxerre (1-2-4-3): Cool; Silvestre; West, Goma; Violeau, Saib, Lamouchi, Rabarivony; Cocard (Tasfaout, 77), Laslandes (Guivarc'h, 82), Martins.

Referee: S Kussainov (Russia).