Nottingham Forest 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0
Having won compliments in defeat at Newcastle on Saturday, Forest rediscovered, at last, how to win a match when Sheffield Wednesday succumbed at the City Ground yesterday. Jason Lee's sixth-minute goal divided themselves and David Pleat's resurgent side, bringing Forest their first victory in the Premiership since beating Wimbledon 4-1 at home on 6 November.
Since then, Forest have tended to draw rather than lose - four times in six games, in fact, before yesterday - but the loss of points has significantly undermined their prospects of securing another European qualification through the league table, especially with one place fewer available to English teams. And this, much as their continuing presence in the Uefa Cup is to be admired, remains the more likely route to another crack next year.
The clutch of goals against Wimbledon was a rare event, the one occasion in 12 matches when they have scored more than once, bringing renewed exposure to the lack in Forest's otherwise sound make-up of a consistent, high- quality goalscorer. Frank Clark, their manager, will have hoped by now to have laid the ghost of Stan Collymore but the truth is that the absence of the maverick's gifts among those who would succeed him haunts Forest still.
Just as well that Clark, while yet to solve this problem, has maintained the fabric of his side. Yesterday's points owed much to defensive organisation, limiting Wednesday's ability to make use of the larger share of possession. Clark complained that "too many free headers" were offered to the visiting forwards but this seemed a little over-critical. In Kevin Cooper and Steve Chettle, he possesses a couple of centre-backs to bear comparison with any pairing in the Premiership and there are few more impressive defensive midfielders than Chris Bart-Williams.
Against his former club, the 22-year-old, born in Sierra Leone but a Londoner by upbringing, was outstanding both in positional play and distribution. He never looks to be moving easily but this is deceptive. His anticipation is excellent, his tackles well-timed and his possession of the ball rarely wasted. Yesterday, he was as often seen disrupting a Wednesday movement as setting one in motion for his own side.
Bart-Williams cost Clark pounds 2.5m last summer, as did Kevin Campbell, the Arsenal cast-off. On the evidence so far, the two have little else in common. Campbell, slow in movement and thought yesterday, has played little because of back trouble and presumably lacks sharpness but it is hard to see him improving a great deal, not enough to be another Collymore, at any rate.
Jason Lee, who simply does not have the pedigree to go far at this level, was never expected to be one and would not be in the side now had Campbell or Andrea Silenzi, the pounds 1.8m Italian, been fit enough for long enough to make an impression.
In the event though it was Lee, with his seventh goal of the season, who did enough to keep Forest in touch with the Premiership leaders, rising at the far post to connect successfully with Ian Woan's zippy, inswinging corner.
Thereafter, Forest spent more time defending than going forward and rarely looked like adding a second goal although Campbell hit a post in the second half - at just the moment, as it happened, when his number was being raised on the touchline and Bryan Roy, recovered from knee surgery, was trotting on to replace him.
For Wednesday, Marc Degryse was denied late in the first half by a brilliant Mark Crossley save and Chris Waddle hit the woodwork with a typically clever shot-from-nothing eight minutes from time. There was a promising full debut, too, from the Yugoslav striker, Darko Kovacevic, of whom there should be goals to come, and from his fellow Red Star Belgrade export, the left-back Dejan Stefanovic.
Goal: Lee (5) 1-0.
Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley; Lyttle, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Stone, Gemmill, Bart-Williams, Woan; Campbell (Roy, 75), Lee. Substitutes not used: McGregor, Haland.
Sheffield Wednesday (5-3-2): Pressman; Nolan, Atherton, Nicol, Walker, Briscoe (Stefanovic, 30); Degryse, Waddle, Whittingham; Kovacevic, Hirst (Bright, 75). Substitute not used: Hyde.
Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).
Man of the match: Bart-Williams.
Attendance: 27, 810.