Pearce passion stokes Forest fire

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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest 2

Pearce 40, Bart-Williams 53

Chelsea 0

Attendance: 28,358

STUART PEARCE may never become a full-time football manager, nor does he claim to have all the remedies for Nottingham Forest's ills, but he's not making a bad job as a locum.

Leaving all the behind-the-scenes troubles of the club firmly in the office that he occupies without much enthusiasm, yesterday he captained Forest to their fourth win in his brief time as caretaker-manager. Not only that, he dragged the best out of what threatened to be a dreary draw by scoring directly from a free-kick, as you would expect of him, and went on to steady his defence when Chelsea revived and might themselves have eked something from the day.

"The players all worked very hard for me, right from the start," Pearce said. "We dug in when we had to and worked really hard, and I was delighted with the effort just as much as the final result."

The club's crisis had deepened when the shareholders turned down a takeover from Sandy Anderson who, as far as the fans were concerned, had two things much in his favour - his consortium is Nottinghamshire-based and he had promised Pearce immediate funds for the new players needed to secure Forest's Premiership position. Yesterday, and at a meeting on Friday, the fans expressed no faith in the majority of shareholders who they accuse of putting their own financial interests ahead of the club's future. As Kevin Keegan had discovered, football in the Nineties is a matter of satisfying the investors before the genuinely interested.

Whether Pearce will want much more of it we shall see, but he has a wonderful way with inspiration, and will need every last drop. Nothing comes easily at the moment and frustration quickly surfaced yesterday when, having stayed on top of Chelsea's initial probing, Forest saw David Phillips imaginatively break the line of Chelsea's defence with a pass that Alfie Haaland squared slightly behind Dean Saunders who otherwise would surely have scored. At least it encouraged the on-loan Nigel Clough to lend support to the Forest attack, but only temporarily. Pearce's directness was more important.

On such dank days by the Trent it takes a lot to warm the spirit, and even more so this winter. The game sank miserably into a negative succession of misplaced passes in midfield and safe balls between defenders.

Only Phillips seemed able to penetrate with his thoughtful passes that cut through the Chelsea defence. So it was no surprise when he invited Haaland to pursue the ball to the edge of the area where Frank Leboeuf tackled him with uncharacteristic clumsiness. Pearce flashed the free- kick towards the end of the defensive wall, Steve Chettle moved aside and the ball sank into the net.

Chelsea greatly increased their efforts after the break and Roberto di Matteo's rasping strike early in the half was blocked bravely by Haaland. But Forest settled quickly and gained security when Ian Woan speculated on a shot that Chelsea only partially cleared. As the ball arrived back at the feet of Chris Bart-Williams he controlled it before volleying forcefully beyond Frode Grodas from just outside the penalty area. It was Bart-Williams' first goal for Forest.

Naturally, Chelsea immediately reinforced their attack by bringing on Gianluca Vialli and adding Dennis Wise's tenacity to midfield. Forest were well aware that there had been other occasions this season when they had forfeited their advantages, but playing five at the back and only Saunders permanently stationed upfield, they seemed unlikely to do the same here.

Saunders' lone role was essential to Forest's valuable victory. By permanently occupying the attention of the defenders, he made it impossible for Chelsea to commit themselves totally to attack, at least until the final 15 minutes by which time their cause was lost. Meanwhile, Pearce shrewdly organised his defence to negate the threat of Vialli and the power of Frank Sinclair and Eddie Newton.