As the only Premiership side to enter the second half of the season with an interest in Europe, Forest carried the flag with the reputation of a big club, but the reality is painfully different, as their manager, Frank Clark, discovered last week.
Arriving cap in hand at the boardroom, with plans to bolster his squad, he learned his entire budget totalled pounds 250,000, barely enough for a decent striker's signing-on fee. He had already earmarked that amount to buy cover for his only experienced goalkeeper.
Clark has spent money this season, but the jury is out on how wisely. Chris Bart-Williams, knocking on England's door during Graham Taylor's final days, is a maturing investment, but Kevin Campbell labours under his pounds 2.5m price tag while Andrea Silenzi, who cost pounds 1.8m from Torino, did not even make the bench.
Campbell may soon find himself swapping roles with the Italian. His influence on an uninspiring contest was minimal, and his replacement with Jason Lee in the final quarter hour drew ironic applause. A header put wide in the fourth minute was as close as he came to a goal, and much of what followed was equally disappointing.
Only Bryan Roy produced the quality needed to enliven a drab afternoon, bringing the first half to a promising conclusion with a couple of shots on target and then providing the cross from which Cooper headed the decisive goal. The centre-back arrived stealthily in the penalty area.
It needed someone to support Roy, just as Southampton need something to rekindle the fire in Matthew Le Tissier, who drifted through another match in near anonymity. Had he been anywhere near his best, his side might have gained a point.
Sensing Forest's vulnerability, Southampton sent on Gordon Watson to help out Neil Shipperley in attack, and subjected the home crowd to an anxious finish. Even so, Roy, sliding in to meet Steve Stone's low cross, missed the best chance of the contest producing a second goal.Reuse content