Test for Pearce's patience

Nottingham Forest 2 Chelsea 0
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The Independent Online
There are folksy commentators who would have us believe these things are felt more passionately around the Tyne than by the Trent. Yet in terms of the deep-rooted reverence of his public, Kevin Keegan had nothing on Stuart Pearce.

Held in awe and affection for a decade because of his ferocious commitment, "Psycho" has now achieved the near-impossible by strengthening his popularity among Forest's followers. Victory over Chelsea was the club's fourth in six matches since he became caretaker manager and defused the anticipated demonstration against the board of directors.

A measure of the transformation is that their only victims in the previous 19 games, under Frank Clark, had been Wycombe Wanderers in the Coca-Cola Cup. In the circumstances, you might expect Pearce's admirers to be looking forward with confidence to a period of sustained Forest progress. You would be wrong.

Worryingly for the City Ground's best crowd of the season, he has still not decided whether he actually wants the job. His initial concerns - that the dual role would damage his form and that he might lose his treasured England place - appear unfounded. However, his prevarication is not a matter of his being precious about the pressures of management.

Like the fans, Pearce expected the issue of the ownership of the club to be resolved last Monday in favour of the locally based consortium led by Sandy Anderson. That would have released funds for strengthening a somewhat threadbare squad. But shareholders rejected the offer.

A rival bid led by the man behind Saracens rugby club, Nigel Wray, and involving the former Tottenham chairman, Irving Scholar, is now the favourite. But another EGM can not be convened until early next month, a delay that could be fatal to Forest.

To confuse matters further, a third group, fronted by an Indonesian-based Forest supporter, Mario Cardinali, has now entered the frame. Sources close to the club fear the affair could drag on until March, by which time Pearce, a strong-willed individual, could conceivably have decided he does not need the aggravation.

While there is no guarantee that the new owners would want Pearce as manager, he can hardly go back to being simply left-back and captain. He is a natural: deputing Des Lyttle to man-mark Gianfranco Zola exposed the extent to which Chelsea are dependent on the Italian. And like Keegan in reverse, Pearce showed organisational ability by pulling everyone bar Dean Saunders behind the ball and letting the visitors prove the pointlessness of possession without penetration.

Pearce also found time to score from a trademark free-kick earned, slightly dubiously, by the outstanding Alf Inge Haaland. Chris Bart-Williams, formerly cited as evidence of Clark's flawed judgement in the transfer market, volleyed a second, though Frode Grodas was otherwise a spectator. Mark Crossley was not overworked either, for as Ruud Gullit said, "nothing happened" for long spells.

With their own player-manager injured and Zola ineffectual, Chelsea looked a shadow of the side who beat Liverpool. Gullit must have despaired of the banality of their final ball - often lofted towards the diminutive Zola as if he were Duncan Ferguson - and they ended in disarray with Frank Sinclair up front and Gianluca Vialli in midfield. Like the Forest takeover saga, a messy business.

Goals: Pearce (40) 1-0; Bart-Williams (53) 2-0.

Nottingham Forest (4-1-3-1-1): Crossley; Phillips, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Lyttle; Haaland, Bart-Williams, Woan; Clough; Saunders (Allen, 84). Substitutes not used: Roy, Jerkan, Walker, Wright (gk).

Chelsea (3-5-1-1): Grodas; Duberry, Leboeuf, Sinclair; Petrescu, Di Matteo, Newton, Burley (Wise, 61), Myers (Vialli, 54); Zola; Hughes. Substitutes not used: Johnsen, Clement, Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).

Booking: Chelsea: Sinclair.

Man of the match: Haaland.

Attendance: 28,358.