Pearce inspires Forest victory

 

IN A gesture worthy of the last man but one to occupy the manager's office at Nottingham Forest, Stuart Pearce sent a backroom boy to talk to reporters after his team had marked his first match in charge with their first Premiership victory since the opening day of the season.

My name is Alan Hill," said the middle-aged man in the blazer and tie, "and I've been here for 28 years." In fact Hill arrived as a reserve goalkeeper during another difficult period in the club's history, and stayed on through the Clough years to become general manager under Frank Clark. His task after Saturday's match was to relay the reaction to an emotional afternoon of the man who is both Forest's long-serving captain and their new caretaker player-manager.

"The skipper asked me if I'd be seeing the gaffer," Hill said. "I said I would be." He said, "Tell him we did it for him, because we owed him one."

A touching tribute, although a cynic might be moved to ask why it took the resignation of Frank Clark to remind his players of their debt to a decent and honest man, liked and respected by all. Yet there was no question of a rift between the manager and the players; simply a feeling that Clark's quiet, reflective manner had ceased to provide sufficient motivation.

It was Clark's failure to replace Stan Collymore and his 25 goals a season that cost Forest their momentum, and the injury to Steve Stone early this season represented another mortal blow. A sense of depression settled over the club which the manager could do nothing to shift. "The reason Frank resigned was that he thought he'd done everything he could," Hill explained. "Stuart's influence in the dressing room and on the pitch gave them the little bit that Frank couldn't get out of them."

Behind his repertoire of scowls and pugnacious gestures, Pearce may also turn out to be a thoughtful tactician. For the visit of Arsenal he pulled a pair of surprises by restoring the out-of-favour Bryan Roy, giving him his favourite role as the "shadow striker" behind Kevin Campbell and deploying Dean Saunders as a right wing-back. Des Lyttle, Dave Phillips and Scot Gemmill were relegated to the substitutes, where they were joined by Nigel Clough, signed on a month's loan from Manchester City and returning to, the bench on which he began his, first-team career 12 years ago.

Coming on as a late substitute for the fitful Roy, Clough demonstrated that he has gained nothing in pace during his unhappy sojourns at Anfield and Maine Road. The man he replaced suffered badly from the direct comparison with his former Ajax and Holland team-mate Dennis Bergkamp, who returned from injury and international duty to give a wonderfully composed and inventive performance until he was removed as a precaution after 75 minutes.

By then he had already lost his strike partner, Ian Wright, who gave Arsenal the lead after 64 minutes when he pounced on a loose ball and hammered home from 15 yards, after Mark Crossley had dropped an inswinging cross, but was sent off seven minutes later when he attempted to take quiet retaliation for a second Nikola Jerkan body check by scraping his studs down the Croatian defender's shin. Arsene Wenger, of course, did not see the offence; some managerial habits are international.

In between the goal and the dismissal, Forest had equalised when Saunders made a dazzling run down the right, beating Nigel Winterburn and David Platt to deliver a cross which was turned past John Lukic by Alf-Inge Haaland's crisp volley. A carbon-copy move by the little Welshman almost produced a goal for the disappointing Campbell, who failed to make proper contact, but the winner came a minute from time when the former Arsenal man nudged Pearce's through-ball into the path of Haaland, who took it across the face of the goal before shooting inside the right-hand post. "Alfie was an inspiration," Hill said of the energetic Norwegian. "As he has been for the last three games."

Arsenal, lacking David Seaman, Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and Patrik Vieira, were not up to their recent collective form, although Wenger was pleased by the debut of Remi Garde, his second Frenchman, who quickly found his legs in midfield. Formerly of Strasbourg, Garde cannot boast the fluency or vision of the suspended Vieira, but he looks a better class of journeyman than Arsenal are used to, his industry and all-round relevance quite outshining Platt's negligible contribution.

If this was not the match on which to judge their championship potential, nor was it the right day to proclaim the Forest renaissance. "The mood in the dressing room is that we've won a football match," the faithful Hill reported, "and that's all." But now that the gaffer and the skipper are wearing the same shirt, the players may find it easier to decide whom they are actually "doing it", for.