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Nationwide Division One, 21/10/00
Nottingham Forest
Dreams can come true
By Matt Rowson

Strange things, dreams. Tricks played upon you by your over-active imagination, devilish creations of your subconscious hovering somewhere between fiction and the factual suggestions on which they are based.

How many times have you woken in the morning with a start and taken a few seconds to regain a grasp of what's real and what isn't? That you are not running down the street with no clothes on, that your sister hasn't married Iggy Pop, that Kevin Bacon isn't working in the newsagents at the end of the road.

But what determines what is real and what isn't? Is it having the presence of mind to think "Hold on, dark bedroom and duvet on the floor real; hordes of screaming rats chasing you through a sewer not real"? In which case isn't the line a little blurred, a little arbitrary? What if I'd had that "hold on, this is real" thing whilst charging down the sewer away from the rats? Certainly, however uncertain Forest fans are of the suitability of their current manager, they can think themselves fortunate that I did not, in the middle of one night last week, decide that Mark Lawrenson really was the new incumbent of the Forest hot seat, rather than a worrying detail in an uncomfortable night's sleep.

Such trains of thought can lead us to question our very being. You don't need to have watched/read "The Matrix" for it to occur to you that things aren't quite right somehow. Surely you've had more than the occasional dream which has seemed far more real than the bedroom you woke up in?

Watford supporters had cause to pursue this line of thinking last season during the apparently endless Stern John transfer saga. First he was coming, then he wasn't, then he might come at the end of the US Season, then he wasn't because he wanted too brief a contract. The episode was so prolonged that, in the absence of Match-of-the-Day type evidence to the contrary, the (virtual) striker's very existence was questioned by many.

Now, it appears, he plays for Nottingham Forest. Or rather, he doesn't. His absence from team line-ups, oft due to "injury", sometimes to "international call-ups", sometimes completely unexplained contributes to the nagging suspicion that nobody's even seen this guy yet. Sure, he appears to have come on as a sub during the recent defeat to Fulham, but have you spoken to anyone who was there? Who actually saw him? Or now thinks he did?

Whatever, the supposed Trinidadian has been conveniently absent from the Forest line-up for the last few weeks, so we have no evidence as to satisfy our own eyes. If he does exist, then Newcastle are already sniffing around and illustrating precisely why GT refused to sign him on a short-term deal. If he doesn't exist then, of course, not signing him was still precisely the right thing to do, although on the evidence of a couple of weeks ago Birmingham City for one could still do with having a look at/for him.

Forest's form this season has been mixed; whilst away form, culminating in an impressive 4-3 win at Oakwell on Saturday, has been formidable, the soporific home form of the Forest side has led to verbose criticism from a fan base not known for their patience or positive thinking. Eviction from the Worthington Cup at the hands of Darlington won't have helped, and there were more than a few Forest fans that were less than dismayed at the brief rumours linking Platt with the vacant national position.

Not that there are no grounds for optimism at the City Ground. The club's prodigious youth system for one, under the control of former defender Paul Hart, is effortlessly producing talented young players who make up a fair proportion of David Platt's squad.

At the other extreme, Dave Beasant is still between the sticks at the age of forty-one (and I'm sure he's been that old for at least ten years). In the absence of Paddy Roche, former Watford youth keeper Stephen Collis provides cover, presumably on the advice of Forest's reserve team coach Jimmy Gilligan.

Given the absence of hip-fracture victim Jon Olav Hjelde and another long-term absentee Colin Calderwood, expect Forest to field a young back line. Frenchman Matthieu Louis-Jean will probably play on the right, a solid defensive player if unambitious coming forward. On the left, one-time regular Jim Brennan, a pacy Canadian once with Bristol City, has been superseded by Irish teenager Keith Foy, a product of Paul Hart's academy.

In the centre, Tony Vaughan, once of Manchester City, will return from suspension for Tuesday night's tie at Bolton. He will be partnered either by Scottish under-21 man Chris Doig or young Welsh international Christian Edwards. Other options at the back include former Villa utility man Ricardo Scimeca and sulky Frenchman Bernard Allou. Australian Gareth Edds is another youngster on the edge of the team.

In midfield, Forest have no shortage of ability. Chris Bart-Williams is turning into the player he always threatened to be, and scored twice at Oakwell. Welsh international Andy Johnson holds a regular place in the centre, but he is rumoured not to see eye-to-eye with Platt, and may be the player to eventually lose out to new loan signing, DC United's winger Ben Olsen.

David Prutton has been playing slightly out of position on the right side, but has made the most dramatic impact of the young players in the side, forcing himself into the England U21 squad. A talented player with a good engine, his one obvious failing is a poor disciplinary record that saw him suspended from Saturday's game having picked up too many yellow cards.

On the left side of midfield has been Alan Rogers, originally a full back and not the most reliable crosser of the ball, if a wholehearted competitor. Other midfield options include Scimeca, young Scotsman Gareth Williams, and the lanky Gary Jones who has failed to impress since his summer arrival from Tranmere.

Up front, last season's 300,000 signing from Grimsby Jack Lester is winning friends with some committed, hardworking displays. Alongside him on Saturday was another loanee, Bradford's Robbie Blake. Reports of a wholehearted performance on Saturday will surprise Valley Parade regulars used to rather less commitment, but the memories of being torn apart by Blake at Bradford two season's ago will be fresh enough for us to be wary.

Scot Dougie Freedman seems to have the Forest support split evenly into proponents and detractors, whilst Marlon Harewood is another option, as would Stern John be if he actually exists. Watch out for his unseen runs into the box. Or not.

Forest's home form has been poor, but only Fulham of their visitors will have come looking to put pressure on them. Forest's pressurising may be better suited to a counter-attacking game and we should take nothing for granted here, particularly after the result at the Reebok on Tuesday night.

But even if Watford run out convincing winners, Forest fans could do with gaining a little perspective. Half-hearted home performances nobody likes, but with the prospect of a 12m lawsuit from Forest's much reviled former owners looming amidst allegations that Nigel Doughty's take-over was illegal, things could get much much worse before they get better.

You can always close your eyes and pretend it's all a dream I suppose....