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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 08/11/03, 3.00pm
Nottingham Forest
Hypochondria gene
By Matt Rowson

I've been feeling crap all week. This wasn't helped by a long and testing trip to and from Preston on Tuesday, as you might expect, but there's more than that. My knees hurt. Not in an agonising or debilitating way. But they hurt, and it was annoying.

I inherited the hypochondria gene from my Dad; hypochondria and diabetes is a potent old cocktail as my wife will confirm (with a roll of the eyes). This malady was amateurly diagnosed as all sorts of things over the course of a couple of days... I even considered some exercise in contemplation that my svelte figure is nonetheless perhaps carrying the odd pound or two and maybe this was the problem.

I then discovered that my boss's young daughter had been to hospital with a temperature, hot flushes and a blind refusal to bend one knee. There's a virus going round, apparently. Fluey symptoms and a soreness of the joints.


Still, every cloud and all that. A late glance at Forest's official website for any breaking news since the main trawl for info earlier in the week suggests that the flu's been hitting Forest's squad hard as well. Mathieu Louis-Jean and our old mate Gareth Taylor missed the 4-1 capitulation to Walsall on Tuesday; more players have also come down this week and only thirteen first-teamers trained on Thursday.

If Ward doesn't make it, Irishman Barry Roche will make his third first team start. German Pascal Formann is the other keeper in the squad, and would presumably graduate to the bench.

Forest have problems at the back... Tuesday's defeat was contributed to by some catastrophic defending that even that most partisan of organs, the official site, condemned in withering terms. All season, indeed, the propensity to stuff up at critical moments has been significant in keeping Forest in mid-table rather than up with the movers and shakers. This Saturday injury and illness looks like restricting Forest further, which should be a source of encouragement.

Michael Dawson is perhaps the most significant absentee; the highly rated centre-back, impressive in this fixture last season, is out with a hamstring injury. This should leave veteran Des Walker alongside John Thompson in the middle... the versatile Irishman has looked uncomfortable at times this season, and one report suggests that he's happier at right back. Chris Doig, who was rated here a couple of seasons ago, has been recalled from loan at Northampton and was put straight into the squad and on the bench on Tuesday. Young Australian David Tarka is also absent, with his national U20 squad in the United Arab Emirates (where presumably it's a bit 'otter, arf arf)

Both of Forest's first-choice full backs missed Tuesday's game... Belgian left back Davy Oyen is out with a knee injury, whilst Louis-Jean succumbed to the flu. Attacking Wes Morgan has been covering on the left, but his excessive rightfootedness has been a bit of a liability. He moved over to the right on Tuesday, with Scot Gregor Robertson coming in but having a shaky evening on the left. Paul Devlin take note.

In midfield Forest appear further restricted by injury and the flu. Manchester United loanee Michael Stewart limped off on Tuesday with a knock, and both Eoin Jess and Danny Sonner have missed training through illness. Perhaps most critically Andy Reid, fast developing into one of the best midfielders in the division with eight goals this season and outstanding at Vicarage Road last season, is doubtful with a groin strain.

This leaves Scottish international Gareth Williams, another loanee Leeds United's listless Stephen McPhail, former Stoke man Brynjar Gunnarsson and German Eugen Bopp, who impressed with two goals in a League Cup defeat to Pompey last week.

Up front much responsibility lies on the increasingly dependable shoulders of eleven-goal Marlon Harewood, with David Johnson out with a broken leg and Gareth Taylor - improving, despite Forest reportedly wasting his aerial strength - still under the weather. In Taylor's absence Jess played up behind Harewood... eighteen year-old Craig Westcarr is the only other striker in the squad with first team experience, but he's only played eight minutes so far this season for the first string. Critically, no Danny Webber. If the roles were reversed and he was a player we'd made optimistic bids for you would bank on him scoring against us. Here's hoping.

We've not conceded a goal in our last three visits to the City Ground, and whilst this will never be an easy fixture things could have been a lot harder for us. If David Healy's late goal on Tuesday hasn't deflected our encouraging momentum too much this could be a bit of a game.

As for the flu bug... well, if it helps us towards three points on Saturday then maybe the gym subscription it unconsciously provoked will be forgiven.