Nottingham Forest 0 Ipswich Town 1
A SEASON which started amid such optimism for Nottingham Forest is dwindling into a winter of discontent. This sixth League defeat in seven matches has left David Platt's side one point above the First Division relegation zone, a region they thought they had left behind when they bade farewell to the Premiership.
While Ipswich capitalised on their promotion rivals' fallow weekend - Huddersfield were the only other top-nine side to win - to take fourth place with a measured performance capped by Matt Holland's 79th-minute winning goal, Forest's predicament is becoming serious.
Platt has followed an ill-fated spell at Sampdoria with an inauspicious start to life in English management. He has spent £8.5 million but is evidently still uncertain of his best formation.
Ipswich's strengths are well known and their 3-5-2 shape a tried and trusted mechanism for their slick passing game. It has taken them to the last three play-offs and, after this third successive win, once more they look well prepared to finish in the top six.
Yet midway through the first half yesterday, Forest abandoned their 4-4-2 formation. As Garry Birtles, a member of their European Cup-winning sides of two decades ago, said: "Confidence is lacking and that's a crucial factor. Forest started 4-4-2 and yet after 20 minutes reverted to three centre backs. That's bound to lift the opposition. The sooner people realise that Forest are not too good to go down, the better."
Forest have won just three of their last 16 games and with Fulham, Blackburn, Birmingham and Charlton on their Christmas fixture card, the festivities may be rather muted on this side of the Trent.
The one bright spot for the home side was another lively performance from Stern John, watched by the Trinidad and Tobago international manager. The £1.5 million striker, after lobbing one effort on to the top of Richard Wright's net, went even closer to scoring in the 23rd minute when drilling a low shot against the foot of a post.
But Ipswich always looked likelier to score and Forest were indebted to the recalled Dave Beasant, 40, who saved from James Scowcroft's diving header and David Johnson's volley during the opening period.
Mikkel Beck, generally inept, managed one soaring header from Andy Gray's centre, which Wright tipped over in spectacular fashion but Ipswich maintained their approach and their self-belief was rewarded when Holland was on hand, after Beasant parried Johnson's near-post header from Wayne Brown's centre, to sweep in his fourth goal of the season from close range.
"There have been a number of teams who have struggled against our system and had to change," said George Burley, the Ipswich manager. "But we know the system we like to play and hopefully, we can go one step further this season and finish in the top two."