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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 April, 2003, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Hart in the right place
By Stuart Roach

Nottingham Forest manager Paul Hart raises his players' spirits
Paul Hart gives his players a pep talk after the defeat at Reading
Paul Hart is experienced enough to know when a cuddle is preferable to a clip round the ear for his young Nottingham Forest stars.

Forest have slipped down the First Division play-off pecking order after taking only a single point from their last four games - all against promotion rivals.

But their latest setback, Friday's 1-0 defeat at Reading, prompted Hart to form a post-match huddle on the pitch in front of Forest's travelling army of 3,000 fans.

With Forest's destiny still in their own hands, Hart is confident of picking his players up for home games against Burnley and Millwall in a crucial week at the top of the First Division.

"We know what we have got to do," said Hart, who has performed miracles in transforming Forest's fortunes since taking over from David Platt in August 2001.

Norwich W 4-0
Ipswich W 4-3
Leicester L 0-1
Wolves D 2-2
Sheff Utd L 0-1
Reading L 0-1

"The players are fine. We have got a game on Monday and I wanted to make sure that they knew they have done well.

"It's not the first time I've organised a huddle at the end of the game. I quite often go to see the players on the pitch, but not all the time. It's not a regular occurrence."

The last four games without a victory were preceded by back-to-back wins over Ipswich and Norwich, who remain just outside the play-off places.

Those results could prove crucial in the coming weeks, though Hart remains cautious when discussing his side's play-off hopes.

Burnley H April 21
Millwall H April 26
Rotherham A May 4

"I have never been confident of making the play-offs and anybody who is is a fool. We weren't one of the clubs shouting that we were going to make the play-offs at the start of the season.

"But when you look at the games we have just had, who has had a stiffer run than that? "We have played one game every two-and-a-half days and have played all the top teams.

"The games won't get easier. At this stage of the season nobody lies down do they?

Nottingham Forest boss Paul Hart
Paul Hart is proud of his young squad
"We have done extremely well and it would be great to get there but that question has been posed to me over the last two months and I think I have given the same answer."

But should Forest make the play-offs then survive the ultimate test of nerve in reaching the Premiership, Hart believes his talented young squad can blossom on English football's biggest stage.

"I think we have got players who are equipped to play in the Premiership. Experience comes and you learn as you go.

"This lot have done so much in the last 18 months, they have been thrown in and have coped with every situation.

"It's not easy getting beaten but I look at them and think I am pretty lucky to have a group of players like that."


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