Peter Ward – one of Forest’s tiny terrors

For those heartbroken at his departure, look away now.

When Peter Ward made the cover of Shoot! magazine on 6th December 1980, it was as a Nottingham Forest striker rather than a Brighton one:

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Inside, was a fascinating feature talking up the Peter Ward – Ian Wallace duo as part of a new trend in smaller, mobile strike partnerships:

At a time when £1 million can just about fetch a player capable of those mystical qualities, ball control and vision, Nottingham Forest threaten to unleash a veritable basement bargain on the unsuspecting First Division.

The sale of Peter Ward from Brighton to Forest for a reported £400,000 came as no surprise to those who became ultimately bored with the on-off transfer saga.

But what will take away a few breaths is the opinion of assistant-manager Peter Taylor who believes that Ward is only one step away from becoming one of the best strikers in the game.

It was Taylor who signed Ward from Burton Albion during his reign as Brighton manager. For a while it seemed that he had unearthed a pot of gold as Ward revealed definite qualities of natural goalscoring instinct.

This season, however, the boy who became the idol of the Sussex Coast fired too many blanks for the liking of Albion manager Alan Mullery, who seemed almost relieved to complete the deal.

Forest unveiled their tiny-tot strike force of Scottish international lan Wallace and the unpredictable Ward against Leeds at the City Ground on October 22, and after goals by Wallace and Ken Burns sealed a 2-1 win, Taylor said: “Ward tore Leeds apart. His speed, skill and eye for openings proved too much for them.

“People ask me why we play with two strikers, neither of whom tops 5′ 8” tall. But if you were to spend your time looking for a really tall striker to complete the target-man and partner combination you could be looking for ever.

“There is a lot of nonsense talked about how tall strikers should be. The important question for any managerial team is… can this lad play? In the case of Peter Ward the answer is definitely “yes’.

“In fact I am convinced that when he moves from Brighton back to his native Midlands and settles down, he will make a lot of people sit up and marvel at his ability.

“We are more interested in the basic ability of our two strikers. And there can be no question that they pose nightmares for big defenders. Players with the qualities of Wallace and Ward will always get goals and always worry defences.

“I don’t think people know just how good a player Ward is. It is just a matter of time before he settles into the Forest way of things, and then we will see him at his best.

“The fact that neither of these players happens to be a giant is neither here nor there. Ability is the key, not stature. And these players have the ability.” Ward scored his first goal for Forest against Southampton on November 1 and looks more at home with every game. But what problems do the Forest mini-duo pose for the First Division’s top defenders?

Arsenal’s giant Scottish centre-half Willie Young believes that the Forest duo are a sign of the times.

Young said: “I probably speak for all central defenders when I say that we generally prefer to play against the bigger strikers, the likes of John Toshack, Derek Dougan and Joe Jordan. But times are changing and so is football.

“If you look around the League you will find less of the big target players than, say, five years ago.

The modern striker has to be sharp, mobile and capable of pulling a defence out of position.
The days of the big man standing in the box waiting for a high ball to knock down are fast fading.

“Down the road at Tottenham they use Garth Crooks and Steve Archibald.

“Andy Gray and John Richards at Wolves are very sharp and mobile, Kenny Dalglish and Dave Johnson at Liverpool move all over the place. These sides don’t use a battering ram player down the middle.

“Ward and Wallace will make it difficult for big defenders because they are quick and skilful and can turn you if you lose concentration. But teams will still knock in the high balls and put you under pressure. I would play against them the same way I would play against any forwards. Perhaps light-weight players like them find it difficult to break down a tight defence, but give them room and they will create problems.”

Winter pitches and tight marking may combine to upset Forest’s plans now that the running power and height of Garry Birtles no longer provides alternatives. But knowing Clough and Taylor it is more likely that Ward and Wallace will buzz and sting more often than they are swatted.

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In his first season at the City Ground, Peter Ward came off the bench for the last eight minutes of Forest’s 4-1 victory over Brighton in March 1981. However, his impact on the match was minimal. It was the clash the following season, at the Goldstone on 20th February 1982, when he truly showed his class against his former team mates. In and out of the Midlands side at the time, Ward capped a fine performance by scoring Nottingham Forest’s winner in a 1-0 away win. As John Vinicombe wrote:

Before any side can beat Forest, they have to get past Shilton, and this proved beyond Albion’s capabilities. Not that Shilton alone stood between them and victory; on the contrary. But he was always there when required and in the meantime it was Ward, often quite scintillating, who plotted the downfall of his old club. Once he had settled down he led them a merry dance and impudently settled the issue with a header, which has never been his strong department.

Ward’s goal followed a Bryn Gunn cross after John Robertson’s corner. That he scored it with his head rubbed salt into the wounds for Steve Foster, often so dominant in the air. Foster did show he could match Ward’s pace in the second half, recovering well after Ward had stole the ball from him. However, in front of England manager Ron Greenwood, Ward’s artistry and aggression appeared to damage Foster’s World Cup chances.

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