Archive | December, 2013

Circlesquare: 7 things we learned from this feisty encounter

30 Dec

Sunday 29th December 2013

Nottingham Forest         2.1          Leeds United

(Halford, Derbyshire)                           (McCormack)

  1. Stand up to the bully:    With the return of every Forest fan’s favourite pantomime villain in the shape of Michael Brown and the imposing and respected (at least by me) presence of Rodolph Austin, the personal battles in the engine room had to be won by Reid and Lansbury: and win them they did. Lansbury’s controlled aggression against Austin was a joy to watch and I sense it is rare to see Austin reduced to dropping deeper and deeper in order to find some time and space on the ball without Angela tearing into him and coming away with the ball. Reid simply ran the show in the first half and Brown’s withdrawal midway through the second half was particularly pleasing, signalling as it did Reidy’s dominance in this mini midfield seasoned professional encounter. The personal battles in the middle of the park won by our two lads played a huge part in swinging the game our way.
  2. This circle doesn’t fit its little square:    Greg Halford’s continued deployment up top again paid off handsomely. The last two home games also go to show how fine the line is between a defensive 4-5-1 formation and an attacking 4-3-3. Away from home recently, we have looked anaemic in an attacking sense with support to the top seemingly slow in its appearance with Mackie and Abdoun often withdrawn and used to crowd the midfield.  However, today and against QPR, Mackie and Abdoun seem to have been deployed higher up the pitch, seemingly confident in Reid and Lansbury to seize and maintain control of the middle of the park. Consequently, someone was always buzzing around Halford when he received the ball. His hold up play was impressive and although his finishing on the deck still looks a little awkward, no one can argue with a record of 2 goals in 2 games.  Perhaps improbably, this circle seems to fit snugly into the square.
  3. Reduction of away ticketing:      This season has seen a reduction in the amount of away tickets allocated at the City Ground, much to the angst of followers from Derby County and no doubt, from Leeds United too. Churlish? Maybe. But there can be little doubt that giving over the entire Lower Bridgeford to away fans in the past has inspired the away team. And why wouldn’t it? An away day at Forest previously meant, numbers permitting, a packed stand behind the goal benefiting from the excellent acoustics down there. But those days seem to be over with home fans now allocated half of the Lower Bridgeford. Of course, this is simply circumstantial evidence but it is common for away fans to be tucked away on the corner of a ground in the hope that they will be neither seen nor heard. As a seasoned away traveller, this is irksome but it is also part of the deal of travelling away, making those occasional away wins that little bit sweeter. The Valley and Hillsborough currently offer excellent away support in the shape of entire stands dedicated to away travel. Neither Wednesday or Charlton enjoy anything approximating good home form. Coincidence? Maybe, but we need every little bit of help we can in an effort to make the City Ground a more imposing place.
  4. The lesser spotted 20 goals a season striker:      Yes, that old chestnut. With the re-establishment of a miserly defence, excellently marshalled by Jack Hobbs and ably supported by the young Turks in the shape of Lascelles and Darlow, the need for a striker to finish off the numerous chances we create seems to have dropped down the agenda a little. Obviously, Halford’s mini run has played a part in this but surely no one can see this current deployment as a long term solution. A wider question is whether a team requires such a striker when steady supplies of goals are provided by the midfield. Hearing Billy Davies’ post match comments (a novelty for me), clearly he aims to do some business in January and with the defence currently operating at a high level and excellent support to come from the currently injured Wilson and Collins and in addition, our midfield the envy of most clubs at this level (Chalobah on the bench and Vaughan injured), surely Billy is eyeing up some more firepower having let Tudgay and Miller out on loan in the hope that they will find pastures new. A left back to replace the injured Cohen? Perhaps, but Lichaj looks as good as any right footer in that position. But as we all know, Billy doesn’t seem to like poachers like Billy Sharp, preferring instead someone to work the channels and hold the ball up for attack minded midfielders. Jordan Rhodes? Can’t see it personally – a great poacher but I can’t see Davies adopting totally different tactics in order to get the best out of him, and obviously there is the small matter of agreeing a sum with Blackburn Rovers. Perhaps he sees securing deals with Reid, Vaughan and maybe Chalobah as priorities. One thing’s for sure though, expect a whole bunch of Championship clubs to be lining up to give Premier League benchwarmers an opportunity to show their mettle.
  5. A time for fringe players to make a mark:            With games thick and fast over the Christmas period, fringe players find themselves being given 30 minutes here and there to make an impression. Matt Derbyshire made more than an impression; he made a giant Matt Derbyshire sized hole in Billy Davies’ office door. He clearly knows where the goal is but often looks too lightweight and is easily muscled off the ball. However, there is a train of thought that he just needs a run in the team and a bit of confidence and he’ll fulfil his potential. No better time than now, Matt. Also, Chalobah is finally (and quietly) starting to look like the player we all thought he was after a frankly disastrous start to his loan period here.
  6. Runners and riders:        The Championship table always looks congested and tight, seemingly more so than ever. This victory gives us some breathing space though, placing us 4 points clear of 6th place and also a mathematically pleasing 4 points from 4th place. No doubt this will be temporary though and runners and riders will surely change frequently as the season plays out. As we all know, one club will suffer a debilitating lack of form and confidence and fall away while another will enjoy a meteoric rise from mid table to play-offs and even beyond. The rest? They will probably look something like they do now. Us? Billy Davies almost guarantees you a play-off place: on target.
  7. A team is never more vulnerable as when…..    You know the rest. It’s a cliché because it’s true.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.

27 Dec

Thursday 26th December 2013

Nottingham Forest         2.0          Queens Park Rangers    

(Halford, Reid)

Once in a while, a player will go even further than make a position his own. Occasionally, a player will come to have a specific position christened in honour of him. The most obvious that springs readily to mind is the ‘Makelele’ role which consists of playing in midfield but sitting very deep and screening the two central defenders so much so that a foray forward beyond the halfway line is out of the question. Apparently, no other team prior to 2000 had ever deployed such a midfielder; it’s as if Billy Bremner, Didier Deschamps, Dunga, Lothar Matthaus and our very own John McGovern never even existed. This is not to take away from the achievements and talent of Claude Makelele but just to draw attention to the notion that the position existed prior to Makelele; but kudos to him for defining the role.

However, another springs to mind and is stimulated by tonight’s game: the Paul Warhurst. You remember him? Surely. You know, the defender turned striker who enjoyed moderate success with, amongst others, Oldham Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday. Ian Marshall and Matt Elliott are also worthy of an honourable mention who fit the profile of the solid and lumbering-defender-cum-striker. After tonight’s game, it is surely time to welcome our very own Greg Halford into this specially designed hall of fame. This isn’t the first time he has been deployed in such a position for the Reds and nor indeed his career. Billy has thrown him up top on a sprinkling of occasions, most notably at Watford early in the season when I remember him having a great game there and very nearly snatching a late victory. I think it might well be time for our Greg to step up from the rather withering embodiment of the classic ‘utility’ player to defining the ‘lumbering-but-incredibly-effective-defender-cum-striker’ position. The campaign starts here. Who’s in?

Thought not. Anyway. Makelele (and now Halford) are not the only ones to have a specific position christened in their honour. Here are 6 of the best:

  1. The ‘Franz Carr’: this refers to a winger with electrifying pace and more than a few tricks in their locker and an uncanny ability to sky their final cross high into the crowd behind the goal.
  2. The ‘Kevin Campbell’: this comes to define the player who for some unknown reason, metamorphasises from liability to match winner from one season to the next.
  3. The ‘Danny Sonner’: to refer to a limited and plodding midfielder, perhaps best remembered for missing an open net with a diving header against fierce local rivals.
  4. The ‘Barry Roche’: to define a player who enjoys a spectacular debut only to make no real discernible or long lasting impression hereafter. (Honourable mention to Tony Laughlan too).
  5. The ‘Johnny Metgod’: to refer to an outrageously talented midfielder who struts around the park and uses their skill to disguise a total lack of pace. Will occasionally score unbelievably good goals from direct free-kicks. (Honourable mention to Lewis McGugan)
  6. The ‘Brian Rice’: to denote a lightweight and pace-challenged winger who does very little apart from score perhaps your most memorable goal ever in an FA Cup quarter final.

Tonight’s game sees a brand new category though: the ‘Andy Reid’. This signifies a player who plays to the whistle and cares not a jot that all other players around him have stopped and are positioning themselves for a three kick they thought they were awarded due to an offside decision going their way. (Honourable mention here too to Paolo Di Canio for his similar effort for West Ham United against Manchester United in an FA Cup tie). Rob Green really doesn’t enjoy much luck does he in front of the Trent End goal – I am of course thinking back to David Johnson nicking the ball from him back in his Norwich City days.

Beyond specific positions though, the pride came back tonight and our toys stayed well and truly in our pram with a disciplined and positive performance from kick off. We tend to do this, that is, perform well against the sides towards the top of the table: we have now defeated Leicester City, Derby County, and QPR and also been a little unlucky in only drawing against Burnley. And lest we forget, another clean sheet.

Here’s hoping that Leeds United decide to deploy Ross McCormack in a reverse ‘Greg Halford’ role on Sunday.

Chasing Rainbows

22 Dec

Saturday 21st December 2013

Birmingham City              0.0          Nottingham Forest

Things are never as bad as you think: two clean sheets in a row are not to be sniffed at and we are now unbeaten in 3.

But is it just me or has the excitement, like a long opened half empty bottle of bubbly, fizzled out a little? Has the pride in seeing the reds stride onto the pitch lost a little bit of its magic? I know full well that as a football fan who chooses to follow my team that this inherently involves a huge degree of disappointment and frustration. I KNOW that and you won’t find me equating my season ticket with ‘value for money’. Simply because I choose to spend £29 for the Hillsborough game does not mean that I should expect a better standard of football or indeed, a Forest victory. It’s a game which on some occasions is entertaining and leaves you feeling fulfilled, on other occasions leaves you feeling drained and low (and on the very occasional, rare occasion, is the best thing ever). However, today’s left me feeling a little let down.

Lansbury’s cheeky Gary Crosbyesque ‘goal’ was mildly diverting and back in the day, would have counted. But we all know now that this kind of thing is not tolerated (‘down with this sort of thing’) and will never ever result in the goal standing. It could be argued that this smacked of desperation. Henderson has increasingly impressed in his ability to hold the ball and fight (ahem) for every loose ball but he really didn’t help the cause today by lasting all of 7 minutes: and this after we had just started to make tactical adjustments in an effort to commit men forward and sneak a winner. His tackle looked worse that it was but I suspect it was his reaction that ensured the ref reached for the red: standing up and leaning into Robinson with head held well and truly in head butt mode was not the wisest manoeuvre. Of course, one could make the point that Henderson had no option what with Robinson confronting him aggressively but, well, let’s just say our Darius looked like he was fronting up for a bar room brawl and leave it at that.

Red cards and goalless draws happen: this is an accepted fact. But the manner in which we played the last 12 minutes was a little, shall we say, disappointing for me. A Brum blogger perhaps, gallingly, summed it up thus:

“Following that, though, we were treated to 12 minutes of the Tom Daley Diving School mixed with the Mourinho School of Bench High Dudgeon At Every Decision. Bizarre.”

The diving accusation is a little exaggerated. After all, Lee almost chopped Mackie in two but as for the rest of it? They’ve got a point. We harassed and harangued the referee at every decision: Reid and Lansbury being persistent offenders here. The sight of our entire backroom staff standing up, arms aloft in incredulousness at a decision is becoming as iconic and choreographed  as Tony Adams and co. stood arms aloft. It is this that is making it all a little less fun than it used to be. It is this that is making our club rather unpopular. Should we care? Well, sensitive soul that I am, I do care.

I know it sounds like I’m having a pop at certain people and I have named a few names but we all know that Reid and Lansbury are without doubt quality players, without which we would be much further down the table. Also, their actions can be interpreted as evidence that they really care: I don’t doubt this for a minute. I am just of the rather idealistic notion that I want to have a little more pride in my club than I currently do. I am not ripping my ticket up in anger and this feeling will no doubt pass should we beat QPR on Boxing Day. But victories, defeats and goalless draws come and go: the elusive rainbow for me at the moment is not automatic promotion but feeling the pride again.

Nothing ever happens.

15 Dec

Saturday 14th December 2013

Nottingham Forest         0.0          Ipswich Town

I wasn’t there. But this appears to be what happened:

Forest huffed and puffed. Cox was denied a penalty/Cox dived when he could have done better (delete as appropriate). Ipswich nearly scored. Cox really should have scored. Billy did a press conference. Some fans are sick to the back teeth with him. Some other fans wish everyone would stop moaning and get behind the team.  Darlow’s quiff looked good. Billy Sharp scored for Reading. January transfer window. Unfinished Business. Underperforming. Abdoun talent. Reid quality. Poor home form.

This stuff writes itself.

I’ll make up for this after the Birmingham game. Promise. It’ll all be alright by then. Football, eh? Bloody hell.

Mistletoe and whine

8 Dec

Saturday 7th December 2013

Sheffield Wednesday   0.1          Nottingham Forest

(Cox)

Football rivalry can be a strange and unusual beast. Growing up in Rotherham in the 80s, I hated Sheffield Wednesday. Now admittedly, this may well have been something to do with the following factors: I was young and impressionable, Wednesday were pretty decent and Sheffield United were pretty hopeless.  How things change.

Well, some things do anyway. United, having significantly improved somewhat throughout the 90s and noughties, appear to be sliding back into the dark depths of an extended stay in League 1. Wednesday have certainly had their ups and downs over the years and although they are currently top dogs in the steel city, are having a hard time of it. But you knew that anyway. In some ways, Forest’s rivalry with these clubs has evolved to reflect these changing fortunes. As United became regular and close rivals on the pitch, as did an intense rivalry off the pitch. No doubt Neil Warnock’s leadership of the Blades contributed significantly to the situation: he is a difficult man to like. That and the painful defeat in the play-off semi-final too. However, a healthy degree of respect seems to have evolved recently between Forest and Owls fans. I guess it helps that both clubs share a common enemy in the shape of the Blades. Indeed, both sets of fans singing about how much they hate United were applauded by each other on the sardine-like tram out to Hillsborough.

This was a big game for us. Wednesday rather predictably did that thing that managerless teams do and went and beat Leicester in midweek. We came into this game on a dodgy run of form and outside of the play-offs. This was going to be tricky.

In truth, it wasn’t a great game. Wednesday came close with a header early on but Cox really should have hit the target or passed to either Reid or Abdoun when on the edge of the six yard box. He did neither and the ball ended up in the upper tier. The dynamic of the game changed with an early goal from Cox in the second half. Cox. Again. He’s almost on a bit of a run now and his confidence appears to be growing as he not only continues to hold the ball well but is adding a cutting edge that we thought he always had. A nicely crafted goal.

This took the wind out of the Owls’ sails and although they exerted some sustained pressure, we felt reasonably safe as we defended well. It is clear that Wednesday lack any form of cutting edge up front. Wickham wins headers and is a handful but any form of quality in the final third was often lacking. Nonetheless, the 5 minutes added time seemed to stretch out like a telescopic leg of Viv Anderson; all our own fault really since it was our time wasting tactics that meant it would be 5 minutes in the first place. Still, everyone does it now.

It really is difficult to judge how we are doing this season and divisions have formed recently between fans. For all the brouhaha, we are probably where we thought we would be: in the play-offs. Early season optimism after three straight wins got the better of us and raised expectations. But it was important to win this as without the victory, the poor run of results would no doubt have been magnified. We weren’t outstanding, free-flowing, fluent and Dutch like in our execution of total football. But then, who is? We were solid though and did enough. Pleasingly, Cox scored again, Jara Reyes looked increasingly comfortable in the defensive midfield role and Reid, well, Andy Reid deserves a lot of love. It was also nice to see Dan Harding recover from a shocking first half to turn in a steady second half performance. Perhaps more significantly, the crowd didn’t get on his back or jeer him. Well, not so he could hear anyway. Abdoun? That defensive game is still very much a work in progress.

Normal service resumed. Now let’s sort out that home form.

 

The King is half undressed

4 Dec

Tuesday 3rd December 2013

Millwall               2.2          Nottingham Forest

(Morison, Woolford)      (Reid, Chalobah)

This game had it all: great goals, shocking defending, photographer bust-ups and allegations of racist abuse. And then there’s the fan revelation regarding his chat with the enigmatic Jim price. Wow. Where to start?

Well, the manager would be the obvious starting point. This game has provoked an awful lot of ruminating regarding King Billy’s #unfinishedbusiness and endless pontificating on how he is faring. Is this fair? Resoundingly, yes. But let’s be clear here; this is not a call for the big boot and resulting updates on bookies favourites for the hot seat. What this is though is what it is which all things being equal, remains what it is. Which is? No comment.

I don’t wish to rake over the doubts that many of us had regarding Mr Davies’ re-appointment as manager of our football club. On the field, he almost guarantees you a play-off spot. Off the field? Too much baggage to mention and we all know the issues. The thing is, he very possibly jumped the shark last night in his vociferous demand to know where the guy holding a camera on the side-lines originated from.  He was always going to be a liability from the toe-curling moment when he uttered the word ‘Clough’ in that tub-thumping message broadcast on the big screens just prior to the Bolton match to mark his first game as the returning messiah.

Let’s consider the football. We were poor last night. I mean, really poor. This happens once a in a while though: no matter how much preparation, attention to detail and quality of players at your disposal, sometimes it just doesn’t happen and you chalk it down to being a bad day since deep down, you know that there are far too many variables that go into sport; many beyond anyone’s control. It is a game played by humans who, to be honest, are not always entirely reliable. But let’s dwell on the ‘quality of players at your disposal’ for a moment shall we? Although this might sound arrogant to non-Forest fans, we have an awful lot quality in our squad. Reid, Lansbury, Wilson, Jara Reyes are all able to do a job in the league above. Perhaps just below that standard are Cox, Mackie, Cohen, Majewski, Lichaj, Hobbs, Chalobah, Halford. These guys are all what I would deem to be excellent Championship players. The rest? Darlow, Henderson, Paterson, Collins, Abdoun aren’t bad either! Admittedly, some of these are injured, which certainly doesn’t make a manager’s job any easier. However, injuries happen and although we are enduring some bad luck at the moment, every club does and they part and parcel of the game.  In short, there is a strong argument that this squad of players should be doing better than they currently are.

Maybe it’s just a bad run of form?

Maybe, but this bad run of form has been going on for a while now.

The case for the defence? There is certainly no shortage of goals in this team and the constant cries for us to sign a striker are becoming increasingly misplaced. We score enough goals. The actual defence? It’s a bit shonky at the moment but this happens when you have a very young goalkeeper and central defender in there. Throw in long term injuries to rocks like Cohen and Wilson and the odd error is going to happen. But having looked at specific departments, you have to take a step back and look at the big picture. For whatever reason, it isn’t functioning and if truth be told, it hasn’t been functioning for a while, despite the odd decent performance such as the ones against Leicester and Burnley.

There were times in the game last night when Millwall showed exactly why they were down near the foot of the table: they simply kept giving the ball back to us in their own half and allowing us to apply pressure; they were rubbish. (Please don’t tell any Millwall fan I wrote that. I mean, obviously they were better than us and fully deserved their draw but for a period in the second half, they really did seem to be on the verge of throwing it all away and a decent team would have punished them for it. But don’t tell anyone about what I said about Millwall being rubbish; I didn’t mean it like that. They can track you down these days with clever hackers and stuff and they’ll be at my door demanding to arrange a meeting with the erudite blogger in which he can either retract his comments or something will jolly well have to be done.) But I digress. For once. The issue is that Mr Davies has been playing a very dangerous game for a while now and it might just well be that he’s not quite as good as he thinks he is. Good, but not that good.

And as for the good name of Nottingham Forest Football Club and the damage to that fine institution by the comings, goings, bans, antics and general shenanigans…well, enough have been written about that already by persons finer and more knowledgeable than this humble fan. Us football fans are generally a fickle bunch who will just about tolerate most things as long as we win more than we lose. But it seems that, as Randall said in Monsters Inc, the winds of change are a blowing and the modern football fan has just about had it up to here with people playing hard and fast with our long established traditions: note the unrest at Hull City and Cardiff City. Although there is a degree of acceptance and pragmatism amongst fans regarding changes, most are far from happy and just wait and see what happens if/when top league status is lost.

The solution? I certainly don’t subscribe to the ‘wait until January and get some better players in’ school of thought. I think that we’ve got more than enough quality and have spent more than our fair share already. I know it seems radical but I’d like to see the management get a little more out of the current crop that we have.

In fact, on reflection, I don’t know much. But I do know that the answer isn’t Steve Cotterill though. Or Gary Megson. Or Joe Kinnear.

That much I do know.

But don’t tell Billy I wrote this. I don’t want him coming round to my place demanding to know where I’m from or who I’m with. I can’t deal with him AND the Millwall fans. One at a time, perhaps but not altogether.

Slip sliding away

1 Dec

Saturday 30th November 2013

Nottingham Forest         2.3          Reading

(Cox, Henderson)                            (Pogrebnyak, Gorkks, Obita)

Since you are taking the time to read this, I can only assume that like me, the thought of not only missing a home game but furthermore, being without any access to the game’s proceedings and only being able to find the actual final score a whole 12 hours after the final whistle is one that is at best, difficult to comprehend and at worst, sacrilege. Yet this is the position I found myself in on Saturday morning as I drove 5 miles or so from the isolated village of Ilam into Ashbourne with two objectives: firstly to get a toothbrush and secondly to acquire knowledge of how we fared against Reading.

As the bars on my phone started to show a signal being acquired, I also locked onto a faint signal from the beloved BBC Radio Notts. It was 8.30 am. Surely they would report the score.

They did.

Morning ruined.

Grumpiness accelerated.

Let’s backtrack a little. A weekend staying in a Youth Hostel and being out of range of any twitter, radio or anything remotely approximating a signal on Friday night was, whisper it, quite a pleasurable revelation.  I couldn’t do anything about the performance or score and moreover, I was unable to watch #NFFC go into meltdown post game. The result happened, therefore it was.

So as I spent my Saturday afternoon rambling up hill and down dale, I was chilled. We’d lost. Disappointing but always a tough game against Reading, especially with their army of ex-trickies no doubt keen to put on a show. And had I heard right that Cox and Henderson had scored? That’s a good sign, I mused. Cox on a scoring spree and also coming back from an obviously shocking opening period. And we do have a packed treatment table at the moment.

And then I thought some more.

I bet we’ve dropped down a few places in the league. I bet we’ve dropped out of the play-offs. And we do have a packed treatment table at the moment.

Sunday evening. Driving home from Derbyshire to south Lincolnshire. Starving hungry. Frankie & Bennie’s sign seductively flirting with my families stomachs. Location? Pride Park.

As we dined in the shadow of aforementioned stadium, I was genuinely unaware that Derby had recorded an impressive victory against Wigan to jump above us in the league. I say impressive since Wigan’s first half showing against us is, to my mind, the most impressive team we have come up against. Well, them and Yeovil. Always Yeovil.

And then The Guardian and lifelong tricky tree Daniel Taylor does exactly what Bros sung about all those years ago: put the cat right in amongst the pigeons with a few heartfelt tweets, correctly pointing out that we had made little progress in terms of league position since this time last year and that the club had not exactly covered itself in glory in terms of dignity with its dealings with the press and management issues. What was quite interesting was the response: some in total agreement and others engaging in keyboard warrior mode and using some very naughty words. Not for the first time in recent times, Forest fans were divided. And it all seems to centre around one man: Step forward Mr Billy Davies.

What to say? Well, it’s complicated isn’t it? There always was a dreaded feeling as to how it might all pan out should results start to deteriorate. Many have had their say on this, me included and the Seat Pitch match report on the Reading game by Steve Wright puts it rather eloquently: the pressure is very much on this season, poor results inevitably lead to talk of even more signings and well, Mr Davies is a difficult man to warm to, even when we are winning!

But chill out! It’ll all be ok! After all, easy away games against teams at the foot of the table coming right up. By Saturday afternoon, we’ll be laughing at our so-called mini crisis as we reflect upon 6 points collected and power back into the play-offs.  And even better, I’m going to Hillsborough on Saturday and when I’ve seen us away at Wigan and Yeovil, we’ve been……Scratch that, in any case, we always perform against teams at the foot of the table on our travels….don’t we?

Don’t we?

Don’t…..

We….?

(Yeovil)