Archive | March, 2014

A Good Night For A Fist Fight

26 Mar

Tuesday 25th   March 2014

 

Nottingham Forest                       0.1      Charlton Athletic                         

(Cousins)

 With spring in the air and a cloud of optimism in abundance, spirits were high after recent events involving he who shall not be named. Daffodils waved happily at me from the roadside, season ticket stub number 1 was required and our fancy big screens had some new graphics of the players. All was set for the players to shed their shackles and express themselves.

The alternative to this was that we may just see one big group sulk. It’s seems fairer to say that in actual fact, we saw a group of players lower than a snake’s belly and utterly lacking in confidence. The usual decent start once again failed to yield a goal. Our 4-4-2 line-up featured the defensive minded Jara and Greening operating in tandem and Mackie and Abdoun hugging the touchlines; this meant that there was a spectacularly big gap in the middle of the park, especially with Cox and Henderson lumbering around up top. Consequently, it was difficult to play out from the back as no one seemed willing to move into the wide open space and demand the ball. Jara managed to misplace three reasonably simple passes in the space of about a minute and the tone was set: what happened to the scampering terrier like right back of last season? What happened to the accomplished Xavi-like display against QPR recently? I want that Jara back, please.

It wasn’t all bad though and with a little bit of luck, Cox’s effort would have gone in off the post rather than rebound out. But it didn’t and half time finally arrived. I noticed that a chap called Brett Williams has got himself sent off for Aldershot: there’s a name for readers of a certain age…

I’d like to report that the second half saw renewed effort with a bucket load of vigour and a dash of vim. But it didn’t. In fact, it got worse.

Cox attempted the rudimentary task of controlling a ball played into his feet but somehow managed to deflect the ball into the path of a Charlton player so he could set his own team off into a counter attack. Not to be outdone, Henderson deftly eased a defender out of the way in order to give himself a run on goal only for the ball to hit him on the back of his head and land perfectly for the aforementioned defender to clear. Minutes later, the shepherd’s hook metaphorically hauled him off to be replaced by the lesser spotted Djebbour. Sensing the kill, the Addicks strolled upfield after midfield dithering between Paterson and Lascelles, fashioned a chance and Jordan Cousins calmly slotted in after the post was rattled. Jara and Mackie invoked the spirit of David Batty and Graeme Le Saux and had a full on spat in the middle of the pitch. We’re in this together….

The squabbles continued as Djebbour bought a free kick on the edge of the box and virtually pushed Paterson put of the way to take it. Someone had a word and Paterson eventually did step up and skied it. He promptly got an earful from the murder of red shirts gathered in the box.

It is difficult to measure how bad it was. As bad as the Derby debacle? Well, we only conceded one. As bad as the epic goalless run under Cotterill? Not yet but it’s shaping up that way. As bad as the very dark days under David Platt? Not quite. But it wasn’t good and in the absence of a focal point at which to vent anger, the players took the brunt of it: Jara, Cox and Lascelles were at the front of the firing line.

To make it even more galling, results went out way tonight and unbelievably, despite our wretched form, we are still in with a shout of the play-offs. But that’s only theoretical as the reality is that we are a bit of a shambles at the moment and Charlton only really needed to be competent to snatch a valuable away win. At least all is well off the pitch though…

It’s funny how daffodils and other flowers bloom so quickly at this time of year only to shed their petals so soon after. It would be a painstaking task to stick all the petals back on but someone is going to need to pick them up from the floor and nurture them if we want them to bloom again.

 

Billy, don’t be a hero

24 Mar

He came. He saw. He sacked left, right and centre. He spent. He moaned. He produced some good results. He produced some dire results. He got banned…lots.

He fell well short of conquering too.

Second comings are always a bit of an anti-climax though aren’t they? First comings are always going to hold the aces in these situations and wipe the floor with any Johnny-come-lately Second comings: that’s why they’re comings of the second rate, and not the first. With many fans still reeling in a world of pain and dark depression following Saturday’s events, emotions are still raw and anger is in abundance. The civil war that broke out amongst us in recent weeks turned out to be a one sided scuffle in the end as defections from the pro-Billy camp to the anti-Billy camp were numerous. He certainly made his mark since returning in February 2013.

Whole books could (and probably will be) written about Mr Davies’ stints at the helm. But let’s keep things on the pitch for now and reflect on what he did achieve and the happy times we all spent together for a moment. Long unbeaten runs seemed to be his forte and he enjoyed a few of these. At times we looked imperious and that away win at West Bromwich Albion is fondly remembered. Personally, the away win at Charlton Athletic on the occasion of his very first game in charge stands out for me as it gave hope that we could actually survive that season. Notable mentions too for the home win against Bristol City that virtually ensured survival that season and obviously, the emphatic home wins against Leicester City and Derby County – all in his first stint as manager. With Mr Davies in charge of your club in the Championship, you are virtually guaranteed a play-off place.

But there’s the rub….or at least, one of many rubs.

Whilst home games were always good value and at times, scintillating, away games were generally dour affairs in which we always seemed to play more reactionary than proactively. Although we got a draw, the goalless draw at Birmingham City just before Christmas springs readily to mind as a classic example of an away game in which a slither of adventure and positivity might well have yielded more than the away point and turgid performance that we got; I’m sure there are countless more. Of course, the man himself would argue that home wins and away draws get you promoted – I’ve got no truck with that but you also need a plan B for when you keep getting beaten away from home and for when your home form slips – which it inevitably will. This is when the manager really earns his corn in adapting tactics in order to stop the rot.

Speaking of tactics, the big occasion has arguably seen him left wanting. Blackpool outplayed us in both legs in that epic play-off semi-final; we all wondered whether the recall of a still clearly unfit Paul McKenna for the away leg was a key call in losing the tie up at Bloomfield Road. And then there’s the dreadful performance against Swansea City in the home leg of our other glorious play-off semi-final defeat: against 10 men for 85 minutes but unable to get any change out of a well drilled Swans defence. To be fair to Mr Davies, he came mighty close to overturning it in the second leg with the pace of Tyson deployed to hit City on the break which nearly yielded the opening goal. But within the blink of an eye, we were two down. His deployment of Majewski and Earnshaw from the bench so very nearly turned the game in our favour again. But alas, too little too late.

Or was he just a little unlucky in coming up against two quality teams in their prime? Certainly in the case of Swansea City lead by Brendan Rodgers, yes. But in the case of Ian Holloway’s Blackpool? Beatable.

Fair play to Mr Davies for coming so close at the start of his return too for turning in a stretch of victories that took us from flailing around in mid table to within a whisker of the play-offs. But again, the big occasion at home against Leicester City in a winner takes all game saw us once again, falling short and being tactically outmanoeuvred. Perhaps a pattern is developing here.

For me, the defining moment where he successfully alienated himself from the vast majority of fans was precisely 50 seconds after the half-time whistle at Turf Moor as he trudged towards the tunnel, handily located in the middle of the sizeable away support, having overseen a comprehensive spanking. With some wit, we sang, ‘It is what it is, it is what it is, we’re Nottingham Forest, it is what it is’ in reference to his repeated and nonsensical mutterings for the in house Forest You Tube press conferences.

He was not amused.

Of course, who would be as you prepare to enter a dressing room in an effort to turn around one hell of a mess? But all he needed to do was show us that he was on it and that he had a plan and that he was determined to do something about it. A brief applause? A brief wave to acknowledge that we were rubbish?

In turn, we were not amused.

In many ways, Darius Henderson seems to epitomise his second stint. On occasions, Henderson was incredibly effective in getting the job done as he’d come off the bench and make some sort of vital contribution to securing a point or even a win. At times, we’d pine for Henderson to start and think he was the answer to all our goal scoring problems. But when he did, we were reminded that actually, he was mostly just hot air and bluster. He’d give away needless free kicks, he’d get involved in long running arguments with opposition defenders and even go down needlessly in the box when it looked easier to score. He’d square up to anyone at the slightest provocation and get himself sent off just when we needed him at this best. Then he’d redeem himself and score a cracker. But the next week, he’d be useless and cumbersome and look like the last guy you’d want to bump into down at your local. Remind you of anyone?

And then there’s the off pitch shenanigans…

Again, plenty has been written already (least of all by me) regarding this matter but put simply, he managed to take our reputation as a lot of people’s favourite second clubs (largely thanks to the legacy of a certain Brian Clough), crumple it up into a tight ball and hurl it ominously towards the trash. This is going to take some retrieving, uncrumpling and even ironing to get it back to what it was.

Will we miss him? At some stage and on occasions, I guess we will. Should we manage to get ourselves in a mess at the foot of the table, no doubt we’ll remember how he rescued us from relegation to League 1. We might also just miss the familiarity of being challenging for the play-off places.

But I won’t miss much else about him. Life is too short to bear grudges and I wish him success in his next enterprise – whatever or wherever that will be since he has surely managed to besmirch his reputation for good now. I won’t miss the constant bleating about more signings and more players required: his policy on signings seems to have been more scattergun in approach with the policy being to dip a huge net into a pool and see what you come out with. Let’s hope Rafik Djebbour isn’t another Robbie Findley.

The past is very important to us Forest fans: we were very good and yes, we will keep bleating on about it, especially when we currently aren’t very good. It’s not that we expect to be that good again but that we, like other football fans, want an identity, something that makes us proud to be Forest fans. Under Billy Davies, especially towards the end, I didn’t feel much pride – in fact, I felt embarrassed about Darius Henderson’s (see what I mean??!!) handled goal against Middlesbrough. It would be nice to feel that pride again rather than feeling the need to defend or explain your manager’s rantings and downright odd behaviour. He recently claimed that, “the innocent will not be harmed.” Did he mean that all those who voiced an opinion against him were in some way guilty? Am I one of the guilty who, by logical extension, will be harmed?

Who knows? I do know that although it occasionally seemed right, we weren’t right for him…and he wasn’t right for us. It would be nice to think that he will reflect upon his time here, especially his second stint, as an opportunity missed to prove himself as a top manager. ‘If only I’d have got on with the job instead of spending all my energy picking fights and arguments with everyone around me.’

But he won’t. And that’s a shame. We’ll move on. He should too.

Days like these

22 Mar

Saturday 22nd   March 2014

Derby County                     5.0      Nottingham Forest                      

(Bryson 3, Hendrick, Russell)                                         

On days like these, you have to give credit to the team that were better than yours and accept the result with good grace and hopefully, a touch of class.

Days like these come around once in a while in football and you have to remember that they are part of the game: they remind you to enjoy and cherish those victories that do come your way.

Days like these really do test your faith in whether being an obsessive compulsive fan is really worth it.

Days like these make you wish you weren’t an obsessive compulsive fan.

Days like these are rubbish: but not all days are like this in football.

There will no doubt be more days like these. 

But there will also be better days than days like these.

(Well there must be, mustn’t there?)

Teenage Kicks

18 Mar

Sixth Form                          2.2          Staff

(Cowles, Graham)                           (J Smith, Marples)

Let there be no doubt or dispute: this was an eagerly anticipated encounter. Hundreds of keen spectators poured over the bridge and jostled to secure their front row places for this clash between two behemoths of South Lincolnshire football.  For one team, the motivation was clear: an opportunity to show their more experienced opponents how the new generation play the game. For the other team, the avoidance of complete and total embarrassment was all that was sought – but this desire can be a powerful factor and should not be underestimated.

It was all to play for and the stakes could not be higher.

Sixth form team

Staff team

Leading up to this game, the Staff team had not enjoyed the best preparations. A request for a week long training camp in Spain had been denied by the boardroom which resulted in unrest and a dented morale amongst the group. As Friday loomed into view like a lumbering and cumbersome elephant, the squad were hit even harder with late withdrawals from Saunders and Ladley who were called up for international duty. Furthermore, a training session had to be cancelled due to a serious and widespread outbreak of ‘can’t be bothered’.

In complete contrast, the Sixth Form team were strong, well prepared and drilled. Lead by the strong leadership of Johnson, morale and expectations were high.

From the kick-off, it was clear that Sixth Form were at the races. Cowles’ surging runs from midfield were a constant feature which usually resulted in good link up play between Bacon and Graham. Chances were forged with ease and camp was set up in the Staff half. A burst down the right from Cowles somehow managed to evade the man mountain known as Allen and lead to an incisive cross which Bacon converted with ease. It was nothing more than the Sixth Form deserved and it wasn’t getting any better for the Staff as they toiled to get a foothold in the game. Cowles once again broke through the defence but this time, Allen had had enough: he unceremoniously prevented Cowles from getting past him. The experienced referee, Dave Farrell (official Posh legend), awarded a penalty and the Staff were staring down the barrel.

Bacon stepped up and fancied his chances but he dragged his shot wide of the post. Although the Sixth Form had enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and chances, there was a feeling that they might just regret not taking full advantage. The penalty miss acted as a fillip for the Staff who set about tweaking the formation and line-up. Hawes gave way to Grace and Dunham was replaced by P. Smith and both were asked to play narrower in order to support the tireless running of Brooks up front. Maltby too was released from his defensive shackles in an effort to bring J Smith into the game. For the Sixth Form, Reilly replaced Hudson and battle once again commenced.

It was different. The tide had been turned. The zest was out of the bottle and would not be forced back in again. The Staff had found their mojo. J Smith unleashed a thunderbolt from the edge of the box which whizzed past Hunnings before he even smelt it. Game on.

Not to be outdone, the Sixth Form forayed forward meaningfully and a tidy passage of play between Reilly and Cowles released Graham who coolly slid the ball into the corner of the net. Suspicions of offside were waved away by Bell in his role as assistant referee. At this stage, Graham saw J Smith’s robot celebration and matched it with a display of push-ups.

© Owen Papaioannou 2014

Time was running out. The Staff pushed forward – literally in the case of P Smith who was lucky to escape censure for a deliberate push as he fought manfully for the ball like a rabid wolf. With four minutes remaining, Staff won a throw-in deep into enemy territory. Pearson strode purposefully forward to hurl it into the corridor of uncertainty. Marples rose salmon-like, looking to flick it on but was clattered from behind by Reilly with the force of a runaway train. Marples fell in a crumpled heap to the floor as the experienced and authoritative Farrell (official Posh legend) pointed to the spot.

A soft penalty? Contact in the box. File this one under the category of, ‘I’ve seen them given’.

If ever there was a pressure situation, this was it with pride and parity up for grabs with one kick. Reluctantly, Marples stepped up yet nonchalantly slotted the ball into the corner of the goal where it nestled snugly like a hibernating hedgehog. Relief unconfined.

Redemption was achieved after 30 odd years of hurt

.© Owen Papaioannou 2014

© Owen Papaioannou 2014

© Owen Papaioannou 2014

© Owen Papaioannou 2014

© Owen Papaioannou 2014

© Owen Papaioannou 2014

There was little time remaining for either team to alter proceedings and the game petered out into a draw which left the Sixth Form ruefully regretting their first half chances. But the indomitable spirit of the Staff was a force to be reckoned with; honours even.

There was only one winner today and that was the beautiful game of football.

The kids are alright

16 Mar

Saturday 15th  March 2014

Nottingham Forest           0.0      Doncaster Rovers            

Today marked a definitive tipping point.

The civil war amongst the anti-Billy and the pro-Billy camps has been rumbling along nicely for a while now, just simmering without quite reaching boiling point. Today though, the water did that annoying thing where it bubbled over the edge of the saucepan and left lots of scummy marks on the hob surface. Furthermore, there can be no doubt that the anti-Billy camp is very much in the ascendency. Indeed, there are reports of large numbers defecting; admitting that while they did support the man in question, today made them realise that he is certainly not the messiah, just a very megalomaniacal man.

Kids for a quid. Billy Sharp returning. What could possibly go wrong today? There was always a feeling that this game was such a perfect opportunity to fix the wheels back on to the wagon that it was never going to go to plan. Those who thought that the ‘Greg Halford up front’ experiment had been tossed into the trash or filed away in a cabinet labelled ‘short term solutions that were successful in the SHORT term but not to be repeated’ were sorely disappointed. There he was: gamely offering himself to hold the ball up reasonably well but on the other hand, lumbering around laboriously and scuffing presentable shooting opportunities. I kind of felt a little sorry for him. He clearly isn’t mobile enough to do the grafting that is required when playing the lone striker role. I may be mistaken but it seemed to me that Cox was asked to play a slightly withdrawn role; supporting from the right. It is though, difficult to say since Cox did his usual running around a lot without making any real impact on proceedings. I’m sure there’s a good player in there but like with Miller, Derbyshire, Abdoun and Mackie, their best from seems locked away inside, just awaiting freedom to be unlocked by some other manager.

To be fair though, for the first 8 minutes, we were awesome; confidently stroking it around the park and from side to side with a nonchalant ease. In fact, at times, we looked as fluent as those Donny sides that played us off the park back in the day.

But then Halford scuffed a chance and Rovers realised that for all our pretty possession, it was all a façade, all surface and no meaning. We were highly unlikely to score unless it came from a set piece from the boot of the wizard Reid

There was an unusual atmosphere amongst the crowd: the little excitement created by the little ones was tempered by frustration and ‘seen it all before’ vast majority. In fact, this prickly atmosphere was established prior to kick off with some bemoaning and decrying the ‘kids for a quid’ scheme. Words fail me…

That ‘bad day’ feeling was only heightened at half time. On days such as this, half time scores provide an escape, a hopeful opportunity to see some other team getting a right old pasting and to experience catharsis as no matter how bad it is at the City Ground, someone else is having a worse day. However, this simple information was made all the more harder as there was now only ONE screen in the Upper Trent End for the section in which I reside. These screens have been moved around all season, no doubt to see which vantage points provide the least congestion. The conclusion? Just leave ONE up – the one that dictates that the crowd that congregate to see it will cause maximum congestion to the extra dads and kids queuing for a hot dog. Nice work.

But something would surely change for this second half. Well, it did. Rovers gained more confidence and came at us. And this is where things took a turn for the worse. Substitutions were made. Reid came off. No problem with that as clearly he wasn’t fit after a short period of absence. Yet, if it was the case that he was never going to last the full ninety, I think I would have preferred to have seen him come on as a sub and impact the game later on as tactical formations get stretched – like he did on Tuesday. And if he was fit and he was taken off as a result of injury, what was this stuff about him having a hernia operation and consequently being out for 6 weeks? Why lie about it?

Reidy’s departure was fascinating. It only heightened how reliant we actually are on him to probe and dictate our forward play. We now became so slow and ponderous in possession in the opposition half that Rovers simply took the ball from us and broke up field at will.  But not only that, the arrival of Henderson and Derbyshire, although to be lauded for indicating an attacking approach, quite simply unbalanced the team. It was quite clear that they had no idea where they should be playing or what the approach was. Or if there was a specified approach, it failed dismally. We had Mackie, Henderson and Derbyshire all seemingly huddled around the right hand side and when a cross did get into the danger zone, Danny Fox was chastised for not getting on the end of it. Danny Fox! Our left back! Sheesh. Darlow came in for some stick for his wayward kicking at times but the way I see it, he had one option which was to aim for Henderson’s head. But when such a ball has to be inch perfect since Henderson, like Halford, is less than mobile, it looks like it’s a poor delivery. In short, Darlow had only a miniscule target at which to aim. Furthermore, on breaking from the back, our forays frequently fell down. The way I see it, this was a direct consequence of bringing everyone back to defend set pieces. It must be very difficult to drive forward and play the ball in that direction when you look up for a quick ball yet there is nobody there. What can you do? Play sideways. Remember when Swansea left both Dyer and Sinclair up front in the play-off game? They each hugged a touchline on the halfway line. We didn’t know what to do with them. It did mean though that we kept 3 defenders back. I am very simple but surely that means it is easier to defend when there are fewer players attacking you. And don’t forget that Swansea were down to 10 men at that stage.

And let’s be clear here, the discontent had nothing to do with the fact that the opposition was Doncaster Rovers. It wasn’t the fact that we drew at home to ‘the likes of Doncaster Rovers’ that was the source of disgruntlement. Most fans realise that we always have problems against Rovers and we have no divine right to beat them. The actual source was the realisation that the frequently employed away game tactics appear to have been transposed to a home game. I don’t subscribe to the notion that 4-2-3-1 is a negative formation, or even that just one up top suggests a lack of ambition. But what is clear is that it simply isn’t effective and hasn’t been for a while. In fact, they seem to be bringing the worst out of some players: step forward Simon Cox.

The players or the manager? Who to blame?  That eternal question. Well, without going into a detailed symposium on the whole ‘Billy Smart’s Circus’, let’s just say that he doesn’t make it easy to sympathise with him, does he?

But for all the frustration and disgruntlement, it wasn’t really a surprise, was it? The only surprise here was that Billy Sharp didn’t convert the chance that came his way.

Those scummy marks that have gathered on the hob are going to take some scrubbing in order to get rid of them.

 

 

 

Hands up. Baby hands up. Give me your love give me give me your love give me give me.

13 Mar

Tuesday 11th  March 2014

Middlesbrough                  1.1      Nottingham Forest                      

(Carayol)                                              (HANDerson)

Desperate times call for desperate measures. In the midst of a horrible run of form and results, we were at precisely that stage whereby we would take that apocryphal goal that goes in off someone’s backside. A goal, any goal would have been welcome during our annual tepid performance at the Riverside, especially after succumbing to a smartly taken finish by the man who loves to score against us. (There really does seem to be quite a lot of these players nowadays).

Except, it didn’t go in off Henderson’s arse; he scooped/punched it in at the near post. A fine example of ingenuity? A cheeky manoeuvre epitomising the scorer’s existential will to score? I don’t recall too many non-Argentinians seeing Maradona’s 1986 goal in the same light; all I recall are angry headlines and opinions denouncing such a cowardly and underhand (ahem) example of cheating.

Of course we all enjoyed Henderson’s goal; actually, relief may well be the more precise adjective here. But wasn’t it all a little bit embarrassing? Wasn’t it….errrr…cheating?

This is no Victorian plea for a return to Corinthian values and jumpers for goalposts – football is far beyond redemption for that. Gaining the tiniest advantage in a game of fine margins is crucial and this I accept. But can you imagine how we’d have felt if Danny Graham had done the same thing against us? Can you picture the level of vitriol that would justifiably rain down on him?

Maybe that moment will signal a change in fortune for our depleted team. Maybe a little bit of luck is what we deserve at the moment.

Maybe.

And maybe I should climb down off my high horse that occupies the moral high ground and stop knocking one of our own for conjuring a goal from nothing.

Maybe.

I just found it a little bit unsavoury and embarrassing. That’s all.

Let’s fall back in love

9 Mar

Saturday 8th  March 2014

Barnsley                   1.0      Nottingham Forest                      

(Jennings)

Is it just me or is it quite a traumatic and demanding experience being a Forest fan these days?

I seem to be the recipient of an increasing amount of piteous looks from friends and colleagues: you know the look I mean – the one where the head ever so slightly tilts to one side in a look of simultaneous pity but also relief that they aren’t you. This is usually followed up by the statement, ‘’you’ll make the play-offs though.” But it’s not a statement is it? It’s more of a question, a wondering, a tentative thought-out aloud.

So there’s not just that to contend with but also the ‘Billy Davies’ situation. No, not the ‘should we cut him loose or allow him time to get the injured players back situation’. Even though this question reached fever pitch on Saturday night, I am referring to the ‘pro Billy’ or ‘anti Billy’ camps that seem to be binary opposites with absolutely no wiggle room in-between.

It’s like some kind of civil war has broken out. It’s almost as if you need to gently joust in conversation with fellow fans in order to establish where their preference lies. Only then can you broach the ‘Billy’ question, or indeed not if they are in a different field to yours. The thing is that you’re almost half afraid that you will be denounced as a ‘happy clapper’, ‘armchair fan’, ‘Derby fan’ or ‘lacking loyalty’ should you express an opinion on this oh so divisive situation.

Of course, this stupid game that we love is all about opinions and we all have them. However, rarely has it been the case that a man has split fans into diametrically opposite sides.

It really hasn’t been a good weekend: Nigel Clough has led the Blades into a winnable semi-final FA cup tie against Hull City (‘it could’ve been me!!!’) Burnley have picked up the ball labelled ‘promotion’ and stomped off with it like a child taking their own ball home. James Perch (James Perch!) has scored the winning goal against Manchester City for Wigan Athletic. And us? I sat this one out at Oakwell but what I did see didn’t look pretty.

Even if Mackie had put that header away, hands up who thinks we’d have held on anyway? No. Thought not.

I am concerned at the manner in which our reputation as a team that most other football fans (and non-football fans) ‘kind of liked’ or had a ‘soft spot’ for is ebbing away alarmingly. No doubt you’ve read this already but if you haven’t, erstwhile Forest fan and journalist Daniel Taylor’s column is worth a read (http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2014/mar/08/football-association-fa-england-under-20s-steven-gerrard ). He too seems to get it in the neck whenever he voices an opinion regarding a club he clearly loved and continues to do so dearly.

So, at the risk of sounding like a supply teacher cowering at the back of the classroom while a riot takes place, can we please stop being so nasty to each other?

Thanks. That’s clearly learned you. Right. As you were.

The head on the door

2 Mar

Saturday 1st March 2014

Nottingham Forest                       1.4      Wigan Athletic                  

(Paterson)                                                           (Waghorn, Boyce, McArthur, Gomez)

In the hugely successful Game of Thrones, lots of unfortunate characters end up having their head brutally disconnected from their necks. Sometimes this is for the rather unspectacular crime of being privy to information that is likely to embarrass the ruling party (Plot spoiler klaxon: step forward, Edddard Stark. But since this unfortunate Stark is played by Sean Bean, then you really should have seen that coming from a mile off given that Bean rarely makes it to the end of any film still standing but more often than not, dying nobly) but on most other occasions, it is to show the people that blame has been apportioned and justice been meted out, as if to say, ‘See that? HE was to blame and now that his head’s on a stick with his tongue lolloping out we can all feel better about this whole sticky situation, put it behind us and things will be ever so much better now.’

And they are. Until another head ends up being disconnected from the neck and ceremoniously stuck on a stick

We need to blame someone when things go wrong.

Things went wrong yesterday and I wanted to blame someone. I wanted to see heads on sticks.

I wanted to see Cox’s head on a stick for making a hash of that early chance that was presented to him on, um, a platter. I’ll tell you who else’s head would have looked good on a spike too – the fitness coach and physio: surely whatever it is that they are doing with the players is to blame for the injury situation at the moment. And the injured players themselves – they can take some blame too for…well… being injured. I bet they’re just putting it on. That Jordi Gomez too – his head on a stick for generally running the midfield all afternoon. And as for that bloody Dave Whelan who, rumour has it, broke his leg while playing in the FA Cup final although he is reluctant to mention it and only a few insiders are aware of this. And the stadium announcer who pettily and childishly reads out the opposition names really quietly and quickly in the seemingly vague hope that they will all miraculously cease to exist.

Billy Davies’ head on a spike?

Some thought so and have done for a while. The case against? Not utilising the players he had at his disposal. After all, the team was littered with a nice combination of youth and experience: Chilean, Irish and Polish caps alongside talented youth. It should be enough to give Wigan a good game and chalk up a result that keeps us ticking along nicely until the injury situation subsides. Furthermore, Cox was clearly struggling to keep hold of the ball in his position at the spearhead of the attack and so the usual springing forward of midfield support in numbers was about as useful as deep sea diving boots in the desert or having Jonathon Greening on your side in a shooting competition.

But maybe not. Options regarding team selection were limited and whatever team he put out was probably going to lack coherence on the simple basis that they wouldn’t have played together before.

Admittedly, it is very difficult to place such an abstract thing like ‘an injury list’ atop a stick and loft it to the skies. Nonetheless, we needed a head on a spike and someone to blame.

‘Get more players in’ goes the cry. ‘What about emergency loans?’ question the hordes. If only life were as simple as replacing someone every time they fall short of success. If that were the case, groups of children would be huddled outside of school gates on a daily basis as newer, shinier students were sought to replace them. ‘They’re no good I tell you. I need better students to achieve these targets!’

Would it were so.

In reality, we are forced to work with what we’ve got and slowly, painstakingly and laboriously, work with them until they show progress and improvement.

We’ve got a trying and demanding few months ahead of us and there will be times when it feels as if all is lost as it looks like a whole season’s work will count for nought. A victory at Barnsley will not mean that the ‘automatic place’ is ‘on’ again. Neither will defeat mean that we’ve blown it and we’ll drop out of the play-off positions. However, confidence has been eroded and the concern is that even if we stay in the top six, to be successful means hitting the play-offs in a run of good form; something that looks distant at this point in time and space.

The reality is that we’ve come up short against the teams above us. Deep down, we probably knew we would do so, even if we’ve done well against them up to now. However, heads on sticks won’t solve anything in the short term. It would sure make us all feel a little better as our anger and pain would be assuaged but then we’d all feel a little guilty and empty.

I’m not Billy’s biggest fan, mostly due to his tantrums and tiaras off the field and I, like many others, can see the season petering out into mediocrity and leaving us with a heightened sense of ennui and existential angst. My desire to blame someone for recent results naturally puts the boss in the firing line but seeing his head atop a pole like a small pickled onion on a cocktail stick (cube of cheese optional) is partly satisfying but ultimately self-destructive.

The injuries won’t magically go away though and we do need to get on with it with what we’ve got and make do and mend. This is not quite the time for Eddard Stark situations…let’s leave the fickle finger of fate to be the judge of that.