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 I may be mistaken but it seemed to me that Cox was asked to play a slightly withdrawn role; supporting from the right.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.





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