Nottingham Forest – 1
Tranmere Rovers – 1
What a fickle bunch we are, we’re 2nd on goal difference come the end of 2006, just a few goals – probably the ones scored against us – put Scunthorpe United above us. If somebody had told me at the start of the season that we’d be in this position just as the transfer window opens, I would’ve been thrilled – as it is, here we are, and I’m seething at another toothless performance from the not-so mighty Reds this evening as we are toppled from the top of the table after four months of looking down on the rest of League One.
Tranmere were a bizarre team – they were out for the draw from early indications, niggling and timewasting after only half an hour – whilst Forest were lacklustre, directionless and largely clueless in the opening spells of the game. I recall Tyson hitting the bar with a header which we thought was in, and then him getting past the Rovers keeper – despite being fouled – but not managing to make them pay from an angle. The injury to the Rovers keeper saving him a booking or worse from another clueless official, and bizarrely only adding 3 minutes of stoppage time despite being down and treated for around 5 minutes.
We started with Grant Holt in Agogo’s place, which makes sense but we missed the powerful presence of Agogo as Holt seemed to spend more time out wide – but Agogo was to enter the fray sooner than planned as Commons was sidelined with what looked to be a twinge of the hamstring. The other thing of note was Tranmere opting to have a defender take their goal kicks instead of the injured keeper – which the Reds didn’t really twig could give them an easy way to beat the offside trap.
As the half ended it looked like we might break the deadlock when a poor Holt shot was heading wide but almost caught at the far post by a sliding Tyson, but t’was not to be, and the sides went in level – which was probably fair, Tranmere looked a poor side low on confidence, but so did Forest – we had the clearer chances, but the lack of compulsion to make them count was telling, the Reds never managed to stir the fans into backing the team vocally – the half time shoot-a-thon with kids proved a welcome relief from the dreary football on display courtesy of Forest.
The inevitable Gareth Taylor goal came shortly after half time, a cross was headed in expertly by the former-Forest frontman (although the official website says it was a shot, I’m sure it was a header!) – it looked like Smith could’ve got it to me, but from the distance I was at I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. The goal clearly thrilled the much-maligned Taylor who slid on the floor in the corner near the Trent End/Main Stand and left the rest of us rather dumbstruck.
Bizarrely even the substitute keeper didn’t want to take his own goalkicks – something that was even laughed at when I was at Junior school – although I’ve since discovered that he too was nursing an injury, but again, as the big centreback spannered a few wayward goalkicks haphazardly it left me wondering why Tyson or Agogo weren’t gambling beyond the defensive line since presumably the defender taking the kick was playing them onside – a few of his kicks were headed straight back by Forest players.
Forest had plenty of possession from here on in, and peppered the Tranmere box with mediocre crossing and created very few clearcut chances, Tranmere’s army of perpetually injured players managing to rise from their seemingly terminal injuries to block and clear everything we threw at them in a very frustrating period of the match, however we were to break through, Clingan played Curtis through down the left flank allowing him to get around his man and play the ball back across the box to Perch who blasted it in much to our and their relief.
This was the point I expected Forest to press on – having dominated possession at least for a while, but alas, they didn’t – and Smoulderwood made a couple of unfathomable substitutions. Tyson was withdrawn for Scott Dobie, and bizarrely Sammy Clingan – not having his best performance, but one of our better players – was withdrawn from Gary Holt – I really wanted to see Southall withdrawn at this point. I’m a big fan of Trigger, but today he was nothing short of poor – often not chasing balls I thought he could win and seemed 2 or 3 seconds off the pace throughout the match.
Of course, Tyson could’ve been feeling his calf strain or could’ve been tired – but the Clignan substitution was an error on the part of Smoulders for me. The only notable chances we had in what remained of the game were long rangers that were easily dealt with by Ward in the Tranmere goal. Ultimately, on the performance a draw was a fair result, but we should have and could have performed a lot better – Tranmere were there for the taking but once again we failed to rise to the challenge. Bournemouth tried to do us a favour and almost came back against Scunny, but alas could only get to 3-2 so we ended up finishing the year in 2nd rather than first place, where we have spent the majority of the season.
All in all, a disappointing end to a very good start to the season. Wins and good performances are now starting to look like the “blips” that bad performances were earlier in the season. Hopefully some new signings and the fact we’ve lost top spot will provide a much needed kick up the arse for our players, since from Smoulds’ post-match comments, he apparently doesn’t see any reason to panic – and right he is too, it’s our place to over-react and panic, he needs to sort it out, and I’m sure he will.
And so we go into 2007 – we’re in a strong position, but to go from a 7 point lead at the top to be in 2nd place is bottling it in anyone’s language – and it’s not good enough. This transfer window will be where we really get to judge Smoulderwood properly – he clearly needs to strengthen, and it will be intensely interesting to see how he goes about it. Several fans were talking of Scunthorpe being unable to maintain their form if they lose Sharp and/or Keogh in the window but fuck me, we should not be looking to benefit from other teams losing players – it will be us that wins promotion if that is our fate this season, not other teams giving it to us.
Pissed off? You bet I am – there are complacencies and unprofessionalism creeping back into our squad that we’ve not really seen so starkly since Megson’s days here, and how Smoulderwood deals with that over coming days will be critical to whether we can put this bad run of results behind us and start to challenge properly again, starting with a very very tricky trip to in-form Oldham Athletic on new year’s day. As ever being a Forest fan, it’s never easy, and it’s never dull!
There will certainly be a much happier bunch of almost-Scousers probably just about home by now (apparently ‘real’ Scousers refer to them as woolly-backs!), their team were poor but ground out a result with their hassling, breaking up of play and a bit of timewasting, and they were good for a point – but if that’s all their is to their game, then I’d be surprised if they can sustain any kind of promotion push, the trouble is, they matched us – so can we maintain one?