Nottingham Forest – 2
Leicester City – 3
If games only lasted 82 minutes, then I’m convinced we’d be in the Premiership by now, but once again the bottlers extraordinaire struck again, turning a comfortable looking 2-1 lead into a 3-2 defeat in a matter of minutes. And I think whilst there can be questions asked of the players, the blame has to lay squarely at the door of one man and one man alone, and it’s not the first time he’s done it either.
Smoulds has been under a lot of criticism lately, and I’ve tried not to be drawn on the debate too much – but I’m starting to creak on my fence and there’s only one likely side of it I’m likely to fall. You see, tonight he so almost got things right – he played probably our strongest lineup, and whilst it wasn’t champagne football I thought we played well for the majority of the game – but then, near the end, he just could not resist the temptation to tinker with substitutions. But more of that later.
The game started bizarrely. When Paul Smith joined the ‘kick off party’ I assumed he was reporting something to the referee, perhaps a missile from the crowd or similar, but he wasn’t – it transpired that Leicester were going to let him dribble to the other goal and score Forest’s opener to make up for the fact we were winning in the previously abandoned fixture – a fantastically sporting gesture from Leicester, and very unexpected! So we were one nil up after a mere 23 seconds of play!
Perhaps a hint of my red-sided biasedness will come through if I say I thought whilst the first half was scrappy in patches, I thought we were unlucky to go in level. Forest looked lively going forward, but rather nervous at the back – and Leicester certainly looked a more challenging prospect than they did in the first meeting between the two sides. Junior Agogo – man of the match for me – setup another chance after a blistering run on ten minutes, but his cross was put out for a corner.
A few minutes later Tyson released Agogo again, who did well to reach the ball and eventually rounded the ‘keeper, but from a tight angle his shot was blocked when perhaps an initial lay-back to Commons would’ve produced a goal. He got the ball back and did get it back to Kris, but there were so many bodies between him and the goal it never looked like reaching the net, blocked by a Leicester defender without ever really looking particularly goalbound.
At the other end the De Vries brought a good save from Smith, conceding a corner. Shortly after this came the equaliser, from my seat I thought Cohen timed a tackle from the side to perfection on DJ Campbell, but the referee thought otherwise and awarded the freekick. Smith took an age in placing his wall, and it looked arse-about-tit to be frank, although Sheenan’s freekick probably would’ve gone in regardless, as he struck it very well to give what I felt was a fortunate equaliser to the Foxes.
Forest got back on the attack, a rare Lennon shot yielded a corner – Cohen took this and we thought Chambers had continued his goalscoring spree but Fulop pulled off an impressive save to give the Reds yet another corner. The final action of the first half came in the form of a freekick, Leicester’s James Chambers scythed down his namesake giving us a freekick in a similar position to that Leicester scored from, but Cohen’s similarly struck effort was always going over.
So we were heartened at half time, Forest were creating chances if failing on properly punishing Leicester when they had the chance. Whilst Leicester were up for the game and looked dangerous going forward, with our defence looking in clumsy mode, it was a comfortable – if cold, winter is truly on its way – wait until the second half was due to kick off.
Leicester came out the blocks quickly, and Kisnorbo should perhaps have done better with a free header in the box, which he put over. De Vries was also proving a handful – often his wrestling matches with Wes Morgan completely ignored by the referee when in instances both players looked to be impeding the other – on this occasion he whipped in a cross towards Campbell, but Smith was alive to the danger and gathered it up.
Forest started to apply more pressure though, and looking more comfortable on the ball – with wave after wave of forward play that never quite penetrated the final third. However, Forest were patient in building up from the back, and eventually a perfectly weighted ball from Kris Commons put Tyson clear of the defence and one-on-one with Fulop in the Leicester goal. The striker made no mistake by placing his shot close and under Fulop and into the goal.
The fantastic thing to see, at this point, was that Forest did not sit on the lead at all – they continued to pressurise and had the Foxes on the ropes – the Leicester fans were quietened or pleading for Gerry (Taggart) to ‘sort it out’, as well as a fairly audible chant for former manager Martin Allen going up. And this was, unfortunately, where the Smoulderwood ‘tinker factor’ was to start to come into play. I’d joked moments before that this was the moment when Smoulders would be itching to chuck on a few defenders.
To be fair, he traded like for like, bringing on Perch to replace Lennon – who received an ovation not only from the Forest fans but also a good number of the travelling Leicester fans. At the time I wasn’t unhappy with this too much – although frustrated that he was making changes when we were on top and looking relatively comfortable. Perchy chucked himself about as he does, but never seems to have Lenny’s composure in being sensible with the ball – and gradually the play swung back in Leicester’s favour.
The second tinker came soon after, Holt being introduced for Tyson. To be fair, Grant put himself about and won a flick and a tackle – but the balance was upset, Tys and Agogo had combined well throughout the game, playing much closer together than we’re used to, and frankly, I just didn’t see the need for fiddling with what was working well. The remainder of the story is obvious from the scoreline – two minutes later Leicester had equalised, Forest had given away the ball deep in Leicester territory, and the Foxes broke quickly – it was Stearman who eventually kicked goalwards -Smith could only get a hand to it as it crept over the line.
Of course, the playoffs not such a distant memory, few of us were thinking “Oh well, extra time, then!” – and we were right not to, again Forest just seemed to sit back and invite Leicester onto them, the stuffing knocked out of them by the equaliser, and almost inevitably the late winner came when Clements was on hand to sidefoot past a diving Smith to the delirium of the travelling Leicester fans in the Bridgford End, all present to witness what they hoped would be the first win at the City Ground they’ve had for over 30 years.
And I suppose this game is a useful illustration, for me, that Smoulderwood has not learned painful lessons of the past. It’s easy to say in hindsight that a substitution was poor – and in themselves, Grant and Perchy didn’t do much wrong individually – but the effect it had on the team was disruptive and unnecessary – so I’m pointing my finger at the manager for a cockup. And the benefit of hindsight should have been provided to him by that game against Yeovil last season.
I think it’s fair to say that we had the better play – however, ignoring a goal that was graciously gifted to us – we only converted one chance – so we have to look at the players and say we need them to punish teams more, but we did do enough to win the game tonight, and I strongly feel that tinkering from the dugout did us absolutely no favours at all. It’s true, individual irritations like Kris Commons attempt at timewasting from a corner was pisspoor and unnecessary, and indirectly lead to a Leicester goal, so really – on all counts – we only have ourselves to blame.
The positives are that we can hopefully put this bad result to bed at the weekend, rather than waiting months like after the playoffs, and that in spells we played some really good stuff. As ever we need to be finishing off our chances, and we need to stop this bottling mentality that seems to creep in – and has done not just under Smoulderwood – when the clock starts to wind down. From Leicester’s point of view, we can’t have many grumbles – although their chances were fewer, they took them – and we didn’t.
So it is them who get a lucrative trip to Aston Villa, and we can I suppose – to use that tired old cliche – concentrate on the league. Megson has done himself a big favour in winning the Leicester fans over by delivering the win at the City Ground they so craved, and Smoulds has perhaps hammered another nail into the coffin of his tenure at the City Ground. When I read reports from rumour mongers that his job is on the line, I must admit that more and more of me is starting to hope that might be true, as I’m starting to fear he just doesn’t quite have the acumen to deliver what we so desperately need this season.
Ho hum, I might have calmed down some in the morning. But anyway, an interesting game – and we shouldn’t let the result cloud all of the positive aspects of the performance, because there were plenty – but the nature of pissing away our hard-earned lead in the game was pretty galling, it has to be said. The final word again goes to the powers-that-be at Leicester for allowing us to retake the lead from the kickoff – a tremendously sporting gesture, and I suppose all the more sweeter now given that they were able to overcome the deficit and triumph on the night.
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