Nottingham Forest – 0
Carlisle United – 1
As sure as eggs is eggs, when Forest play infront of Sky Sports’ cameras, you can be sure that some sort of calamity will ensue – and tonight proved to be no exception. It was a game that will leave a sour taste for many Forest fans, to the point where they will forget the positives that did come from the game – and there were some. Unfortunately a dogged and hardworking Carlisle side were gifted the chance to score, and all that good work was undone in painfully familiar fashion.
Rather than toasting our re-ascendence to second place, we are looking up at a five point gap to reach tonight’s opponents. We are looking at our fine run of results at the City Ground coming to an end, and frankly – I believe – we’re looking at a playoffs-at-best finish to the season unless something changes rather dramatically on the field for us. Pivotal was this game, and unlike this time last season, we have two would-be second place competitors rather than just the one.
So, the game – Forest lined up with a back four, with James Perch coming in at rightback for the injured Chambers, the suspended Breckin was replaced with McGugan in midfield as Smoulders opted to defy the logical formation and instead go for his widthless and shapeless 4-3-3 formation, with Clingan in the holding role, Cohen and McGugan further forward and Holt, Agogo and Commons alternately drifting into isolated wide positions.
Carlisle were quickest out the blocks and had both a freekick and a corner within the opening minutes, culminating in a shot wide. Beyond this the first half was mostly about Forest, our first chance fell to Agogo from a Bennett cross – alas the striker was unable to do much other than shoot straight at the ‘keeper.
Commons went for the spectacular, which at the time I didn’t blame him for, however Grant Holt was unmarked on the back stick and would’ve been better placed to convert – had his effort gone in, of course, we would have immediately forgotten about his greediness. Probably the best spell of football in the game followed this, we won the ball in midfield and eventually the ball was deftly flicked on by the heel of Agogo to Commons, who sadly spannered his shot well wide.
A foray forward for the visitors saw Wilson unusually let an opponent get the better of him, fortunately his lay-off to a teammate was spooned over the bar to spare our blushes. After this Commons whipped a superb corner in, Bennett rose brilliantly to meet it – only for Westwood to rise to the challenge and tip the goalbound header over the bar.
Forest at this point applied the pressure to Carlisle who were content to defend in numbers and close down the ball very quickly – despite a series of corners to the Reds, the away side defended valiantly which meant chances weren’t exactly numerous or clear-cut. Holt was the next culprit for missing one of these chances, hotting over from a Commons cross.
Probably the chance of the game from our point of view came in at the death of the first half, Bennett put in a wicked cross which practically dropped onto Grant Holt’s head at the far post, but the striker seemingly headed the ball backwards rather than goalwards preventing the net from bulging. So at half time we were quite pleased – we’d had the best of the game and restricted Carlisle to relatively little possession nor attacking play.
As the second half began it was again Carlisle who started the brightest, taking a freekick quickly and – fortunately for us – Bridge-Wilkinson missing the target. Their best chance of the game came shortly after – a cross from the right went right across the face of goal but luckily again under the foot of Bridge-Wilkinson when a goal looked a certainty.
Forest, however, were much more fragmented this half. The insane one’s formation looked even more shapeless and purposeless, and succeeded only in overcrowding midfield without providing any outlets out wide – except for our opponents, of course, often leaving Perchy and Bennett with two opponents running at them.
When we did get forward, Carlisle were back in numbers – they closed down, harried and threw bodies in the way of practically everything that we tried to fashion – increasingly the fans, who had got behind the team well in the first half, started to resort to the usual chuntering and moaning (self included, it has to be said!).
The goal came from an unfortunate error of judgement by Paul Smith, who came a long way to claim a ball from the right which he fumbled, as it fell to Danny Graham the defence and Smith alike seemed absolutely dumbstruck as the hardworking striker stroked the ball into the open goal from a tight angle to give the visitors a rather fortunate lead.
For all their effort and endeavour that followed, Forest just couldn’t seem to find any penetration and all their attempts at getting back into the game were confounded by the large numbers in defence for the visitors. The best opportunity we had was from a freekick after Bridge-Wilkinson had almost taken Sammy Clingan’s head off – Commons struck it brilliantly, but frankly, their keeper didn’t really have to move to tip it over (he did, for the cameras – but he was practically stood on the post Commo went for).
Davies was introduced for McGugan but struggled to get involved, and eventually Garath McCleary made his debut from the bench, replacing James Perch and taking position on the left wing. He had a few touches, but little chance to impress in the time he had on the pitch, and ultimately the game fizzled away – the only remaining chance being put wide into the stantion by Grant Holt after good work from Davies.
So, I think it’s fair to say we were unlucky – however, we were very wasteful too. Carlisle are to be admired for their workrate and taking their chance when it came (not that it was difficult!) – we really are more often than not our own worst enemies and tonight was no exception, both on the pitch and off it, as well as in the stands.
Which brings me to the fans – we were decent in the first half, but frankly, if the tickets-for-a-fiver deal brings some of the morons who came out of the woodwork, then stop doing it. The abuse levelled at Paul Smith (yes, he made a mistake – generally when that happens to a goalkeeper, it involves a goal!) and James Perch (who had a decent, if nervous-looking, game I thought) was ridiculous where I was sitting – I hope these people don’t come back any time soon.
Naturally I’m gutted – and I do think that this result, unless followed by a rather spectacular change in form and results, is a significant nail in the coffin of automatic promotion for us this season. We have a certain amount of control of our own destiny with so many games against teams towards the top of the table, but frankly, it’s when we have control of our own destiny that I’m most nervous!
So – and I’ve not checked out the message boards yet, but I can predict their contents – it’s not quite the End Times that I’m chronicalling this evening, but it could rapidly become a dent in our aspirations. Just as our home run has been ended this evening, we need to be starting an away run – and we certainly need to return the favour to tonight’s opponents by getting three points against them on 1st April.
Just a reminder for those £5 ticket wielding people who perhaps haven’t seen as many games this season – Paul Smith is a fucking good goalkeeper, the error he made was from him doing precisely the thing that people like you harangue him to do every week (ie, come out for crosses when he’d be better off staying on his line). Just because you’ve read on a message board somewhere that James Perch hasn’t been playing well, slagging him off when he’s been okay is a pretty pointless endeavour.
Finally, is it possible to abstain from being featured on Sky Sports? Please?