The joy of Dex (part 2)..

Whoa-oh-ohhh! This Dex is on fire!

Birmingham City – 1
Nottingham Forest – 2

I’ve been guilty of re-using headlines before, hence the part two – because this isn’t the first time I’ve succumbed to this bad pun.  If you read my preview for this, I held out little or no hope for us getting a win – so hats off to Steve Cotterill, his staff and the players for getting a deserved win against a team yet to taste defeat at home this season.  Against a manager who hadn’t experienced defeat at all at home in The Championship.

With Coventry and Millwall picking up rare wins elsewhere and Bristol City losing it’s been most beneficial to snag three points – other relegation battlers Doncaster and Pompey only picked up a point elevating us to the lofty heights of 20th, leapfrogging Bristol City.  We are still three points from the drop zone – Coventry now making a bid to get away from it.  So whilst two straight wins have made me a bit giddy, it’s still all to do to maintain our position of safety.

Like many others my patience with Cotterill was all but run out – but to be fair to  him he’s oft spoken of balance and I can see in his acquisitions that he’s striven to try to deliver that.  I still think he could’ve fielded a team like this sooner, though:

Camp
Gunter    Chambers    Higginbotham    Elokobi
McCleary    Moussi    Guedioura    Reid
Tudgay    Blackstock

Four four two, left footers on the left, right footers on the right, a ball winner and a playmaker in the middle – on paper I’d question the partnership up front but Tuds and Dex are undoubtedly our hardest workers up front.  With just shy of 1,500 Forest fans able to make a racket in a largely sombre St. Andrews, the stage was set for a potential upset – the unbeaten home record up against the, well, mostly awful away record!

It was the Blues who put the pressure on early doors – but for all their possession and territory they struggled to fashion any real opportunities and slowly by surely Forest started to find their feet and begin to dominate proceedings.  The first chance for us came when Gunter – still getting forward eagerly despite being back in defence – crossed in to Tudgay who couldn’t get a decent connection.  The clearance found McCleary who crossed in to Blackstock who also couldn’t convert into a goalscoring chance.

The Reds notched up the first chance on target too – Myhill needed to be on his toes to deal with Moussi’s effort from 25 yards, largely down to the deflection that threatened to wrong-foot him.  Just as things were looking on the up we saw Danny Higginbotham take to the ground with what looked like a hamstring injury, fortunately we had Joel Lynch on the bench who took his place – fingers cross Danny’s injury isn’t serious, though.

Then a goal! A break from Tudgay saw the ball end up out on the right,  one of those driven crosses you quite often see from McCleary came in from the right, but unusually a Forest striker was gambling at the near post (which we don’t normally see!) – Dex battled with the defender as the ball came in and got a toe on it to put it in high by the near post – his first goal since the day he was clobbered at Cardiff back in October 2010.  What a moment!

Forest were clearly feeling more confident – and were playing some nice stuff too.  Guedioura came so close to a 25 yarder but was just wide (I really hope he gets one of those before the end of the season, I just want to see his reaction to it!).  There were no real wobbles right through ’til half time with the Reds in control and went in to the break with a deserved lead – the home side to boos from the sparsely populated home crowd.

It’s fair to say the spirit around the away end was rather more buoyant than we’ve experienced in a while.  Not just a spirited performance but also with a degree of composure and skill to boot.  It certainly made the half time pints and pies go down much more easily – the second half looked forward to and dreaded in equal measure as we’ve struggled in recent weeks to have two good halves in a game.

Early indications were good from us – Guedioura played the ball forward to Tuds who chested it rather heavily up into the air, so before he could work a way to cause some damage Jonathan Spector was able to get it clear.  The home side started to put Forest under pressure finally.  Former Reds striker “She said no” Marlon King getting an opportunity in the box but Camp was able to make the save at the expense of a corner.

The pressure did tell though – Jailbird Marlon did well in a battle with Elokobi who really ought to have seen the ball out for a goalkick, it was a good layback to Chris Burke but – again – defensively we should be closing down on the edge of the area quicker – a brilliant finish from the winger curling into the top corner giving Camp no chance.  Decent goal, but preventable.  I suppose any goal is preventable.  It was a worrying time.

We didn’t really need to worry, as it turned out – it wasn’t long before the McCleary-Blackstock combination once again struck gold.  A dangerous ball in from the winger wasn’t easy for Dex to control, but he hung a foot out to bring the ball down before swivelling and smashing it into the goal from around eight yards before of course celebrating wildly infront of the travelling Forest fans.

As you would expect, Birmingham did come back at us and it was a nervy finish – David Murphy should have done much better for the home side when he was completely unmarked at the far post, putting it over.  Groper King did well to get past Chambers but couldn’t beat Camp who parried his effort away.  Moments later he played it back to Redmond who missed the target from 25 yards, and again an effort from King brought Camp into action.

Relief came for the Reds when Tudgay broke down the left to win us a corner, as Forest tried to run the clock down Moussi looked to  have secured the points from 25 yards but with Myhill beaten he’d only found the side-netting.  The home side built up further pressure, whilst Forest tried to get the pressure off – Reid and Guedioura working well.  Steve Cotterill wound down the clock further by introducing Anderson for McCleary and shortly after Wootton for Reid.

Birmingham’s pressure almost bore fruit – Keith Fahey curled a cracking effort off the crossbar – had the linesman been Russian then he might just have given a goal anyway, as it transpired it fell for Curtis Davies who looked to have beaten the despairing dive of Lee Camp, but put his effort just wide.  Five minutes of stoppage time felt like an age, but we saw it out and snagged three absolutely vital points.  What a relief!

There were some big celebrations at the away end and perhaps the opportunity for the players and fans to bond a little again after a tricky run.  We were also treated to the terrifying sight of George ‘the Hulk’ Elokobi with his shirt off – the man is an absolute beast!  A trip to bogey team Barnsley next week – could be a challenge, but certainly feeling cautiously more optimistic than before.  Now I’m off to take my hangover for a carvery!

Hulk Smash!

Birmingham City vs. Forest preview..

The Reds travel to St Andrews in the West Midlands to try to build upon their first win in six games at the weekend.  There aren’t many places less likely to yield a win for us (well, in fairness, you could probably select most of the top half of the table and find it rather daunting).  However, the thrill of three points and the glad viewing of not being in the relegation zone thanks to Pompey’s fiscal foolishness may have ignited a bit more belief in the Forest camp.

Our hosts are following a path more predicted at the start of the season compared to us – chasing a return to the Premier League and still very much within the potential suitors for the automatic promotion places.  Chris Hughton knows about getting promoted from this league, and is enjoying an unbeaten run of fifteen league and cup matches that sees them in third place, a mere five points behind Southampton with a game in hand.

On the team front Greg Cunningham is back in training but might struggle to dislodge George Elokobi from the left back berth (let’s face it, a Sherman Tank would have trouble doing that!).  Missing through injury are Ishmael Miller and Marlon Harewood both with hamstring injuries, Brendan Moloney with a thigh injury and of course the longer term injury suffered by Chris Cohen is still keeping the midfielder out of the picture.

The Blues look in pretty good shape – Stepehen Carr is a doubt having missed their midweek game at Barnsley.  Jonathan Spector limped out of the game but despite fears of something more serious it appears he’s simply picked up a bit of cramp.  Zigic and N’Daw had both been out of contention midweek due to injury but might find themselves back in the picture for the visit of the Reds.

Of course, it was our earlier meeting with Birmingham this season that led to a disappointing finish from the Reds.  We led for a good while before succumbing and losing 3-1.  This game sparked ugly scenes from a vocal minority after the game and ultimately saw both Steve McClaren and Nigel Doughty tender their resignations as manager and chairman post-match.  What might have happened if Majewski had squared the ball to Miller for a tap-in after an hour instead of trying to beat Myhill from a tight angle.  We’d have been 2-0 up then.

Even without putting my grumpy hat on this is a tough looking trip.  Whilst it’s easy to look at the Coventry match and hope that we can continue the second half momentum into this match, we must also remember that Birmingham ain’t Coventry, they’re actually rather a good side.  I would be flabbergasted (and of course delighted!) to see us snag three points here, so would have to conclude that bagging a draw would be a very credible result for us right now.

Not out of the woods yet…

Nottingham Forest – 2
Coventry City – 0

Phew. What a relief that is – results elsewhere combined of course with the points deduction handed out to Portsmouth mean that not only have we registered a much-needed home win against a relegation rival, we have also found ourselves three points clear outside the drop zone.  Considering we were six points from safety earlier in the week, it’s a remarkable turnaround of fortunes considering this has been the season where it seems everything that could go wrong has done.

However, realism is important – we aren’t out of the woods yet by a long chalk.  Without wishing to be disrespectful the run Coventry are on away from the Ricoh Arena makes them probably the biggest home banker you’ll ever see in this league.  What was promising was a few things – an ineffective starting eleven was adjusted at half time, and whilst even the second half performance wasn’t groundbreaking, we got the goals and the result.

I can forgive quite a lot if we get the result – so well done to the team and, figure of much criticism, the manager for that.  Of course, one swallow does not make a summer – and with a daunting trip to Birmingham up next there’s still plenty to worry about.  Hopefully McCleary’s injury isn’t too bad as his ongoing impact is something we are coming to depend upon – and it must’ve been great for Findley to net afterthat first touch against Watford.

There were two changes  to the side that fell up at the Riverside midweek, Marcus Tudgay and Andy Reid coming in to replace Ishmael Miller and Marlon Harewood in a strange looking selection that I can at best represent like this:

Camp
Wootton  Chambers   Higginbotham   Elokobi
Gunter    Moussi    Guerdioura   McCleary
Reid
Tudgay

It’s fair to say the first half was a largely dull affair – the match preview moniker of ‘The Clash of the Shite ‘Uns‘ was certainly looking apt.  We forced an early corner through good work from Guerdioura passing to Gunter who forced the ball over the line off a Coventry defender.  The ball in from Reid wasn’t the best though and fairly easily gathered by the Sky Blues ‘keeper Joe Murphy.

At the other end whilst Coventry – much like us – looked devoid of confidence and ideas, Alex Nimely looked a bit of a livewire – a decent strike from the loan man from around 25 yards wasn’t too far wide with Camp diving across.  Forest had a similar opportunity when Garath McCleary found Tudgay with plenty of space to pick out a shot from around 20 yards which he put wide – he really ought to have been hitting the target.

Other half-opportunities came when a clever flick from Reid set Elokobi loose down the left side, he fired in a dangerous cross but there was nobody in the right place to convert it.  The half progressed with both sides spectacularly wasteful in possession and creating practically nothing.  One close effort from McCleary who cut in from the left and tried to a curl a shot in from the edge of the area, it deflected and gave us another corner (which, of course, came to nowt).

Coventry registered what was probably the first shot on target of the game towards the end of the half, Norwood put the ball in from the left finding McSheffrey whose shot was tame and easy for Camp to gather.  The former Reds loanee was causing trouble shortly after too, getting a shot away which deflected for a corner – they had a few corners at the death which, much like us, they never really looked like doing a great deal with!

The half time whistle was greeted with boos.  I have mixed feelings on this – I respect people’s right to express themselves but I can’t see booing being helpful while the game is ‘live’ so to speak.  I suppose it’s possible it might’ve spurred on the players – but I’m not quite so sure about that.  Certainly the healthy but one-song-obsessed (which was apparently written by Jimmy Hill) following from Coventry applauded their side off.

Steve Cotterill obviously recognised the lack of – well – pretty much anything in the first half and elected to make a couple of changes.  He withdrew Wootton (who’d had bugger all to do really) and Tudgay (who was spectacularly ineffective) for Blackstock and Findley, and reverted to a more conventional formation with Gunter moving back to fullback, McCleary on the right and Reid on the left (initially, at least).

The early signs were quite positive – a ball in from Gunter caused a degree of bedlam in the box, the ball ending up going in the air and Murphy spilling the ball under pressure from Blackstock.  The ball spun away and struck the post before eventually being bundled away for a corner.  McCleary and Gunter combined well to ultimately give Gunts an opportunity – but Murphy was out quick to smother the chance – a pity, would’ve been great for Gunts to exorcise the demons of last week!

A rare break from Coventry almost gave them the lead – a long hoof forward was nodded back well by the giant Sky Blues striker Clive Platt where it sat up nicely for the onrushing Gary Deegan who absolutely leathered it from around 20 yards, putting it just wide.  It would’ve been some goal.  This spurred them on with McSheffrey putting it across the area, with Chambers needing to put a block in at the expense of a corner.

I thought we had scored when a ball in by McCleary found Reidy lurking at close range – he got a foot on it, diverted it goalwards only to be stopped by a cracking save from Murphy.  Moments later Blackstock fed the ball to Findley in the area who was clearly hacked down.  Referee Mark Clattenburg wasn’t interested – and, perhaps, that’s for the best.  Of course, we could always have missed a penalty, and we didn’t have to wait long for retribution!

The exact build-up for McCleary’s opener is a little bit sketchy – I think Chambers put the ball to him, the winger picked the ball up from the half way line right of centre – and basically ran at Coventry who – to a man – back off him until getting to the edge of the area, where he got past a couple before opening up an opportunity to place a left footed shot well into the bottom left corner.  Top marks to Garath – but a poor show from Coventry.  We’d have been gutted to concede a goal like that!

Gaz was substituted shortly after which was baffling at the time, but it turns out he’s been feeling his hamstring a bit all week and as a precaution was withdrawn for forgotten man Jonathan Greening.  He took up position on the left, with Reidy moving right.  He was immediately involved with some committed challenges – good to see.  A scare occured when Guerdioura went down injured but after treatment he continued.

The nerves were finally settled when Andy Reid picked up the ball deep and picked out a delicious pass to Robbie Findley who did really well with timing his run to beat the offside trap, chest the ball down and slot the ball under Murphy to basically secure the points for us.  A big relief for all concerned – well done to all concerned, but you’ll forgive our cynicism in stating this is the beginning of a recovery, one that needs to continue if we are to survive.

It feels good to look at that league table and see us not in the bottom three, but we’re not too far from it still, and whilst I’m delighted to have won it was against probably the worst team we’ve seen here for some time – against whom we really only offered a proper match too for part of the second half.  It’s hard to feel too confident on the strength of that, however, we should enjoy the moment.

Check out Big G’s goal, it was nice…
http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xotqdx

Forest vs. Coventry City preview..

I jokingly referred to this mouth-watering fixture as the ‘Clash of the Titans’ to a friend earlier in the week.  “Clash of the Titans? Clash of the Shite ‘uns, more like!” he quickly retorted.  Perhaps not quite up to Oscar Wilde levels of wit, but it tickled me regardless.  After a win against Leeds midweek whilst we lost at Boro the Sky Blues managed to elevate themselves to level points with us, going ahead of us in the table on goal difference.

Steve Cotterill has spoken pre-match about the need to get off to a good start.  Of course, he has great credentials for stating the bleeding obvious after the erudite observation post-Boro of the fact that had we kept a clean sheet we’d have won.  He’s right on both counts, a temperature-check around the online communities would suggest that if there aren’t signs of improvement then things could turn pretty ugly pretty quickly.

Ismael Miller has clearly been missing life in the treatment room, so is likely to be back there for this game with a hamstring tear, where he’ll find Moloney, Cunningham and Cohen who have longer term injuries.  This indifferent injury news is met with the marginally less indifferent news that Marcus Tudgay is recovered from illness – so we can replace one immobile non-prolific striker with another one.

Our visitors are likely to miss former Forest midfielder Sammy Clingan who has a groin injury, and will be missing Richard Wood and Hermann Hreidarsson in defence with a knee injury and a dislocated shoulder respectively.

Coventry have ominously failed to win on their travels all season – a couple of Sky Blue fans I know gloomily pointed this out to me and seemed a tad confused at the resulting look of dread on my face.  With two wins and four defeats in their last six, Coventry appear to be a team of ‘all or nothing’ – compared to our record of four defeats, one draw and one win – well, it’s marginally better, isn’t it?

Oddly their website is trying to bill it as some kind of local derby – which is even more ridiculous than Leicester trying to do so – however, it’s a massive game for both clubs.  If Forest can’t find it within themselves to register a win in this fixture, then it really doesn’t bode very well at all for us.  Hell, let’s be frank, we’d be down barring some kind of miraculous turnaround.  That could only come with a change of manager.

Away from Forest, Portsmouth are back in administration and facing at least a ten point deduction which could go up to twenty.  Whilst I have enormous sympathy for their supporters – when the club turned down offers for their squad in the window, yet now appear to not be able to pay for medical care for them, it’s difficult to not hope that the Football League do finally grow a pair and actually deal properly with such irresponsible practices.

Of course, that could be a bit of stone-throwing from within my greenhouse given the uncertainty surrounding our own financial position until we better understand Nigel Doughty’s last wishes regarding his commitment to Forest.  Of course ten points from Portsmouth hauls them into the relegation scrap as they’d be on 25 points much like us and Coventry, take twenty and they’d be rock bottom.

Down, down.. deeper and down..

Middlesbrough – 2
Nottingham Forest – 1

It’s sad to have to say this – but Steve Cotterill is clearly not capable, even by deploying his hideous brand of percentages football, of turning this around.  I would be delighted, come the end of the season, to have been proven wrong on this assertion, absolutely thrilled.  The final straw was getting to hear his post match comments this morning: “If we’d kept a clean sheet we would have won” – words defy me.

Straight out of the school of “If that had gone in it would’ve been a goal!” – as it is, we lost, other results conspired against us leaving us in a worse position with our next opponents, Coventry, managing to over-take us in the process.  Of course, with a points deduction looming Portsmouth too will be dragged into the mire having made steps to improve their position after – funnily enough – the departure of Steve Cotterill.

Anything less than a win on Saturday and we are staring down the barrel at League One, and we can only hope that the ridiculous length of contract handed to Cotterill was dependent on avoiding relegation – because, and it pains me to say it, it would be difficult to justify renewing a season ticket knowing that he was our manager next season.  Even if we were to buck the recent trend and avoid relegation.

So, perhaps with reasonable justification (aside from continuing to field Chambers and playing Gunts on the wing, of course), the man many are now referring to as ‘the Crucifier’ fielded the same team that did play with some merit against Watford last Saturday:

Camp
Wootton   Chambers    Higginbotham    Elokobi
Gunter    Moussi    Guerdioura   McCleary
Miller    Harewood

The first half an hour or so was, well, a pretty tame encounter.  The home side probably had the lion’s share of possession but were restricted to off-target efforts from range courtesy of Emnes and Jutkiewicz.  Similarly Forest, on a rare forward foray, saw McCleary fire over from the edge of the area having played a one-two with Marlon Harewood.

After this period of cautious exchanges the game did open up somewhat, largely due to the inability of both sides to keep possession.  Miller had an opportunity after carrying the ball forward some distance but missed the target from outside the box.  Miller was again the spurner of chances when he could only head a cross from Elokobi straight at Steele.  On the counter the home side saw Emnes blast well over from 25 yards.

Middlesbrough broke the deadlock on the stroke of half time – a corner wasn’t cleared properly, and the ball ended up with Emnes outside the area, he brought the ball into the area and struck goalwards – a deflection off Moussi making sure the ball went in and send Forest in to the no-doubt inspiring half-time team talk from Cotterill a goal down.  It was reported on Radio Teeside from their pitchside reporter that Steve Cotterill had been yelling at Chambers for passing the ball on the deck and not hoofing it into the corners.  Oh dear.

Injury to Miller forced one change, and he elected to withdraw the other striker too – and replace them with… Joel Lynch and Robbie Findley.  That’s right, the second half commenced with us a goal down, but fielding six defenders, three midfielders and one striker.  The communication of how this groundbreaking formation didn’t apparently make it on to the pitch because the half-empty Riverside Stadium was ‘too noisy’ (again, according to his post-match interview).

So, less than a minute into the second half with Forest all over the place the former Coventry striker Jutkiewicz did his old club Coventry a massive favour – turning Chambers on the edge of the area and putting a low drive past Lee Camp to double the home side’s lead.  It was looking like becoming a drubbing at this point – Rhys Williams ought to have done better when heading over from a corner, and Jutkiewicz putting one over from range.

I’m ashamed to say myself and a few others had considered a few more Boro goals might hasten the departure of Cotterill and be a price worth paying, since we were (and so it came to pass) going to lose anyway.  The Crucifier showed he had observed something from recent games and introduced Andy Reid for Wootton, giving him half an hour to make a difference – he immediately did.  A foul on Gunter gave us a freekick which Reid crossed in for Lynch (another player who I think merits more game time) flicked a header in.

Forest did look livelier – and when Kevin Thomson picked up two bookings in rapid succession it looked like an unlikely lifeline was being handed to us.  Guedioura came closest for us – smashing an excellent effort from 30 yards which struck the bar and didn’t quite cross the line.  The rest of the game saw lots of territory and possession but that old lack of creativity or ruthlessness infront of goal meaning the home side could hold on to their win.

If Mark Arthur or Frank Clark are reading – please rid us of this awful team selector, awful substitute maker, awful tactician and awful motivator.  I will concede some of his signings look useful – but you already have your next manager on the payroll.  Put Cotterill on gardening leave and give Sean O’Driscoll the reigns.  If you are reading Steve, do you honestly think you’re doing a good job?  Have the common decency to walk away.  You’re probably a lovely man, but by heavens you are a terrible football manager – and we’ve seen a few.

If his was really the best CV on offer of the forty or so reported applicants for the job, then surely we can sack him for fraud, or actually submitting his Football Manager 2012 achievements rather than his real life ones?  It is with reluctance, because I don’t like to promote dischord, that I have to agree with those that call for putting Cotterill on gardening leave.

Middlesbrough vs. Forest preview..

An improved performance against Watford on Saturday (I said improved, not amazing, world-beating or anything like that!) might well serve to give the Forest squad the confidence to go one better at Boro.  Well, it might.  Whilst of course we are near the bottom of the form bragging order, Middlesbrough have stalled in what had looked to be a promotion bid – they have yet to notch a league win in 2012, something even we’ve managed – just!

With the news from the Black Country of Mick McCarthy being relieved of his duties at Wolves, it’s to be hoped that this doesn’t result in a recall for either Elokobi or Guedioura – with the latter putting in an eye-catching performance at the weekend, and the former being our only left-back cover what with us extending Freeman’s loan to Notts County and with Cunningham still being out injured.

The only change in available personnel for us is the availability of Marcus Tudgay who missed the Watford game through illness.  Given Steve Cotterill’s favour of the striker, and the not-exactly-impressive showings from either Harewood or Miller then he might well find himself back in the side.  Personally I’d like to see him revert Gunter to right-back, and pop Wootton in the middle at the expense of Chambers – can’t see it, though.

Boro haven’t won in their last six league games – three defeats, and three draws.  Not a daunting record, although more so when you consider ours – having said that, we have won one of our last six, we’ve drawn one too – of course – and lost the rest.  So in terms of ‘who has lost most’ then we are worst off, although have amassed a whole one more point over that period in the league.

They are missing Danny Coyne with a calf problem, and Zemmama and McDonald who are also both out suffering injuries.  We’ve picked up no additional injuries, so it’s just Moloney and Cunningham who are likely to remain on the sidelines alongside long term victim Chris Cohen.  Suddenly we seem to have quite a few selection options, I wonder how long it will be before the manager complains about too much choice in his post-match interviews?

If I were inclined to have a bet then a low-or-no-scoring draw seems likely.  I would dearly like to think that we can kick on and continue to improve our performance levels after the weekend, but I’ve been bitten by optimism before so am a little more cautious now.  I’m not even cautiously optimistic and that’s something that makes me feel really rather sad – because I can usually muster a bit of cautious optimism at least.

Elsewhere in the football news Portsmouth are being handed parachute payments early to help ease their financial burden that is likely to see a point reduction should they enter administration again.  After some initial confusion over the likely punishment in such an event it’s a ten point deduction that would be handed out.  That would put them on level points with us, but (obviously) a better goal difference.

Ordinarily I’d be sorry to see it come to this – but when you patently fail to manage your circumstances despite being handed millions a year to ‘compensate’ for a lack of top flight action then something needs to happen.  If anything there is too much leniency being shown.  And that’s not just me being bitter because not only did they land us with Steve Cotterill, they made us bloody well pay for the privilege!

Anyway, I digress – a tuesday night trip to the Riverside Stadium isn’t what anyone wants, and both sides stand in need of a change in form for different reasons.  It’s difficult to formulate a cogent argument for it being us that does so, maybe Middlesbrough fans feel similarly pessimistic – either way, I’m sad to say that I fear a draw would be seen as a success here.  Then it’s on to Coventry at home which, basically, if we can’t win then we are down.

Much improved, but still only one point..

Gunts will probably want to forget his assorted misses today!

Nottingham Forest – 1
Watford – 1

It was always going to begin an emotional day – the first gathering of the Forest family since we lost our biggest benefactor.  Many had – like me – taken time out pre-match to write in one of the two books of condolence that Forest had prepared, and folks had also left flowers, shirts and scarves near the main reception in tribute to Nigel Doughty.  The game of course commenced with a minute’s applause to show appreciation.

I personally had some difficulty with many fans around me (who I’ve heard chant Nigel Doughty’s name before) this time loudly urging folks to stand up for him.  It is a pity that the only time I’ve heard his name pass these people’s lips in a positive light is post mortem.  However despite some of these characters it was nice to hear a few rounds of chanting for him – particularly with his family in attendance for the game.

So, the game – with so many incomings as expected we got a changed line-up – and entirely new defence with Chambers coming in as well as three loan signings.  Harsh on Lynch, I thought.  Dropping Gunts too would be mean, so he found himself pushed forward as a right-winger as happened earlier in Cotterill’s reign, giving us:

Camp
Wootton    Chambers    Higginbotham    Elokobi
Gunter    Moussi    Guedioura    McCleary
Harewood   Miller

We started well, too.  A bit of pressure, a foul on Gunter and a freekick, it was put in well by Guedioura and found Chambers but he couldn’t get sufficient power on his header to provide anything other than a fairly routine save for Loach.  Whilst possession and territory was in plentiful supply for the Reds, we weren’t exactly hammering on Scott Loach’s goal – and suddenly to a micro-second of dumb-founded confusion, we scored.

Garath McCleary picked up the ball, cut inside and hit a low shot not especially powerful, ending up just inside the far post – I have yet to see a replay but in ‘real time’ it seemed like a real pea-roller.  We all sat and watched the ball hit the yet, paused to remember what happens next before, to a man (or woman) rising to join in the lunatic dancing to the usually-tasteless Fratellis goal music.

Moments later it could’ve been two – Gunter found himself one on one with the keeper and went for the cheeky chip that I always go for to great affect in FIFA 12.  Unlike in my fantasy game he didn’t quite put enough power on it so it was cleared.  As well as McCleary, Guedioura was catching the eye in a much more composed performance than his debut – a decent ball for Miller gave the big striker a chance to shoot, bringing a decent save from Loach.

Naturally enough, though, Watford started to play their way back into the game and certainly fans’ nerves were jangling with just a one goal lead.  That lead really ought to have been equalised when Eustace allowed Camp the chance to save from point-blank range, with Chambers eventually making the clearance.  At the other end McCleary shot from a similar spot to his goal after a good lay-off by Miller, this time Loach was alert to it and made a smart save.

The visitors were getting stronger though – Sean Murray worked really well to jink in and out to get past a couple of defenders in the box, bore down on goal and conspired to put his eventual shot into the side netting, much to our relief.  It was short-lived.  Garner won a freekick for Watford with the patently ‘Garner-Flop’ that we became accustomed to in his time with us.

Sean Murray took the free-kick into the area, Troy Deeney got his head on to it (hard to tell from my end who was supposed to be covering him) and looped a well-placed effort over Camp (who might’ve got a hand on it) and into the net.  A real kick in the nuts for Forest, who’d certainly looked a much more cohesive team than they have a weeks – considering we had three debutants in defence, and one making his second appearance in midfield, that’s quite bonkers.

The usual half time dreariness of fans failing to kick a ball through a hole was perhaps a little less dreary than usual owing to some glimmers of hope.  Elokobi was having a solid debut (admittedly under limited forays forward by the visitors).  Wootton looks comfortable on the ball, and a classy player.  Higginbotham is steady, as you’d expect – and constantly talking to his teammates (we need this!), and Guedioura was outstanding in spells.  Some of us were almost feeling optimistic!

We got off to a great start early in the second half, too – McCleary had made a good run down the left before feeding Miller who’s effort was blocked before it could trouble Loach.  Shortly after this we picked up a free-kick after Moussi was felled, bizarrely it was Harewood who took it (Higginbotham blasted one into the wall in the first half), hitting it low and just wide – it looked a bit of a mishit and perhaps had Loach wrong-footed.

Gunts will be having nightmares tonight about the chances that fell his way – a cross from Harewood from the left found him in a great position on the back stick – it was at an awkward height, but frankly it was as good as an open goal.  He volleyed it, it crashed off the bar and out – he could’ve chested it in or cushioned it in, still, coulda woulda shoulda – Chris ain’t an attacker, and it showed.  Credit to him for being in that position, though.

It became a bit groundhog dayish after that – McCleary continued to cause trouble and found Gunts again who scuffed a shot which was an easy save for Loach.  Mariappa headed goalward on a rare foray forward but t’was an easy claim for Lee Camp.  More pressure from Forest saw Guedioura try to single-handedly knock out the Watford defence with powerful shots from range that were blocked, and of course there was time for another cross from McCleary to find Gunter who headed just over from ten yards out.

Watford too rattled the woodwork – a late run into the box from Eustace was picked out well and his volley cannoned off the crossbar and over.  This heralded the traditional late substitutions from the manager – he took off Miller and replaced him with Findley.  Findley had some good early touches and won a few headers, and of course, Gunter got on the end of a decent cross from McCleary and blazed it over from eight yards out.

Blackstock was on next for Harewood with about ten minutes on the clock, but as we struggled to break down Watford the gaffer decided to give Andy Reid a whole three minutes to make an impact – taking off Scott Wootton (who looks an excellent prospect).  With stoppage time underway Reid picked out a perfectly weighted throughball to Findley who showed the first touch of a brick wall, essentially passing it back to Loach.

That was the fairytale ending denied – very disappointing.  Easily enough chances to have won the game, unfortunately they fell to a right-back playing on the wing (who was clearly repeatedly getting in great positions!), and a striker who – well – could use a bit of form bestowing upon him.  Whilst it’s fair to reflect on elements of bad luck, we are in a race against time with regard to avoiding the drop – we need points.

It was very reassuring to see something that was more like a concerted effort and a team-performance though, and considering a fair number of the participants have had limited time together that could bode well.  Of course, it could also bode badly when they’ve had a little bit more time for Cotterill to train their common sense away from them.  Nah, sod it, let’s be positive – let’s get an unlikely win at the Riverside on Tuesday.

Forest vs. Watford preview..

Right, back to business as usual.  Sort of.  The game will begin with a minute’s applause before kick-off and both sides will don black armbands in memory of Reds owner Nigel Doughty who passed away last weekend.  Our first action in twelve days thanks to the interventions of weather and our own rubbishness in the cup, one would hope that the players will be eager to proffer a considerable improvement over recent encounters.

We are, of course, definitely going to end the weekend in the relegation zone whatever the outcome – four points from safety is our current predicament, whilst Watford – who had been flirting with earlier in the season have put some clear space between them and the drop zone – currently they’re 12 points clear of the dreaded bottom three with recent wins over Millwall and Barnsley – they will also, of course, be in confident mood having given Tottenham a tough game in the cup.

It might be quite a difficult to predict line-up and formation with three loanees poised to make their debut – George Forman (sorry, Elokobi – thanks Melbourne Red for the gag) has just arrived on loan from Wolves with almost universally bad feedback, but he’s a left back, and since Greg Cunningham is injured we could do with one of those.  Danny Higginbotham and Scott Wootton may also feature in what could be a very different looking back four.  With Chambers available after his suspension we suddenly seem to have a lot of options back there.

Could it be that Steve Cotterill is planning on simply fielding six defenders and four strikers, thus bypassing the need for a midfield all together?  It’s certainly possible!  Brendan Moloney at least is not available in defence due to a thigh injury, as isn’t the aforementioned Cunningham.  Chris Cohen of course heads the long-term injury list, which is starting to look a lot more manageable than it has done of late.

Watford's manager: Given up American Wrestling for Football Management

Former Reds striker Joe Garner is likely to line up against us – much like here he’s not exactly been prolific for the Hornets.  Their manager, Stonecold Steve Austin (sic) is in confident mood, as well he might be.  A trip to can’t-get-a-point-for-love-nor-money Forest is a great opportunity for them to clock up a third win on the bounce and continue their progression.  They’re in good shape squad-wise too – only McGinn and Taylor missing with a knee and toe injury respectively.

Added to their general progression Watford also have the ignominy of being one of the few teams this season who’ve suffered defeat at our hands earlier in the season.  In a televised game at Vicarage Road that wasn’t exactly memorable, it was Ishmael Miller who grabbed the only goal of the game after a defensive mix-up in dealing with a long punt from Lee Camp gave Miller his chance to pounce and divert the ball past a stranded Scott Loach.

Cotterill has been talking about players channelling their emotions positively in this game – and he’s absolutely right.  Whilst supporters have been rightly saddened by the passing away of Mr Doughty, for the players perhaps have had the unplanned break from play after his death to consider whether or not they’ve always justified their handsome salaries – I hope a bit of reflection and a bit of renewed fight and pulling together is evident.

We haven’t scored a goal for 12 weeks at home – and that is an absolutely appalling statistic, I can think of no better tribute to Nigel Doughty’s memory than having the City Ground fans subjected to that bloody awful goal-music that I have dim recollections of us playing on the event of a home goal.  That’s if the CD player that plays the tune hasn’t seized up through lack of use!

Vivit post funera virtus..

It’s been a strange few days for Forest fans in the aftermath of the untimely passing of Nigel Doughty. The elements intervening in the weekend’s game gave a welcome break from contemplating our on-the-pitch troubles and time for reflection – time that many Forest fans have put to good use in raising over £3,000 for ChildLine as a small tribute to the memory of our owner.

This is a really great example of scores of kind-hearted souls combining to make a real difference to the lives of children in the name of Nigel Doughty’s memory.  I’m sure he would heartily approve of this – with ChildLine being a charity he personally backed heavily.  Fans can also leave a personal tribute in the book of condolence that Forest have opened at the City Ground – this is available in the main reception behind the Main Stand between the hours of 9:30am and 4:30pm.

But.

The wheels of the world keep on turning – it’s been confirmed today that the game at Derby will be contested on 13th March – a Tuesday evening, giving us Derby away, Leicester away then Leeds away inside a week.  Ouch.  As well as many fans potentially having the problem of not being able to make the rescheduled game it’s highly unlikely we’ll benefit from the TV money either.  Not ideal!

A leveller like we’ve seen this week has perhaps softened my resolve towards the coaching team and the players.  I haven’t changed my opinion of where they’ve fallen short in the past, but I’m hoping that we might also see a change of attitude on the field, as such I’m prepared to relax the level of criticism and remember that I’ve a role to play as a supporter, and maybe I could have been doing that better both in person and certainly on the blog.

It might be in vain but I do think the least we can do is get as many Reds in to the City Ground on Saturday as we can against Watford and try to spur the lads on to change our fortunes.  Usual preview to follow later in the week, but events have left me in a more contemplative mood and whilst football is all of our passions, Bill Shankly was wrong – football isn’t more important than life and death.  It’s a pity it sometimes takes an awful event to make us realise.

Without wanting to go all Jerry Springer to end with, maybe the mostly-filled-with-goodwill mood around the Forest online world could perhaps be maintained – I always think the world is a much nicer place when people are courteous to one another, even in disagreement.

Rest in peace, Nigel Doughty..

It was quite the shock to hear the news that Nigel Doughty had passed away on Radio Nottingham this afternoon.  54 is certainly no age, and my thoughts and condolences go to his family and colleagues.

Generally I’ve steered the blog clear of too much comment upon his past running of the club – largely because of my lack of knowledge rather than any conscious decision.

Certainly now is not the time to start on that track – what is undeniable is his generosity of deed and spirit, both in the Forest context and more widely in the local community – more than that of course he was a son, a husband, a father and a friend.  I for one am terribly sad to have heard this news.

Of course the question of the future of the club – of which whilst no longer Chairman, Mr Doughty was the owner – must be posed at some point, but I would press you all – let’s not speculate on this now, and just take a moment or several to take time out to reflect upon the passing of a man who tried to do the right thing for the club.

Sleep well, Nigel, and thank you.

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