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:
Wootton Chambers Higginbotham Elokobi
Gunter Moussi Guedioura McCleary
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.