Oldham Athletic vs. Forest preview..

Depressingly this is now a 2nd vs 3rd clash as a mere draw with Tranmere leaves us looking up at Scunthorpe atop the league.  Oldham tonked Gillingham 3-0 yesterday to keep the pressure on with their third consecutive win – and since they are only three points behind us, and with four more on their goal difference, a win for the Latics will see them topple us further to 3rd place, as they take an automatic promotion spot.

So it quite literally is all to play for in this critical fixture.  Our recent form has been rather wayward – a loss, a win and a draw in our last three games whereas Oldham have a 100% record in their last three – given the home advantage, recent form and a continuation of weather conditions that hamper our play, it’s tricky to see a way for Forest to get anything out of this game, and that’s before we get onto the injuries.

Kris Commons limped out of the action against Tranmere clutching his hamstring; and whilst the extent of the injury is as yet unconfirmed, he definitely won’t be making the trip North.  It seems likely that Junior Agogo will take his place in a front three – and given the general predictability of our team selections lately I suspect that will be the only change from the lacklustre side that faced Rovers yesterday.

Oldham have no major injury concerns, and have lined up unchanged in their last two victorious fixtures – so will undoubtedly be looking to do so again.  A Gillingham fan I speak to occasionally described Oldham’s 3-0 demolition of them as the best performance he’s seen this season – so they’re certainly on good form.  Oh dear!  Of course, John Sheridan I’m sure will be keen to stick the boot in on Forest after we signed him in the late 80’s only to play him once and palm him off to Sheffield Wednesday.

We have, of course, met Oldham already this season at the City Ground in September – and that was our first defeat of the season thank to two goals from Chris Porter to which we had no reply.  They were Oldham’s first away points of the season, and they have since gone from strength to strength – particularly Porter, who now has 17 goals to his name this season – an impressive haul in anyone’s money, and Oldham’s most obvious goal threat.

I’m making the trip up to Boundary Park tomorrow, and as such it makes me feel even more pessimistic than I was already feeling reading through the assorted stats, form and general confidence levels!  Given the disappointment of only drawing against Rovers, this game becomes a must win in many ways, or perhaps it’s more of a ‘really-rather-win’ and ‘must-not-lose’ – lose and we’re into the playoff zone, and whilst I respect Smoulders, I can’t agree with him that our league placing is insignificant!

Or, for the optimists, Port Vale will beat Scunthorpe at home, and we’ll win a scrappy game with Oldham and find ourselves back on top of the league, meaning we vacated the spot for only 48 hours 🙂  Pah, I can’t see it!

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Is Smoulds’ calm the eye of the storm?

When I first heard Smoulderwood’s comments after the Tranmere game I was a bit nonplussed, it is very easy to read into what was said, or to pick out key phrases that nark you – an example of this would be Kinnear referring to a game against Derby as “just another game” – had we gone on and won that “just another” game, I imagine that comment could have been hailed as genius, as we lost – and badly – it proved to be a significant nail in Big Fat Joe’s coffin.

Here is what Smoulds had to say after a rather lacklustre draw against Tranmere:

“Do I think we will record 10 more wins this season, which I’m pretty sure would be enough to get us promotion? The answer would be yes.”

“Have we got players good enough to take us up? Yes. There are so many positives about our situation that we’ve got to be careful that we don’t allow negatives to creep into our thinking.

“It’s insignificant that we’re no longer top. The significant thing is that we’ve shown good character to come from behind and claim a point against a good team. I think if we win at Oldham on Monday we could well find ourselves top again – but they don’t hand out prizes for being top in December or January.”

Now, which is the phrase that jumps out of that little lot – the one that could really bite him on the arse if we don’t pick up form?  It is of course “It’s insignificant that we’re no longer top.”  I’m sorry Colin, but it bloody well is – in actual terms it is significant, and more crucially it is a huge psychological blow to not see us topping that table any more – particularly when we have the knowledge we had a 7 point gap at one point.

As an aside, walking out the ground with my seat-mate when we were 7 points clear he remarked “7 points! That’s like fucking up three games whilst others keep winning – surely even Forest can’t fuck up that much!” – hmm, I kept my council at the time, alas, it seems that they can and have!

However, we must temper what Smoulds says to the press with the certain knowledge that he undoubtedly says something different in the dressing room.  It wouldn’t do for him to have a Jose Mourinho style tantrum about not being able to play when we only have Commons and Morgan as injury concerns.  A public lambasting of the players with less than 48 hours would perhaps not have been the wisest course of action – so those of you criticising Smoulders for being overly positive, think of the big picture.

It does go to show that Smoulds hasn’t quite won over Forest fans generally though, people are quite quick to jump on his back, self included on occasions.  With worries that the 3-4-3 formation he so rigidly enforces is being found out, concerns about which areas of the side  need strengthening and all manner of petty gripes, January is a critical month for Smoulders both on and off the pitch, so perhaps that he can maintain a calm exterior when we’re all pulling our hair out is a good sign he’s equipped to deal with it.

Top of the league? You’re having a laugh.

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?

Smoulds eyeing a Luton or Brum player?

Smoulderwood was pictured watching the match between Birmingham City and Luton Town last night; and of course, it sparks all manner of conspiracy theories or conjecture – certainly it seems somewhat unlikely he is scouting potential opponents; so it would seem either Smoulds has a penchant for dreary West Midlands footballing stadia, just fancied taking in a game or is perhaps involved in some kind of player activity.

The doom merchants are resurrecting the ‘Nathan Tyson is going to Birmingham to compliment the 8,000,000 other senior strikers they have’ rumours – can’t see it meself, as I may have slightly hinted at in an over-exaggerated fashion, Birmingham have a lot of strikers already, and whilst I rate Nath very highly, he’s unproven at a level higher than ours.  Plus if we were to sell him at this stage of the season it would be a rather piss poor showing of our ambition, or lackthereof.

Which gives us the exciting prospect of him potentially scouting players to sign – ooh, nice!  Of course, there were 22 of the buggers to choose from, not to mention the 5 substitutes used on the night as well.  It seems likely to me that, unless the doom-mongers are right and Nath is off in a player swap deal, that it was a Luton player being scouted, which narrows down our search – but well, let’s face it, it could be anyone.

A chap on the LTLF forum suggested it could be Trinidad and Tobago international Carlos Edwards – a midfielder who looks a bit like Craig David.  He’s supposed to be a pacey player, and at 28 years old should be around at his prime – indeed, whilst we may not be aware of it, it is likely we all saw him in action since his represented Trinidad and Tobago during the World Cup this year.  He joined Luton the season before this, so you never know.

Or, of course, Smoulds could’ve just fancied taking in a game of football of an evening!

Spencer to the Imps..

Spencer Weir-Daley has escaped the fate of being released from Forest and has been moved to Lincoln City on “emergency” loan for three months starting 1st January.  Given the news of Pittman, Beaumont and Cullingworth it must be starting to feel like drinking at the last chance saloon for the young striker, but clearly there is still a chance of the youngster having a future with Forest.

Lincoln, of course, is the current loan destination of another Forest player, and hopefully this move will be made permanent – that is of course Nicky Eaden, the defender who had an absolute nightmare of a spell with Forest, but is apparently enjoying a new lease of life in Lincolnshire.  I doubt Forest will be too bothered about recouping a fee for the former Wigan defender, but whether Lincoln can meet his wage demands would be questionable.

Trio of youngsters released…

Just before the transfer window Forest have started with outgoings; by releasing a trio of youngsters by mutual consent.  Jon-Paul Pittman, James Cullingworth and James Beaumont will all be plying their trade away from the City Ground from  today, it seems.  Despite each being highly rated at youth and reserve levels, it is evident that the three are not thought to be likely to develop sufficiently to challenge the first team.

Having read a few reports about Beaumont in the reserves he’s the one that surprised me, and I’m sure that Cullingworth was rumoured to be being tracked by a bigger club not that long ago, was it Villa?  Hmm, who knows.  But anyway, best of luck to the three lads – if they are definitely not going to get an opportunity to progress here then it makes perfect sense to let them move on and forge a chance elsewhere.

Forest vs. Tranmere Rovers preview..

This fixture is quite tasty for all manner of reasons, obviously upfront for the almost-Scousers will be the familiar elbows of a certain Mr G. Taylor, and until recently John Thompson was on loan with The Whites.  Ronnie Moore was upset when Forest recalled Thommo early, and Smoulders all but confirmed an element of that recall was because he didn’t want to do a potential promotion rival any favours!

Rovers have fallen away from the promotion picture lately; despite Gareth Taylor’s outlandish claims that they were going to win the league.  They’re not far from the playoff places though, so will be eager for a win against the Reds who had be stuttering until Boxing Day’s convincing win against Port Vale.  Taylor has a characteristically unprolific scoring record for Tranmere, but will need watching,  as will Chris Greenacre, who always seems to do well against us.

Nathan Tyson is a slight doubt for us with his calf strain, although Grant Holt’s two goals against Port Vale will prove him to be an able deputy.  Wes Morgan has recovered from the illness that has kept him out our last two games – although with Thompson impressive in the last game and with his “inside knowledge” of our opponents his passage back into the team may not be a foregone conclusion.

Tranmere, as far as I’m aware, are pretty much full-strength – except for their ‘keeper Gavin Ward – as well as dirty bastard Jason McAteer – so I expect them to provide us with tough opposition.  On paper, it should be a home win, but we’ve not exactly played according to the form book at home this season, so you can’t take anything for granted – however, if we can recreate the professional performance with which we despatched Port Vale then we’ll be laughing.