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!

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.