Play offs here we come!

Bristol City – 1
Nottingham Forest – 1

Firstly, apologies for the lack of updates for the last few days – unfortunately I’ve been forcibly away from the internet for a while, which needless to say has been traumatic for me.  Nonetheless, despite not originally intending to, I did make the trip down to see us play Bristol City today, not feeling especially confident but hopeful of being there in person to witness a win that would make automatic promotion a real possibility.  Alas, I was to be disappointed on that front.

The first half was very evenly balanced, and surprisingly open given what was at stake for both sides.  The first blood was drawn by Forest with a freekick just wide from Commons after Lester was felled.  Bristol bit back quickly though when Betsy put it wide after coming through acres of space down the wing.

Amazingly we were in front shortly after this.  Lester found Commons in what looked like one of those “this is Kris about to lose the ball” kind of positions, yet he managed to jink past a couple of players before crossing the ball in for Grant Holt to score (apparently it was a diving header – the view from the away end was pretty shite so I’ll take the match report’s word for it!).

Smith was called into action very soon after this – a header looked goal-bound before he executed a smart save to the left, tipping the ball behind to concede the corner.  City did put some pressure on, but Forest did stand firm, and had occasional counter-attacking forays forward.  Bristol’s movement off the ball was far superior to us though, so their players always seemed to be in space.

They did get the equaliser, sadly, about seven minutes before half time.  A header dropped to Cole Skuse whose shot was well saved by Smith, but unfortunately he could only parry it back into play, where Bradley Orr was on hand to plant the ball into the roof of the net infront of us – at which point we actually got to hear from the otherwise quiet denizens of Bristol.

The second half, really, was Bristol’s if we’re being fair.  They were bossing midfield and Forest were struggling to deal with it.  Jack had just had an altercation with someone and a warning from the referee, and was soon withdrawn for the newly clean-shaven Prutton to bolster midfield.  Both Jack and the fans appeared mystified by this apparently negative move and boos echoed from the away end.

In a way the tactics worked a bit – but ultimately it meant we were consigned to soaking pressure.  Lee Johnson and Steve Brooker both had good opportunities but failed to hit the target as Forest lumped the ball forlornly to the lone Grant Holt up front, who was struggling – unsurprisingly – to keep possession for very long.  Jevons had a good effort saved by Smith, before Lewis McGugan was left prone in our penalty area.

Tyson replaced him shortly after, with Forest reverting to a standard four four two formation.  Shortly after this I’m convinced we should have had a penalty.   Carey was attempting to shepherd the ball out, Grant cleverly got around the other side of him, won the ball and was clear of him before being wrestled to the deck – the inept referee waved play on much to the consternation of the away end.

City continued to pressure us, and we tried to shore up defence by bringing on Wes Morgan for John Curtis, with Luke Chambers (my man of the match for Forest) moving to right back.  Carey missed what looked like a golden chance to take the points with a free header on the back stick, but headed wide thankfully!

Forest finished strong, but the final ball always seemed to just be lacking meaning that pressure and decent possession up front invariably didn’t lead to a chance on goal – which was very frustrating, the worst example when Grant Holt had done really well to get into the area, before letting himself down with a poor pass to Commons.

I should be quite pleased, I was expecting a defeat so to get a point is credit to the boys – but it’s a starting to feel too little too late.  Bristol remain 4 points ahead of us, Scunthorpe won and are 4 points ahead of them.  It’s certainly not impossible for us to achieve an automatic promotion spot, but even with my most optimistic hat on I can’t see both us picking up sufficient results, and Bristol or Scunny dropping them.

So all that remained was to run the gauntlett of ageing inbred idiots looking for trouble to find the car.  Plenty of Brizzle knuckledraggers were out in force on the main road outside the ground, presumably looking for round two of Radcliffe Road earlier in the season.  I didn’t see much beyond verbal exchanges – although it was fun to see one of the Bumpkins have a police dog get set on him.  After leaving the bulk of fans heading off to their coaches, it was a relatively straightforward walk to the car and back to civilisation.

I fear the play offs now loom large on our horizon, I guess the small glimmer of light at the end of this particular tunnel is that (should we manage to get through the semis) the final will be hosted at the new Wembley stadium – which, whilst I’d happily miss out on it for automatic promotion, would be a tremendous day out.

Junior’s a no go, but Prutts is raring to go..

The most prominent news we’ve had this week has been the untimely injury to Junior Agogo, which looks set to keep the striker out for the season.  This, of course, can only be bad news for us and him – he’d just started to show signs of what he’s capable of in a Forest shirt.  Having said that, now is the time for the likes of Grant Holt and Nathan Tyson to step up to the plate and stake their claim on a starting berth alongside the in form and mercurial Jack Lester, who has rolled back the years lately with a string of influential performances.

In better news, David Prutton is apparently reaching fitness again and should be available for our crunch clash with Bristol City at the weekend.  Of course, whether or not our own “littlest Hobo” will be able to displace the likes of Lewis McGugan, James Perch or Gary Holt remains to be seen, the midfield trio have been on decent form as well potentially leaving Prutts to be content with a place on the bench at Ashton Gate.  The fixture at Bristol has completely sold out now, we’ve sold 3,300 tickets – and the home tickets are also sold out, so it should be a decent atmosphere for those of you making the journey!

Gary Holt revealed that David Kerslake and Ian McParland have been “banging on about side foot finishing” in training, which explains his perhaps surprisingly calm finish when scoring the opening goal against Cheltenham, although he was modest enough to say “it went in, for a change!”.  The other news of note is that young ‘keeper Paddy Gamble has gone on an emergency loan to York City, who found themselves without goalkeeping cover after the transfer deadline – a great opportunity for him to gain some first team experience.

A lot of fans I’ve spoken to are deliriously excited about our crunch clash at the weekend – I’m still rather nervous about it all.  We’ve had two decent performances, and two wins – as well as a credible draw at Scunthorpe recently, my inner-pessimist who I try to keep in check can’t help but work out the numbers and not really rate our chances against a Bristol City side on very good form, and who seem to be getting a fair bit of luck with late goals.. ho hum!

One set of Robins down.. one to go!

Nottingham Forest – 3
Cheltenham Town – 0

Well, where to start!  A good performance from the Reds for the majority of the 90 minutes, aided undoubtedly by poor quality opposition, but nonetheless Forest showed a great worth ethic interspersed with some moments of great passing to earn themselves a deservedly convincing victory over the Robins.  I was particularly pleased that Gary Holt was on hand to finish off a move he started, certainly an improved performance from him, but not that I really think he’s nearly as bad as he’s often portrayed on the message boards.

Alas, Bristol City, Yeovil and Scunthorpe all scored late goals – although with Scunny’s only being an equaliser, it does mean we make up ground on them – whilst making up goal-difference ground on Bristol.  It’s certainly hotting up in the final run-in, our trip to Bristol sees us still unable to overtake them on the day, and it does really mean that we should be going for the win.

The first half started reasonably well for Forest – I thought Jack was impeded in the area, but the referee thought otherwise and didn’t give a foul.  Shortly after this Jack burst down the right, his shot was parried and fell to Commons, who scuffed it a bit but still hit the post, before McGugan was only able to put the ball over from close range.

Again Jack was the victim of a foul on the edge of the box, Townsend looked like the last man to me as he held back Jack, but his fullback tucking in quickly possibly got him out of jail – either way, the referee only gave a booking and a freekick almost on the D.  Lewis took it well, but clipped the wall taking the ball over.

Just as our pressure looked to be easing off and coming to nothing, Gary Holt won the ball in midfield, and played the ball to Lester before uncharacteristically burst onward into the box – Jack tricked and turned and released the ball perfectly for Gary Holt to sidefoot the ball home to give us a deserved lead.

Of course, though, Forest never like to make it easy for themselves, and just before half time a clever drag back from Denes Rosa sold two defenders a dummy and left him with a gaping goal (and Paul Smith) to score, but he somehow contrived to shoot over – a real definite let off for the Reds as they went in at half time, undoubtedly the happier of the two sides.

The second half started in a lively fashion, the Trent End seemed convinced of a handball in the area early on, it wasn’t really possible to tell from my seat.  We didn’t have to wait too long though – Grant Holt, who had a hardworking but frustrating game today, crossed over McGugan, but Perchy was on hand on the back stick to put the ball away.

Brecks brought a good save from the Robins keeper with a header from a corner, whilst Perch had another opportunity from a Grant cross but this time he fluffed it slightly so it ended up wide.  Alan Wright – impressive again at left back – worked well with Commons to provide what looked like a tap in for Grant, but as numerous air-shots would testify earlier, this wasn’t to be his game.

Grant was replaced by Tyson shortly after this, with Dobie coming on for the knackered looking McGugan.  Grant had a good hardworking game, but his end product was often criminally bad considering how lethal he was earlier in the season.  Tyson was quickly in the thick of it with a smart turn and shot in the area forcing a save from Higgs.

The final goal was to come from the penalty spot, Shane Duff went in very late on Luke Chambers with his studs up – it looked a nasty challenge.  Tyson was quick to claim the penalty as his and grabbed the ball and awaited the go-ahead from the referee to take it – he had a long run up, which he took very slowly before putting it low and left and celebrating with the Trent End.

We also got a glimpse of newboy James Henry – his first action was to bravely go in for a challenge and win a freekick – a good sign!  We didn’t really see much of him on the ball, although he did win a game of “corner flag chess” by tricking his way to winning a corner.  Far too early to make a judgement call on the youngster – but nice to see him get a run out.

All in all, very happy indeed with the performance – Gary Holt and Jack Lester stood out particularly, the only minor quibbles I would have would be Grant’s poor finishing and use of the ball, but he did work his arse off, and Brecks looked shaky on occasion, one time in particular when the ball was coming down our left and he didn’t move to cover it at all, oh, and Paul Smith’s distribution in the first half was dreadful – but other than that, everyone did very well indeed – bring on the Bristol!

Forest vs. Cheltenham Town preview..

All eyes will be on whether loanee James Henry makes the team for the visit of Cheltenham tomorrow.  He is almost certain to feature in Smoulds’ squad for the game, whether he starts the match is another matter.  We are unable to call on Junior Agogo who’s injured, although he was due on international duty anyway, and David Prutton remains sidelined by his mysterious thigh injury, as does Wes Morgan with his ankle.

I’d expect to see Alan Wright remaining as left back, given Bennett is still suspended and he gave an impressive performance in our previous game, and Chambers will have another opportunity to partner Ian Breckin in the middle, with Curtis at right back.  In midfield I expect Smoulds to exercise caution, and stick with his usual – although he must be tempted to include Henry on the right, which would most likely be at the expense of Gary Holt (that would be my choice, I have a feeling Smoulders would be more likely to opt to rest either McGugan or Perch though).

Cheltenham are struggling at the foot of the table, but caution should be a watchword as they turned Doncaster over last week – so I would expect them to show a bit of fight and passion, and when sides do that it can go one of two ways for Forest – we match them and prevail, or we fold and get frustrated with a tenacious opponent.  Given the mounting pressure on the Reds to pick up maximum points – particularly from home fixtures – this could prove a tough one, but on paper (ah, if only all games were played on paper!) we should have enough quality to put the Robins to the sword.

Cheltenham have only one win in the last six games – that was on their trip to Donny as mentioned previously where they ran out 2-0 winners.  Generally on their travels they’ve not fared too well, but casting an eye over their results it’s worth noting that they have beaten Bristol City, Yeovil and Swansea on their travels – so they aren’t exactly shy of causing an upset on their travels.

If professional and hard-working Forest turn up, then I’d hope for a win.  If the lacklustre bunch of big-time charlies we’ve seen all too often over recent weeks turn up, then the Robins will have every chance of causing an upset.

Felix and James dumped out on loan…

No sooner had he returned from his loan signing, Felix is on the move again – this time to League One Gillingham.  Naturally, this has lead to all manner of speculation about what this could portend relating to our ongoing interest in Matty Jarvis – I’m willing to hazard a guess that it has bugger all to do with it.  As with Spencer’s loan, it gives Felix an opportunity to experience football at the same level as the first team squad – also the Gills have yet to face Bristol City, so hopefully he snags a few goals against them!

Meanwhile, Kevin James has been deemed – once again – not good enough to manufacture a move to play against our rivals, so has gone to Swindon on loan.  I’m not sure when Kevin James’ contract expires – but after being overlooked by subsequent managers (including the one who signed him!) he really has proven to be somewhat of a waste of space in his time as a Forest player.  It makes you wonder why we deal with Gillingham at all – Marlon King, Kevin James – although Nicky Southall proved to be a good move I guess.

McGugan signs new deal, and Spencer’s a Bantam

Other news on the Forest front are that man-of-the-moment Lewis McGugan has been confirmed to have signed a new deal with the Reds – keeping him with us for “at least three years.”  Rather deliriously, the Nottingham Evening Post suggests this is to fend off Premiership interest – although considering Lewis did take time out to join the Chelsea academy before returning to Forest, presumably not reaching the required standards for Roman’s empire, perhaps this precaution isn’t all that bad!

The other news is that Spencer Weir-Daley has returned from his loan spell with Lincoln, and duly been despatched to struggling Bradford to bolster their strikeforce.  This means that Smoulds and co will have a chance to see him playing at the level we’re currently at, as well as giving him the chance (hopefully!) to do some damage to our promotion rivals by bagging a few goals against them – Bradford have to play Blackpool, Scunthorpe and Oldham – so it could prove interesting.

It’s great news we’ve got Lewis signed and sealed for the long term – as he really does look an exciting prospect and at 18 he’s got no need at all to be rushing for a move just yet.  And for Spencer it’s really make or break time, he’s getting to the age that if he’s not seriously pushing for a first team place, he’s probably never going to – whilst loans do build up valuable experience, he still has a sizeable challenge on his hands to break into the first team – but well, hopefully he can prove us doubters wrong and do just that!

Reds snap up Reading starlet..

Well, my earlier cynicism seems misplaced – Forest have gone for an unexpected move and taken England U18 winger James Henry on loan for a month – with a view to extending it until the end of the season.  The youngster has apparently impressed in Reading’s reserves this season – and will be eligible for Saturday’s game against Cheltenham, before hotfooting it off to join his England U18 colleagues.

The youngster certainly talks the talk:

“It’s a great opportunity for me to gain some experience of first team football.  I first heard about Forest’s interest about a month ago, but I had a niggling injury on my ankle so it couldn’t happen then.  But I found out on Wednesday that I’d be leaving after the reserve game with Fulham so it was a sudden move really.

Forest are a massive club and they’re only four points behind Bristol city for an automatic promotion space, so they are going to be really competitive games in front of big crowds – I’m really looking forward to that.  Hopefully I can go and have an influence on their season by playing well for them.

It’s a month loan with a view to perhaps extending until the end of the season.  It’s going to be totally different for me being involved in games which mean a huge deal to the fans and club.  Academy and reserve games are important for development, but there’s nothing like the first team.  There are huge things at stake for Forest and I’ll be giving everything to their cause.”

I like the sound of that, and who would have thought it… a winger!  Good move, Smoulds – quite a brave one, considering how unproven he is, but given the impact of giving a certain Lewis McGugan a chance to shine lately, it could certainly prove a gamble worth making.  Whether or not James gets a chance at the weekend remains to be seen, but common sense would suggest that it would be a foolish signing to make if you had no intention of playing him.

Incoming midfielder on the cards?

Signing speculation has started in earnest again ahead of tomorrow’s deadline for loan transfers, and – rather unsurprisingly – it’s a midfielder Forest are apparently targetting.  The ever-reliable Nottingham Evening Post suggests we hope to bring in at least one signing presumably tomorrow, with Smoulds largely happy with “the tightness of the squad”, continuing his deviation from the repetitive use of the word “group” when referring to his players.

The only real specifics he’s gone into is to deny we are making a move (apparently a third move, no less!) for Gillingham midfielder Matty Jarvis – who has opted to sit it out and consider the best move in the summer when his Gills contract expires.  Whilst some fans label this as disloyal or blatantly seeing whether or not we are promoted, who can blame the lad really?  In his position I think I’d be tempted to do the same.

This leaves any further name dropping firmly in the hands of rumour-mongers, which I suppose I’m becoming by commenting on rumours I’ve heard, but the favourites in terms of most name-dropped appear to be both Shaun Derry or Kevin Nicholls of Leeds United, neither of whom, I fear, would “light my fire” so to speak, although prior to his appearance at the weekend, I would have said the same of Alan Wright – so I’m quite open minded about whoever (if anyone) joins us.

I do actually expect us to make a signing tomorrow now – given that Smoulders has pretty much said he wants someone in the press, he’s done that before and had his fingers burned when it didn’t happen – so presumably he wouldn’t run the risk of looking silly again.  Whether or not it happens to be a Leeds midfielder – mole or random wantaway – remains to be seen, but well, it should be interesting at least to keep an eye on the news feeds tomorrow!

Felix returns to the fold..

Felix Bastians is back at the City Ground, his loan spell with Halifax Town having ended – rather than being recalled as reported elsewhere – so presumably either Halifax opted not to extend the loan, or Forest deigned not to allow it.  I suspect the former rather than the latter.  He’s expected to start featuring regularly for the reserves any time soon – although personally I wouldn’t expect a first team appearance for a while!

Felix came to the fore under Gary Megson, but has yet to feature under Smoulds, instead being sent on a series of loan moves to gather experience and match practice.  His latest loan at Halifax saw him appear nine times, netting four goals – which isn’t a bad return.  Whilst I’d argue Krissy Commons has hardly been setting the world alight lately, I don’t think that he’ll be losing any sleep over Felix returning to Nottingham.

Let’s see that again!

Some kind soul uploaded the below video to YouTube – let’s watch it again, it’s certainly worth it!