Where’s Lenny?

There’s a lot of newspaper and forum inches being dedicated to the interesting disappearance of Neil Lennon.  His agent has come out to say he has ‘personal issues’ – thought to link to the distance between him and his missus and child, Smoulds says he has a back problem, and the rumour mongerers – predictably – have much more interesting theories.

So, of the options available – where’s Lenny?

1. He’s had a strop because Breckin has pinched the captain’s armband back, and despite questionable performances and the apparent return to fitness of Wes, he remains in the side.  (Forum rumour)

2. He wants to join the coaching staff at Leicester City now his mate Gerry Taggart is in charge of the Foxes following the spectacular appointment of Gary Megson at Bolton Wanderers. (Forum rumour)

3. He has a back injury, one of those mysterious injuries that only the sufferer is likely to know if it’s genuine or not.  This may rule him out for the weekend too. (Smoulds post-match comments)

4. He’s having ‘personal issues’ – which loosely translate to him being geographically far from his girlfriend and child, who are still up in Glasgow. (Lennon’s agent to the Evening Post today)

They’re all a bit flimsy for me, and I guess depending on the severity of potential ‘personal issues’ perhaps we shouldn’t expect to know exactly the truth.  However, it’s made Smoulders look a prize twat to have colluded with some kind of cover story around an injury, only for his agent to tap up the next day with vague tales of personal issues.

When oh when will this terribly shambolic club of ours ever sort itself out, eh?

Like watching paint dry…

Nottingham Forest – 0
Oldham Athletic – 0

If I’d popped down to watch Arnold Town against some other similarly levelled opponents tonight, I would have left disappointed with what I was served up with.  What on Earth happened to the Oldham side that annihilated us twice last season, I’m not sure – they were awful, and alas Forest weren’t much better either!  So it wasn’t a treat for the 16,000 or so souls who attended the game.

So that’s our game in hand gone, another chance to elevate ourselves to the automatic promotion places gone, and a change to get our run of home games off to a good start gone.  Are you getting the sense of what a drab and dull game this was to behold?  Still, at least we’re above Leeds United again – until saturday probably at this rate!

One thing that was in contrast was the fans – whilst Forest fans booed (and indeed, whilst I didn’t boo, I am griping on here), the merry band of Oldham fans, whilst few in number and difficult to hear, were pretty supportive of their side – and given the contrast in quality between them and the side I saw twice last season, they’d have every right to grumble a bit after a long trip on a tuesday night.

With rumours of a bust up doing the rounds on the forums, it was interesting to note Neil Lennon didn’t appear in the squad – reportedly with a back injury.  This made way for Lewis McGugan in midfield, who’s looking a lot more well built now, and a long-awaited place for Arron Davies on the bench.

The first half was dull, Forest didn’t really have much in them at all – but still, Chambers will be disappointed not to at least get a free header on target after Brecks got a good flick on a corner.  Oldham had a few decent efforts, and Smith did well to keep a clean sheet as the Forest defence decided the stand off to the point of ridiculousness.

The second half was a marginal improvement.  Not the fantastic transformation that the official match report implies, but we did at least get forward.  A low Chambers cross was missed by the defender but with nobody on the end of it, it was duly cleared by an Oldham clogger.  There were also – as with the first half – a lot of dubious offside decisions by incompetent linespeople.

Smith was once again not without things to do, particularly after corners when Forest did not seem to work out that every corner Oldham took was short – yet we only put one man to mark the taker and the person he was passing to.  More than once they were easily able to walk the ball up the bye-line into the area, and but for some blocks, a fair bit of luck, and some smart saves by Smith, they would surely have scored.

Arron Davies was introduced for the ineffective and blatantly unfit Grant Holt, and this did inject some much needed excitement into the game.  Within a minute he’d run at defenders, taken them on and fashioned a shooting chance which was just wide of the upright in the Trent End goal.

Shortly after this Davies did brilliantly to hook an Agogo cross-pass back into the area, but Cohen wasn’t able to come up with anything good enough to beat the Oldham keeper.  Again Davies worked well to get the ball to Cohen who miskicked when a relatively easy ball to Agogo – who’d put in a lot of mileage with little end product – was pretty much on.  Commons then spooned an effort wide from range.

The game did start to open up in the last ten minutes, with Oldham if anything looking the more likely to score.  A top tip here Reds, they released it quick from the ‘keeper and quickly attacked – Forest fans infuriatingly got on Smith’s back for our lack of doing this – but frankly, the entire team turn their back on him so it’s not like he can do much other than hoof the ball up.

Brecks, who had been – it’s fair to say – slow and cumbersome in defence did do well to get a low cross out for a corner, and after this was taken (short, again!) it was pretty much full time to a chorus of boos just as we had at half time.  Whilst it was a poor showing, I can never really see the point in it, but I suppose it’s just people letting off steam having witnessed a turgid game of football between two very poor sides on the day.

So probably the most interesting things were that Arron Davies looked very lively, I look forward to seeing more of him in the side.  And of course, has Neil Lennon really fallen out with Smoulds and gone off in a strop, or does he really have this mysterious back injury?  There needs to be a big improvement to get anything out of Tranmere or Southend over the coming week.

As Colin Fray said in summing up on the radio, you would really hope that 7 points would be achievable from these three home games – and frankly, that’s starting to sound unbelievably optimistic!  Whatever happened to the quick passing and moving for one another we have seen in spells this season, heaven only knows – but I’d quite like to see it back, please!!

The futility of being a Forest (or non top 4 football) fan..

I’m sure folks spotted this ludicrous notion in the news this week, which basically boils down to West Ham’s chairman – Eggert Magnusson – babbling on about the wonderful opportunities that could be had by staging English, yes, English Premier League matches in the United States.  Can you imagine anything more ridiculous to happen to our once beautiful game?

But that got me thinking further.  I’ve long since lost a lot of interest in the top flight, partly of course because the mighty Reds have spent so long away from it – but whenever I do tune in to catch a game or some coverage, there’s so much soap-opera style nonsense going on it’s not really very engaging.

I’m not interested in diving and playacting (not that this is the preserve of the top flight by any means), it infuriates me to see a bunch of overpaid primadonnas mithering the referee to try to influence his decision-making.  I’m not interested in a competition where you can pretty much nailed on state which four teams will make up the ‘Champions’ League places.

And it will only get worse.  Which makes you think, obviously we support our teams because we feel affinity and loyalty to them – not because they will win stuff – but of course the inherent nature of a football fan is that we want our team to win, to get promoted, to have a cup run – any sensible Forest fan, no matter how unrealistic it may seem, must surely want to see us back in to top flight at some point?

But you see, I’m not sure I do – because if we were to attain top flight status in the next five or ten years, imagine the carnage.  Do I really want to pay even more cash to see my side more than likely get spanked every week by better teams?  Sure, we bank some money to make the next season’s promotion drive a bit easier, but the imbalance is such that it’s never enough to make a serious bid at anything other than survival in the Premier League.

That level of non-competitiveness is, well, it’s not interesting is it?  Which does make me wonder really what the point of being a fan of a lower league team is!  Gone are the days that a club like Forest could rise from the second tier and go on to win the title – let alone then triumphing in Europe.  Gone even are the days where a Jack Walker style investment could deliver a league title to a provincial club like Blackburn.

Top flight football has become so obsessively cash focused, and increasingly controlled by foreign investment and televised schedules that frankly, the fans on the ground don’t really matter any more – so it is feasible for the chairmen of the richer clubs to seriously consider relocating games to another continent, in order to exploit an extra market to raise more revenue.

It makes me sick to the core, but it also makes me realise that there is at least a significant part of me that wouldn’t like to see Forest in this kind of arena.  Certainly I still long for promotion from this league, but I’m not sure I’d want to go beyond the Championship given the state of play in the top flight – which does rather bring into question the purpose of continuing to be a Forest supporter!

Of course, life is never black and white – and the lot of the football fan is certainly rarely subject to logic or clear thinking, so obviously this pasttime that has made up such a significant chunk of my childhood and adult life will not just be set aside for the sake of mere principles – but it does seem a fairly futile sport to follow when you start to realise that even the vaguest of fantasies you may harbour of glory days returning are not only insanely unrealistic, they’re actually impossible.

Below-par Forest left mad as Hatters..

Luton Town – 2
Nottingham Forest – 1

It’s been about eight ice ages since we played Luton Town due to a bit of ‘ships passing in the night’ around promotions and relegations.  And this trip to Kenilworth Road was to prove pretty unproductive for a lacklustre looking Forest side – slumping to only their second defeat of the season – but if you’re looking for contrasts, today’s the day that Leeds United overtake us despite their hefty point deduction.  A sobering thought.

So whether it was an offday, or the onset of Forest’s traditional winter slump remains to be seen – from reports I’ve heard and read it does sounds like Forest really were underpar, but with two strikers with dubious fitness starting, perhaps that’s not surprising.  The good news is Wes Morgan featured as a late substitute – whilst I wouldn’t class myself like some of our ‘fans’ who seem to love abusing Breckin at any moment, I will concede he’s not my first choice centreback for us!

But let’s not write them off just yet – Luton have a quality record at home, and this is only the first time we’ve been defeated on our travels.  It would be a pretty lame endeavour to start panicing based on snippets from the radio and website match reports – so I’m not going to, although obviously I’d welcome the views of one of the 1,800 Forest fans who made the trip today.

The first half was dominated by the home side – although Forest defended stoutly.  Forest had a couple of efforts via Commons and Clingan, but found it difficult to get into the Luton half for long periods of the game.  On 25 minutes we did have some semblance of a chance, but Grant couldn’t get the ball across the line to Agogo leaving us with nothing.

Coyne headed goalward from six yards shortly after this, forcing a smart save from Paul Smith.  Towards half time Commons was brought down just outside the box, which Clingan struck well – forcing a decent save from the Luton keeper.  At the other end Bennett prevented a goal at the other end – and has drawn plaudits from several sources for his performance today.

The second half started much like this first, with Luton attacking, with Smith having to come out early to claim a cross.  It only took five minutes for them to get a deserved first goal – Chambers allowed the cross to come in from the left, which evaded Smith before finding Perry who headed home from a mere two yards from the goal.

Forest responded with a spell of possession which culminated in a long range effort from Commons, which was just off-target.  At this point Lennon was withdrawn from Lewis McGugan – with Forest visibly lacking any kind of impetus.  A chance did come for Agogo after good work from Holt and Commons, but the keeper was equal to it, tipping it around the post for a corner.

The game entered an end-to-end spell, and shortly into this Wes Morgan was introduced for Sammy Clingan – but fear not, this was not a Smoulders negative substitution, Wes was chucked on as a striker!  Must have irked Emile Sinclair somewhat, who is a striker, as he sat on the bench wondering what he needs to do to get another chance in the first team!

Chambers crossed to Bennett who headed over from six yards out, but alas Luton were to score another – Bell firing into the corner from the edge of the box to put the game pretty much beyond doubt, and give Luton another three home points.  Forest did get a consolation though, Wes Morgan had a header cleared off the line, which fell to Julian Bennett who sidestepped a defender before firing home from around 16 yards out.

Luton almost had a third when Spring shot from 30 yards, but Smith was able to save it before the time ran out and Forest were consigned to their second defeat of the season.  So, all in all, a disappointing one – and a result that drops us out of the playoff places at the expense of Leeds United – although, of course, we still have that game in hand – for three days at least!

So personally I don’t think it’s panic stations just yet – indeed, it’s fairly far from that – but we do need to see a marked improvement on our creation of chances after the last couple of games.  We do seem a bit toothless up front, whether you can blame that on our strikers or the service they’re receiving, I’m not too sure.

A cold hard reason to get promoted..

The dreaded financials came out today – and it transpires that despite improving things on the balance book front, languishing in the third tier is still hitting Forest – or more accurately Nigel Doughty – pretty hard in the back pocket.  Hit for £4.2m for the year ending May 2007 to be precise.

This is actually an improvement on last year – when a comparable period saw £8m losses.  It is estimated that each season outside the Championship is costing the club £4-5m – which would imply that should we attain promotion and the costs remained similar, we should be just about breaking even – which is certainly a more healthy position than we’ve been used to.

Our turnover was £9.2m, the majority of which was swallowed up by staff costs rather unsurprisingly – despite a reduction of £1.2m in these.  All in all, it just goes to show what a ludicrous amount of money we spend really!  Gate receipts were up year on year, boosted by lucrative cup games against Charlton and Chelsea – as was commercial income from TV coverage of said games.

The reduction in staff costs was driven by players such as Paul Gerrard, Gareth Taylor, David Johnson, Neil Harris and Alan Rogers leaving – it’s hard to believe any of those perhaps with the exception of Gerrard and Johnson were on big money!  But apparently players acquired since these have been on more sustainable wages, with rewards built in for achievements – which I wholly approve of.

However, 90% of our turnover being taken up by staff costs is a rather ludicrous business model in anyone’s language – the ‘benchmark’ for clubs at our level is 75%.  This is where Nigel Doughty acting as sugar daddy comes in – as he’s able to absorb this rather unsustainable way of operating, which is why – whatever your stance on him – we’re certainly tied together for the forseeable.

The club acknowledge they are in excess of other clubs in the division, with operations such as the Academy which costs £1m a year, with only £130k funded by the Premier League and the FA.  This level of – in effect – overspending for our level underlines why nothing less than promotion this season is undoubtedly going to be considered a failure.

Given our spending in the summer, it would seem likely that a similar pattern will happen next season too – with a few significant purchases occuring preseason, not to mention a reduction in season ticket prices and so far, a slightly lower attendance number – and only one more chance at a cup run given our exits from the Carling Cup and JPT.

The cash put in by Nigel Doughty has been in the form of loans rather than gifts, whether this is due to some kind of convoluted business reasoning, or because he expects these loans to be repaid at some point remain to be seen – certainly it would take a real cynic to suggest he is investing his cash with an intent to turn a profit out of us, given our recent form.

A not-so-bore draw between the Reds and the Rovers..

Nottingham Forest – 0
Doncaster Rovers – 0

It was to be an afternoon of slight frustration for Forest, who just couldn’t quite get the final ball right against a decent Doncaster side.  Listening to the radio on the way home, Messrs Fray and McGovern were suggesting that Rovers had come to the City Ground to defend in numbers, which we’ve seen so often, I think that does our visitors a disservice.

The first half was very much a battle of the midfield and their ability to hold up play – and it was the holding up of play that won the day, resulting in little breaking at either end for either side.  Forest probably had the edge on possession, but it’s fair to say they didn’t do all that much with it on occasions – with plenty of sloppy passing and farting around with the ball when it should have been released earlier.

Probably the closest we came was when Nathan Tyson put in a great ball from the left, but rather than come infront of the defender, Agogo had gambled behind him – obviously the defender managed to sneak a leg out to concede the corner instead.  It was a good move though, and sparked a bit of promise into the performance.

The Donny fans took an age to realise they hadn’t actually scored when Hayter put the ball in the net – he and Coppinger had spent much of the half giving the linesman flagging practice, and once again on this occasion the forward was offside before slotting the ball home.  The away fans below us were still gesturing 1-0 for a good 2 minutes after the event!

The other thing worth mentioning was the referee who was, as ever it seems, abysmal.  He failed to punish the repeated fouls on Tyson, Cohen was also getting a regular shoeing from the canny Rovers players – they’d clearly identified our danger men, as Commons always had three men on him immediately upon getting the ball.

The next chance of note came from great work by Agogo, he was free down the left and Tyson was making up ground in the centre.  Unfortunately Agogo took an age to notice this, and released a terrible pass far too late, which saw Tyson – frustrated – go for regardless, overstretch himself as well as getting a clattering from a defender – which saw him down for some time for treatment.

The final chance of the half – if you could call these chances (you’ll note Sullivan as yet has had very little to do!) when Commons played a corner short to Cohen – at which point I was cursing the evil of short corners – Cohen managed a weak shot from the edge of the box, and it looked as though Tyson just clipped it – but only enough to, if anything, make it easier for the keeper to make the save.

Early in the second half it looked to me like we really should’ve scored.  A Bennett cross ended up running right across the face of goal with no Forest player close enough to capitalise.  Forest picked up though, and put some real pressure on – Chambers crossed to Agogo, who for me should’ve shot, but he unselfishly played the ball to Commons running in, but alas his effort went straight at the ‘keeper – that again should have been a goal.

The referee came into his own shortly after this – Tyson was felled by an obstruction but eventually managed to get free of the defender, only for the clown of a referee to amazingly give a freekick to Doncaster.  Shortly after this he ignored a fairly blatant handball by a Rovers midfielder, then gave them another freekick after Lennon did well to nip the ball away from Wellens.

Kelvin Wilson bizarrely took the ball forward, one-two-ing it with Junior Agogo and showing a fair lick of pace to get into the box, but the left-footed shot was high, wide and not particularly handsome.  At this point though the visitors came back into the game – Wellens had a decent shot saved by Smith, and he had more work to do in gathering a cross.

Grant was brought on for the frustrated Tyson, however shortly after this Doncaster hit th ebar with a cracking effort from Mark Wilson.  The rebound fell to Hayter who’s headed response was pretty tame, fortunately for us, so Wilson and Bennett were able to clear up and get the ball away to safety.

Straight up at the other end Commons put in a cross to the far post where Grant Holt won a terrific header that was bound for the top corner before Neil Sullivan stuck an arm out to concede a corner – this was probably Sullivan’s only difficult job of the day.  The corner came in and Chambers was right to have his head in his hands, because he should easily have scored from practically a yard off the goal line.

The final chance fell to Agogo – who had been on the deck earlier with cramp – as a Cohen corner was pumped to the back post, but he couldn’t get his header on target so instead it went into the lower Trent End, which near enough heralded the end of a game that was frustrating, but entertaining in spells.

I definitely think that Doncaster have been the best side to visit the City Ground this season – whilst they defended doggedly and took full advantage of the inept referee, they attacked brightly and cleverly with the ball on the deck.  Forest weren’t canny enough to spot the opportunities their policy of double and triple marking some of our players was opening up elsewhere on the park.

I’m not too unhappy with the performance, and on balance I think a draw was a fair result.  It’s true that either side could’ve nicked a win, and had we been that side we’d be sitting proudly atop the table now rather than dropping down to fourth, but sometimes you just have to consider your glass as being half full instead of half empty!

With Grant Holt due an operation next week, it’s good news that Arron Davies is back in training and due a couple of reserve games this week, it’s also not too far away before we find out the destiny of this game in hand we’ve been sitting on for a while.  But first up is a tricky trip to Luton next week – not to mention Leeds getting another win, they’re only 3 points behind us now!

The only other thing of note for today is I thought it was a poor showing from Neil Lennon today.  Having jumped to defend him a while back it’s only fair to acknowledge when things don’t go so well – he’s a sod for playing a poor pass then remonstrating with the poor bugger he’s sold short, and I was a bit bamboozled when he was on the deck as if seriously injured whilst play went on, only to trot to the dugout then back to action minutes later.

Clough family condemn defamatory Brian Clough book..

It’s odd timing, really – since the book in question has been out for a while – but the local media picked up this morning that the great man’s widow, Barbara Clough, has recently discovered the David Peace fictional work “The Damned United” – a book charting BC’s tumultous 44 days in charge of Leeds United.

The books is one that’s been ‘on my list’ for a while to read – but since picking up Duncan Hamilton’s ‘Provided you don’t kiss me’ I’ve resisted – and I think given this feedback from somebody who knew him better than anybody else, I will give it a miss in the end.  I’ll be in good company, Brian’s two sons Nigel and Simon have both vowed to ignore the work completely.

I suppose this media outburst (and indeed, my collusion in reporting it) gives further publicity to the book, and indeed the proposed film that the BBC of all people want to make of it.  The main crux of the criticism is that it portrays Clough as little more than a potty-mouthed trouble causer – which is perhaps not surprising when you consider Peace is a staunch Yorkshireman (that said, Brian would describe himself also as this).

Whilst I doubt that many people would deny Clough was capable of the occasional swearword, he was fundamentally a witty and intelligent exponent of wordplay – have a look around YouTube for a few interviews if you have any doubts on this front, so it’s understandable why Peace’s dark and very one-dimensional portrayal of him has offended those who knew him best.