Should auld acquaintance be forgot..

It seems odd that one day each year, English folk all around the country get sloshed and start singing a Scottish song – but in honour of our our manager, perhaps it’s okay for us Forest fans.  2007 has, on balance, been a pretty shit year for the Reds – with the odd highlight interspersed with a generous portion of misery.  So, what have we learned in 2007 that will make 2008 more prosperous?

January – in January we learned that we don’t like travelling to Boundary Park – the start of the rot that was to topple us from the top of the league and into the lottery of the play offs.  Scary isn’t it?  We learned that letting a key playmaker (Nicky Southall) leave, and not replacing him, was a pretty major error in judgement.

February – in February we learned that Smoulderwood was already under serious doubts from some sections of our fans, in the months that have followed, I would conservatively estimate that the balance is swinging further – and not in his favour.  By the end of February we’d dropped to third, a full ten points behind Scunthorpe with a game in hand.

March – Smoulds amazed us early March with claims in the Evening Post that the title was still achievable for Forest, in the aftermath of an away draw with in-form leaders Scunthorpe.  Bristol in the meantime showed signs of slipping in March, engendering false hope in Forest fans that there could be the opportunity to reclaim an automatic promotion spot.

April – April taught us that Neil Harris can score goals, indeed, he scored one against us which was one of the many contributions of our condemnation to the playoffs.  Forest followed this up with a dire home draw against relegated Rotherham, pretty much handing second place to the Robins and consigning us to the play offs.

May – May never happened.  La la la, I can’t hear you, la la la la – la la la.  Oh, okay then, we learned we can’t play under pressure, despite being at home and having a two goal headstart!  Let’s leave it at that, I don’t want to remember any more!!

June – we learned in June that the powers-that-be at Forest are a bit silly, for they organised preseason friendlies with Notts County, and more importantly gave the Derby fans an early opportunity to gloat about the contrasting fortunes of the two sides.  We also signed Neil Lennon, and discovered outlandish plans for a completely unnecessary ground move.

July – having failed to beat Yeovil, we signed half their midfield – and so Cohen and Davies arrived at Trentside.  We beat the Sadpies, with pitch-invasions from a bunch of 14 year old chavs causing Colin Slater to nearly lose his dentures, then predictably were comfortably beaten by Derby, allowing them to keep the ill-conceived ‘Brian Clough Trophy’ until we meet them again.

August – we learned, or some of us learned, some decency despite playing a purported rival – when Clive Clarke suffered cardiac arrest at half time in a cup tie with Leicester City.  Before this we learned that Leeds are spawny bastards, condemning us to defeat with late goal-scoring feats that have seemed to be the story of their season so far!

September – we learned in September that Smoulds is still a reluctant transferrer as the deadline passed.  We learned that we would play Villa in the next round of the cup if we beat Leicester, which pretty much guaranteed the ‘bottler reflex’ would kick in and Forest would fuck it up – which they duly did!  I also met Stan Collymore in September, and learned he was a charming chap.

October – a quiet month on the blog, the first of two disappointing defeats to Luton happened in October, which – as we’ll see in December – wasn’t learned from.  The main point of interest in October was the mysterious and singular disappearance of Neil Lennon from Nottingham, sorting out some familial issues north of the border.

November – improvements on the pitch early in the month gave us some much needed points, Smoulds won manager of the month (then later donated his award to charity via an eBay auction – which was very nice of him!).  Gary Megson was the first rat out of sinking Leicester, and the new Bolton man was duly linked with any vaguely decent player we have.  I would say we learned it, but pretty much all of us knew it anyway, but Steve McClaren was finally sacked, anyway!

December – a draw with Liverpool if we beat Luton basically guaranteed we wouldn’t do it, and we didn’t do it.  We also learned the Walsall curse is still alive and well.  As a reminder for the first thing we learned in January, we re-learned that Oldham’s not a nice place to go, and the final thing we learned was that if we go to Gillingham and don’t put our chances away, we could well get spanked in the second half!

So it’s been an interesting, if not positive, year in following the Reds – obviously this is a potted history, if you want more detail click the various months in the right hand column to see the various musings and events that might have happened.  All in all, despite Smoulderwood often talking of “learning from” difficult encounters, reviewing 2007 has shown me that that is the very thing we’ve struggled to do.

Here’s to a better 2008 on the pitch for the Reds, and of course off the pitch to you all – Happy New Year!  I’m off to the pub, now! You Reds!

Resolutions for 2008…

After yesterday’s grump-fest I’ve decided to think positive, and given that the dawning of a New Year is upon us, as is the tradition, I have formulated some resolutions.  Of course, they aren’t for me – they’re for Smoulderwood, for having constructed an amusing nickname for him, I’m loathe to have to keep calling into question is tactical ability, so I am offering him salvation.  Should you have any resolutions you would like to include, then please do so via the comments!

I believe that resolution 4 will be the product of resolutions 1, 2 and 3 – I really do think that our tenure in the third tier is that simple.  That said, number 2 in particular is a rather esoteric one, and whilst I freely acknowledge this – I don’t think it unreasonable that we expect our manager to be able to do this.  Motivation, belief, getting more out of players than even they thought possible, these are all hallmarks of a successful manager.  So get to it, Smoulds!

Forest succumb to Gills smash and grab..

Gillingham – 3
Nottingham Forest – 0

A combination of wasteful finishing and some excellent goalkeeping from Simon Royce in the Gills goal meant that the sides went in on level terms at 0-0.  The second half started in Forest’s favour, but in a quick break forward a deflected shot meant Smith’s save was less than convincing, leaving a tap-in for a Gills forward.  Similarly, a clearance fell kindly to allow a strike from the edge of the area to be converted.

As Smoulderwood looked to his bench for opportunities to give Forest more opportunities, he would have been struck by the complete lack of them.  No striker on the bench, no Arron Davies, indeed – the change he did make to try to change the game midway through the second half was youngster Matt Thornhill.  There was talk earlier in the week of “easing” youngsters into the side – chucking them on to change a game somewhere like Priestfield when 2-0 down is not the answer.

The lineup was questionable anyway – four centrebacks lined up across the defence, it’s true that Chambers conversion to a rightback has been a good one, but Wilson early doors clearly forgot he was supposed to be playing leftback and drifted into his more customary centreback position, leaving us rather exposed on the left side.  Fortunately this mental slip didn’t last and he did eventually stick to his new position.

And don’t even get me started on this “four three three” formation that Smoulds and the radio describe.  It’s 4-5-1, and we all know it.  Grant, who sounded much more impactful today than he has been recently, is no right winger, and Commons won’t stay on the left anyway.  I realise that we’re short on strikers now that Tyson’s injured – but that is supposedly Grant’s position, and to have no striking option on the bench is criminal.

When you’re 2-0 down and your top scorer has a free header from four yards, which he puts wide, after excellent work from Commons – you know it’s not likely to go your way.  And perhaps arguably Smoulds would have a defence for his outwardly strange tactical selections had Sammy Clingan, Chris Cohen or Kelvin Wilson hit the target with decent chances in the first half, had Simon Royce not managed to make great saves from Clingan and Grant Holt.  One or two of those chances converted would have had us 1-0 up at half time.

Credit to the Gills, they have a decent record at home – but are struggling in the league, but they kept attacking, which inevitably leaves gaps at the back, and even when leading continued to lead the charge going forward.  They got a bit of luck in both goals, certainly – which we have lacked this afternoon – but it’s hard to hold much against them as we create chance after chance that is either spooned wide or well saved by the Gills goalkeeper.

The third goal also had a whiff of fortune about it – Kelvin Wilson putting a poor back header towards Smith, allowing the Gills substitute to nip and and put the game absolutely beyond doubt.  Not that there was a great deal of doubt anyway.  Cue the exodus from the away end, and who can blame the poor buggers who travelled down to Kent for this.  It’s difficult to pinpoint who to point the finger at – certainly Smoulds left no attacking options on the bench, but his initial selection created a myriad of chances that were not converted.

It has highlighted something that is not exactly new news, and that is that we need to get more striking options in.  Tyson shouldn’t be out for too long, but Agogo will soon be away to Africa for a few weeks after the Huddersfield game.  We also desperately need to convert our chances – this afternoon we had more than enough chances to have contested this game properly, certainly more than the home side – who managed to put away three of theirs.

The tiny bit of silver-lining visible on this very dark cloud is that we are already level with our best Christmas period in five years with 4 points, although given our traditional winter slump, this is hardly good news with things so tight at the top of the table.  Being subjected to ‘olay’ football by Gillingham, with all due respect, is not ideal preparation for what now is a MUST win game against Huddersfield for the start of 2008.

I rate the squad we have this season, with a couple of additions I definitely feel it is sufficient to deliver promotion – however, increasingly the more I think about it, the more I feel that Smoulders isn’t the man who will deliver it.  If he had the Chelsea squad I don’t think he’d deliver it, he’s clearly unable to field people in their proper position, he’s unable to motivate players and he doesn’t pick a bench that could – if needed – offer the necessary changes to turn a game back in our favour.

What’s even more infuriating – and I’m typing this whilst the game is still in play (I started at 2-0, which is why the third goal description looks like an afterthought!), I can picture now that Smoulders in his post-match interview will say something along the lines of “We can learn from this” – if he does, my radio might just find its way flying through my front window, because it’s the same old claptrap every time we end up with a disappointing result.

Ultimately today we have certainly had the chances – Agogo in particular has missed some absolute sitters, Cohen and Commons have overhit fairly simple throughballs, and when on the rare occasions we have hit the target we’ve found that Simon Royce has been equal to prevent them yielding goals for us.  It’s hard to blame the manager when so many chances have been created, but it certainly wasn’t like that on Boxing day, and hasn’t been in other games.

So oddly I find myself turning more against Smoulds, despite acknowledging that – aside from his negative bench selection – can’t really be blamed for the result today.  I am terrified what the January transfer window has in store for us – Mark Arthur, the perpetual truth-teller – was on the radio before the game saying something different to what he said just weeks ago, why do I get the sinking feeling that we’re going to let a key player depart and not replace them adequately?

Maybe I’m just in a grumpy mood – I’m certainly rambling because whilst Colin Fray is still manfully attempting to relay the events on the pitch to me via the radio, I’m not really paying attention as it just feels like game over.  And indeed, it now is game over.  Our last game of 2007 – and what a shit one, at least resultswise.  I’m not one to jump on anti-manager bandwagons, but I honestly cannot see Smoulderwood delivering us promotion – and if that’s the case, then surely he needs to go?

A happy new year to you all, let’s hope that we can have a better start to 2008.  I’m listening to the sides leaving the field, and the Forest fans are apparently applauding off the team – certainly effort and chances created seemed very much in the order we’d expect, but the finishing today let us down.  I would be very interested to hear how the fans who travelled feel the game went, as it can be quite misleading relying on the radio coverage.

Leeds losing at least keeps us in second.  God I’m grumpy!  Excuse my rubbish Photoshop effort, I thought it might cheer me up but it didn’t.  An odd afternoon, and perhaps the scoreline is the driver of this vitriol – as the performance, bizarrely, didn’t sound that bad.  Smoulds, to be fair, has said in his post-match comments that this game was a product of mistakes at both ends – he mentioned ‘we can look back’ without actually saying ‘we can learn from this.’  I bet he was thinking it, though.

Tys is crocked again…

It’s no real shock, after limping off against Port Vale at the City Ground, it’s been confirmed after a scan that striker Nathan Tyson has torn his hamstring.  The small silver lining is the tear isn’t thought to be serious enough to keep him out for too long – but he will certainly miss the upcoming games against Gillingham tomorrow, and Huddersfield on new year’s day.

In many ways it’s par for the course with whippet-quick strikers like Nathan, the unnatural strain he must put on his leg muscles when accelerating so quickly must make him susceptible to injuries (although I’m no physio expert!).  As we’ve seen before, he’s a quick healer so hopefully he’ll be back in action sooner rather than later – for the conspiracists amongst you he’s ruled out by injury just as the transfer window opens – but the conspiracy doesn’t last long when he’s expected to return earlyish in January.

The other hamstring victim Julian Bennett has been confirmed as having a worse tear, which explains his extended absence from the side – which will continue in tomorrow’s game at Priestfield.  A pity given that Smoulds has – in his infinite wisdom – deigned that right-footed James Perch is a better bet at leftback than Matt Lockwood, who was at least fit enough to take a place on the substitutes bench.

Good news is that we have no further injury scares following the Boxing Day game at Oldham – although that’s hardly surprising as the reports from fans who crazily made the trip up there reported that there was hardly a lot of effort exerted by either side.  Perhaps a few too many sherries and turkey for both sides, or a few too many Quality Street chocolates for some of the players… let’s hope they’ve worked it off in time for the game against the Gills…

A Merry Christmas from Derby County FC

We all know the story about a Christmas ceasefire and a game of football outside the trenches during the first world war in 1914 between the Allied and German solidiers.  Well, it may be a day late, but a similar olive branch of seasonal goodwill has been offered to us by our dear neighbours from down the A52.

Okay, clearly it was emailed to me by a Forest fan rather than anybody associated with the Sheep, but it made me chuckle.  Amusingly when uploading it to Imageshack as a file called ‘sheep.jpg’ – it automatically appended characters to it to make it ‘sheepky8.jpg’!!  Talk about the Internet knowing everything!!

A draw with the Latics puts us back to second..

Oldham Athletic – 0
Nottingham Forest – 0

I should be pretty happy with a draw, indeed, before the game I would probably have taken it.  Then I saw the team lineup.  James Perch at leftback with Lockwood on the bench, Cohen on the left wing, Grant Holt on the right wing, Agogo a lone striker.  Both our wingers on the bench.  There is a line-up that isn’t playing for a win, I thought.

As for the game, as 0-0 games often are, this one wasn’t the most interesting in the world.  Oldham could’ve had the lead very early – Kilkenny crossing to Chris Taylor, whose effort from six yards out struct the woodwork.  The early stages to the game were largely disjointed, predictably with the home side having more possession and putting more pressure on.

Predictably Oldham put pressure on Cohen/Perch down the left hand side of the pitch – indeed, this has been a hallmark of the season for me – as even when we’re in a flat 4-4-2 with Commons in the side, he drifts so often he leaves the left back – even when it is a left back we’re playing – exposed.  Fortunately a slice of luck and the endeavour of the two out-of-position players won through for us.

The only real chance of note we had was when Cohen was able to flick on the ball – sadly it was too far from Breckin at the back post.  Smith’s only real job in the first half was making a fairly routine save from a long range Taylor effort.  As the half wore on Forest did look more comfortable, without really ever looking particularly threatening.

Into the second half, and it started much as the first had ended.  Agogo burst forward, but given the formation he predictably had no support – so was left with a shot from a wide angle the only option, which was nowhere near to troubling the goalkeeper.  Again, McGugan was able to play Grant Holt through who similarly had no targets in red shirts.

After an hour Cohen was withdrawn for Commons, getting involved in one of those frustratingly tip-tappy freekick arrangements – which McGugan eventually blasted into an onrushing Oldham player.  Oldham’s next chance came next, the ball dropping over Breckin to Lee Hughes whose goalbound shot was well saved by Paul Smith.

The only other real chance of note was a long ranger from Commons, which – similar to the recent home game – had ‘keeper Mark Crossley backpedalling only to just drop over the bar and onto the roof of the net – so that’s pretty unlucky.  So the positives, a clean sheet, good to see Sammy Clingan back in action, but too negative a formation, Smoulders!

We’ve not scored a goal against Oldham since January 2006 – leaving five games in which we’ve lost three and now more recently drawn two, I suppose if you were to stick a trend line through that lot, then it would show we are at least heading in the right direction!  Particularly given that we started the year with a 5-0 tonking at their hands!

So it’s not a bad result, all things considered – but it does make me hungry for all three points against Gillingham before we can wave goodbye to 2007 completely.  We’re down to second now after Swansea demolished Cheltenham, and they still have a game in hand over us!  Leeds United are breathing down our necks still after they got yet another late goal – this time only an equaliser fortunately – against Hartlepool.

Still, this time last year we were around 7 points clear at the top of the league, weren’t we?  So it just goes to show that absolutely anything can happen from here on in!  On reflection restricting Oldham to relatively few chances is a positive thing, but of course we need to be creating more ourselves too – it’s good news that Wilson is fit again, also – how we could also do with Tyson back though.  Still, at least Derby lost!

A fairytale of Nottingham

Boredom on Christmas Eve is a terrible thing, but since I’ve got a head full of cold I’ve opted for a quiet night in to stave off the germs and hopefully be fit for tomorrow – and you all know what a bored blogger makes… it makes a facile Christmas message, a slightly grumpy one, given that we’re top of the league, but it’s a heartless hatchet-job on my favourite (I say favourite, it’s the only one I like!) “Christmas song.”

It was Christmas Eve here
At City Ground
An old man said to me, won’t see us up this year
And then he sang a song
The rare old terrace tune
I turned my face away
And prayed it’s not true

I’ve been a lucky one
Seen us lose less than we’ve won
I’ve got a feeling
This year’s for me and you
So happy christmas
The Reds must do it
I can see a better time
Where all our dreams come true

They’ve got cars, think they’re stars
They’ve got egos of gold
But attacks sweep right through them
Leaving us sitting cold
When I first took my place
On a cold plastic seat
They promised me
Glory was waiting for me

P’raps not handsome
Played it pretty
The true pride of the City
When Europe was conquered
We called out for more
Sir Cloughie was swinging
All the fans they were singing
We danced by the Lions
And then drank through the night!

The boys in the Trent End terrace all
Were singing for the Reds
And the bells were ringing out
For Cloughie’s men

Now they’re bums
Or just punks
Get so close, then they flunk
Playing there in League One making faces turn red
We may fit right in it
But this league is just so shit
Get yourselves off your arses
And drag us back up

The boys in the Trent End terrace all
Were singing for the Reds
And the bells were ringing out
For Cloughie’s men

You could yet be someone
And so could anyone, but
You take my dreams from me
When you collapse so
I keep them with me Reds
And I’m not the only one
Don’t dream this on my own
We’ve built our dreams around you!

So a very Merry Christmas to you all, I hope that santa is kind to you all – most importantly in granting us a few points on the pitch.  Oldham Athletic up next on Boxing Day – having made the trip up there on New Years Day 2007, I vowed not to go back there!  So I’ve stuck to that sole new year’s resolution, and will be radio-bound on wednesday – let’s hope the Christmas cheer lasts beyond tomorrow for us!