This ground, is coming like a ghost ground..

A, how shall I put this, ‘limited’ atmosphere at the City Ground isn’t particularly new news.  Indeed, any of us lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you see it) enough to visit other team’s grounds reasonably frequently will know well that home crowds don’t generally generate particularly good atmospheres compared to their concentrated travelling counterparts.

But this afternoon was a new low in terms of volume from the home support, and this isn’t a criticism of the fans – merely an observation (although jibes of ‘worst support we’ve ever seen’ from a team who play at home in an atmosphere like a school sports day did bring a wry smile as I sat there wondering why I’d bothered getting down to the ground).

Now, I can remember when I was a kid – we’d get geared up to head down the City Ground, and we’d be excited.  I’d get that tingling feeling as we cleared the buildings at the end of Trent Bridge and get a first glimpse of the ground, ‘FOREST’ clearly visible in the Executive Stand seats over the old Trent End cowshed.  The air would be buzzing as we walked down by the river to our turnstile.

As the players warmed up before the game they’d each get a chant in turn, before returning to the changing room for any final words of wisdom before being sent out just before kick off – where of course, we had the massive atmosphere-boosing experience of ‘the Psycho salute’ – something that I’m so grateful to have experienced, so sad that I probably never will again.

Pan forward to today – I trudged out of bed having indulged a little more than I intended, feeling tender headed.  Cursed slightly as I realised I had a Forest game to attend, found my season ticket, drove to park the car up and continued the trudge to the ground – timing it to get in as close to kickoff as possible, feeling none of the anticipation or excitement I described above.

As the players warmed up all was silent, as they came out for the game there was no Psycho salute – indeed, captain Kelvin lead the team out at such a slow pace he was overtaken by his teammates before he’d crossed the line pretty much!  The players were greeted with what is best described as a polite ripple of applause perhaps with a smattering of ‘You Reds!’ cries from those who’d had a few pre-match beers.

Tired of years of underachieving, tired in particular of nigh on two years of dire Smoulderwood-inspired defensive dirges, uninspired and irritable, the fans await the players to ignite them into enthusiasm.  This is a Mexican standoff that would make Miss Havisham’s hermitage in Great Expectations* seem like a short-lived reaction to extreme disappointment.

The players line up in shapeless uninspired formations, presumably acting on shapeless uninspired direction from team talks before the game and at half time, and ultimately deliver disappointing performances with occasional glimpses of the potential we know that they can deliver on their day.  More and more teams come to the City Ground knowing exactly how to stifle us, and frankly, it isn’t rocket science.

As this goes on, the local media – or in particular, the Evening Post – chides the fans into playing their part, into making the City Ground into the cauldron that I can never remember it being in my visits there, to back the side that lets us down irrespective of the level of commitment being shown – it’s insulting, irksome, and frankly, it would seem that supporters are just too fed up of it all to comply blindly if today’s atmosphere is anything to go by.

Coupled with the lack of compulsion to get off your seat and make a load of noise, there’s always the underlying threat that if you did just that then there’s every chance you’d get hoiked off your seat by the nearest steward and end up with your season ticket confiscated, I’ve had a few emails now and a few personal experiences of seeing people ejected for literally just standing and chanting – nothing abusive either.

So whilst Smoulds on the radio or some self-righteous reporter** in the local rag are suggesting we should be backing the boys vocally, perhaps they should investigate the draconian policies being enforced by Alan Bexon’s warriors in yellow before recommending this – there’s scant reason or motivation enough for us to be chanting or singing, without the threat of being chucked out if we do!

With six wins so far this calendar year (out of seventeen), we are on a run of form that sees us in more danger of dropping out of the playoffs than chasing the automatic promotion places we crave so badly.  With the second best home defensive record in the season, thank heavens we’ve managed to get a backup goalkeeper in on loan, eh?

* – no pun intended!
** – this coming from an amateur self-righteous reporter!

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Forest sign a loan keeper…

Given that today we were confounded by a Continental ‘keeper – perhaps the strange timing of signing Dimitrios Konstantopoulos isn’t so strange!  We’ve apparently signed – or are about to – sign the Coventry goalie on loan until the end of the season, with him having dropped out of first team reckoning for the Sky Blues since the arrival of Coleman at the Ricoh Arena.

It’s true that a decent competitior to Smithy has been a longstanding gap in our squad – with the 87 year old (sic) coach Barry Richardson standing in on numerous occasions as substitute goalkeeper, and with a likely torrid run in to the end of the season, culminating in the inevitable stress-fest that is the playoffs, having a backup incase of injury to Smith is a pretty sensible step to take.

It still seems a strange move though, and hints at perhaps contingency planning should we lose Smith in the summer upon failing to go up again.  It’s just typical of Forest though to have lost a striker and gained a reserve goalkeeper in the space of a week – just when we’re struggling to score goals but seem okay at preventing the conceding of them…

Forest done like Kuipers in disappointing home draw..

Nottingham Forest – 0
Brighton and Hove Albion – 0

I was willing to stem my optimism that automatic promotion wasn’t out of reach if we won all our remaining games – but a gap of 11 points to Carlisle up in second place now looks insurmountable in eight games for the stuttering and inconsistent Reds.  All in all, a frustrating and disappointing afternoon against a dogged Brighton side who ultimately came to get a point – even when they had a three-on-one break in the second half!

That said, the Seagulls were certainly up for it in the first half – after four minutes a mix-up in defence with Wilson gifted Nicky Forster an open goal which he somehow (and luckily for us) conspired to put wide under pressure from Wes Morgan.  After the shaky start Forest started to gather some semblance of composure.

Commons had the chance of the half from our perspective, he did well to ride a challenge or two before eventually beating the last man and find himself through on goal – but his right-footed shot was at an easy height for Kuipers to deal with in the Brighton goal, at the cost of a corner to the Reds – it had looked easy for Kris to slip the ball under him.

Tyson did well to head a Bennett cross across the goal, but Thornhill could only strike the post at a tight angle rather than actually hitting the target.  Tyson was looking fast and dangerous but the Seagulls took advantage of a soft referee and basically took him out at will – eventually one such ‘challenge’ on the striker warranted a booking.

A header from Chambers was planted well, but unfortunately straight at Kuipers – the ball rebounding to Chris Cohen who also couldn’t defeat the big ‘keeper.  Again, Commons managed to wriggle free in the box after good work from Ormerod and Thornhill, but the goalkeeper was again equal to it and made the save to concede another corner.

Brighton finished the half with rare forays forward and could’ve taken a cheeky lead with a corner in the closing minutes of the half, an effort from Elphick (amusing referred to as Michael Elphick on Radio Nottingham on the way home – his name is Tommy!) which forced Smith into a rare save, tipping it onto the crossbar.

At half time I made the call without much argument from my neighbours that it was going to finish 0-0.  Forest had looked good in spells, but their end-product was atrocious and the weight of expectation would only make that worse as the game goes on.  Brighton were really only interested in defending and hitting us on the counter-attack, so didn’t appear to pose much threat going forward.

The second half again started with the Reds rolling out the red carpet for Brighton to attack, but quickly we picked up possession again and eventually forced a corner with which Commons found Bennett who flicked on to the back stick where Thornhill missed the gaping goal from four yards by volleying over the bar – the writing was pretty much on the wall from this point.

Morgan headed well from a Commons freekick, but again the Seagulls ‘keeper was alive to the threat and made a diving save to the right to give us another corner.  I suspect this was the ‘worst corner in the world’ moment, a terrible short corner from Clingan to Commons was eventually lost and cleared without so much as an attempted cross into the box.

Brighton continued with a series of playacting in order to falter our play, and eventually Clingan did play the ball out to the outrage of the home crowd, only for the player writhing on the floor in agony to hop up in a sprightly manner and carry on as though nothing was wrong – naturally Brighton returned the ball to us by hoofing it back to Smith.

Ormerod did everything right until the shot, making a great run before hitting a scuffed effort straight at Kuipers.  It was clear that we weren’t looking likely to break down a dogged and defensive Brighton side, so Smoulds made a double-substitution bringing on McGugan and McCleary for Thornhill and Chambers.

The ‘four four two’ formation of the first half (without anyone on the right wing, of course) was now a three-five-two with McCleary on the right – and to be honest, it looked just as disjointed as before with no real shape to the midfield at all, and the players seemingly uninterested in making play easy for each other by making space or even moving on occasions!

In a rare moment of brilliance in the half, Lewis McGugan did brilliantly to beat a man on the edge of the box and unleash a terrific shot that finally saw Kuipers beaten – unfortunately the woodwork denied him as the shot struck the inside of the post and headed across goal in agonising fashion before being cleared to safety.

The final throw of the dice from Smoulds was to bring on ‘couldn’t look less interested without not being there’ Junior Agogo for Cohen, at this point the Seagulls had practically everyone behind the ball and Forest had neither the guile nor effort to break them down.  Even on the break Brighton were more interested in taking the ball in the corner than trying to get a winner.

As the fulltime whistle went the away side celebrated their achievements whilst the home fans and players were probably forced to finally concede that there isn’t a hope in hell of us reaching Carlisle now, and the playoffs is about the best we can hope for.  A frustrating afternoon indeed for all concerned with Forest.

Brighton are coming to town..

It’s a pretty important game, this – indeed, I don’t think we have a game left this season that can’t be considered important.  To get automatic promotion, we have to basically win pretty much all our remaining games, in so doing there’s the chance we can make up the 9 point gap between us and Carlisle, and the smaller 5 point gap to Doncaster.

So, with that in mind we need to be building on the excellent – if fortuitous – result at Sixfields on friday with another win here.  Brighton are only four points behind us having played a game more, so are definite playoff contenders – and also travel to the City Ground on the back of a win, against Swindon at the Withdean stadium.  In 12 previous meetings at the City Ground, Brighton have never won – managing to draw 3.

Perch is obviously suspended for this fixture after the well documented egomaniac and incompetent referee Rob Styles red carded him for a tackle in which he appeared to win the ball – that said, it’s not the end of the world (except for being bloody annoying) since Perchy injured himself in the tackle and is still being assessed for the extent of the damage to his ankle ligaments.

Tyson is okay, despite hobbling off against Northampton, which is great news – by all accounts he literally ran himself out of fuel at Sixfields.  Commons, who made a substitute appearance, is now available again, as is Ian Breckin who was suffering with illness prior to the Northampton match – so we could see the same kind of formation, or we could see a tweak or two.

The Seagulls will be without a few key players, Whing is suspended and El-Abd and Richards are injured.  However, Wes or Wilson will need to keep a close eye on Nicky Forster who is currently topping Brighton’s scoring charts after joining Brighton in the summer for a bargainous £75k.

Last time out was in December at the Withdean, Tyson scored twice and – guess what – we had another harsh red card, this time it was Sammy who saw red for a ‘foul’ on Jake Robinson.  Fortunately Tys had already got us two goals prior to the dismissal enabling Forest to hold on and retain a valuable three points, and some degree of false hope that we’d see a change in our away fortunes!

I’m quite looking forward to it now, it seems like far too long since I’ve seen any football – even though it was only the Walsall game a little over a week ago..

Jewell finds a way to embarrass Derby County even more!

As well as seemingly on course to guide Derby to the worst ever points total in the Premiership (that said, I’d rather be where they are than where we are in the league), despite the fact that their goal-per-game ratio is apparently on course for being the worst ever at any level in football, despite all that, the News of the World has gotten hold of a real gem.

Paul Jewell, as I’m sure you’ll know, is a chubby middle-aged Scouse scally who happens to manage Derby, who has brought about immeasurable lack of improvement since taking over from Billy Davies.  He’s also fond of painting himself as a staunch family-man with a wife and two kids – so how amusing is it that the previously mentioned rag has gotten hold of a sex tape he made with his mistress?

What a complete fool!  But quite funny, of course, it’s gonna be tough on his wife and kids, but them’s the breaks – it just heaps more ridicule on our not-quite-nearest and certainly not dearest.  Whilst I’m no fan of the News of the World, it has amused me immensely the way they’ve reported it – so I would heartily recommend clicking on this link to read it yourself!

Surely it’s about time the ‘There’s a circus in the town..’ chant was rewritten with a more contemporary cast?

Holt’s gone to Blackpool…

… and not, as you may have first thought, to work on the beach alongside the other donkeys – he’s actually gone to play football there ’til the end of the season on loan.

Okay, so the inevitable Blackpool donkey jokes are out the way, it’s been a difficult time for Holt under Smoulderwood.  He attempted to sell him to Brizzle, he dropped him randomly when he was scoring goals, and this season he’s been playing him as a winger – clearly a fairly solid way of either saying “I don’t understand football”, or “I don’t like you very much.”

Grant has compounded this with not particularly inspiring performances when he has made it onto the pitch, and of course the infamous “shop window” comment he made when the possibility of playing Liverpool in the cup was on the media’s lips earlier in the season.  Coupled with rumours of fall-outs with the manager (including some attributing the black eye Smoulds was sporting recently to him), it was inevitable he’d be off sooner or later.

So it’s a bittersweet farewell, really – for the best, certainly, for us and him – as for whatever reason it wasn’t working for him here.  There was a time I thought very highly of him, an ‘old fashioned’ centre-forward with an eye for goal, but we’ve seen little evidence of that recently – whether it be through lack of effort or form, or Smoulders’ baffling tactical deployment of him.

No doubt he’ll slot into a strikers berth at Blackpool and start scoring again, as players generally do upon leaving us – that said, I do think his level is around about where we are now, so he might struggle up in the Championship where Blackpool currently nestle in the middle of the table.  So farewell, Grant – I wish you neither fortune nor malice.

We only need ten men!

Northampton Town – 1
Nottingham Forest – 2

No matter how much I like to kid myself that I’d rather not be watching or listening to Forest when they’re playing, the experience of being away from Nottingham, out of radio signal, without Sky Sports and without a mobile signal was a nice reminder that – like it or not – this is a huge part of my life that leaves me out of sorts when it’s made unavailable to me.

Forest started well in the wind, and had the lead after a mere eight minutes afer a low cross from Cohen was expertly despatched into the net with a side-footed finish by Brett Ormerod on the back post.  I could’ve been two as well – a Clingan cross finding Tyson who unfortunately headed wide.  Tyson came close again, being set free by Matt Thornhill only to have his shot blocked by Little.

At this point, a text message snuck it’s way through the backwaters:

Contrary to earlier grumbling, we’re winning 1-0 thanks to Ormerod from close range again – we’re absolutely all over them at the moment and have had other chances.. will keep you posted..

Reassuring words when cast asunder in the middle of nowhere, and pleasing too that it’s not just me who doesn’t abbreviate my text messages!  However, of course, any seasoned Forest fan will know that if we’re doing things right, then it can be rest-assured that the referee will do something to throw a spanner in the works – and Rob Styles did just that moments later.

Perch entered a 50:50 robust challenge with soon-to-be Northampton goalscorer Hubertz, both players throwing themselves into it, Styles clearly seeing something nobody else could because Perchy was given his marching orders – Sammy and Benno were booked for their continued remonstrating (which, in fairness, they shouldn’t be doing, regardless of how baffling the decision). Cue another text message…

Well, just when it seemed things were going so well.  Perch has been given a straight red for what sounded like a fairly innocuous tackle!  Sounds like it’s all kicking off big style – Bennett & Clingan have also been booked for remonstrating with the ref, and CC was on the pitch to confront him too!

Three minutes later a much harsher looking challenge by Gilligan on Bennett only warranted a yellow, probably the right decision in isolation, but considering his earlier harshness with Perch, a definite case of double-standards from the card-happy official.  The seemingly inevitable equaliser came from a throw-in which Hubertz converted via an overhead kick to get the Cobblers level.

Perhaps inevitably, Northampton have already equalised.  Somehow I can’t imagine the Reds getting anything from this game – so, are you coming to Tranny then, next month? 

With the extra man Northampton finished the stronger in the first half, Akinfenwa looked dangerous but fortunately Bennett was on hand to keep him in check, and Hubertz was less than accurate with subsequent chances that fell his way, shooting first over and then wide much to our relief.

The second half kicked off and Forest nearly pinched the lead immediately, Thornhill doing well to slip his man and cross to Tyson on the near post.  The striker didn’t have room to shoot so cleverly teed up Clingan whose shot from 20 yards rattled the crossbar.  Shortly after Thornhill was booked for arguing with the increasingly baffling Mr Styles.

Presumably mentally replaying his decisions over the course of the game, Rob Styles had developed some sympathy for Forest who he’d given fairly short change to over the couse of the game – Tyson was through and was brought down by Bunn, who was booked – Tyson picked himself up and slotted the penalty home confidently, sending the ‘keeper the wrong way in the process.

2-1 to the Reds – Tyson from the spot!  Sounds like they’re pitching in with an absolutely heroic performance… they’re all over Northampton despite being a man down…

Ormerod was withdrawn for the welcome return of Commons with around 12 minutes remaining, and shortly after this Tyson had his characteristic “I’ve scored a goal so I nust be injured” hobble, leading to treatment and a quick replacement with Junior Agogo taking to the field.  Northampton had a late chance with a freekick, but it was straight at Smith, and Commons tried a cheeky shot from range which Bunn was equal to.

Two minutes of stoppage time were on the board, a Northampton corner was struggled to be cleared – finally big Wes managed to clear the danger once and for all.  As the weather worsened the home crowd departed in numbers leaving the celebrating Reds fans to herald the end of the game and a much needed three points, and perhaps a new sense of optimism – nah, don’t be silly!