That’s why we’re staying down..

Nottingham Forest – 1
Bristol Rovers – 1

You could almost sense the moment when (contrary to a comment on the site earlier in the week) it occurred to Smoulds and the players that tonight was a chance to register three consecutive league wins this season – and it was then that we decided that we’d defend the hardly convincing looking 1-0 lead we’d amassed thanks to an excellent freekick from Lewis McGugan.  It’s infuriating.

When any modicum of pressure seems to be on, we wilt and make our opponents better, fill them with confidence until they inevitably triumph.  Or something.  That’s what it felt like tonight.  Tonight was a dangerous portent into the future – a sub 16,000 crowd, with a healthy away following for a tuesday night trek from the West Country, and scrapping for a point with a frankly poor opponent – who left the City Ground good value for a point.

The highlight of the evening was probably watching the knuckle-draggers from Bristol fighting with the police and stewards in the away end, as well as – of course – a rather special goal from Lewis.  The first half saw us with an unnecessarily tinkered-with formation, some kind of 4-3-3 widthless thing we’ve become accustomed to, despite looking decent in something approximating 4-4-2 in previous games.

In the first half we were relatively positive, our first chance fell to Chambers who connected without challenge to an excellent McGugan corner, with the Rovers ‘keeper equal to it to make the save.  Forest’s shaky defence gave Rovers their first chance, but it was simple for Smith to deal with – however, Rovers constantly exploited the left hand side of the pitch, with Chambers having a ‘mare defensively – looking, funnily enough, rather like a centreback playing at fullback.

Commons twice had decent efforts from range shortly after – the first from open play was well hit and curling, but not difficult for Phillips in the Rovers goal to save – and shortly after he had another go from a freekick after the once-again-lethargic Agogo was fouled – this was hit very well indeed and it was a cracking save by Phillips to concede a corner rather than a goal.

So when another freekick came up we felt we couldn’t expect another good strike – how wrong we were, as McGugan crashed the ball straight into the top corner from around 30 yards, silencing the knuckle-draggers below us who then proceeded to start squabbling with the police and stewards, which was somewhat distracting from the game.  The last chance of the half was an acrobatic volley by Commons after good work by McGugan, but it was never really on target – and was a difficult chance to take.

Half time came and Agogo – who had been limping slightly – was withdrawn for Garath McCleary, with Forest playing a kind of 4-5-1 formation, but still without wingers somehow.  Forest sat back, as is their wont, and we looked to have conceded the equaliser soon into the half, Chambers again was beaten by his man Haldane and after a scuffle Disley headed in, but from an offside position according to the linesman.

Rovers were starting to grow in confidence as Forest sat back and invited the pressure – although they struggled to create a great deal – Haldane could perhaps have done better with the next chance of the match which was a tame header straight at Smith.  The equaliser came just after the hour mark, a quickly taken freekick leaving Forest’s defence hopelessly unprepared as Elliott was on hand to loop a header into the goal.

They could’ve taken the lead soon after, Matt Lockwood gifting the ball to former Notts player David Pipe who teed up Andy Williams – who missed the target.  Forest did labour to get forward on occasions – particularly through McCleary who had a decent effort from range deflected wide, but looked pretty toothless going forward prompting chants of ‘Attack, attack, attack’ from the increasingly irate home crowd.

There were piecemeal chances for Ormerod, and Commons who did everything right ’til his shot in the closing moments, but Rovers held on against some pressure from the Reds in the closing stages to get a deserved points.  The home side had to content themselves to further boos from the home crowd and another missed chance to get an elusive three consecutive wins in the league.  Crowds of this magnitude probably won’t stand out as unusual next season if we fail to get promotion.

Unfortunately Smoulders didn’t deign to be available for interview before the radio stopped broadcasting sport for the evening, but it will be interesting to hear him explain what prompted his change in approach and personnel – with Commons available (and, to be fair, playing pretty well in spells) he could still have lined up in the same kind of formation that has worked for us in recent games, but alas, he has to piss about with it and change it.

Definitely a draw snatched from the jaws of victory, and it seemed to me that we had no idea how to go about correcting it – the game was pretty much summed up when, under no pressure at all, Kelvin Wilson – so often our Mr Consistent – couldn’t manage a 10 yard square pass to Matt Lockwood without conceding a throw-in.  All in all, a frustrating way to have spent an evening, which clearly a number of Reds fans could foresee and thus stayed away.

Could we lose Ormerod?

Preston are apparently in the midst of a striker shortage – Watford have recalled Tamas Priskin, and Neil Mellor has picked up a hamstring injury leaving the Lancashire side with only two fit strikers ahead of their weekend home match against Barnsley.  PNE manager Alan Irvine has suggested a decision won’t be forthcoming until the end of the week, meaning Brett will be available to continue his impressive run in the side tonight against Bristol Rovers.

This would be bad news for us, Ormerod has brought very-welcome workrate and experience to our relatively young side – he’s impressed me a great deal in his relatively few games.  Having said that, the silver lining is that Will Hoskins is again back at the City Ground, it’s not clear how long it will be before he’s in contention for first team action, but with Tyson and Davies too knocking on the door to fitness, perhaps it’s not a disaster.

Either way, I would rather have Brett on board than not – so with a bit of luck we’ll be allowed to retain his services – he brings something different to our front line, so let’s with Mellor good luck with his recovery from injury, or hope that Preston are able to get in an emergency loan or something.  Otherwise we might have to recall Grant Holt from Blackpool!

Larry Lloyd – Hard man: Hard game

I popped down to Arnold yesterday morning to pick up a copy of Larry Lloyd’s autobiography, “Hard man: Hard game” and get it signed by the man himself, since the local MSR Newsagent down there was running a signing session. It didn’t take too long to get to the table where Larry was dutifully inscribing messages into copies of his book, I’d never met him before and he was a charming fellow.

Even though I bought the book as a gift, I must confess to having a sneaky read of it last night – well, more of a skim-read – I tended to skip the Liverpool-related bits, but it was fascinating to read about Larry’s upbringing in post-war Bristol – one of ten children, with a father who had never so much as seem him due to blindness!  It was also nice to read of his elevation to the first team of his boyhood heroes Bristol Rovers.

Of course, shortly after this Bill Shankly plucked him from relative obscurity to play for Liverpool.  After being dropped he fell out with Bob Paisley as Shankly was retiring and ended up being sold to Coventry, shortly after which he picked up a back injury and fell completely out of first team reckoning before Brian Clough and Peter Taylor swooped to take him to Division 2 Nottingham Forest – and of course, on to glory.

What comes across loud and clear is Lloyd’s pride in both his achievements and those of his teammates, he said to me as he signed the book “We never forget those times either, you know!” – I told him I wasn’t lucky enough to have witnessed them in person, he called me a “poor bugger” – given his theorising about the nature of Forest, I can see why, he sees Forest as a team that spends decades in obscurity before burning brightly with an achievement (1898 – won FA cup, 1959, won FA Cup, late 70’s-early 80’s untold glory, late 80’s-early 90’s lesser Wembley appearances).  It would seem some of us may have some more time to wait for a bit of glory!

He covers the Hillsborough disaster from the understandable position of a fence-sitter, he was at the game as a commentator, and then – perhaps the most eagerly antipated bit of the book – he talks about David Platt.  It’s fair to say Larry doesn’t like Platt much, much like the rest of us!  I hadn’t realised that Larry was working for Forest in the PR team – indeed, when I used to occasionally write to Forest to get things signed they may well have passed through Larry to be sorted out – so thanks Larry!

He speaks of Platts’ profligate wastefulness in terms of the transfer money he spent, and intriguingly also of the detailed dossier Nigel Doughty had prepared on him before appointing him.  Platt wouldn’t let Larry into the dressing room to get a shirt signed (despite Platt requesting the shirt for some charity do he was attending!), and after a while Lloyd was told he was no longer needed by the newly arrived CEO Mark Arthur.

All in all, a really entertaining read – Larry comes across as the uncompromising and ambitious person he clearly was to have achieved what he did in the game, but also as a warm-hearted and family-oriented man who still retains a strong understanding and fondness for the fans and the teams he represented.  Well worth a read, and available probably from MSR Newsagents around the city, and also from the Forest Souvenir Shop (who also had a signing event later in the day), so you should be able to pick up a signed copy.

You can also definitely pick up a signed copy from The Southbank on the end of Trent Bridge, I’ve just been reliably informed, for a mere £17.99.  It’s a top read, so there’s no excuse to not avail yourself of a copy.

Forest stroll to easy win against lacklustre Cheltenham..

Nottingham Forest – 3
Cheltenham Town – 1

Hot on the heels of the win against Carlisle, Forest have equalled their best run of the season with two consecutive wins – with the opportunity to get to the magic three against Bristol Rovers. Despite going on a goal down due to slack defending, Forest eased to a comfortable win against a side that looked every bit the relegation-fodder their league standing could suggest.

The first moment of excitement came courtesy of Kelvin Wilson, who ambled forward in a characteristically casual manner without being closed down, before unleasing an absolute pile-driver from about 40 yards which the Cheltenham ‘keeper left late to tip over the bar. Forest struggled to break down the away side who defended in numbers, but eventually a combination of Agogo and McCleary teed up a chance for Ormerod which was well saved – McClearly getting a header on the rebound which was just over.

Forest were starting to look much more comfortable, without wishing to labour the point, the almost 4-4-2 formation gave us both balance and outlets to play the kind of football we’ve seldom seen from the Reds lately. Agogo again – still somewhat lacklustre in his demeanour (but a lot better than other recent games!) – came close with a shot from range that was just wide of the post.

Just as our defenders were taking a snooze from boredom, Cheltenham took a shock lead – basically it was a route one effort with the ball reaching Steven Gillespie who was able to stroll right down the middle of the penalty area between Wes and Kelvin, scuff his shot which then went in off the post, prompting some actual noise from the very quiet travelling Cheltenham fans – although even when behind, the feeling in the crowd wasn’t negative, and didn’t really get a chance to be…

Because it was only five minutes until we would get the equaliser – Morgan threw the ball quickly to Clingan after some sustained pressure, Clingan crossed excellently to the strangely-unmarked Agogo in the six yard box who expertly chested the ball down and swivelled to half volley the ball powerfully into the goal. Forest continued to press, and Clingan was unlucky not to score from 20 yards with a powerful volley which was saved by the out-of-position visiting goalkeeper.

Bennett was substituted for Commons after some lengthy treatment (although he did come back on and go sprinting after the ball after this!), with Cohen eventually slotting into the left back position and Commons into midfield. Increasingly we started to see McCleary switching position to get involved, so he would pop up on the left or the right as well as making moves into the middle, and as ever, Commons rarely stayed on the left either.

The lead was taken right before half time, a McGugan cross was well headed by McCleary but unfortunately for him, it rebounded from the crossbar and fell kindly to Luke Chambers who was able to shift his position well to crash the ball into pretty much an open goal with the ‘keeper prone from his attentions to McCleary’s initial effort. It’s the second time in a week Chambers has capped off a lucklastre performance with a goal!

Cheltenham started the second half reasonably brightly, their one real dangerous looking outlet was Gillespie, who was close from long range at the start of the half. Forest were to cash in, Agogo picked up the ball deep and beat his marker with a cheeky nutmeg before heading goalward, rather than pick out the pass to Commons he shot from 25 yards or so with his left foot, curling the ball beyond Higgs in the goal to give Forest the comfortable lead their performance merited.

Cheltenham did have other chances though, largely due to slack defending – a Gill cross from the right wasn’t closed down well by Cohen as a makeshift leftback, and in the box Vincent was able to win the header which it looked to me like Smith tipped onto the bar. As the game went on Forest were content to hog possession, and whilst there were a few other chances, they were fairly tame efforts.

With twenty minutes remaining McCleary was substituted to a deserved standing ovation from the City Ground crowd for another youngster Mark Byrne, a rather diminutive midfielder who could have had the perfect start to his debut. Chambers passed well to him, his first touch was to chest the ball down into the penalty area getting himself with a clear sight of goal, his second touch was to volley the ball just wide of the goal – he probably had more room for another touch than he realised!

Whilst we had one short bloke arrive on the pitch, former Forest loanee Alan ‘Mini-Me’ Wright was withdrawn to a round of applause from the Reds fans, which I thought was a nice touch. The final change was the ever-hard-working Ormerod who was replaced by Emile Sinclair. After the substitutions had settled, Agogo had the best chance he was likely to of completing his hattrick – heading excellently from a Commons cross, but Higgs got just enough of a hand on it to concede a corner.

Cheltenhams last chance fell again to Gillespie – Chambers headed back to Smith weakly, and Gillespie had anticipated this and ‘loitered’ to intercept, but as he bore down on goal from a tight angle he was only able to drag his shot wide of both Smith and the goal. The final source of amusement came from watching Mark Byrne – a pretty small fellow – shoulder-barge a Cheltenham player into the advertising boards.

So a good professional (aside from some defensive lapses) performance from the Reds, the stats start to speak for themselves – 69% possession, 10 shots on target, 10 off target – it’s just a shame that Carlisle rallied late to get a win, which all but mathematically probably secures them promotion. Can you believe Scott bloody Dobie got the winning goal in stoppage time, too? Typical or what?

I really hope that Smoulderwood has realised how much more adept and progressive our play is when we have wingers on the pitch, there were a few fluctuations of formation with Ormerod in particular frequently in winger-like positions, which I don’t really see the benefit of, but all in all, this was a massive improvement tactically from the manager. We must also remember that, with all due respect, Cheltenham did not prove to be particularly challenging opponents.

Certainly McCleary is looking like a real prospect, and has definitely earned serious consideration for starting in future games – his willingness to run at players is refreshing for us, and terrifying for defenders which face us. The home crowd today responded to this positive football with more noise than we’ve heard for a while now, which was great to hear and join in with – so well done lads, a cracking win, now let’s have some more!

Could it be tight at the top after the final league run-in?

Vassilis kindly sent me a table breaking down the run-in for the teams at the top of League One, which might help you try to ponder the likely outcome from our point of view come the end of the season.  It’s certainly suggestive to me that Swansea, despite their blip, have an ‘on paper’ run-in which should see them retain their place at the top – although there’s a few tricky away trips in there.

Carlisle have a tough run-in, although if they can rekindle their home form following their defeat at our hands on tuesday, then they’ll be laughing as they have four home games remaining them.  Indeed, Doncaster and ourselves are also enjoying home advantage in the majority of our remaining fixtures.  Certainly so long as there’s a mathematical possibility I can’t generally stop myself from trying to work out the permutations.

Leeds have four away games in their run-in, which could prove to be a tricky for them – although of course the appeal over their point deduction is due in a little over a week (I think), which could see them leapfrogging their way all the way into the automatic promotion spots depending on the outcome.  Which is one of many reasons it is critical we have a good run of results over the last six games.

The other interesting complexion on the league table is the sad crisis that Bournemouth seem to find themselves in, according to the BBC they are in serious danger of closure.  A quick bit of research on this suggests that should this happen, then their results would be declared null and void, meaning points won against them would be removed from the league table – which, perversely, would be good for our league standing since we managed a meagre one point from them over two games.

That said, I would prefer it if they were able to find a way to continue rather than gain a bit of ground at the expense of a football club going out of business – so personally I wish all the best to the Cherries in a tricky time, particularly since their administrator bears a disturbingly uncanny resemblence to sleazy former-MP David Mellor!

Will he make it?

A nice surprise today was to discover that injured-presumed-gone Will Hoskins has returned to training with the Reds, which is tremendous news, particularly given the fact that we still seem to be stuck with the imposter who returned from the African Cup of Nations up front at the moment, it would be good to have some decent competition for him.

Coupled with Tyson’s proclivity to get injured, some added depth upfront is going to prove a pretty vital ingredient to our run-in, and probable appearance in the cursed playoffs.  Hoskins has appeared twice so far for the Reds, and whilst he didn’t score he has looked skillful and a very useful addition to the team, so I’m thrilled we might actually see him in action again this season.

In other news, the Forest Reserves go on from strength to strength – smashing Oldham 6-1 today – even scoring the goal against us in the form of an own goal by Hamza Bencherif, the first goal being scored in a mere 90 seconds.  This is made all the more miraculous when it transpires that Oldham had Jesus on their team!

Back on to Hoskins, let’s hope Junior will give him his garish orange boots back!

Improved Forest end Carlisle United’s home run..

Carlisle United – 0
Nottingham Forest – 2

On the face of it, this is a bloody excellent result.  Indeed, it is an excellent result, and credit is due to Smoulds and the boys for pulling it out the bag, ending Carlisles fantastic run of 14 wins on the bounce at Brunton Park and easing fears of falling from the playoffs.  This author at least is grateful for something to cheer about after a long trip to Cumbria also, as are I’m sure the other 601 Forest fans who gamely made the trip.

Having trained it up there, a friend was kind enough to offer a lift back – I manfully took on the mantle of keeping him entertained on the journey back, and promptly fell asleep – so apologies are due there as he grumpily sat driving back to the Midlands without my scintillating conversation and just a few CDs for company!  Ah well!

The result aside though, this shouldn’t gloss over some of the repeated inadequate factors in our recent performances, many of which were on show again tonight and but for a number of interventions from Smithy, some profligate wasting of chances and an element of luck, we wouldn’t have pulled the result out the bag tonight – however, we did – so we should be happy!

The match was contested in a swirling wind, although it mostly seemed to be blowing in our favour in the first half – meaning Smithy could kick much further, but his not always-accurate aiming was even further askew than usual.  Forest did have the first attack, Chambers coming close to connecting to a corner from close range but missing, ending up with Lewis shooting over.

After this the first half was largely Carlisles – they constantly broke down the left, and the frequently exposed Luke Chambers had a pretty haphazard time dealing with the pressure from the home sides attacks.  We had the bizarre situation of a referee change (there was a general panic in the away end that the game was being called off yet again!).

Agogo had a shot from range which was wide, and Graham had one at the other end.  The hard working Tyson, feeding from scraps in the first half, made a great break down the left and centred the ball but was unable to find the lacklustre looking Agogo, nor Ormerod – to compound this the striker rose with the characteristic feel to the hamstring we’ve become all too accustomed to.

Smithy made a great save after a cross was met from close range, and eventually the half drew to a close – the general mood in the away end was that it was a bit like Doncaster, but more incisive (which wouldn’t be difficult!), but it was a lot of hoofing it desperately from Forest.  Carlisle for their part passed and moved excellently, but didn’t quite have an end product for many of their moves.

Tyson had indeed picked up a knock, and was withdrawn at half time and replaced by Garath McCleary – and would you Adam’n’Eve it, we only looked a bit like a 4-4-2 formation for a while, and, guess what?  We looked better!  McCleary did pop up on the left once, but generally he stayed wide right, and Cohen – who I hadn’t mentioned but was excellent in the first half – started to cover the left more.

Agogo deigned to actually make a bit of an effort soon into the half, combining with the substitute to tee up McGugan whose shot was narrowly wide, after which Morgan was withdrawn having been taken ill for Ian Breckin.  This unsettled the back and we looked in real danger as Carlisle heaped pressure on to us, some heroics from Bennett prevented the increasingly-dangerous Cleveland Taylor from posing a threat to us.

Graham had an excellent shot from range which Smith did well to punch clear, with Bennett on hand to complete the clearance to safety.  McCleary started to look like an exciting prospect – attacking and creating a threat at one end of the pitch only to appear at the other making a decent tackle too, I was impressed with the new lad in his first really significant run in the team.

The lead came from a freekick – we’d had a couple of decent corners in the first half, but by and large our setpiece delivery was characteristically bad until McGugan (according to the official site – I thought it was Cohen at the time!) played an excellent ball into the box which Chambers was able to rise to unchallenged to powerfully head the ball into the back of the net.  Very unexpected, and a very welcome warmer-upper for the increasingly chilly fans in the away end.

It started to look worrying like Forest would adopt the classic Smoulderwood siege mentality having picked up the lead, and the home side certainly didn’t look like they wanted to give up their home record without a fight so were attacking hard.  Chambers and Breckin seemed to casually allow Graham to get on the end of a cross to head goalward, luckily for us straight at Smith leaving us to speculate whether maybe one of the defenders maybe headed it back to their ‘keeper after all.

McCleary again stood out when he won the ball and gave Agogo a great chance, the striker opted for ‘the glory strike’ which was on target, but he perhaps had more time to get closer and make sure of the finish – although, given his general workrate and level of interest in the game we should perhaps be grateful he hadn’t fallen asleep whilst ambling around the pitch!

Carlisle returned on the attack and a Marc Bridge-Wilkinson cross was headed by Danny Livesey against the bar, rebounding to Carlton who headed over – although it looked like an offside flag was up anyway, which has been glossed over elsewhere – I suppose the assistant referee could have been signalling for a goalkick with it being headed over by a Carlisle man – either way, a lucky escape!

As the home side were committing men forward Forest were able to capitalise and double their lead in stoppage time – Cohen did excellently well, squared the ball to Emile Sinclair (a late substitution for the disappointing Agogo) who shot, bringing a save from the ‘keeper, which fell fortuitously for McCleary who made not mistake from close range to score a well-deserved first goal for Forest – well done Garath!

All in all, I’m chuffed as hell as – as you may have noticed from previous comments – this wasn’t a game I was expecting anything from, so it makes it all the sweeter – and should hopefully be a real boost to the team’s confidence going into our next home game against Cheltenham.  However, in the first half we looked almost as shapeless and idealess as against Doncaster – I hope Smoulds has realised what a massive benefit some width in the side gives us.

Other scaries are Kelvin Wilson looked shaky at the back – particularly in the first half, and Chambers – aside from an excellent taken goal – is looking less and less capable of dealing with the right back role.  Having said that, both of our fullbacks have a hard time generally thanks to the complete absence of wingers in Smoulderwood’s typical gameplan.

I would like very much to see us using McCleary more on the right wing, assuming his match fitness is up to scratch, and encouraging Cohen to cover the left side too as we looked so much more effective when this was happening – and it also helped to nullify the threat that Carlisle had posted out on the flanks.  It really is a simple game that can be over-complicated by fools!

Still, I won’t end on a negative – a huge well done to the lads and the gaffer for a result none of us were expecting, also a big well done to the Reds fans who made the trip and were in great voice for most of the game.  It was nice to see the home fans applaud their team off despite a disappointing result, although I suppose having a home record like theirs it would be a bit harsh to do anything other than that!  I’m off to bed now in a much happier mood than I thought I would be!

I’m not going to start thinking about our chances of automatic promotion, frankly, we’ve left that too late barring a miracle in my opinion – however with Leeds beating Doncaster the three points are more than welcome to offer some security to our place within the playoffs.  Six points behind Doncaster with a game in hand, nine points off Carlisle after equal games – it feels like too much ground to make up in six games.  Go on Reds, prove me wrong again!