You lucky lucky Mackems!

Nottingham Forest – 1
Sunderland – 2 (after extra time)

Normally going to a game gives you an advantage in summing up, but after a multitude of replays from different angles, I guess those of you that opted for the poisonous charms of Sky Sports might actually have a better idea of proceedings than I do having toughed it out at the City Ground this evening with less than 10,000 other people.  A disappointing showing.

I won’t labour on the whole game except to say I’m pleased as hell with the performance – I was expecting a full strength Sunderland side to pose many more questions than they did, and whilst Paul Smith made some absolutely exceptional saves to keep us in it (including in the build up to both goals, infuriatingly, when the defence just wasn’t quite up to clearing up for him).  If you had asked somebody before the game which ‘keeper had just cost £9m, not many would’ve picked Gordon, who clearly didn’t watch ‘The Championship’ on Sunday to see where Earnie might try to put a freekick!

Of course, I say Sunderland were lucky, but they certainly created the better opportunities – early doors they swept forward with menace only to spank the ball repeatedly into the Trent End, before Forest started to make inroads.  Half-chances falling to Earnshaw after good work by McCleary, and latterly Chambers – in a chance where an excellent block from Nosworthy prevented the Welshman from testing Craig Gordon in the Mackem goal.

Sunderland’s latest loan acquisition, Djibril Cisse, looked certain to have opened the scoring – unleashing an absolute thunderbolt across Paul Smith and off the post – and out to safety.  Shortly after Smith was called into action to tip a Murphy shot around the post.  Shortly after great build-up play from the pacey Cisse set up Murphy who conspired to miss the target from just six yards out.  Whitehead brought another save from Smith, and finally a powerful freekick from Cisse was just over.

In the second half Forest showed a bit more confidence after again, the visitors started on the offensive.  Thornhill – looking spectacularly like Scot Gemmill bizarrely – set up a chance for McCleary who blazed over.  Later Moussi again found Thornhill who so so so so nearly set up Earnshaw to bury it, but the striker couldn’t quite stretch for the ball.  Forest were awarded a freekick when Nosworthy clumsily brought down Earnie on the edge of the box, it was almost in the same place as the freekick we picked up against Watford, and Earnie followed Gordon’s cue by putting it into the gaping top corner he wasn’t covering – identically placed to his attempt against Watford – if Gordon had done his research he would’ve been anticipating that!

Sunderland did attack again, but Wes and Brecks were comfortable at the back dealing with it, and Forest still conspired to create chances going forward, Earnshaw putting an attempt over after good work from Thornhill again.  Reidy came close to burying a cross from Diouf but volleyed wide from close range.  McCleary was withdrawn for Tyson with around ten minutes remaining, but the away side were starting to threaten more and more.

The equaliser came and it was a real kick in the teeth, a Reid freeick lead to a shot from Miller which Smith did amazingly well to parry to safety, or so it should have been, but unfortunately the usually unflappable Moussi had a bit of a panic and swung at the ball when he had time to clear more calmly.  The ball was whipped back in and put into the net from close range, just beyond the despairing dive of Smith who must be getting royally fed up of making great saves only for his defence to not quite do their job!

The final minutes were scrappy, with the only real chance for the Reds a headed effort from Thornhill which went wide.  The four minutes of stoppage time were punctuated with the referee giving Sunderland a series of freekicks for no apparent reason, before blowing for full time, and thus extra time.  The Forest players looked visibly knackered as they shaped up to restart – more so than the Sunderland players who started extra time very much in the ascendancy.

Forest seemed to go to sleep as Leadbitter burst through clear on goal, Smithy somehow again pulled a great save out the bag, but it fell to yet another unmarked Sunderland player, David Healy, who was able to bury it from a similar distance to give the Mackems the lead for the first time in the game.  Bloody typical, eh?  Thornhill was withdrawn to give Andrew Cole the opportunity to stroll around the pitch and have a chat with his former team-mates, and after an uneventful remainder of extra time, Emile Sinclar was thrown on for Guy Moussi.

The only real shout we had of equalising was again from an Earnshaw setpiece, it looked far out to shoot but it looked to me that Gordon this time was looking for the shot – the striker cleverly chipped the ball into the box and Chambers managed to get a looping header onto it which beat the Scottish ‘keeper hands down, but agonising dropped onto the bar rather than just under it.  I think a draw would’ve been fair, despite the difference in chances and possession for the Premiership side.

So initially I was a bit gutted – four minutes away from going through, but then ultimately I expected us to be thoroughly outplayed and lose.  To see Wes and Brecks keep the likes of Cisse, Murphy, Diouf, Healy and Reidy quiet (or relatively quiet) was really heartening.  To see us still passing and moving at times was also really really good – and yes, in some ways we were unlucky – but frankly, I can deal with that.  Given that I so often hear idiots at the City Ground slagging them off with little or no provocation, a three way man-of-the-match award should go to Breckin, Perch and Smith – all three worked their socks off and had cracking games.

Breckin aerially was excellent – and that tackle he put in on Cisse was absolute perfection.  Perchy covered the back line admirably and put in some tremendously timed tackles (often down the right side of defence…), his distribution lacked occasionally, but a fine performance to cap off a great start of the season for him.  Paul Smith needs no explanation, some spectacularly good saves to keep us in it, much improved distribution, claiming crosses (or punching, when appropriate).  If I had to put my money on a player who will start to attract higher-level interest come January, I’d put it on Smithy.

So I remain a bit disappointed we couldn’t hold on, but hugely encouraged by the manner of the performance.  We need to cut out these defensive lapses that have cost us goals in our last three games now – but going forward things are starting to click.  Fewer clear-cut chances today against a better defence than previous games, but still opportunities.  Dare I say the future looks quite rosy?  Oh, I just did, didn’t I.  Well done lads, you did us proud – and we never win on Sky, anyway!