Earnie brace sinks Preston..

Nottingham Forest – 2
Preston North End – 1

Two wins on the bounce for the Reds against promotion-chasing opponents, who would’ve thunk it!  Certainly I had half earmarked Preston as a potential scalp for us, but that was partially down to a fairly formidible looking run of opponents.  The win and performance at the Madejski stadium restored some optimism, even if injuries to Nathan Tyson, lack of fitness for Guy Moussi, and siling rain from the heavens were present to perhaps provide more cause for pessimism!  Spirits were high in the pub before the game, and whilst it took a while to get going, the Reds weren’t about to disappoint.

The game started scrappily.  The visitors were marginally on top early doors – but no major chances were created.  Our first half chance came from a Paul Anderson corner which he swung in and nearly scored from – Andy Lonergan had unwisely come out for it (much like some of our fans would be howling at Paul Smith to do if it were a corner we were facing!) and was nearly made to look foolish.  To his credit, he adjusted himself very well and was able to get a firm hand to the ball to prevent Forest scoring.

Lewis made a good break into the box but he was blocked before able to unleash a shot, the ball fell for Chambers who was only able to scoop the ball beyond the far post.  In the meantime Preston’s only ‘chance’ of note was Ross Wallace’s unconvincing claims for a penalty after Wilson had taken the ball from him cleanly.  Whilst they protested Forest broke forward quickly culminating in a Cohen strike from range which Lonergan couldn’t hold despite it being straight at him – unfortunately he could get to it comfortably before any Reds could capitalise.  Our final opportunity of the half was from a Chambers cross, but Lonergan was able to claim it.

So half time came with us in good spirits – we’d largely had the better of the game after a few early wobbles, Osbourne looked comfortable in the middle and Earnie didn’t look too isolated with McCleary, Anderson, McGugan and Cohen quick to support him when required, and Earnie himself content to work hard with somewhat limited service at times.  The defence grew into the game, and after a shaky start all round started to look more comfortable.  Lynch again is worth singling out for a solid end to the half, but Wes, Wils and Chambers also looked comfortable compared to recent weeks – as did Smith in goal.

As with the first, the second half saw Forest start nervously – and Preston put pressure on.  Pessimism may suggest Forest ‘don’t do’ two good halves, but fortunately a decent shot from Wallace didn’t dip enough to go under the crossbar – as there wasn’t a fat lot that Smith would’ve done about it had it been on target.  Forest knocked the ball around well and took the pace out of the game a little.  The home fans stayed with the side unusually – which appeared to coincide with a more confident showing, culminating in McGugan finding Cohen who knocked it back to Lynch on the left, who hit a superb cross which Earnie was on hand to head home from four yards to give us a deserved lead.

Eyes rolled though as a Preston corner came in, it managed to land in a bedlamic six yard box without a Red shirt clearing (I’m sure many would have expected Smith to claim it, I’d need to see a replay but I think it was too low by the time it reached the middle of the six yard box), leaving the massive Jon Parkin to nudge over the line on the half-volley for perhaps one of the easier chances he’ll have for a while to give the travelling Prestonians something to cheer about as they huddled under the Upper Tier of the Bridgford End to keep out of the rain.

However, there was still positivity – on the pitch and in the stands, I can’t stress enough how refreshing it was to hear a loud and clear “COME ON YOU REDS” emanate from the Trent End and carry right around the ground.  Sure, there was the usual fuckwittery being uttered around me, but in general it was great to hear the fans backing the lads.  And they were rewarded for it – the circumstances of the goal were undoutedly full of luck, but we deserved it, a Preston defender played a suicidal backpass to Lonergan whose clearance was steered into the waiting goal by the gambling Earnshaw.  It’s worth reiterating how hard Earnie worked again tonight – considering he’s not fully fit too.

Preston still attacked, and Carter was close from range although Smith was tracking it and saw it wide, but Forest continued to play positively where possible – Osbourne put in a great cross to Anderson whose pace got him ahead of the defender to head towards the bottom corner, but Lonergan was equal to it and made a smart save.  Lewis had another run into the box – it was a bit like against Reading (with less build up admittedly), he cut inside the defender – we got excited – then he blasted it wide when perhaps teeing up Earnie or Anderson might have been the more sensible option.

Lynch was withdrawn – apparently due to injury – to a deserved ovation from the fans, he’d had a cracking game, and Heath entered the fray in the same position.  Davies wound out the remainder of the game (again we had five minutes of stoppage time, not sure what for!) with further substitutions, first McGugan was withdrawn for Thornhill, before Breckin was put on to shore things up at the expense of man of the match (officially) Robert Earnshaw.  Forest wound down the clock in the corner through McCleary and Anderson – and eventually the whistle came to cheers around the ground.

With other results the win feels all the more important, it’s nice to see us – whilst not increasing the gap to the dropzone meaningfully – putting a few more teams between us and it.  Well done to the boys today, great games all round – particularly the endeavour and hard work of Cohen, Anderson, McCleary and Earnshaw in chasing down Preston defenders.  Lewis drifted in and out as Lewis does, but had a few excellent moments.

A solid debut for Osbourne who looked comfortable on the ball and recovered well from a couple of errors in the second half that momentarily threatened to undermine his confidence.  The defence did very well, Lynch and Wes stood out but Wilson and Chambers had decent games too.  I think Smith coped very well with the conditions, and despite what the myopic folks at the City Ground seem to think each week, he claimed crosses and distributed quickly when it was sensible to do so.

The subs really were only there to wind down the time, Heath was most involved having been on the pitch longest!  And of course, a big well done to Billy – hopefully his words of criticism aimed at the home support hit home, it certainly seemed to have as the fans really backed the boys tonight – and I believe that helped them along.  We now have Swansea to look forward to at the weekend, and of course seeing if Billy was able to bring in those signings he craves!

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More signings? And Preston preview..

Hot on the heels of making his first Forest signing in the shape of Aston Villa’s Isaiah Osbourne, Billy Davies is very much in a Veruca Salt frame of mind – he wants more, and he wants it in the next 48 hours!  Three more signings, no less – admittedly the usual caveats apply, but it would seem that the gaffer is starting to make the moves he wants to add some bodies to the team.  Although as time marches on it seems like only Osbourne is likely to be available for tonight’s clash with Preston North End.

So, Preston.  I work near to a Preston fan, my taunts about the return of Moussi and getting biblical upon them through Isaiah were met with a retort about Paul McKenna hypnotising our defence.  That didn’t really help me establish what his take on the game was – being a Nottingham dweller now, he does regard Forest more like a rival than most Preston fans would, and as such he treats the game quite seriously – and wasn’t prepared to give too much away.  Preston haven’t won away since beating Wolves on 10th January – which would be no mean feat but for the slump the West Midlander have recently undergone, although their home form is more impressive.  They’ve only won three games away from Deepdale all season.

Billy Davies of course managed Preston to some acclaim and a number of playoff appearances – given his record against the former club we have encountered since his arrival, the ‘ex-manager’ factor doesn’t seem to be something that has given him much in the way of an edge so far – perhaps that can change this evening, I’m sure he will be keen for it to do so.  Tyson is out injured, as is Garner, with Perch still suspended – the real question marks over selection is whether the Moose is fit to start another game (with the probable use of Osbourne to replace him) and who will replace Tyson – given Garner’s injury, and that of Newbold, it seems McCleary is most likely – and that’s a good thing, he’s earned a chance to start with his recent performances.

I’m feeling moderately positive this evening – if the Reds can pick up where they left off in the second half against Reading, then we’re laughing.  Of course, the home-crowd factor is at play – if the increasingly notoriously negative vibes at the City Ground can be quelled it will only help our cause.  So hopefully a few of the grumblers might have taken heed of Billy’s post-Reading comments and attempt to actually get behind the lads this evening.  Because we could sure as hell use three points.  Of course, so could Reading – who must be looking at the teams wobbling above them and fancying their chances to nicking an automatic spot.