Sheffield United vs. Forest preview..

Tuesday sees the Reds put their unbeaten run of eleven games (or indeed, nine months away from the City Ground) on the line against the Blades, which for quite a few Forest fans is a bit of a grudge match.

Our hosts are on a run of three consecutive wins having had a tough few results, although if reports are to be believed they have hardly been convincing encounters, and the few United fans I know certainly are regarding our own performances on The Football League show with a certain degree of concern at the prospect of playing us.

That’s nice, isn’t it?  Still feels like a slightly odd concept to me, to be witnessing such a dramatic turnaround and having opponents fear us a bit – particularly those like the Blades who are seasoned campaigners in the Championship – and would usually expect to be perhaps a tad higher in the league than they are at present.

The Reds came through their training session against Leicester (fnar) with no real injury concerns, aside from the worry about Tyson hobbling around.  However, I can imagine perhaps a more cautious approach from Billy – although if he opts for five across the middle, can he really drop Earnie after five goals in three games?  I don’t think he could play Earnie alone upfront.

So maybe we will go with a four-four-two.  I don’t feel qualified to decide what’s best – I shall leave that headache for Billy to work out!  Sheffield United were without top scorer Henderson at the weekend, but he might be fit to play – Fortune and Camara are out, but Naysmith could feature as he returned to the bench against Plymouth on saturday.

From what I can gather the Blades have a similar style of play to our most recent opponents, a – um, robust and direct style would be the politically correct way of putting it, I think.  If the Reds can nullify this as well as they did against the Foxes then it will bode well for us – with goal threats coming from strikers and midfield alike of late, we should be able to give the Blades defence plenty to worry about.

Predictions?  Tough call – we’ve scored in the last eleven games, and of course have put in nine in our last two.  Much like I predicted for the Leicester game I would predict a low scoring game – but well, it just goes to show what I knew there.  Certainly given a favourable wind the mighty Reds are capable of winning, I will certainly be disappointed to see our unbeaten away run end here.

Cor, that sounded like optimism to me!

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Reds up to 3rd after annihilating Leicester..

Nottingham Forest – 5
Leicester City – 1

Forest certainly kicked off my Christmas Party season in style with a complete drubbing of incumbent third place Leicester yesterday afternoon.  The question that we can’t seem to answer though is ‘Were we that good, or were they just rubbish?’ – my first instint was the latter, being a bit of a pessimist, but of course I think we have to consider Forest’s influence on them to deny them the opportunity to play.

You see, we were very good indeed.  If anything, 5-1 was a flattering scoreline to the visitors – it’s true their penalty was a soft one, but it was undoubtedly given because the referee had already denied them a stonewall penalty in a bizarre reversal of opinion earlier when the match was 3-0.  Either way, it made for a great start to a few cheeky sherbets around town!

Forest shuffled the back a little, with the returning Cohen taking McCleary’s place in the team which saw a line up that was something like this (although the midfield was VERY fluid, with Cohen in particular covering pretty much the whole centre of the pitch!):

Camp
Gunter   Morgan   Wilson   Shorey
Anderson   McKenna   Majewski   Cohen
Blackstock   Earnshaw

The fact that the likes of Perch, Garner and the Moose can’t get onto the bench at the moment demonstrates the real strength in depth we’re starting to develop in the squad – with Tyson returning from injury to take his place on the bench alongside Smith, Chambers, McGugan, McGoldrick, McCleary and Adebola.

Whilst the Foxes had travelled in numbers they didn’t create the kind of noise I’ve seen them make before, perhaps highlighting their pensiveness over the likely outcome.  The club cunning used the segregation area to seat the returning members of the Second Battalion of the Mercian Regiment – a fair few sporting Forest shirts over their uniforms.

Leicester won the toss, the only thing they would be within a sniff of winning all afternoon, and elected to make us kick towards the Trent End in the first half.  The first ten minutes was fairly evenly contested – Forest’s passing not quite penetrating the Foxes back line, Leicester’s hoofs into our channels or area being ably dealt with by Wes and Wils.

We didn’t have to wait too long for our play to yield results though – Gunter passed the ball from midfield to Earnie, who brilliantly dummied to Blackstock, who found his strike partners lightning run enabling Earnie to bury the ball from close range to open the account.  Lovely move, and a cracking goal.

In between the first two goals both sets of supporters showed a bit of class by giving the Mercian Regiment chaps in attendance a rousing chorus of ‘Stand up for the Army boys’ – it was nice to see, and from my vantage point could see a number of them looked visibly touched at the gesture.  As did a fair few in the regular crowd, perhaps those who had served or had loved ones who were doing so.  Top marks, Forest and Leicester fans.

Back on the pitch, Dexter was causing problems when he won the ball from the hapless Wayne Brown (Brown was probably a good shout for Forest’s man of the match really!).  After shooting from a tight angle Weale had the rare opportunity to make a save, which resulting in the Reds winning a corner, which if memory serves was headed by a Reds player for a goalkick when it really should’ve been on target.

Ando should’ve really made it 2-0, he waiting fractionally to late when one-on-one with Weale ( I think he was trying to ‘meg the keeper), but the Leicester stopper did well to smother the effort for the expense of another corner.  Gunter too threatened in the box but his shot was charged down for another corner kick.

Raddy took the corner which found Cohen in the box whose shot deflected off a defender very kindly for Earnie who made no mistake with a cool finish.  Suspicions of offside at the time, I’ve yet to watch the highlights (a treat for later when the hangover subsides), but Earnie legging it over to T Block to dedicate his goal to the soldiers was a nice touch – it looked like the referee was going to book him for it before he realised the gesture.

Robbie Earnshaw is a red, he hates Derby! Scoring goal number two.

There was one more chance before half time where an excellent cross from Shorey almost found Blackstock, unusually Brown actually was in the right place and alert enough to head the ball over his own bar and to safety.  Half time came and there was much rejoicing, there really wasn’t much fault to pick with the Reds performance.  One thing I hadn’t mentioned was them taking off two players in the first half, one of whom was Matty Fryatt.  Odd decisions there, Mr Pearson.

The Second Battlalion of the Mercian Regiment paraded around the pitch to a great ovation from all the fans at City Ground – bless them, I’m not sure how much of the game they got to see with the to-ing and fro-ing from their designated seating area – but it was good to see them get a good reception from players and fans alike.

The second half was underway and Leicester looked a side that had had a bit of a rollocking, so there was more endeavour but still little quality.  And it was only three minutes into the half when Earnie burst through, strolled around Brown who was busy waving a white flag, and finished well into the top of the net (thought it was going over!) to cap a cracking hattrick.

Moments later came perhaps the controversy.  I couldn’t see if it was a foul or not (although I understand from numerous better placed fans that it was), Kelvin Wilson brought down a player and it was clear to me from my seat that it was a good 2-3 yards in the box.  The linesman gave a penalty (flag over the chest after flagging), but bizarrely the referee gave a freekick on the edge of the area.  Which predictably came to nothing.

To compound this misfortune the Reds were quick to break and make it four – Blackstock crossing to Anderson who curled a lovely shot in from 20 yards to make up for his earlier missed opportunity in the game.  Dex could’ve made it five had he put a powerful shot after chesting down Shorey’s cross anywhere other than straight at Weale.

Leicester did get a penalty in the end – a shot from Wellens hit a Reds player on the arm/hand – it was such a powerful strike I’m not sure it could be construed a deliberate handball, but perhaps the referee was mindful of the spotkick he’d denied the visitors earlier.  Waghorn struck it well, Camp was close but it struck the bar, landed either on or just over the line and into the roof of the net to give the visitors a consolation.

With the game pretty much done and dusted the Reds took their foot off the gas a bit – and Leicester actually started knocking the ball around rather than hoofing.  Admittedly with little or no end product – but it did show they are capable of more than perhaps they were delivering on an off day, but also what the Reds were allowing them to deliver.

Tys, Adebola and McCleary came on in quick succession for Raddy, Dex and Ando as Billy was perhaps mindful of resting legs and keeping people sharp for Tuesday’s trip to Bramall Lane.  Gaz almost had an instant impact, crossing from the right after beating his man to find Earnie attempting a swivelling volley which went a bit wrong – it would’ve been some goal if he’d connected..

We did get the fifth though, McCleary again the architect of sorts – having a shot blocked which fell favourably for Dele who side-footed firmly into the bottom corner to complete the rout.  The final action was Leicester hitting the post – a cracking result against a team who can’t be as bad as we made them look today given their league placing, so a big well done lads.

Really hard to pick a man of the match again, I think it has to go to Earnie not just for his fantastic hattrick but his all round play and continued hunger to score even after he’d already got three.  That said, Dex, McKenna, Anderson, Wilson, Morgan… all outstanding.  Indeed, not one of those players in a Red shirt had anything less than a very good game.  Top marks to Billy too, of course, for getting his tactics spot on.

It’s good to be a Red!  That bet I have with Victor Chandler on Forest to remain unbeaten in league games against East Midlands opponents this season is half way to being paid!