Reds pay the penalty – ANOTHER trip to the West Midlands..

Robbie Earnshaw is a red, but don't let him take penalties any more!

Nottingham Forest – 0
Birmingham City – 0

A fine advert for Championship football was how my even-more-cynical-than-me neighbour described the game.  Whilst the nil nil scoreline makes a game sound dull, this was open and eventful with chances for both sides – with the Reds perhaps left ruing both missed chances, good saves and inaccurate final balls.  On this afternoon’s showing, there’s not that much of a gap between the top flight and our league.

Having said that, the Reds had an off-day in some departments – and I’m sure Birmingham fans will think the same of their own side.  It was a generous game from both teams in terms of giving the ball away, but a first half performance should have seen Forest leading, a second half which saw Earnie miss another ridiculous chipped penalty and Hart save well – all in all, heartening, and disappointing all at once.

A few changes by Billy – particularly at the back, partially driven by Shorey’s ineligibility to play in this competition – and a big welcome back to James Perch, saw Forest line up like this:

Perch   Morgan    Chambers    Gunter
Cohen    McKenna    Majewski    Anderson
Blackstock    Earnshaw

That should help any reading Birmingham fans, who insisted on shouting “WHO!?” every time a Forest player was announced.  You’ll have to forgive the unknown players we have, what with your squad of Galacticos!  In fact, the day-tripper element gets on my nerves on third round day – the bloke behind me spent all game slagging off Morgan, and presumably the extra couple of thousand City fans are the folks who can’t get tickets to their regular away league games.

Having gotten into the ground uncharacteristically early, I was informed by a couple of such day-trippers in the away end that “We hate Villa more than you” – hmm, well, I don’t hate Villa at all, and I’m sure you do – so yes, I’m sure that’s true.  Thanks for the update.  Oh, hang on, you mean that you hate Villa more than you hate us?  Okay, thanks for that!  Once the away end filled though it became a bit more bearable and the travelling fans did make some noise.

So, the match – I wanted to either win this, or go out with a valiant performance and avoid a further distraction of a replay.  So not the best outcome – however, we did put in a performance, and against a side who – regardless of how poor they were today – are unbeaten in 11 in the top flight, that’s got to be good news in the context of what I still consider to be an unexpected push for promotion.

The first chance fell to Dex, he was to the right of the goal at a tight angle on his right foot and hit it firmly.   Into the side-netting.  Earnie was screeching for the ball in the six yard box but I think the City defenders had that pretty well covered, so the shot was probably the only option for Dex.  Shortly after Earnie had a chance to shoot, going for a lobbed effort which Hart needed to dive for.

At the other end Wes blocked from Lee Carsley, taking out the midfielder at the same time.  In an increasingly end-to-end game Gunter found Cohen whose cut-back across the box evaded his teammates in what was to prove a frustrating afternoon of final balls not quite reaching their intended targets.  In this instance it set up a Birmingham counter-attack which culminated in a decent shot from Cameron Jerome from range – with Camp making the save.

Earnie wriggled into a shooting position on the edge of the D again, but his shot was pretty much bread and butter for Hart in the Birmingham goal.  The visitors were largely restricted to long-range efforts – the next came from Kevin Phillips but he was thwarted by a smart save from Camp.  Carsley in the mean time was off injured and eventually replaced by Lee Bowyer with Forest unable to take advantage of temporarily being one man up.

Anderson lead a good break for the Reds down the left, his shot ricocheted off a Birmingham defender falling – just as you’d hope really – for Raddy Majewski who struck the ball well, but unfortunately for us straight at Hart.  Less auspicious though was his atrocious attempt to keep a ball in play, gifting us an amusing corner – from which we came closest to breaking the deadlock.

Majewski put the corner in to the near post where Luke Chambers glanced it goalward, only to see it strike the underside of the bar, hit the deck and bounce to almost-safety.  A bit of scrambling about afterwards didn’t ever get it particularly goalward – and that was pretty much half-time.  A solid showing from Forest and – as Billy said post-match – a half in which we should’ve been more clinical with both passing and shooting.

The second half started with a chance for the visitors – Camp needed to be alert to keep the ball away from the lurking Jerome.  The Reds still had fire in the belly though – Dex broke from the half way line and teed up Cohen who was in an excellent position – unfortunately it fell for his right foot and the effort was straight at Hart who was again well positioned to make a solid save.

The Reds started to build the pressure up – and eventually were gifted the softest penalty ever as Vignal, for reasons only he’ll understand, bundled over Anderson who was heading away from goal.  Up stepped Earnie, memories of West Brom came flooding back – and were depressingly relived as the striker ambled up to the ball and deftly chipped it into the Trent End.  Awful.  He should be fined for doing that, having already done it once this season!

That said, it clearly fired up the wee fella – he did really well down the left and looked to have given himself the perfect chance to make amends but for an excellent save from Hart – probably the first challenging one he had to make.  But the visitors were still dangerous on the counter – Phillips unleashed a terrific strike from 30 odd yards which beat Camp and struck the post – going out for a goal kick.

On another break Camp had to look alive to block point-blank at the feet of Kevin Phillips – the ball cannoned out to substitute Gary McSheffrey who spannered it into the Birmingham fans with the un-manned goal gaping infront of him.  Late on Raddy almost created a chance for Tys but his firm cross evaded him, and despite some good passing in the final moments, the Reds weren’t able to break down the Blues for another chance.

All in all, very happy with the performance – to have re-jigged our back-four so much but for them to still put in a settled performance like that is very heartening.  I thought Perch played really well considering how long he’s been out, and Gunter did well at left back.  Admittedly Birmingham don’t really do much by way of wing-play so perhaps it was a good day for that particular experiment.

I had wanted to avoid a replay but must admit I would’ve been gutted if we’d lost having put in such a decent performance.  On another day when our passing is crisp and finishing deadly we could’ve put this to bed before half time – but, as I noted above, I imagine the Birmingham fans are probably feeling the same way in regard to their on-the-day performance.

It could be worse though, we could have been held to a replay by Millwall!  As it stands, we have a trip to St Andrews on Tuesday 12th January to contend with, tickets are priced at £20 by the looks of it.  We have the small matter of another trip to the West Midlands to worry about before that, thought.  Bring on the Baggies!