Forest vs. Reading preview..

Saturday’s opponents will still be on a high come the weekend after their dramatic last-gap win at Anfield this evening.  A last minute penalty for the Royals took the tie to extra time, in which a Shane Long header – his first goal of the season – was enough to see the Championship side deservedly ease past Liverpool to claim a fourth round tie with Burnley.  Massive congratulations are due to them!

Of course, this is nothing compared to the monumental achievement that happened a bit closer to home whilst Forest were playing at St. Andrews.  Such drama, and such excitement occurred at Pride Park that our wooly neighbours are able to avail themselves of a DVD of their spectacular and unexpected triumph via penalty shootout over… Millwall!  It will come in handy for the 23,000 or so Derby fans who didn’t make it to the game.

So, anyway, back on topic.  Tonight’s was Reading’s first win under their caretaker boss – he’s been rather a 1-1 specialist over 90 minutes, Reading rarely fail to score, but even more so fail to concede.  It’s been a tough season so far for the Royals – they find themselves just above the relegation zone, below Derby even.  They’ve only won five games – tellingly, four of them away from the Madejski Stadium.

I expect familiar faces to be restored by Forest – McKenna, Wilson, Shorey, McKenna and Blackstock should almost certainly be back – and Billy also has the options of restoring Majewski, Anderson and possibly Earnie who is back in training according to his Twitter feed.  Whether Billy opts for the 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 approach will probably hinge on Earnie’s fitness, and of course what he thinks will work best to unlock Reading.

The Royals have demonstrated tonight they have a sting in their tail – McAnuff was certainly the standout player for them, and could have capped off the evening with one of the best goals of the FA Cup for some time.  The midfielder picked up the ball in his own half and jinked into the box past numerous Liverpool defenders and just placing his shot wide.

So an intriguing encounter.  Personally I think Billy’s approach for the cup game was right – and despite succumbing to defeat at Birmingham I don’t think confidence will be dented as the less frequent players put in a more than credible performance and were unfortunate to lose.  We still have a hefty unbeaten league run to defend – and I’m sure Billy will have the boys well drilled.

We of course also have had additional recovery time – key players have had over a week, even those who featured at Birmingham have had an extra day – and no additional drain of extra time.  So can our fresh-legged Reds overcome the slightly more tired visitors after their Lord Mayor’s show?  It doesn’t always work like that, but I wasn’t sorry to see their game go to extra time!

Perhaps what they do lack is pace up front – whilst Rasiak has a decent enough record against us, our defence has looked solid against aerial assaults, so it’s through their tricky midfielders and wingers that Reading will be more likely to do us damage.  It promises to be a tough game, I think, but on our day we can beat anybody – certainly I honestly think Reading will think us a more daunting opponent than a second-half Liverpool sans Torres and Gerrard.

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We’re beaten away.. but let’s not be downhearted..

Billy took the chance to give a few less familiar faces a run out, but couldn't mastermind a win this time..

Birmingham City – 1
Nottingham Forest – 0

It was quite an interesting turnaround this evening – I was surprised that Billy significantly altered his team to accommodate some of the players who’ve found themselves on the periphery.  In contrast, Alex McLeish named a side unchanged from their last few Premier League appearances – so full strength.  Clearly he didn’t mean us to upstage them again!

Billy rested McKenna, Wilson, Raddy, Anderson, Gunter and Blackstock – and of course was unable to call upon the services of loanee Nicky Shorey – so Cohen had to make do with a place in the defensive line rather than in midfield.  A decidedly cobbled-together-looking Reds side lined up like this:

Camp
Perch    Morgan     Chambers    Cohen
McCleary    Moussi    McGugan    Tyson
Adebola    McGoldrick

Robbed of Earnshaw through his hamstring injury, Billy’s bench had a few unexpected faces on it too – Smith, Gunter, Anderson, Majewski and Lynch perhaps not that surprising – but forgotten man Joe Garner also featured – as did Brendan Moloney fresh from his return from Notts County on loan.  No place even on the bench for Dexter Blackstock.

Having negotiated the frankly bizarre row of portaloos in the concourse of the away end, we found our seats in the Railway End – decent enough view, plenty of travelling trickies given the relative unimportance of the fixture, and whilst I wasn’t expecting a full house, I was surprised at the sparsity of the home supporters – and, indeed, that they bothered to open the whole ground!

The Reds made the early running with Dele finding Tys who headed wide – in another attack Chambers directed a header from a Cohen cross vaguely goalward but it was no trouble for Joe Hart.  Garath McCleary was really noticable as an outlet – and Guy Moussi was having an impressive time in midfield.  Lewis forced a corner, McGoldrick was wide from an Adebola pass.

It was promising stuff as the Reds perhaps lacked the final pass or shot – but looked comfortable enough against a home side content to lump the ball aimlessly toward Jerome – or, more often, simply out of play.  Perhaps their lack of motivation stemmed from the tiny crowd – 9,399 fans in the ground – just over 1,700 of them from Nottingham.  That did surprise me after their decent away following in the City Ground fixture.

Birmingham did start to come into the game around half an hour in – but their finishing was worse than ours!  McFadden worked well from the elft to find Larsson who had time and space on the back stick but spannered it well wide.  He had another go shortly after from further out in the left channel, but his shot was easy for Camp to save and keep hold of.

Dele was doing a decent job of holding the ball up – but the shot he mustered on the turn wasn’t the best, although it deflected toward McGoldrick who just couldn’t get it under control before the ever-alert Hart smothered.  Probably our best chance of the half fell to Tys, the Moose won the ball in midfield and his pass into Tyson’s path sprung the offside trap.  His shot was decent and well-struck, but Hart’s positioning was immaculate to make a cracking save.

So that was half time.  There wasn’t much of the at times breathtaking stuff we saw down the road at the Hawthorns, but undeniably the Reds had the best of the half.  Final ball or shot was generally poor though – however, and I’m not convinced of the Adebola/McGoldrick partnership – Goldie gets in some great positions, but his touch was disappointing and he didn’t seem to always make the right decision.  Still, I’d rather get him match practice here than in the league!

The second half picked up where the first left off – Forest creating chances but not quite capitalising.  Dele found Tys and lumbered into the box to meet the eventual cross – he placed it just wide of Hart’s goal – but the lack of pace on the header probably meant it was never likely to cause too much panic to the ‘keeper.  McGoldrick turned and shot to give us a corner.

Some solid wingplay from McCleary on the right eventually saw him get the ball crossed in – Tyson was shaping to hit it but completely missed it, I think a Reds player might’ve got a flick just before which probably affected his judgement frustratingly.  Pity Raddy wasn’t on the end of it – he’d have buried it for sure.  Or probably taken out a Forest fan behind the goal!

Around the hour mark Birmingham started to show signs of threatening – albeit from distance, an unusual shot on target for them by Benitez was easily saved by Camp.  But then it all went a bit tits up – poor defending, and clearances, meant that twice we gave our hosts the opportunity to bite back at us – and when McCleary’s clearance was crossed in by Benitez, he made no mistake in picking out Ferguson with a decent cross – and it was a decent finish as well to give the home side the lead.

Which at least reminded us the home fans were present – they even managed a couple of chants!  The Reds fans were generally it good spirits though and continued to make plenty of noise and get behind the boys.  On the pitch however Birmingham actually started to pass the ball around rather than launch it long as they had until now.

A popular choice by Billy was now executed – he withdrew the increasingly ineffective McGoldrick for Joe Garner.  Shortly after this Lewis fizzed a cross over which Hart took over the line with him, not according to the largely incompetent Kevin Friend (I’m sure we’ve had run-ins in the past with him).  Guy Moussi was withdrawn for Gunter, with Perch slotting into midfield and Gunter to right-back.

Lee Camp needed to be alert from a corner to save well from a diving header (by Johnson, I think).  on the counter Tys was again the one who the best chance of the half came to – a fantastic ball from McGugan over the defence found him once again through on goal from 6 yards, this time Hart wasn’t well positioned but rather than use his head and get a pretty much certain goal, Tys elected to kick it over from the edge of the six yard box.  Argh!

Anderson was introduced for McCleary at this point, but we were looking increasingly disorganised – we badly lacked structure and shape, and a lot of this I attribute to the missing Paul McKenna.  Larsson was becoming a bit of a nuisance and he teed up Jerome well who appeared to have the beating of Lee Camp, but fortunately for us Chambers was on the line to clear.

There was a bit of stoppage time after Phillips had flattened Cohen and we’d each had a few substitutions – but despite the desire to get the equaliser, it never really looked on the cards.  I think Dele worked hard but ultimately mustered another tame shot – whereas Birmingham brought another good save from Camp through Phillips.

Of course, it’s disappointing to have lost our first game in absolutely ages – naturally we have the caveat of unbeaten league runs to compensate and, frankly, if I had to choose a game for us to lose then this would’ve been it.  So I’m not too downhearted, and clearly neither were the other travelling Reds who erupted into a rousing chant at the final whistle as the home fans offered a limp cheer before rushing to the exits.

One good thing about a crowd that poxy was the traffic on the way out wasn’t too bad at all!  As I mentioned on Twitter, probably the highlight of the evening was watching the tribe of chavs sat to our right in a block on their own systematically get ejected one by one by the home stewards.  Culminating in the final two kicking off and ending up attacking some of the police on duty.  Classic!

We’re officially concentrating on the league – having made life very difficult for a Premier League team on a great run of form.  They were full strength tonight and we weren’t, and we still gave ’em a game – so am I downhearted?  Absolutely not!  Bring on the Reading!  As Billy said, we had the chances – we need to make sure we take them!

And so Birmingham City win the trip to Everton – greedy sods, they already had one of those last month! (And drew 1-1).  But anyway, in all seriousness good luck to them – they have certainly given me heart that we are developing in the right kind of direction if we aspire to be attaining and consolidating in the top flight some time soon(ish).  But of course, one game (or two games) doesn’t prove anything conclusively.