Reds can’t break down sharp-shooting Newcastle..

Perch: My man of the match for us, which perhaps highlights our difficulties in breaking down Toon going forward...

Newcastle United – 2
Nottingham Forest – 0

Ultimately a frustrating game – but a promising performance compared to recent away trips left me feeling not too bad.  Of course, an entertaining day and evening out on ‘the Toon’ always lessens the blow of coming away from a game with no points.  Definitely one of my favourite night-out destinations in the UK, so those of you who travelled to and fro on the day definitely missed out!

An even first half, indeed, a fairly even ninety on possession – but the critical difference between the sides was the incisiveness of the passing of the home side, their finishing and of course one notable slip in losing possession in a key area for us.  It highlights why Newcastle are sitting pretty at the summit, and we are just short of reaching that level just yet.

If Old Trafford is the theatre of dreams then St James’ Park is the theatre of unfulfilled dreams – from the swanky Shearer’s bar to the massive stand we were housed in – this is a club geared up for the very top.  Unfortunately for the undoubtedly passionate Toon fans (I didn’t see any fat topless blokes crying, which is their tabloid-led stereotype), that hasn’t translated to the success on the field they crave so badly.

Before and after the game I had endless conversions with locals about the footy which was great – and whilst I was underwhelmed by the noise they created in the ground (excepting the initial roar and after the second goal went in) that could be said for most home grounds around the country including ours… and of course, given our position the acoustics could’ve made it hard to hear them anyway.

So yes, the game… Billy opted for a kind of converting 4-5-1/4-4-2 formation.  A trip to the opticians might be in order for me as I took to identifying players by boot colour rather than numbers (particuarly when McCleary and McGoldrick were on later!)… but the starting eleven looked kinda like this, with Tys often joining Dex up front early in the half, and the midfield swapping about quite a bit…

Perch   Morgan    Wilson   Gunter
Anderson    Moussi    Majewski    Cohen    Tyson

It was a bright start from the Reds, much to the surprise of many of us in the away end – Tys almost broke through but for attentions from Collicini, Tys again was positive crossing to Anderson but a fairly weak header went over.  However, it certainly was anything but one-way traffic – Routledge put in a great ball which Carroll got a toe on to put towards goal, with Camp needing to be alert to make a decent save.

Forest were looking up for it, and as we’ve seen – playing against sides who don’t shape up to spoil, we can compete.  We were very quick to close down the Toon players and forced a few admittedly non-critical errors.  As the half went on the home side did build pressure, Perch did excellently to stop Lovenkrands in the area, then it was a case of the whole defence blocking the persistent Andy Carroll.

Some good work from the team saw Raddy hauled back on the edge of the area (just outside for me, but I was miles away), but the referee definitely turned out to be a bit of a ‘homer’ – he waved play on, mercifully at least not booking Majewski for simulating.  He certainly didn’t appear to be – he’d got past his man and was being held back!

Certainly after the kick off the loudest we heard the Newcastle fans was in offering the referee advice – and generally he seemed to take it.  That said, shortly after there was an incident in our box they were claiming that wasn’t given… so he didn’t always default to the home side!  I had no chance of being able to see what actually happened so won’t even speculate!!

The best chance for us in the game was probably a good summary of our attacking all night really – some nice passing build-up play culminated in a decent cross in by Tys, picking out Dex on the penalty spot who tried to connect on the volley with his left foot.  Unfortunately it was a miskick and went well wide, a real shame as he was positioned brilliantly and might’ve even had half a chance of controlling before hitting it.

It was almost a double-bastard moment too – Gutierrez had a shot which caused a mass pile-up in the six yard box.  Again, at the other end of the pitch I couldn’t make out what happened, but the referee let play go on for ages seemingly, before eventually blowing up for something.  The half ended with a wayward cross from the Argentian, who’d been marshalled excellently by Perch at rightback (Perch is my shout for man of the match).

The second half saw the Reds again press to try to grab a goal – a great break by Anderson ended with a cross to Tyson whose header would give Harper no bother at all.  A couple of times we broke with pace and in numbers greater than our opponents, but the final ball was shockingly bad a few times letting Newcastle off the hook – indeed, over 90 minutes we never seriously tested Harper.

Carroll was withdrawn shortly after the second half started, replaced by Ameobi – which was good in one way, Carroll is a handful – but well, Ameobi isn’t half a bad replacement at this level, is he?  Much like Carroll, Ameobi goes to ground rather easily though, and bought Wes a booking and his side a dubious freekick – which fortunately was put well over by Guthrie.

Tys – who’d had a good first half but struggled to get into the second (apparently – unsurprisingly – he’s carrying an injury too) so McCleary replaced him.  And almost immediately after (despite what the fools sitting near me said, it was nothing to do with the change), the increasingly dominant home side were able to break the deadlock with around seventy minutes on the clock.

The Reds lost the ball trying to play their way out of trouble instead of clearing their lines, a mix up between Cohen and Majewski (I think) saw the ball end up with Nolan who played the ball to Ameobi who made a cracking run, and shot early through Perchy’s legs, and into the far corner – finding the net via the post.  A great finish – a real example of making the most of your chances.

Billy responded by taking off the flagging Majewski and putting on Earnie – but the home side really had their metaphorical tails up and were pressuring us.  A powerful shot by Routledge was fairly routinely saved by Camp, but given the wet conditions and the power of the shot he could only parry it.  Blackstock was next to be withdrawn for David McGoldrick, with around fourteen minutes left on the clock.

The home side continued to press, and Forest were looking slightly without a midfield as we sat deeper and deeper to absorb it.  Again Camp was on hand to reduce the deficit with a good save from Nolan, and the midfielder threatened again moments later this time with Wes on hand to clear the danger with his head at the expense of a corner.

Another dubious freekick, another Guthrie effort – this time very much on target and it was well saved by Camp.  However, Newcastle pressed on into stoppage time and their final goal was a cracker (well, the move was).  A clever backheel in the box by Nolan (I think, could be wrong) found Enrique who danced past his man and put a shot in at the near post  which – in honesty – Camp should be looking to save I think.  Great move though.

Which was pretty much game over.  As the home ends emptied amazingly fast considering the volume of people, the Reds fans lingered to applaud the Forest players, who I assume could hear us (Billy certainly heard us during the game).  It was a good effort, but really highlighted some of our deficiencies – given that this Newcastle side is a bit weaker than the one that was relegated from the top flight, it does underline the daunting gap to the next level.

All in all, I was expecting defeat with all but that optimistic bit of me that always expects something more – so it was a ‘par’ performance.  To have seen glimpses of good play was a definite bonus, and gives me some heart – but really barring an epic disaster by the top two, it’s looking like the playoffs for us – and almost certain promotion for Newcastle, and congratulations to them if that is indeed how things transpire.

Newcastle United vs. Forest preview..

When you’re struggling to get a result away from home, which we have been lately, then probably the last place you want to go is St James’ Park to play Newcastle.  The Magpies haven’t lost at home in the league yet this season, and are looking all but promoted after an impressive season under Chris Hughton.  Some of their fans views are a little misguided though, if articles like this are to be used as a bellweather (which perhaps they shouldn’t be).

Despite the meddling of Sky Sports moving the game to a very inconvenient Monday evening the Reds have managed to shift their ticket allocation, up in the upper echelons of the massive stand in their Tyneside ground.  So it could be a full house to witness Forest’s improbable attempt to claim a double over to the league leaders, because of course we’ve beaten ’em once already this season at the City Ground in October.

The fact I didn’t even bother to keep track of transfer news yesterday underlines my near certainty we wouldn’t sign any loan reinforcements!  Apparently we tried to get Bouma from Villa, well, we didn’t – however, apparently Perchy – a January target for Newcastle – might be available to play through pain-killing injections.  Lynch, McKenna and Bennett remain unavailable for us.

As for predicting line-ups, anything other than a cautious line-up would seem folly at this of all grounds – but well, maybe that’s why Newcastle are unbeaten?  I can’t see us going for two up front, with Dex likely to lead the line.  The Gunter-to-left-back and Chambers-at-right-back switch seemed to work – but of course, Newcastle have a rather more terrifying prospect on their left wing than Palace, so who knows what Billy will decide?

The Toon Army expect to be able to call upon Williamson, Lovenkrands and Ameobi – with Alan Smith a possibility too.  Steven Taylor is out (principally with a knee injury, but of course also injuries sustained elsewhere thanks to Andy Carroll!).  Despite his misdemeanours he’s still featuring in their team, and the big striker netted his sixteenth of the season on Tuesday at Doncaster.  They’re pretty stingy in defence too, in fact, nobody has let in fewer.

Back in October a scintillating first half and a Dexter Blackstock strike was enough to secure a win for the Reds against Monday’s hosts.  Lee Camp was on sparkling form in the second half to deny Newcastle an equaliser, as well as an offside flag to deny Nolan (correctly), and sub striker Nile Ranger being – well – a bit pap and missing a sitter.

I’m really looking forward to the trip, it’s been some time since I visited St James’ Park, and with an overnight stay planned there should be ample opportunity for a few cheeky beers as well.  As for the game, it’s hard to ignore the respective home and away form of the two teams – it’s difficult to realistically predict anything other than a fairly routine win for Newcastle.

Having said that… unbeaten home record for the season, lost seven on the bounce on our travels, surely there’s a poetic ending in there somewhere that would give Forest an unexpected win?  No?  You’re probably right.  Certainly I think we’ll compete probably better than we have against some – with respect – more ‘dogged’ opponents on our travels of late, but I’m not sure we have quite enough in the tank.

The key for me is how we deal with Gutierrez, Newcastle’s most dangerous creative attacking outlet.  Which worries me if we opt to have Chambers at rightback, because – whilst I’ve been impressed with Chambo’s recent showings – a pacy and tricky player against him could prove a step too far.  We need either him to have an off-day or keep him quiet.  And that’s quite the challenge.

Of course, with an expectant and full crowd, as well as being clear favourites, the pressure is very much on the home side – so hopefully Forest take heart from that and realise they’re under minimal pressure from expectation.  It would be great to see us get our foot on the ball and play again, we did so in glimpses against Palace and I’m convinced it’s just a matter of confidence.

Despite everything in my head screaming for a home win, I am actually tempted to have a heart-led cheeky bet on us to cause a bit of an upset.  Not a big bet though.  Obviously with the over-night stay in Newcastle don’t expect a match-report ’til some time on Tuesday!

Wes and Tys fire Billy’s boys into the record books..

Wes Morgan: You'll never beat him.

Nottingham Forest – 2
Crystal Palace – 0

That’s a new record equalled.  Twelve consecutive league wins at home matches our best ever run back in 1980 (last time stretched over two seasons – previously it was ten in a single season).  Massive well done to the Reds and Billy, this is a great achievement to be rightly proud of.

It looked to be an awkward game at first, a greasy surface making passes over-run – and determined opponents making life tricky (not to mention another one of those ‘confusing’ referees), but eventually Forest did spark into life and started to looking something approximating the footballing side we’ve missed for a few weeks now!

With Perch unavailable for covering the left back spot, Billy turned to trusty deputy Chambers – who slotted in at rightback with Gunter moving across to left back, a move which worked very well – albeit against a Crystal Palace side that – perhaps predictably – lacked real width (aside from the waistline of Alan Lee and Stern John).  So we looked like this:

Chambers    Morgan    Wilson    Gunter
Cohen    Moussi    Majewski    Anderson
Blackstock    Earnshaw

Perhaps accustomed to his own time at the City Ground, Hart’s side made us swap ends after winning the toss.  Incidently, it was great to hear Hart get such a good reception from the Forest fans both before the game, and during the second half too (something the man himself seemed to appreciate too).  I’ve got a lot of time for him, so it was pleasing to see my fellow Reds largely feel the same way.

It wasn’t a great start for him – the game was barely underway when he needed to substitute Danny Butterfield who was injured by, well, nothing so far as I could tell!  Scannel replaced him, and it was a pretty scrappy start – it wasn’t ’til eleven minutes in that Anderson had an effort from distance, which bounced awkwardly forcing Speroni into a save winning Forest a corner.

The Reds put on a reasonable amount of pressure on Palace, but they were tricky to break down so chances were at a premium, good work from Dex nearly found Earnie but the Palace keeper was on hand to claim the ball.  Shortly after Earnie tried his luck from further out, but his shot was pretty much straight at Speroni so it was a simple save in the end.

In a fairly open game Raddy was able to get on the ball more than we’ve seen lately, which is a welcome sight – the Polish midfielder was a constant menace and put in a lot of movement to make himself available all over the pitch.  However, as these things rarely are, it wasn’t all one-way traffic in the Reds favour.

A rasping freekick (given because Alan Lee fell over, a theme that was to recurr throughout the game) by Ambrose (Darren?!)  brought a good save from Camp at the expense of a corner.  They threatened from the corner too, danger-man Ambrose (who is a ‘goal machine’ according to the small but good-spirited band of travelling Eagles fans) was again on hand to strike towards the Forest goal.

Shouts for a penalty from a clear looking hand ball by Clint Hill were waved away by the referee, which seemed to spur the Reds on to pile more pressure on to the beleaguered Eagles.  Dex and Earnie played some nice stuff after a ball from Raddy, but Earnie’s control let him down at the crucial moment so wasn’t able to convert the opportunity to a shooting chance.

Just as half time beckoned forebodingly it was looking increasingly like we’d struggle to break down the Palace defence, but cometh the hour, so they say, cometh the man.  Wes had ambled forward earlier in the move, and when the ball came to Anderson he played it across to Wes on the edge of the D, and with cries of ‘shoooot!’ coming from the crowd, he did just that and unleashed a piledriver.

The celebrations were pretty epic, and with Wes you can always see what such moments mean to him – the team to a man almost piled on top of him in a heap infront of the Brian Clough stand.  And that was pretty much it for the first half, what an awesome way to go in to half time in very high spirits.  Well done Wes, well deserved after a great season so far!

So, on to the second half.  The Reds were very positive from the off – and hesitation from Speroni meant Derry needed to be on hand to prevent Earnie causing damage after a ball in from Dex.  Straight after a ball over the top towards Earnshaw was inexplicably and very obviously handled by last-man Matt Lawrence.  Uncharacteristically the referee did see it, and sent off the Palace defender.

With Palace sticking with the lumbering Lee and John combination up front they switched to a narrow three-man midfield with four at the back, giving Forest ample room to pressure with both Chambers and Gunter utilising the space down the flanks.  Having said that, they still had their chances – a dangerous freekick from Ambrose was headed goalward with Camp forced into a smart save.

Raddy was the first Reds player to be called off for a substitution – having had a decent outing – with McCleary replacing him.  Soon after Tys was introduced for Earnshaw, which proved to be a rather shrewd move by Billy, because with his first two touches he set himself up beautifully, then scored.

The Reds properly hit Palace on the break – Anderson made a terrific break down the left hand side, and fed Tys with the perfect pass into the box.  His first touch looked a little heavy, but it turns out it was perfect to take the ball past Speroni – with Tyson having the pace to get round the keeper and tuck the ball away with his second touch from a tight angle.  Lovely goal, well played both Tys and Ando!

Provider-of-both-goals Anderson was the last player to be withdrawn, replaced by David McGoldrick who had a couple of nice touches soon into the game.  McCleary should’ve probably tested Speroni more with a chance he ended up scuffing straight at the ‘keeper.  That miss, however, will probably be all but forgotten about in the dressing room as it pales into insignificance compared to what was to follow…

A great break down the left by Tyson saw him beat his man twice to tee up Cohen totally unmarked in the area, only for the midfielder to take his shot first time when – frankly – he could’ve stopped, lit a cigar, smoked it and then tapped it in.  As it is he rushed and blasted it into the Palace fans instead – bless him, he still had his head in his hands as the final whistle blew.  We still love you, Chris!

All in all, got to be happy with a cracking win – and it’s great to see the lads passing the ball around a bit more too and playing with confidence.  It’s true that whilst they worked hard, Palace weren’t the toughest opponents we’ve faced – but a nice solid win and good performance is the perfect preparation for a daunting trip to the North East on Monday.  Well done boys!

Forest vs. Crystal Palace preview..

Could we make it twelve straight home league wins against Crystal Palace tomorrow evening?  You’d like to think so, then again, I was hoping for considerably more than zero points from trips to Preston and Barnsley – so you certainly can’t take anything for granted!  Former Reds boss brings the Eagles to the City Ground as the next team to try to scupper our run.

Palace are struggling at the wrong end of the table after going into administration cost them ten points at a stage when – under Warnock – they were looking upward towards the playoffs rather than at the drop zone.  With ‘Colin’ now at QPR, Hart has been tasked with repeating his relegation battling antics last seen at Portsmouth last season.  Much as I’m fond of Harty, I’m not sure he’s up to that.

Their last game was away at Blackpool and they spunked a two goal lead to end up drawing 2-2, which earned them an unwanted drop into the bottom three.  Their recent form has seen them register just one win in their last ten games, coming in Hart’s first game against Sheffield United.  Their last four have seen them lose two at home, and pick up two draws away from home.

Meanwhile, of course, ground out a win against Peterborough to maintain our fading hopes of automatic promotion, but cementing our place in third – and mathematically ensuring safety from relegation!  As we’ve seen from past ‘runs’ this season, they can be fragile and be snatched away – the lure of twelve straight home wins leaves me as nervous as it does excited!

The Reds can call upon loan winger George Boyd who was ineligible to feature against his parent club.  Whether the ankle injury Perchy succumbed to against Peterborough is enough to keep him out remains to be seen, so presumably Chambers will be on standby to cover – unless Billy opts to put Cohen back to fullback with Boyd in midfield.  As ever, I’m not about to try to second-guess the wee man!

Palace meanwhile have retained much of their squad despite the financial issues, we of course were one of the clubs courting Victor Moses – but other notable players like Speroni, Ambrose, Danns, Derry and Lee are still available.  Darren Ambrose (Darren?!… sorry (reference to the uber-sad PA dude at Selhurst)) was on a great run of scoring form earlier in the season  – and he hit the net against Blackpool at the weekend.

Not a team to be taken lightly.  Indeed, no team is, are they?  If the Reds are on their game then they should be able to deal with this, as indeed they have shown they are capable of dealing with the majority of teams in this league.  Get our attitude wrong and we could come unstuck – it would be rather nice to go up to Newcastle next week on the back of two wins, though.

Looking forward to it, though – hoping that Paul Hart enjoys a good reception from the Reds fans before the game.  Whilst things ended rather frustratingly under his tenure, he gave us the best football we’ve seen for some time – indeed – until this season we’ve rarely approached those standards of play!  Ah, memories.

Well, we know one thing – we’re NOT going down!

Who's the Daddy?

Nottingham Forest – 1
Peterborough United – 0

With the upward gazing we’ve been doing we passed a landmark unnoticed by many yesterday, that is that mathematically we can’t be relegated.  Given my own aspirations at the start of this season (that were clearly modest!) that’s good going!  With the Baggies also picking up a win it means we’ve made no ground on second place, but have probably maintained a solid case for a playoff finish.

Basement dwellers Peterborough came to the City Ground without George Boyd, and without much luck of late – and so that run of bad luck was to continue, which enabled our run of straight league wins at home stretching to a magnificent eleven.  There’s the opportunity to stretch this to twelve on Tuesday with the visit of Paul Hart’s Crystal Palace.

Anyway, Billy went for a positive line-up – and the teams were lead out by Andrew Harrison and Mark Armstrong as part of awareness of the charity Help for Heroes.  According to the programme they’ll be walking Hadrian’s Wall before the Newcastle game to raise money both for the charity, and also for the memorial in Clifton being erected in memory of Kieron Hill (and other fallen heroes of course).  If you’d like to sponsor them, you can click here.

Back to the team though, it looked a little something like this:

Gunter    Morgan    Wilson    Perch
Cohen    Moussi    Majewski    Anderson
Earnshaw    Blackstock

The visitors were pretty defensive in outlook at the start, and Forest struggled to break down the strugglers.  The weather was pretty inhospitable with rain pouring down which had caused a few misplaced passes thanks to the newly slippy pitch.  However, just as we feared the game was going to be one of those where we struggle to break down dogged opponents quick to close us down, we managed to nick a goal.

It was a nice move too.  Gunts brought the ball down the right and crossed to the back stick where Anderson volleyed the ball to find Earnie lurking in the six yard box to tuck the ball away.  Earnie duly celebrated – and since he’s just become a father for the first time I can’t imagine a better way for him to mark the occasion.  So big congratulations to Earnie and his good lady!

Shortly after it could’ve been two – a nice throughball from Raddy found Earnie in the box, the angle was tough and Joe Lewis did well to make the save.  He did, however, parry it back into play finding Ando, whose resulting shot was on target but was blocked in the area by Posh defender Mark Little, gaining Forest a corner rather than the second goal we all craved to try to make the game feel a little more secure.

Perchy was withdrawn for Chambers at left back with around 20 minutes on the clock, clearly the injections he’s been playing through are insufficient to deal with his injury.  That’s bad news as whilst he’s oft maligned Perch has been doing well lately (obviously I’d still prefer us to sign a left back on loan, any reading acquisition panel members!)

Peterborough started to get more into the game now, and whilst their fans weren’t noisy they were numerous and they started to be roused by their team’s progression.  The industrious Mackail-Smith had an effort from an angle which Camp was forced to parry, shortly after Lee tried a rather ambitious 25 yard shot which was straight at the Forest ‘keeper.  Moments later an unmarked Rowe perhaps will be kicking himself for not converting, with Camp making a good save.

The Reds did have their moments though, and an excellent cross from Chambers was met well by Blackstock – unfortunately the striker could only direct his header straight at Lewis.   Another good cross this time from the Moose found Anderson but he wasn’t able to direct the ball past the Posh ‘keeper.  The half wound down with Peterborough in possession but struggled to find a final ball or shot to seriously threaten the Reds goal.

Posh made two changes at half time and started the second half brightly, a Reuben Reid corner found Zakuani at the back post whose header brought a great save from Lee Camp.  Wes was in ‘taking people on’ mode which lifted the mood somewhat – breaking into their box, and unfortunately putting in a cross that was fairly easy for Zakuani to deal with in the area.  He was on hand again to clear a Cohen cross, and a ball in from Earnie heading for Dex.

Cohen picked up the ball in midfield and unleashed a powerful shot which Lewis got a firm hand to to put it onto post for a corner… no, wait, of course! That’s a goal kick isn’t it, you hapless bugger of a referee! (ahem).  After this McCleary (didn’t Billy say he was out for the season?!) was introduced for Majewski, and he immediately sought to get involved and brought a fairly straight forward diving save from Lewis after dinking his way into the box.

Adebola was the last introduction for Earnie, who received as ever a standing ovation from he home fans.  Del had little chance to get meaningfully involved, but the other second half sub McCleary should’ve perhaps done better – he did well to beat a couple of defenders to get a sight of goal, but unfortunately shot over without Lewis even having to make a save.

The late pressure came from Peterborough but as they had throughout the game they couldn’t find the final pass or finish to actively do damage to us.  A mate had texted me at half time “It’s a good job they can’t shoot, or we’d be in trouble” – and it’s true.  Peterborough fans, I imagine, probably went home feeling they’d probably done enough to earn a draw.  From what I’ve gleaned when investigating them pre-match that’s been a recurring theme for them this season.

A very valuable three points for us after recent away day blues, and we have a good opportunity to earn some more on Tuesday when Crystal Palace come to the City Ground.  After that there’s that daunting trip to Newcastle, we’ve lost seven away games on the bounce – they have yet to lose at home in the league – surely with to runs like that meeting, it’s bound to be something unexpected that happens, isn’t it?

Maybe not!

Reds to sign Majewski permanently?

Things are sounding positive, if as yet unconfirmed.  I really hope we do manage to get him signed on a permanent contract.

Forest vs. Peterborough United preview..

The trouble with our away form being so abysmal is that it puts a great deal of pressure on maintaining our excellent home form.  Win, lose, win, lose etc.  With Peterborough comfortably nestled at the bottom of the league, and with strugglers Palace to follow (with Paul Hart in charge), these are games we would be looking to win anyway.  Given our lack of points on the road, now I would say we need to win them.  That puts a whole different complexion on things.

With an eight point gap to make up for any hope of automatic promotion, these games are must-win.  That brings pressure, and pressure – typically – brings rubbishness from Forest, rubbishness brings grumbles from our typically very impatient home crowd, and the whole thing spirals into rubbishness.  Perhaps that’s a little over-dramatic – we’ve enjoyed ten odd wins on the bounce at the City Ground, and these next two games are realistic prospects to stretch that run to twelve.

Our visitors are as far away from safety as we are from automatic promotion – so are in even more desperate need of points if they want to secure an unlikely survival.  They have a few injury niggles too, striker Dickinson limped off the field when they lost to Doncaster midweek, and key man Aaron McLean has been missing lately with a knee problem.  More positively for them, youngsters Frecklington and Whelpdale may return to the Posh midfield.

Joe Lewis is oft cited as their key man – and personally, from what I’ve seen, I think he may be being a tad over-trumpeted.  That said, as a goalkeeper he’s very young and stoppers tend to mature later than other players – he’s certainly a cracking player, and one I expect to remain at this level or possibly beyond as an understudy, either with or without Peterborough.  From casting around Posh fan sites, it would seem his earlier form in the season was questioned widely but he’s much improved lately.  Just what we need!

The Posh are operating now under their third manager of the season, Jim Gannon, who has instilled some sense of fight in his strugglers – so they certainly won’t set out to make the game easy for Forest.  Expect them to close down quickly and give us little time to settle, and with the industrious Mackail-Smith up front they are likely to provide a reasonable threat on the break as well.  Not an easy prospect.

Forest can’t field George Boyd in this game as a condition of the loan – the winger struggled at Barnsley and Preston to get in the game, and so now has an enforced rest against his parent club.  We of couse are also missing Paul McKenna from our ‘typical starters’, with fringe players Lynch and McCleary missing, and long term casualty Julian Bennett.  Perch is supposedly playing through injury with the help of injections, not ideal, but with a fit squad of only 18 to choose from, a necessary risk I suppose.

After disappointing results on the road the Reds will be eager to get the points in the bag at home – I expect, with his limited options, Billy to field a team similar to at Barnsley but perhaps replacing Adebola with Blackstock, and Boyd with Tyson.  Whilst a win will be most Forest fan’s bare minimum, a morale-boosting scoreline could do wonders for another tricky prospect in Crystal Palace midweek.  That said, I’d be more than happy with a scrappy 1-0 with the goal coming off Morgan’s arse from a corner…

Is that it for automatic?

Big Dele: Wasteful with our best chances

Barnsley – 2
Nottingham Forest – 1

I have a proper sulk on me still, I was wanting to calm down a bit before writing this but still find myself a bit downhearted.  Whilst bigger deficits have been overturned in nine games, I am starting to think the gap to second is looking a bit too big now.  I also can’t see us turning around our away form at Newcastle, realistically – can we?  A frustrating evening in Barnsley, thanks in no small part to Kevin Friend – the referee from Leicester.  What an incompetent idiot that man is.

Billy promised changes, and duly delivered them – going for a four-four-two line-up which certainly appeared to address the key issues we had.  Cohen was in midfield, and James ‘injured for the season’ Perch played at left back apparently with the help of some injections, so hardly a long-term solution to the left back problem (although I thought he had a decent game there).

Gunter    Morgan    Wilson    Perch
Cohen    Moussi    Majewski    Boyd
Adebola    Earnshaw

Oakwell was eerily quiet and pretty much half empty too, and it was the Forest fans charged with making the atmosphere interesting.  The first half started in fairly scrappy fashion as we’ve become accustomed – whilst the Reds (when I say Reds, I mean us) started to dominate play, chances were at a premium – Cohen’s shot from twenty yards was the closest we came and that went wide.

Then came the suckerpunch, in Barnsley’s first attacking move of the game a freekick was lumped forward where it was met by Daniel Bogdanovic’s head and looped up and over Camp into the top corner.  If he meant that as an attempt on goal then hat’s off to him, but I fear it was one of those bloody unlucky situations!  This got the home side going, and Hammill had a shot that Camp needed to be nimble to keep out with a diving save.

Forest weren’t out of it though, Raddy played a great chipped throughball to Dele who was one on one, he beat the ‘keeper, but put his shot wide.  With all respect to big Del, he’s probably the last of our strikers you want with a chance like that – especially with Earnie on the pitch.  Moments later he had a similar situation – getting past the defender and getting one-on-one with Luke Steele – this time he lifted the ball over the advancing ‘keeper but once again missed the target.  Poor.

Earnie was looking desperate to be involved but when he did get the ball, after good work from Moussi, he was quickly crowded out by the hardworking home defence.  As the half drew to a close it was the home side that had a spell of pressure, although it never really came in the form of a decent chance.  As for the referee – he denied Forest three of the most obvious corners you’ll ever see and gave goalkicks instead.

So, half time, a chance to regroup.  The second half started with more Barnsley pressure – Foster was blocked by Wes, the ball falling to Bogdanovic who should’ve worked Camp at least, instead hitting the side netting.  Forest soon regained the initiative though, a freekick from Cohen found Majewski whose shot was desperately close and might even have struck the post.

Gunter had an effort too that Steele flapped at, the result of this fell to Cohen with the keeper out of position, but it wasn’t exactly an easy chance and he missed the target quite horribly.  Once again there was a sucker-punch,  Teixeira got past Earnie (of all people!) who clipped him, illiciting a theatrical Platoon-style dive – but I suppose it was a foul.  Much like what happened to Dex at the weekend in Preston, of course then Dex was booked for diving, this time Earnie was booked for the foul and we conceded a penalty.

Bogdanovic stepped up and calmly sent Camp the wrong way to put his side two goals up.  At this point Billy withdrew George Boyd, who hadn’t really got involved in the game so far, and replaced him with Nathan Tyson.  Who initially also struggled to get involved in the game – although Tys does have a better chance profiting from the increasingly aerial route we were taking as desperation was clearly setting in.

Big Dele was the next man to go off, being replaced by Dexter which seemed like a sensible move to me too.  Another chance for Majewski saw Steele make another unconvincing save, and again the rebound fell for Cohen, whose reply was straight at the ‘keeper.  Then finally came the goal, Raddy crossed, Dex headed – Steele saved but Dex was on hand to tap the rebound in and get the ball back to the centre spot sharpish.

Forest piled on the pressure and introduced Anderson to replace Moussi, but struggle to make too many chances – after Steele again had dropped the ball Earnie stroked the ball into the net only to find that Kevin ‘no’ Friend of Forest adjudged the goalkeeper to have been impeded.  He wasn’t, it was yet another suspiciously against Forest decision from the referee.  Shall I remind you where he’s from, again?  Maybe not.  He did, at one point, book a Barnsley player for falling over one of his teammates too, so perhaps he’s just shit rather than biased.

A very frustrating evening.  We weren’t good, by any stretch, but neither were they – on performance we were good value for a draw, but for wasteful finishing and – for my money – a poor refereeing decision we could have had at least that.  But it’s a defeat, a defeat I fear puts a realistic end to our hopes of nicking automatic promotion.  However, to still be in the mix with ten games remaining far exceeds anything I expected preseason, so we should remember that.

With eight straight away defeats a distinct possibility after our trip to Newcastle, it rather puts pressure on our excellent home form – starting with struggling Peterborough this coming Saturday.  And pressure doesn’t seem to be something this young Forest squad are coping particularly well with at moment.  I really hope that we have some favourable news on the acquisitions front this week, as our squad could do with freshening up.

Barnsley vs. Forest preview..

Hot on the heels of disappointment in Lancashire, Billy’s ailing-when-travelling boys take a trip to Yorkshire to face Barnsley to try to make amends again.  Indeed, to make recent form seem worse, we’ve got a pretty bad record in general at Oakwell.  We’ve lost on more than half the occasions we’ve played there, although last season we did manage a draw – it finished 1-1 back in April last year.

The Tykes home form isn’t too bad, but not great either – they’ve won three of their last six encounters, whereas Forest’s recent away form is undeniably crap – losing six on the bounce now.  In those six games we have only mustered two goals,  both of those of course coming against Preston on Saturday.  Plenty of cause for pessimism?

Well, perhaps not.  Forest were undoubtedly poor in the first half – but in the second against Preston showed some real strides of positivity.  If that momentum can be built upon perhaps our away woes can be turned around to the extent our unbeaten away run seemed to be!  Although Billy does have – as ever – a selection poser to contend with ahead of this game.

Chris Cohen demonstrated in at Deepdale the value he adds in the centre of the park – so I expect to see him in midfield.  Earnie demonstrated that he delivers goals, surely he needs to start – but our midfield demonstrated itself as sorely missing McKenna – so do we risk two up front again?  It’s a real headache.

I would personally, I think, opt for safety and put five in midfield – Majewski just behind Blackstock, with Moussi and Cohen deeper to cover defensively, and Boyd and Anderson on the wings.  Left back would be Perch (if fit), if not then we have numerous options that aren’t ideal involving shuffling our defence around to find a space for Chambers, I think.

As for our opponents, they played at home on Saturday and mustered a 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace.  Reports suggest they had the better of it though, and were a little shot shy.  That said, it’s the first time they’ve failed to score in their last nine games (although in six of those games they only scored the one).

They have a bit of injury niggle to contend with – Carl Dickinson is likely to miss out, and manager Mark Robins will be awaiting confirmation from specialists regarding a vision problem Nathan Doyle has been suffering with.  The Reds will need to watch out for Bogdanovic who’s banged in 11 goals so far this term, and the fuel that might be provided to him from the likes of Hammill, a young winger signed from Liverpool (sound familiar?).

Talking with friends before the Preston game we agreed we wanted a four point haul from the two fixtures, which isn’t going to happen now, but it would really be a tremendous morale boost if the Reds could arrest their away woes with a win at Oakwell.  Whilst I shouldn’t look at other fixtures, if West Brom also drop points against Swansea it could be a double whammy of goodness.

If we lose then not only does it make me grumpy it makes that game elsewhere a bit of a poisoned chalice, as we could find ourselves bemoaning a bigger gap to second, or we could be looking over our shoulders at Swansea playing catch up.  I’ve decided to look at things positively, it’s great to be in the mix still even in trickier times – so let’s try to enjoy the ride!

More importantly, let’s get behind the boys at Oakwell too – there was some great back in the second half at Deepdale (interspersed with the usual moans of course), let’s do that from the off in Barnsley and play our part as well we can.

Lewis is still sure he can fill McKenna’s role..