Blackpool vs. Forest preview..

Well, this is the big one.  Whilst I’ve spoken before about not exactly banking on succession to the Premier League, of course, the opportunity presented to Forest should they manage to overcome Blackpool and then either Leicester or Cardiff is massive.  In terms of potential rewards we’ve not had an opportunity like this since, well, since the last time we appeared in an play-off semi final in the Championship.  It’s been a while!

Whilst Blackpool have the boast of being the team that’ve done the double over us, there have been mitigating circumstances in both our encounters so far this season.  Early in the season at the City Ground even Ian Holloway admitted he’d ‘got away with robbery’.  Forest struggled to convert chances whilst the Tangerines nicked one on the break.  The more recent game at Bloomfield Road saw Forest quite weakened – and again, when pressing for an equaliser having fallen 2-0 down, Blackpool again broke and punished.  They probably deserved to win just about though.

What does that mean? Well, who knows really!  We know that Blackpool’s pitch isn’t the in quite as good nick as we’d prefer – indeed, if our corner taking in the sandpit-of-a-corner-arc is to go by at Scunthorpe, there’s some need for the Reds to perhaps have a bit of a practice!  Whilst Olly has been in the press pointing out that Blackpool are under no pressure given their relatively late surge into the top six, I’d argue just as strongly that Forest aren’t really either.  How many of you really expected promotion to be a possibility this season?  I didn’t!

In terms of personnel, the Reds are in decent shape.  Rumours persist about whether or not Chris Cohen has picked up an illness and whether or not that might affect his availability.  To counter that, it’s strongly thought that captain Paul McKenna might be fit and ready.  Long term absentees Julian Bennett and Brendan Moloney will remain unavailable.  So basically, it’s as you were with a slight question mark over Cohen.  I expect Billy to be cagey with his line-up in the away leg.

Blackpool are in good shape too – despite not having the luxury of resting players they’ve come through their final games unscathed.  All eyes are on their midfield dangerman Charlie Adam – although eye-catching in talent, he’s also a hothead – he’s been racking up the bookings, had he picked one up in the last game he’d have been suspended.  Do bookings carry over into the play-offs?  If so, expect some niggling of the Tangerine key man.  If that doesn’t work then he’ll need to be alert to try to stop both his creating and scoring of goals.

Billy has, as Billy does, been talking down our achievements to a degree – he’s been writing off the play-offs as a ‘lottery’, which I suspect rather downplays the preparation the wee fella will have been putting in to this game.  Holloway is very much playing up to the idea of being the underdog, which is a sensible way to take pressure of your players.  I really rate him as a manager and he will have a trick or two up his sleeve to try to give his side the edge.

As I noted above, I expect a relatively cagey approach from Forest.  If McKenna is available I could well see Billy opting for five in midfield with Dex leading the line, whether Cohen is available or not too could be a factor here too – more bodies might be needed to mitigate for the mileage he puts in.  In an ideal world I think he’d prefer to save Raddy either as a sub, or for the home leg.  Of course, I might be completely wrong and he might go attacking!

I’d consider this like more high-fallutin’ clubs consider European two-legged ties – particularly if you’re away first – and that would be to be rather content with a draw.  Of course, that’s a dangerous attitude but some kind of strategic/tactical balance will be in the mind of the management team.  I certainly won’t feel too grumpy on the bus back from Blackpool if we’re still level – and delighted if we can come back with a lead.

All that remains is to remind those of us travelling up to try to do our part as much as we can to get behind the boys.  I’m not sure whereabouts we’ll be in the ground, but certainly if in the open Golf Stand it can be difficult to get much of an atmosphere going there, so we’re gonna have to sing all the louder – the Blackpool fans showed in our recent trip up there they’re capable of making a noise, so let’s give them some competition off the pitch as well as on it.

COME ON YOU REDS!

Semi-final referees and has Raddy signed?

I should probably start with the reason I bet you clicked the news feed… one source is reporting the deal to sign up Radoslaw Majewski has finally been tied up.  If it were true, I’d be amazed if Forest weren’t champing at the bit to announce it, but well, hopefully it is true – because it’s been apparently hanging in the balance for too long and I desperately want him to sign!  Fingers crossed the chaps at Vital Forest are right on this one!

UPDATE… Raddy’s blog suggests he’s signed a three year contract!!

There has also been confirmation of the referees who will be taking control of our forthcoming play-off semi-finals against Blackpool.  Up at Blackpool will be officiated by Phil Dowd, whilst at the City Ground we can ‘look forward’ to the attentions of Mark Clattenburg – who for most of us probably sticks in the memory for his last play-off appearance at Trentside, when he sent off Michael Dawson (and of course that he sounds like a rather nice kind of cake).

I don’t normally bother researching referees, but given the magnitude of the occasion (and some of the shit refereeing we’ve witnessed of late!) I think it might be worth a look…

"Look at me! I'm Phil Dowd!"

Phil Dowd (from Staffordshire) has taken charge 37 games this season, dishing out 124 yellow cards, and 5 red cards.  He’s been mostly in the top flight this season, only dipping in to the Championship for Newcastle vs Sheffield Wednesday, and Cardiff against Swansea.  He of course didn’t cover himself in glory in the League Cup final in February either, opting to not send off Vidic after blatantly hauling down Agbonlahor early in the game when clear through on goal, handing Manchester United a massive lifeline in the game.

"Are you looking at me? I hope so!"

Mark Clattenberg (from Tyne and Wear) has taken charge of 40 games this season, issuing 101 bookings and 5 red cards – so a little less card happy than Mr Dowd.  Whilst again he’s largely operated in the top flight, we have experienced his attentions this season at home against Coventry.  An excerpt from my match report reads: ‘…as Clattenburg and his assistants provided another hapless performance in officiating.’  I still haven’t forgiven him for sending Daws off either.

In all honesty though, despite attempting a modicum of balance and unbiasedness, the nature of the football fan is one of perhaps a slightly blinkered creature!  I rarely have many good things to say about referees (I try not to labour it), and whilst of course they can have a bearing on a game ultimately we shouldn’t be worrying too much about them and just attempting to play our game.

Politics and the Premier League..

Given it’s election week, and that we now have a charted path where the destination might lead us to the Premier League, I seem to have linked the two together in my head.  When the top flight seemed so far away, I had an attitude of ambivalence to it – so corrupt, so unfair – so imbalanced, so uncompetitive.  In some ways I was happier ‘out of it’ in the relatively level playing field that is the Football League.

In politics I remember having very idealistic values when I was a student – I believed society should be fair, that it was wrong the imbalance between rich and poor and the measures in place to maintain that inequality.  As you become older you become more cynical, you realise that ultimately mainstream politics is very limited – and it’s not uncommon for people to start considering voting for more selfish reasons.

That’s how I come around to thinking about the Premier League.  I still think it’s unfair and imbalanced – however, if that is the way that things are then I would rather Forest were a part of it and have a slice of that pie.  It hadn’t always been so – remember watching Frank Clark get us promoted to the top flight then take us to third the following season?  Now anything above third from bottom would be considered an achievement.

Of course – whilst all this talk of the Premier League is fair game for all four play-off bound teams – it wouldn’t do to count any chickens.  Not only have we not managed to beat Blackpool this season, we haven’t even managed to get so much as a point from them.  Ian Holloway is a canny manager with a talented squad – the semi-final will be a real challenge and make no mistake, before we even dare think about a trip to Wembley.

Having said all that – whilst I have eventually come around to desperately wanting promotion now – whatever happens this season now is a big win for Nottingham Forest and Billy Davies.  To elevate ourselves from a near-relegation scrap to third in the league is a marvellous turnaround, when you consider Derby, one point better than us last season, are probably pleased to haul themselves to fourteenth.

Failing at this final hurdle would of course be heart-wrenching as we well know from past experiences – but it felt like there was so much more at stake in those other play-off encounters.  Particularly against Yeovil, which of course is the perfect warning against complacency even if we manage to return from Blackpool with a positive result.  Something tells me Billy Davies will be rather better equipped to deal with these games compared to Smoulderwood – bless him.

Whilst our trials are yet to come over the next few weeks, it would be ungentlemanly to not congratulate Newcastle on smashing through 100 points to finish an impressive season.  West Brom too, deserving of their second place finish – and to commiserate with Wednesday who once again find themselves in the third tier.  Big congratulations to Paul Hart for overcoming administration with Palace and keeping the Eagles in the Championship.

I’m sure my feelings will change over the coming week, but currently I’m approaching next week’s commencement of the play-offs with a ‘nothing to lose, everything to gain’ mentality.  As we get closer and as the games are played out and we see how things start to turn out, I’m sure it will begin to feel a little more tense.  However, I’m confident the lads will do us proud regardless of the outcome.

If the worst comes to the worst, the Championship looks a lot less of a daunting prospect next season – with no Newcastle, no West Brom and with one of the play-off contenders removed.  Replace them with a skint Portsmouth, a skint Hull and a Burnley side not looking all that impressive and well, I would certainly hope we could compete with all of those – of course, Norwich and Leeds coming up could well ‘do a Leicester’.

Anyway, I digress (as usual!), to return to the initial parallel with politics, I’m much less confident in the would-be governments competing in the general election – again, regardless of the outcome!  Still, don’t forget to vote on Thursday – regardless of the ultimately ridiculous way we are proportionally ‘represented’ – many paid a high price for your right to have your say in this way!

Perhaps marginally more importantly (sic), give your backing to Billy Davies and the boys – who have restored a good degree of the pride we’ve struggled to muster over the last few seasons.  I started writing this blog hoping to chart Forest’s return from obscurity – then it was a modest ambition to establish us in the second tier… I didn’t dream in such a relatively short spell we’d be in with a shout of a crack at the top flight!

A point at Scunny’s enough to secure third..

Scunthorpe United – 2
Nottingham Forest – 2

On a pretty bad surface and on a day when neither team had masses to play for a football match occasionally threatened to break out.  Both teams will be delighted with their second goals in particular, and certainly both sides – Forest quite a make-shift line up as expected – appeared to be putting in an effort to get the three points that weren’t really needed, but wanted nonetheless!

Billy opted to mix things up quite a lot in favour of resting some key players and long servers, so a very unfamiliar looking line-up enabled him to rest players like Wes, Gunter and Cohen (rumoured to be suffering with an illness) and even Lee Camp was granted his only day off from league duties, with Paul Smith given a rare opportunity to start between the sticks (and seemed to see the funny side of the fans singing “England’s number two!” at him!).

Smith
Perch    Chambers    Wilson    Lynch
Anderson    Moussi    McGugan    Boyd
McGoldrick    Garner

The Iron were very much on top early doors, and Smithy needed to be alert to make ultimately fairly comfortable early saves from Hayes and Mirfin – the home side seemed to threaten with attacks but struggle with the final shot early doors.  Forest eased themselves into the game gradually, with McGugan firing our first shot on target after a decent ball from Boyd – which was saved by their ‘keeper.

Scunny were certainly up for it though, and pretty robust in their play – with the referee pretty lax compared to many on their physical play.  Hooper looked dangerous but Wils was on hand to put in a bit of a last gap challenge to get the ball back to Smith who was well positioned to get it cleared to safety.

The first goal came a bit after fifteen minutes gone, Joe Garner picked up the ball in the box after a decent pass from Boyd – my memory might be playing tricks (the beer doesn’t help either), but he seemed to have a bit of time to compose himself and pick his spot with a low shot to give their ‘keeper absolutely no chance at all of stopping it.  Good to see Joe getting a run out up front.

Moments later it perhaps should’ve been two – McGoldrick, having previously been caught offside a couple of times, did excellently to get past his man in the area but put a shot wide from inside the 6 yard box at a reasonably tight angle.  A pity, all in all I was impressed with him today but I’m sure the confidence boost of a goal would’ve done him the world of good.

The home side were still threatening though, a cross from Thompson was well placed to find Woolford who is probably still kicking himself at the poxy effort he managed which left Smith a simple stop to make.  It was a useful warning though, Scunny aren’t a bad side at knocking the ball around and aren’t shy about putting themselves about either.

However, it was us who were to draw next blood – and the makeshift Reds actually managed to put together one of those lovely passing moves we’ve not seen so much of lately – particularly away from the City Ground.  A string of nice passes – often one-touch moves – eventually got the ball to McGoldrick who moved it into the path of Boyd who hit it first time to beat Lillis with a neat finish.  Lovely goal.

Wastefulness or bad luck struck for us straight after – a cross from Lynch hit the bar finding McGoldrick who perhaps should’ve done more than shoot wide – but well, it’s not always easy to anticipate the ball ricocheting from the woodwork!  All in all, a tidy half in which perhaps 2-0 was marginally flattering to the Reds, but nice to enjoy nonetheless.

It gave the Reds fans – many of whom were in fancy dress – to check out other scores, with Cardiff losing at Derby it meant that third place was pretty much assured – and whilst Blackpool were losing at some points over the course of the day, Swansea never managed to get the result they needed to overtake the Tangerines – we realise now, of course, another trip to Blackpool awaits us next week.

The second half started the opposite to the first, with the Reds on the up – some good work from Boyd found McGoldrick who took the ball wide on the right, and crossed into the area finding Anderson.  The winger went for the spectacular volley but couldn’t connect and the subsequent follow-up wasn’t on target.  Pity, if he’d caught it, it would’ve been sweet!

Scunny though started to come into the game more quite soon – a Perch goal-line clearance from one corner was quickly followed up by another corner – eventually ending up with McCann shooting, Smith saving but rebound ultimately resulting in Canavan making no mistake from close range to notch a not undeserved goal for the home side.

They kept coming too, Chambo needed to be alert to block from Hooper and clear, and Hooper again provided the danger with a cheeky lobbed effort which just had the beating of Smith, and the goal as it went over.  Again they struggled with their final shots, and a chance for Cliff Byrne was easily saved by Smith.  Anderson was withdrawn at this point for McCleary.

A decent effort from Hayes brought a similarly decent save from Smith, before Joe Garner was withdrawn to be replaced with Dele Adebola for the last ten minutes or so.  Then came the equaliser for Scunthorpe, an it was the ridiculous to the sublime really – a sloppy piece of play from McCleary gave the ball away – and Thompson absolutely lashed it into the top corner from 25 yards.  A cracking finish!

The Reds started to look alive again and a late freekick from McGugan was just wide before he was replaced by Majewski who barely had any time to make an impact (aside from having the same trouble both Boyd and McGugan had with Scunthorpe’s shocking corner arcs comprising basically of sand.  We are generally poor at corners – but today’s were spectacularly bad, it has to be said!).

A fun trip nonetheless, of course disappointing to lose a two goal lead but ultimately of little consequence.  Blackpool are our next challenge, and as the only team (except Newcastle and Watford, I think) to have beaten us “on aggregate” over the course of a season, perhaps the challenge we didn’t really want.  Or didn’t we?  Personally I think we should respect everyone but fear no-one.  It should prove an interesting encounter.

Probably more on the play-offs to come when I’ve sobered up a bit and had a chance to ponder now we know the permutations that await us!