Skipper’s strike rescues a point for the Reds..

The Skipper rescues a point for the Reds

Nottingham Forest – 1
Sheffield United – 1

It was like all their Christmases had come early for Sheffield United when Cresswell’s not particularly stealth-like run into the box was totally unchecked during their first attack, leaving the big fella all the time in the world to plant a decent header beyond Lee Camp.  After that, Forest really struggled to get into gear, and the Blades didn’t take many risks – but an equaliser of course did come eventually.

Unsurprisingly Billy showed faith in his starting eleven who performed so well against Swansea, the only change on the bench being Tys coming in for Thornhill having recovered from a virus.  The only conceivable problem I could envisage with this was the lack of ‘role’ for ‘The Moose’ – Sheffield United don’t have a Darren Pratley to marshall, so The Moose would need to be more proactive in his involvement.

Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Bertrand
Anderson    McKenna    Moussi    Cohen

The Reds actually made the very early running, McGugan made a burst down the left with the away defenders seeming in slow motion, his cross almost found Anderson at the back stick but Jordan was able to clear.  After this a Cohen cross found Anderson who in turn found Blackstock whose effort wasn’t really too troubling for Simonsen in the Sheffield United goal.  Promising stuff, we thought!  We were wrong…

On their first move forward the Blades were awarded a fairly soft freekick by a referee who was to be consistently baffling throughout the evening – Jordan took it and delivered it brilliantly, unfortunately the Reds neglected to track the run of Cresswell who found himself six yards out with a free header and made no mistake.  Chambers was on Cresswell from then, not sure whether he should have been on this occasion.

The Blades, not exactly roared on despite the lead, by their rather small 1,200 odd fans could’ve had a second too after the Moose had clumsily lost the ball in midfield culminating in Bogdanovic getting clean through, fortunately Camp was alert to the threat and saved at his feet – luckily for us the ball fell to a Red shirt and we were able to clear our lines.  It wasn’t looking great through!

At the other end Forest were quickly reverting to long balls, one from Wes was nodded down well by Dexter to Lewis whose effort was just wide.  Back in our danger zone Camp made a cracking save from Jordan who struck a well-taken low shot through a crowded box after a corner.  Without the bodies it would’ve been straightforward but it must’ve been a late sighting for the Reds keeper.

Despite the stuttering and stunted play, the Reds were crafting chances – but not getting much on target, good work from McKenna played the energetic Gunter down the right, his cross almost gave Anderson a shooting chance but the winger couldn’t get any contact on it enabling the away side to clear.  Yeates had a chance to double the Blades’ lead, a well taken lob looked to have Camp beaten but the ‘keeper was able to dive back and palm it out for a corner.

The final chance of the half fell to McGugan who picked up the ball on the right edge of the area, he worked his way across the edge of the box to the left hand side of the D and was able to wrap his left foot around the ball, however he wasn’t able to drag it across the ‘keeper nor get much power on it – so whilst a decent effort, it wasn’t too tricky for Simonsen to make the save.

Half time was quite gloomy – whilst this report reading back makes it sound even, the Reds hadn’t created many direct opportunities whilst the Blades had scored, and brought two or three decent saves from Camp.  Forest were looking leggy and short of ideas, and the Blades were – predictably – spoiling (which I suspect they would have been doing had they not scored).

The referee and linesmen were proving unpopular too, I’ve lost track in my head of when these incidents happened but as Cohen seemed to be one-on-one he gave us a freekick rather than play the advantage, and after a Dex (I think) header had struck the bar the linesman gave an offside decision that was roundly derided by fans better placed than I, and Forest players.  I shan’t dwell on the awful officials, as it wasn’t really the cause of our being behind.  That was all our own doing!

As the second half commenced it didn’t immediately look much better, the Blades were characteristically dogged and determined not to be broken down, for their part Forest lacked movement, invention and guile – making it about as interesting as watching a game of chess at times.  When Forest did break, for example McGugan bursting down the right and crossing, we never seemed to have anyone in the box, we don’t have any gamblers (except Earnie maybe, at Forest).

Dele was our first sub, I denounced it on Twitter and called him The Towel, that was a bit harsh it turns out – as whilst it took him a while, the big fella was to have an impact on the game.  I shall have a ‘Towel amnesty’ – it’s naughty of me, even in jest, to be so negative towards a Forest player anyway, so no more calling Dele ‘The Towel’ even though it’s quite funny.

Forest were starting to look a bit more lively, an Anderson corner found Wes rising in the box but his header was wide – but we were starting to put pressure on and keep it on, which we hadn’t managed so far.  The equaliser came when Bertrand found McKenna on the edge of the box at 25 yards out, it was – to be honest – a fairly routine save for Simonsen, a dip might’ve confused him, and he palmed it up and over himself into the goal.

He really should be saving those, and I’m sure he’ll be kicking himself – but just as the Blades had scored through a Reds defensive lapse, we profited from a goalkeeping error.  It was probably reasonably fair.  Maybe.  Tys was the next sub, the board said Cohen, Cohen went to it, then Billy called Anderson over instead much to his consternation.  So Anderson off, Tyson on – Forest were going for it whilst the Blades were reeling a bit.

Tys was quickly on the ball down the left but his cross was blocked.  Forest continued to press, a cross/shot from Bertrand could’ve been spilled to the onrushing strikers, but Simonsen held firm despite a fair bit of abuse from the Reds fans inspired by his earlier error.  Another high ball into the box saw Adebola and Bartley clash – I thought Dele led with his elbow, as clearly did numerous visiting players and fans – the ref didn’t see any problem and ordered the game onward after Bartley had been stretchered off.

The final change was to take of McGugan – a decent enough game, similar to Hull away, but in and out of it.  McCleary replaced him as Billy was clearly going for speed or muscle rather than Raddy who would probably have been broken in half by the ‘robust’ visitors.  Whilst the Reds enjoyed all the possession we struggled to find a way through – the Blades made their position clear by timewasting from a late corner taking it short.

The last action of the game was a Reds corner taken well, Chambers – who’d been pretty poor for most of the game in defence – looked to have got something on it, but it went over and the referee blew for full time.  Speaking of the referee, there was another point in this half when he gave us an advantage (after my half-time moan), except there wasn’t any advantage.  He was awful.  Not biased, just shit for both sides.

On balance, a draw was probably about right.  The Blades drew more saves from Camp, but we had more pressure – I’m not sure what that means.  I would certainly have taken a point at half time but the fact that we piled on the pressure for much of the second half makes it necessarily disappointing because of the nature of football fans, but in honesty it could’ve been 2 or 3 at half time, so I’m quite pleased with a draw.

It keeps our over-a-year-unbeaten (if you ignore play-offs 😉 ) at home in the league record intact, a record I’d not really paid much attention to until it was on the radio this morning.  Still, we’re not at home again for a bit so it won’t be under threat for a while I suppose – and with Boro up next well, they can’t even beat Derby away!  Good comeback today, stand out performers for the Reds were McKenna (not just for the goal either) and Gunter.

Moussi and Chambers disappointed after picking up the plaudits at the weekend – Bogdanovic is a handful but he’s not as good as Chambers made him look at times, he and Moose were particularly bad for unforced errors.  I expect to see a few changes by Billy when the Reds head up to Doncaster next week, indeed, he spoke post-match of pondering changing it for this – I think he probably should have, but it’s easy to say that with hindsight!

Could be worse, we could be Leeds….!

Forest vs. Sheffield United preview..

The games at the City Ground are coming thick and fast, and since I was so rubbish in previewing the Swansea City game I’m trying to be early for a change.  The 3-1 win on Saturday leaves us in good spirits whilst our visitors had an unprofitable defeat at fierce rivals Leeds United to further dampen their spirits after a disappointing start to the season.

Much like Swansea, the Blades haven’t been travelling well this season – drawing at Swansea, losing at Hartlepool in the cup, losing at Middlesbrough before a win at Derby (doesn’t count, does it?) and finally as mentioned a defeat at Elland Road at the weekend.  Even at home they seem to be alternating wins and losses.

With a number of fairly local but expensive fixtures on the Blades fixture list the usual healthy number of travelling fans from up the M1 might be a little smaller than we’ve become accustomed, of course factor in a run of inauspicious results and of course the inconvenience of a Tuesday night fixture and I suspect it’ll be another disappointing turnout from visiting fans within a week.

The visitors have Chris Morgan out injured, which should spare Dexter’s face at least, with Nosworthy likely to deputise, Kozluk has been an injury doubt along with longer term sicknotes Darius Henderson, Lee Williamson and Ryan France.  Jamie Ward will miss the game through his two harsh yellow cards against Leeds (despite what Claridge might have thought!).

I’m not expecting much change of personnel from the Reds – at least not through injury – Wilson is of course fit, but Chambers impressed at the weekend.  Earnshaw won’t be fit, and I’m not sure whether McGoldrick, despite some nice touches (and an assist) in his substitute cameo, is fit enough to tempt Billy into a start.

Having said that, Saturday’s victory was as much testament to Billy’s tactical nous as it was the excellent team performance – and he might want to try something different against rookie manager Gary Speed.  I’ve given up trying to second-guess Billy’s teams – but I’m going to stick my neck on the line and suggest he’ll show faith with the same team that did so well against Swansea.

Always a bit cautious when it comes to feeling a bit more confident about Forest, because that’s when the kick to the gut tends to come, but it’s hard not to feel pretty positive about the result.  The Blades will come here low on confidence, and we should be feeling pretty good – of course, life’s never that simple.

I’m expecting a cautious approach from the visitors who will want to avoid conceding early, and perhaps an aim to frustrate our forward play (which hasn’t proven that difficult at times!) so a patient approach will be needed from Forest and fans alike, but I can’t help but fancy Billy will have the tactics to outsmart Gary Speed in this encounter.

Fingers crossed than neither Billy Davies or the squad are feeling nearly as complacent as I just sounded, reading that back!!  Inexperienced manager or not, and injuries or not, the Blades will pose a strong test for us and whilst I’m confident we can win, it won’t be easy and we’ll need to continue our recent high levels of performance.

The Reds see off Swansea with a McGugan brace..

Two goals, three points - well done Lewis!

Nottingham Forest – 3
Swansea City – 1

Phew, that feels better doesn’t it?  We have had a pretty good run of results against Swansea of late – often slightly undeservedly I might add too – but today there was only one team in it, and it’s great to see after only being one up at half time, the Reds managed to weather a brief second half storm to take the game beyond doubt.

As even when things go well, we still succumb to sloppy goals – and today was no different, a decentish save from Camp perhaps should’ve been put behind rather than back into play.  That shouldn’t detract from a decent performance from the Reds though against a team that haven’t looked the same since Martinez left them.

Earnie wasn’t fit to even make the bench with his thigh strain, Wilson was on the bench with Chambers retaining his spot in central defence – Billy opting to shore up midfield at home rather than play two up front:

Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Bertrand
Anderson    McKenna    Moussi    Cohen

Whilst I make a formation up as such – Cohen and Anderson did swap around a bit, and in particularly Anderson, McGugan and Blackstock seemed to alternate being the most forward, with Moussi generally found tailing future Reds player (arf) Darren Pratley, with McKenna on hand to step in should he evade the big Frenchman.

A positive start for the Reds saw us stinging the palms of De Vries in the Swansea goal after just five minutes, a decent strike from Cohen from the left edge of the area was parried by the Swans ‘keeper back into play, Dexter was lurking for the rebound but Neil Taylor was alert enough to put it out for a corner before the striker could get to it.

Forest continued to press and Gunter was the next to test the visiting goalie, cutting in from the right he shot from a tight angle which was saved by De Vries at the expense of another Reds corner.  With a mere ten minutes on the clock we’d been awarded a penalty by the referee – which is fortunate, because the linesman didn’t look like he wanted anything to do with it!

Dex had picked up the ball in the area and knocked it away when he saw De Vries coming at him, the ‘keeper bringing down the striker.  A bit soft, but I think technically correct.  De Vries picked up a booking for his troubles whilst it was Lewis who grabbed and spotted the ball rather than Dex.  He confidently struck it into the bottom right hand corner, sending the keeper the wrong way. (video courtesy of winnits from LTLF).

Swansea reminded me of Hull last week, and of Forest at their most frustrating – they had some possession but rarely converted that into chances – although at times Nouble looked like he might cause some problems, but Wes marshalled him pretty well.  Forest were making chances though, Anderson broke well and crossed to Gunter and a last gap challenge stopped a proper attempt on goal.

The half hour mark saw Swansea’s first attempt on target, a fairly tame shot from the edge of the area from Joe Allen which Lee Camp didn’t have much difficulty in stopping.  The Reds swept forward after this, with a delicious move where Wes moved forward, played to Dexter who one-twoed with Anderson whose final shot was excellent, as was De Vries’ save to deny it for another Reds corner.

But still, with the Reds even playing well and containing their opponents you worry when they only have a one goal lead.  Swansea were breaking well on occasions, and the lively Dyer probably should have done better after breaking down the right and putting in a firm cross that Camp was able to get to before Nouble.  That was pretty much half time.

The second half saw Swansea coming out like a side with a flea in their ear as they were looking a lot more up for it from the start – a lot of play in our final third, but again, not many chances created.  The Reds caught them with a suckerpunch in a bit of a role reversal of what usually seems to happen to us.

Gunter was well forward down the right and played inside to McGugan on the edge of the area who jinked to the left to beat one defender, then rather than hitting it jinked again to the right and fairly casually put the ball into the right of the goal without De Vries even moving – a lovely goal which gave the Reds a deserved cushion albeit against the run of play.

The game was, in honesty, pretty stagnant for much of the time, indeed I recall very little in the sixteen minutes that passed from McGugan’s second goal until Billy opted to make a double substitution, with the hard-working Anderson and goal-scoring hero McGugan withdrawn for McGoldrick and Majewski respectively.

This was Anderson’s best performance in a while for me, indeed, with McGugan obviously standing out and Moussi and McKenna standing firm at the back it was unusually Cohen who looked a bit out of sorts in midfield.  He still worked his arse off, of course – just didn’t seem to be quite up to his usual standards.

Swansea were starting to ask a few more questions though, Camp needed to be alert to save at the feet of Van der Gun with a few minutes remaining.  Dexter was the next player withdrawn for the Reds for Dele Adebola who immediately headed the ball out for a throw-in after Chambers had worked hard to keep it in, it was to get better though…

All three subs were involved in the final goal for the Reds, McGoldrick playing the ball through to Dele who crossed to Raddy, who shimmied past the last defender before sliding the ball neatly past De Vries into the Trent End goal with his left foot (I think!).  Of course, Forest being Forest, they let in a silly consolation goal which takes a bit of the shine away from the result.

Camp perhaps should’ve either kept hold the ball or at least parried or punched it to safety when a fairly tame shot came in from range after some late Swansea pressure, instead he palmed it to Van der Gun who still had quite a bit to do from a tight angle – but a good finish gave the small number of travelling Swansea fans a rare moment to cheer, although they still didn’t look too happy!

All in all, a very pleasing performance – the Reds showed a bit of mettle in nullifying the admittedly limited threat posed by our opponents, but showed more ruthlessness going forward too.  There’s still room for improvement here, of course, but it’s great to get three points on the board at home.  Well done boys!

Forest vs. Swansea City preview..

Apologies for the lateness of this, I’ve been quite busy (and am of course a master of procrastination).  You can put a positive or a negative spin on Forest’s run of form depending on your predisposition – we of course are in the midst of a six game unbeaten run, but similarly we’ve not yet managed a win at the City Ground this season.

Having said that, Swansea’s away form is undeniably bad – they have yet to claim a single point on their travels, suffering defeat to Hull, Norwich and Leeds.  To counterbalance that they have a 100% record at the Liberty Stadium.  They have, however, cheered their travelling fans this week by beating Peterborough 3-1 at London Road in the Carling Cup.

On the team front, we have serious doubts over the availability of Robert Earnshaw and Kelvin Wilson, the former limped out of action at Hull last weekend, and the latter didn’t even make it into the side.  Chambers is likely to be on standby the deputise for Wilson, with Blackstock certain to start if Earnie isn’t fit, or indeed – I would guess – if he is.

Whilst David McGoldrick hit the comeback trail in the reserves – a 45 minute run-out is unlikely to have given him enough to be considered for the first team just yet, so Tyson and Adebola will probably be on standby to deputise upfront.  Our visitors are without Beattie, Pintado, Bodde, Butler and Rangel with injuries.

Last season we managed to sneak two 1-0 wins against the Swans, and both us and they have started this season slower than we’d have liked – making it a difficult game to predict, given their away form and our lack of winning at home yet, maybe a draw would be the smart money – but we surely have to be looking to pick up a win?

If Earnie is missing that certainly will be a blow on that front – and with Forest target Darren Pratley in the Swans line-up there’s all manner of twists and turns the scriptwriter of fate could line up for us come tomorrow – however, when one of the worst away runs comes to visit you have to be looking to capitalise.

Indeed, if you don’t count play-off games, we’ve not lost a league game at the City Ground since September last year.

That’s jinxed it, hasn’t it?

Remembering Mr Clough, six years on..

The man himself wanted no epitaphs of profound history and all that.  So I won’t write one.  Not again!  Let’s face it, there’s a lot of excellent ones already out there in book or website form, but I would of course urge you all to take a moment to reflect, have a think and perhaps raise a glass to our foremost of legends.

Rest in peace, Mr Clough.  You now stand proudly in bronze in three cities to whom you bestowed a not inconsiderable amount of your greatness.

To Hull and back…

Chambers: Missed the best chance in an impressive Reds second half

Hull City – 0
Nottingham Forest – 0

Wouldn’t have been unhappy with a draw before the game – nor at half time, after a fairly drab first half where Hull had all the possession but seemed to utilise it everywhere but the final third and a few potshots from range, but after a much improved second half I think we can feel justifiably a little bit unlucky not to have nicked a win.

I’m going to stand by my generic-stadium comment from the preview, it’s slightly more interesting than many flatpack bowls thanks to the bulge and extra tier but, well, it’s not that different.  A decent enough ground, though – and it appears to have sun-lamps built into the roof, presumably a throwback to Phil Brown’s time in charge!  The home fans to our left were reasonably noisy which was good for banter, much like any fans (ours included) the noise levels correlated with their team’s performance.

Billy mixed up the squad a bit for this, and it took me post-match reflecting to realise that it probably worked – letting Hull have not particularly dangerous possession in the first half whilst going for it in the second, but must confess that at the time it raised a few eyebrows.. of course, the late change for Wilson was enforced:

Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Bertrand
Cohen    McKenna    Moussi    McGugan    Anderson

A tough ask of Earnie, to operate as a lone frontman against the giants Gerrard and Ayala! At first I thought Lewis was designed to be a support upfront but he seemed to spend a fair bit of time on Bullard, the talismanic midfielder operating fairly deep most of the time for the home side.

That said, we weren’t exactly denying him space – he had the first chance from 30 odd yards which Camp had to touch over just to make sure at the expense of a corner, it was probably the best hit he would make all game though!  A rare move forward for Forest saw Bertrand fire just wide when unmarked.

The Reds were sketchy in possession, Cohen spooned a clearance which fell to Bostock who set himself up for a spectacular effort from the edge of the area – but he put it wide.  The Reds got a bit closer after Earnie was tripped by Bullard, the resulting freekick was hit by Lewis but was just wide – and looked to be well covered by the diving Duke.

Hull were retaining a lot of possession – they must’ve had a move that had about 30 odd passes in it (mostly between defenders and deep-sitting midfielders admittedly), which culminated in a shot on target, which let the move down as it was a soft one from Bostock which was very straightforward save for Lee Camp to make.

After this the game descended into something approximating chess, but without the excitement.  It wasn’t that Forest were playing badly, but this was definitely a side set out to limit damage from the home side rather than be reckless, and it did cause some chuntering in the away end – but as we’ve learned with Forest, it is very much a game of two halves!  There were signs we’d started to work out we had more midfielders than them, and we were working out how to get through them.

Whether it was due to a criticism of their first half lack of endeavour or a deliberate change of tactic from Billy (I suspect the latter), the Reds were a very different beast in the second half – initially without creating any direct chances, before a cracking corner from McGugan gave Chambers a free header, from four yards out – it was a banker really – he put it wide.  Gutted.  That was the chance.  Ayala – otherwise fairly flawless in his performance – totally lost Chambers who made a great run, got the space… and fluffed his header.  D’oh!

Earnie too came close with a difficult header from a McKenna cross, the ball again ending up the wrong side of the post from our perspective.  Hull changed their shape either by design or to try to nullify the more rampant Reds with two chances, but it didn’t really seem to make too much different as Forest continued to press.

And we thought the moment had finally come – Earnie latched onto the ball, burst clear of the defender and looked to have let Duke get too close before somehow lifting the ball over him and into the goal.  It took a gut-wrenching amount of time for some of us to spot the offside flag – the Sky studio apparently decreeing it was close, but the right call.  There was certainly no daylight between Rob and the defender, but he was infront – heaven only knows what the actual rules are these days!

Similar to the Millwall game, Earnie then required to go off – apparently it’s not his hamstring this time – and it’s the other leg, and not thought to be serious.  Phew!  Dex replaced him, Anderson was later withdrawn for Tys, then McKenna for Raddy but Forest had kinda run out of steam and the home side were again starting to build possession, if not really converting it to chances.

Chambers put a decent block in on a Cullen effort – the Reds kept trying to get forward but struggled to fashion too many chances (I forget the precise timing  of this, but whilst it’s in mind we did have one cracking corner which was whipped in low straight to Lewis on the edge of the area who bet it on the volley, but it was blocked by a Hull player).

All in all, I stand by feeling a bit unlucky not to have nicked it – that said, the Tigers had the best of the first half even if we did largely restrict them to efforts from long range.  Bullard (man of the match? my arse! given it was a text vote by home fans I’d have picked Ayala at the back) had a few opportunities from range and we know he can cause problems from there, we were lucky in as much as he wasn’t finding his range I suppose.

But a draw’s a good result – and a good performance, a workmanlike first half and a positive second half.  Can’t really grumble at that – Hull are a decent side who’ll certainly be targeting the playoffs or better.  Whilst it’s not always entertaining to watch, it was good to see Forest restrict them reasonably well in the first half.

On another note whilst I’ve been away I was checking on Twitter and spotted that Reds fan Max Newton completed the Great North Run earlier today – thanks to both Derby County and Forest supporting friends – dressed as Derby captain Robbie Savage. (Max foolishly offered to dress up as whatever his sponsors voted for, y’see).

Well done Max!  Anyone wanting to take pity on him for not only running miles but in the worst possible costume can do so by clicking here.

Back to Hull, after a 34 year gap it was good to get my first opportunity to tick them off my list of grounds visited, and my geographical ignorance was exposed when their fans started chanting ‘Yorkshire’ at us as I’d always assumed Hull was in Humberside!  I got an A in Geography as well… into the dunce corner for me this week!

Hull City vs. Forest preview..

It seems greedy to be wanting two away wins on the bounce given the run of results we’ve had lately on our travels, but that’s certainly what we’ll be targeting on Saturday’s televised date with Hull City.  If you read our stats with a half-full mentality we’re now unbeaten in five games, although of course we’ve still only won one game!

Just as Tuesday’s victory at Preston was history-making in that it was our first there in absolutely ages, on Saturday we’ll face Hull for the first time in over thirty years – as the movements between the divisions for both sides has conspired to not pit them at the same level in that time.  They’ve had a tricky adjustment after relegation from the top flight.

They started with a win against Swansea, but haven’t managed to repeat the feat except on Tuesday against Derby, which doesn’t really count, does it?  In fact, they sit just one place below us in the table, on the same points but with a worse goal difference.  So more of a team of extremes that our early form as draw specialists.

The Tigers welcomed talismanic Jimmy Bullard back to their ranks when Derby visited, and are reporting no new injury concerns.  As for the Reds, we have no fresh injury worries – there is an outside chance that Earnie will be fit having had a scan to show no problems with his hamstring (I would say there’s more than an outside chance).

Our hosts have a decent home record – it’s on their travels they’ve struggled – so we can expect a challenging encounter.  But it’s a good opportunity to get some rather overdue revenge for the 1-0 defeat we last suffered as their guests at their old Boothferry Road ground.  Now of course they ply their trade in the identikit KC Stadium.

This will definitely be a tough game, all eyes will be on firstly whether Lewis McGugan gets a starting berth and then, assuming he does, whether he can continue his excellent form from Preston.  Indeed, with a player as influential as Bullard in the ranks, it’s probably the midfield where this game will be won or lost for either side.

A close one, but the Reds should be taking heart from seeing them start to turn performances into results – so there’s no reason why our first ever visit to the KC Stadium can’t be a profitable one in terms of points!  That said, I’m heading up for this one, which has generally proven an unlucky omen so perhaps we shouldn’t count any chickens!!