Coventry City vs. Forest preview..

Straight back into the league campaign for the Reds after a little diversion in the FA Cup which ended in defeat.  A trip to the Ricoh Arena awaits and the boys will, despite the disappointing result at the Boleyn Ground yesterday, be in high spirits – on a great run of results in the Championship and of course with a new signing in the ranks in the shape of left-back Paul Konchesky.

Whilst the Reds have the chance to snag a fifth successive win in the league, Coventry will be looking to avoid a third successive defeat – having also suffered disappointment in the cup losing against Birmingham.  Their league form is best described as inconsistent, and probably easiest described as bad – in their last eight games they’ve not won, and only managed three draws.

Teamwise Billy is likely to put Konchesky straight in at left back – the rest of the defence will pick itself as usual, and it seems likely that he will reintroduce Guy Moussi to midfield, and Marcus Tudgay to attack.  Paul Anderson remains an injury doubt with a hamstring problem, which means if pace is needed Nathan Tyson might be the option.  If we don’t sign any more players before the window shuts, of course!

Coventry are expected to recall Sammy Clingan to midfield after he missed their cup game with a slight injury.  Another obvious Forest connection will be the unpopular striker Marlon King who’s likely to be starting up front for the Sky Blues. Brief Forest player Gary McSheffrey is currently leading their scoring charts, however – netting five goals so far (out of over sixty shots!).

We’ve already had the better of them this season at the City Ground, despite a Luke Chambers own goal we came back with goals from Majewski and Cohen to get the win – although Lee Camp needed to look lively after this to prevent King from bagging an equaliser for the visitors.

A win for the Reds would be most welcome, giving us the opportunity to make up ground on QPR who dropped points over the weekend, not to mention help to keep things nice and tight at the top of the Championship.  With Swansea at Bristol City, Cardiff entertaining Reading, Norwich taking on Millwall, Leicester against Sheffield United and QPR against Portsmouth playing on Tuesday too it could make for a real change around in league placings.

On paper we should certainly be able to get the points – however we are on a very good run of wins and the pessimist in me always worries as to whether or not we can really sustain it.  It’s difficult to not lapse into feeling quite confident though, so I’ll stick my neck out and predict this game going to form with a win for the Reds.

We got the Konch!

Anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of William Golding’s excellent novel ‘The Lord of the Flies’ will know that – initially at least – the person that holds the conch has the right to speech.  It feels like a good analogy, as now Forest have loaned Konchesky for 93 days we have addressed the imbalance in our side since Ryan Bertrand’s loan from Chelsea ended.

That’s not to belittle the efforts of Joel Lynch, who has been covering the left back spot since then – however, we are now roundly sure that his future lies as a centreback rather than a fullback.  It’s been a great relief to see Forest unusually acting on the deadline day to bring in a player of confirmed quality to cover that most troublesome of spots.

The rumours started breaking last night, and even when Terry the Kitman offered hints on Twitter I as always remained dubious.  It sort of makes sense – Konchesky has had a miserable time since joining Liverpool and once a loan back to Fulham fell through his only option for escape was an emergency loan to a Football League team due to the two-clubs-in-a-season rule.

Konchesky signed for Liverpool from Fulham, following his former manager Roy Hodgson, after the start of the season.  He played for the Cottagers against Manchester United back in August which – in hindsight – has been the factor to severely limit his options in trying to escape from Merseyside.  Made all the more pressing as his Mum posted a few ill-thought comments about Liverpool fans on her Facebook page!

Since Kenny Dalglish took the reins at Anfield the 29 year old hasn’t featured for them – having been generally regarded as a bit of a scapegoat as Liverpool adjust to an era of not automatically falling in to the top four of the Premier League.  His past performances for Fulham in the top flight however show him to certainly be capable of operating in the top flight – and have netted him a couple of England caps.

Given his need to gain a fresh start elsewhere, and our – as ever – dire need of securing the services of a specialist left back it’s a match made in heaven for me.  Whilst I’d held on to the hope that we might just lure Ryan Bertrand back from Chelsea, this is the kind of signing I really wanted to see us make.  He should be eligible to play as soon as Tuesday when we visit Coventry City.

Welcome aboard Paul!  It’s good to have you.  Paul Konchesky is a red, is a red, is a red, Paul Konchesky is a red, his Mum hates Scousers!

Let’s concentrate on the league!

Reds players celebrate McGoldrick giving us the lead..

West Ham United – 3
Nottingham Forest – 2

Hmm, 3-2 loss at the Boleyn Ground in the FA Cup, feeling slightly unlucky to have not finished with a draw or even sneaking a win.  Deja vu?  Much?  A little bit I guess!  The ‘reward’ for the victor is a home game against Burnley, for us the opportunity to redouble our focus on our league campaign which recommences as soon as Tuesday.

Whilst a defeat is never something I would want, you can’t – can you?  Not your own team… but certainly I can see benefits in avoiding playing a replay against the Hammers, and indeed, avoid an extra game.  A negative outlook perhaps, but made easier to stomach by a spirited and credible Forest performance that could on another day have got a positive result against the Premier League strugglers.

Billy fielded a strong team – but with some new entries as promised, opting for his tried-and-tested defence, but mixing things up in midfield and up front:

Camp
Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Lynch
Cohen    McKenna    Majewski    McGugan
McGoldrick    Adebola

Early in the game it was the home side on the up and putting on pressure – Barrera crossed early to Piquionne who calmly got past Lynch before shooting, fortunately for us deflecting off Wes Morgan and wide.  It was only a brief respite though, the resultant corner lead to the first goal – Barrera taking it and finding Obinna to tap in his first goal of the afternoon.  Disappointing.

The Reds responded positively though, pushing forward and creating a number of opportunities.  A foul by Noble on Majewski gave Forest an opportunity through a freekick from 20 yards, which was struck by McGugan over the crossbar (c’mon Lewis, this goal drought has got to stop!!).

Eventually though the pressure did pay off on the eighteenth minute, David McGoldrick did well to get the ball to Dele Adebola in the area who poked the ball into the far corner of the net under pressure from a defender to give Forest a deserved equaliser.  Another chance from a freekick, this time taken by Majewski after Gabbidon fouled McGoldrick, but the kick this time struck the offending player.

Forest began to dominate the game, but West Ham looked dangerous on the break – Lee Camp had a tough task to claim the ball in the area, being bundled over by Piquionne in the process.  As we continued to put on the pressure eventually we were able to convert that to a lead.

A foul on Chris Gunter down the right yielded another freekick for the Reds, which was taken by Chris Cohen curling inward to the near post where West Ham player Kovac almost put it in his own goal but for the intervention of Robert Green, but he was only able divert the ball towards David McGoldrick who nodded over the line from close range.

The lead was to last only two minutes though – it looked relatively safe when Obinna had the ball around 25 yards out, and as he struck what most seemed convinced was a shot it infact went like an exocet missile over Lee Camp and into the net.  A lovely goal to look at, and a complete fluke!  Still, I suppose them’s the breaks sometimes!

2-2 at half time, pretty respectable and symptomatic of an open game with both sides showing willingness to attack.  Forest had probably shaded the balance of play in the first forty-five minutes, but whether or not they’d have the wherewithal to continue this in the second half remained to be seen.

Certainly the early signs weren’t good – after just 7 minutes Joel Lynch was hanging off Reid’s neck in the area and conceded a penalty.  This was converted by Obinna, who in so doing completed his hattrick – which was met with a rather audacious celebration involving about half a dozen back flips!  Beat that, Earnie!!

The home side had their tales up now, a great run from Barrera saw him get the ball into the area for Sears, an intervention from McKenna limited this move to just conceding a corner.  Camp too needed to be on his toes to deny Piquionne with a shot from just in the D.  Barrera again caused problems, with Camp forced into a diving save to concede a corner.

Billy opted for changes a little after the hour mark – withdrawing Adebola for Earnshaw and shortly after this putting Nathan Tyson on for Majewski to try to give a different dimension to Forest’s attacking play.  It didn’t really do much to stem the general tide which saw the home side continue to ask questions – Freddie Sears being given time and space to ping a shot goalward which was again saved well by Camp.

McCleary was the last Forest sub on around 80 minutes, replacing skipper Paul McKenna.  Forest did have a late flurry of chances – a McGugan corner was met by the head of McGoldrick but put wide, he almost made up for this moments later with a great ball to Gunter, but alas the Forest defender’s shot was pretty weak and an easy save for Green.

So it’s always disappointing to suffer defeat, even if the ‘reward’ is a home game against Burnley – however, perversely I’d rather it was decided either way today than us force a late draw and hence a replay.  I really believe that we need to focus our attentions on the league, and whilst I do sympathise with the ‘winning is a good habit’ type rhetoric, I’m also aware we have a relatively small squad!

Elsewhere in the FA Cup Notts County deserve congratulations – they took the lead at Meadow Lane against Manchester City and looked to be holding on quite well only to concede an equaliser.  To their credit they kept going at it, but a draw in the end gave them the prize of a replay at the City of Manchester Stadium, with the potential prize of a visit from Aston Villa should they manage to beat the big spenders.

Derby-beating heroes Crawley Town continued their exciting cup run and have been rewarded by a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, whilst Leyton Orient will no doubt be excited by the prospect of Arsenal visiting them.  As for us, we have a very important trip to Coventry to contemplate on Tuesday evening, with QPR and Norwich dropping points over the weekend there’s a real opportunity here..

West Ham United vs. Forest preview..

Mixed feelings on this – suggestions I’ve seen that Avram Grant will chuck his reserves out for this game lure me into the temptation of going full strength and causing an ‘upset’. (It’s being called a potential upset, and I suppose it is – but in the continuous football league structure we’re only a few places below West Ham, and certainly on better form!), but I also see this game as an unnecessary distraction from the league.

Forest go in to this game on a fantastic run of form, albeit often gained from workmanlike performances.  Personally I tend to side with the school of thought that a cup run is an unnecessary distraction and potential drain on our not-exactly-massive squad, but Billy has been heard to speak in a Clough-like manner (Brian that is, not the hapless one down the A5-2) about winning being a good habit to get in to.

For the purists, that’s a pretty irrefutable attitude – you should want to win every game, every piece of silverware you are entered in to.  Of course, also in the words of Brian Clough, you can’t win ’em all – but you should most certainly try your best.  So I think whilst Billy will tinker and use the opportunity give some game time to some of our fringe players.

I expect Paul McKenna to feature, possibly McGoldrick – an opportunity for Lynch to continue his excellent contributions of late.  I’d like to see Morgan and Cohen get a rest – as they’ve looked a little leggy of late.  Tudgay is cuptied, so maybe Adebola will have the opportunity to get a rare start too.  As for the West Ham team, I expect a weakened line up with a strong bench just in case.

Forest will of course also have a twelfth man in the form of 6,000 fans roaring them on from the away end, I wouldn’t care to speculate idly about how many home fans will turn up, but I find it hard to imagine the visit of us will sell out the home stands!  It might help to make a difference though, and hopefully those of you who make the trip have a fun afternoon (I’ve elected to miss this one).

As for the result – who knows?  West Ham can attack but do look vulnerable at the back.  Forest have played a series of fairly dogged and defensive opponents of late, so how we respond to perhaps more open play and opportunities to pass it around more will be the key to how we do.  Certainly utilising Raddy in a starting eleven could exploit this.

On our day we could do this – but well, on another day we could comfortably lose as well.  Of course, it’s sods law that we’ll end up snagging a draw and a replay because that’s the very outcome that neither ourselves or West Ham will want given our league campaigns at the opposite ends of our respective league tables.  So yeah, I’m going for a draw, because I’m a pessimist!

Is Forest’s transfer sluggishness paying dividends?

It’s that time when the transfer window is  starting to creak closed – and so the rumours go into overdrive.  I’ve long since opted to try my best not to rehash them, because – well – frankly often when I have passed on information I’ve heard in the past it has turned out to be wrong – and, frankly, I’d rather just wait until Forest confirm whatever’s happening.

Certainly I’ve not bothered reading much into Billy’s “let’s see what the next day or two brings” type comment to Robin Chipperfield – you see, aside from the assumption that deals are imminent for the mighty Reds, our wee fella has plenty of things to be cheerful about.

2011 has seen Forest register an impressive run of results, and despite the mythology surrounding our own fans around the strength in depth in our squad, I can’t help but notice a number of managers commenting on the kind of quality we have on the bench.  Not only are we starting games with a line-up that can cause any side in this division difficulties, we have players waiting in the wings who can come on and make a difference.

Cotterill said it after we beat Portsmouth at the City Ground (unsurprisingly really, he could only name four subs!), although I couldn’t help but think that was a bit rich coming from someone able to call on the likes of Kanu, Utaka and Lawrence, to pick on just three of their squad who showed real quality on the pitch.

Nigel Clough, amidst his rabid-foaming after either of our recent wins against them pointed at some fanciful figures at how much we’d spent on players, but did have a reasonable point that we had players on the bench to change things.  Earnie came off the bench to net the winner at Pride Park afterall.  He not only had a bench full of second-rate players, he had to start with them too!

The latest manager to do the same was Bristol City’s Keith Millen – after the game he too said the same kind of thing.  Yet perusing most of the notable Forest forums our fans seem to be clamouring like ants after a mound has been kicked for us to be signing players from here, there and everywhere.

I can sort of see why – it’s exciting to sign players, of course – and oddly we do seem to be ‘getting by’ with players playing in positions you wouldn’t expect them to thrive in.  Lynch has stepped up admirably to fill the left back berth, we still seem to have an extra central midfielder and only one winger at any one time, and we’d be a bit screwed if certain players picked up a suspension or injury…

… but it’s kind of working.  It’s kind of working, I think, because of the increasingly evident team spirit our squad seem to have.  They are a very tight group, they work for each other – they seem to care.  Would that be the same if we hoovered up every loan, free transfer or even paid-for transfer available just to get some bodies in?

I’m not sure it would – indeed, Billy Davies – much more calm and good natured in recent interviews – does talk of the need to make sure that we get the right players in.  He doesn’t just mean players with the right ability, but the right character to not upset the dressing room spirit he’s engendered in his players.

That isn’t to say I wouldn’t welcome sensible acquisitions before the window closes, of course.  Some clarification over players out of contract in the summer would be nice for the fans – although the recent performances of Nathan Tyson, Robert Earnshaw and particularly Guy Moussi would suggest that playing for a contract isn’t necessarily doing us much harm!

Down the A52 it looks like ex-Red Kris Commons is heading north of the border finally, to don the green and white hoops of Celtic having audaciously priced himself outside of Rangers’ spending power!  Ultimately he seems to leave teams beneath the one he left them for – Stoke soon overtook us when we signed him, and as he leaves Derby they must strain to look up the league table to us.

Once the deal is done have a bet on Rangers to win the Scottish Premier next season as he sends Lennon’s Celtic into decline, where of course he’ll be joined by his former team-mate Kelvin Wilson, who the Reds seem keen to keep hold of until the end of the season for cover (when he doesn’t have a mystery ‘injury’ or ‘illness’).

I wasn’t really sure where I was going with this when I started – it’s very much a stream of consciousness mingled with observations.  Basically I suppose it’s a warning of sorts against the kind of panic that always ensues at this time of year.  Certainly if you were to hand me a Bertrand or a Shorey I’d be delighted (with no disrespect to Mr Lynch)… but well, things ain’t so bad as they are, are they?

Chambers ‘header’ bags three points!

Nottingham Forest – 1
Bristol City – 0

On a day when elevation to the Premier League became even more enticing after the sacking of Andy Gray as a pundit by Sky Sports, the Reds welcomed Bristol City to the City Ground on a chilly rainy evening.  Our visitors were competent whilst unadventurous, opting to defend their 0-0 draw and hit on the break.  Winning this game-in-hand over teams has moved us within a point of the automatic promotion picture.

The low tuesday night crowd, probably cut down by people desperately awaiting that post-Christmas pay packet coupled with the understandably small following from the West Country didn’t generate much of an atmosphere, and in response – depending on whether you think the crowd is the chicken or the egg (and indeed, which needs to come to life first), it often struggled to ‘get going’ on the pitch.

Billy altered things a smidge after the weekend’s game at Derby County, but not a great deal, returning Tys to a wide berth and withdrawing Anderson for Earnshaw who slotted in up front with Tudgay:

Camp
Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Lynch
Tyson    Moussi    Cohen    McGugan
Tudgay    Earnshaw

Walking back to the car post-match we decided it was a comfortable game for the most part, but one where – similarly to against Derby at the weekend – the final ball was lacking somewhat to get a decent chance to test David James.  City utilised their pacey players to hit us on the break, and in truth they probably should have done better with the opportunities they had too.

Forest lost the toss and were made to swap ends, although it was the Reds who started brightest.  The first serious opportunity arrived when Lynch was fouled around 25 yards from goal giving Lewis an early opportunity to ping a freekick – it was well struck and James made the save, parrying to Nathan Tyson who whipped the ball back across just evading Luke Chambers.

In between some dogged possession with Bristol City sitting deep, content to let Forest keep the ball, a delicious move save McGugan work his way inside from the left, whip a ball to Earnshaw who cleverly flicked the ball to Tudgay who hit a shot goalward bringing a save from James.  Without seeing it again I’d say Marcus should probably have done better with the chance.

City’s threat tended to be through either Campbell-Ryce or Adomah who were pacey and tricky, generally Lynch and Gunter marshalled them well but they did hit us with counter attacks on occasion.  After around 30 minutes one such break resulted in a poor attempt on goal which was a fairly routine save for Lee Camp.

Further almost-but-not-quite opportunities were carved out by Forest, good work from Gunter down the right saw the fullback whip in a cross which almost found Earnie, but – perhaps predictable – he was beaten in the air by the defender to get it clear.  Another chance went begging when Cohen slipped Tyson clear but his first touch let him down somewhat allowing Adomah to get it clear.

So half time felt okay.  It hadn’t been scintillating and after the bedlam of the weekend the atmosphere was definitely a little on the flat side, but whilst not exactly over-working David James the Reds had enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and we’ve seen before that sides that come to the City Ground these days to spoil don’t generally get much from it.

It only took three minutes to breach the goal at the Bridgford End.  A foul on Tudgay gave us a freekick which was whipped in with pace by Chris Cohen, on the end of which I think was Bristol City defender who headed it, then Luke Chambers headed it onto his own shoulder before it crossed the line agonisingly slowly much to the annoyance of James in the City goal.  Scrappy, but no less enjoyable as a result!

This development forced the visitors to change their gameplan somewhat – and to their credit they did start to pose more of a threat on our goal.  A shot from Adomah from range looked to be fairly routine for Camp but either a momentary lapse of concentration from him or a swerve saw him readjust at the last minute and have to resort to conceding a corner.

Campbell-Ryce was looking threatening in the attack with a bit of pace and trickery – but ultimately offered no end product when presented with an opportunity.  Billy made an unpredictable change here, withdrawing Tyson for McCleary – although, given his workrate at the weekend I was surprised to see Nath starting tonight it has to be said.

Bristol City continued to seek ways back into the match, a great opportunity fell to Adomah who had a clear sight of goal from just inside the area but blazed over when really he should be at least forcing Camp into action.  Gradually Forest worked their way back into the game though, and Moussi – who’d been winning everything in midfield (sometimes having lost it in the first place, granted!) whipped a tantalising ball in which Earnie was close to connecting with in the area.

Another opportunity fell to Earnshaw from range who elected to try to beat David James – slightly out of position – from long range, ultimately it wasn’t  a great attempt and there were passes on too.  That said we’d be lauding him if it had come off, so let’s not be too harsh!  Moments later he did well breaking forward and cut the ball back to McGugan who was literally ambling into the area, the midfielder lacked composure though and blasted it well over the bar.

Big Dele and McGoldrick were introduced for Tudgay and Earnshaw respectively – the former getting a warm reception from the City fans who’d made the trip.  The two later subs combined to get the ball to McGugan in the box, but Skuse was on hand to block his effort.  Moments later he’d done well to get into position in the area from a tight angle, but his powerful cross-cum-shot was safely gathered by James.

Deep into stoppage time there was a slight flutter of hearts when City won a freekick in a dangerous position and it wasn’t cleared immediately, but eventually McCleary was able to take the ball clear and into a corner to wind the clock down a little with the referee blowing for time moments later giving the Reds the win that, whilst not a classic, their performance had warranted.

So that’s one game in hand out the way and with maximum points achieved and excellent result for the boys.  Whilst we only climb one place to fifth we are only one point behind fourth, third and second – and already with superior goal difference to them.  And with a game in hand over all of them (two games over Swansea).  Of course, games in hand are worth nowt ’til they’re played.

We have to play a fair few of those teams above us too – so this generally cautious fan isn’t getting too carried away yet.  I’m also not getting carried away with Billy Davies’ post-match comments with Robin Chipperfield.  When quizzed about transfers Billy wasn’t his usual curt self, rather than the usual “you’ll have to ask someone else” type responses he said “No news yet, but lets’s see what the next couple of days brings!”

This has prompted the usual speculation – I suspect he just meant that the January window has a couple (well, more than a couple) of days left to go and to wait and see.  Others interpret it more hopefully – certainly Billy was in a very good mood in the interview, but you would expect that when he’s seen his side notch yet another cracking result to keep our push towards the right end of the table going!

Forest vs. Bristol City preview (second attempt!)..

What with all the excitement at the weekend it would’ve been easy to forget to write this today, indeed, I almost did.  However, we’re straight back into league action on Tuesday with the visit of Bristol City after our initial fixture at the back end of 2010 was cancelled due to a smattering of frost in the environs of Rushcliffe Borough.

Obviously the mighty Reds will be on the crest of a wave – not only has our recent run of results been excellent, we of course are still nursing a 32 league game run at the City Ground without tasting defeat, and – of course – we just completed a first double over Derby County in twenty one years, a first win in Derby since 1994, and a first double over the Rams in 21 years.

It’s got anti-climax written all over it, hasn’t it?

I mustn’t think like that though.  The Reds came through their encounter with Derby unscathed on the injury front, so Billy has the option to tinker.  Certainly Tyson and Anderson put in a lot of mileage at Pride Park and might need a rest, and Earnie’s clinical finish might make the wee fella consider recalling his number ten for further action.

Our visitors are doing surprisingly badly this season.  Currently they reside at 17th in the table having won only one of their last eight games, including an FA Cup exit at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday.  Having said that, that one win came against Cardiff with a handsome 3-0 scoreline, so there’s clearly an occasional sting in their tail.

Prior to the eight games they won three on the bounce at home – beating Leicester, Sheffield United and Derby at Ashton Gate.  Keith Millen took charge of the Robins after Steve Coppell quit towards the start of the season.  He’s been involved with the club for a while whilst only having been a temporary manager in the past.

One success story for them this season has been Brett Pitman up front, the striker signed from AFC Bournemouth and has not found goals too difficult to come by in the Championship having turned down a move to Ian Holloway’s Blackpool before moving.  He’s a player who’s always been on my radar since the times I used to waste hours of my life on Football Manager (rather than this blog and Twitter etc!).  I think I even got him playing for England once!

The bookmakers comfortably have Forest as favourites – which is understandable, they base their decisions on form.  Always a position that makes me feel nervous (being a natural pessimist).  City will be able to come without too much pressure to perform, whilst Forest could well suffer from a bit of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ syndrome.

That said our team spirit and unity is as good as I’ve ever seen it at Forest at the moment, and both players and manager have been quick to speak of getting their feet on the ground and concentrating on the next game.  If they think and train true to these comments then we should be able to notch a fifth straight win in all competitions.

Hence the nervousness – much like on Saturday when I was pondering the likelihood of three straight away wins, I do find myself thinking “Hmm, when was the last time we won five games on the bounce?” – I can’t be doing with looking it up.  Indeed, we’ve only lost one game in our last twelve.  We’ve won eight of those.  Eight.  That’s a lot!

I worry these runs and things must end, and usually in fairly unexpected situations.  Although I’m seriously hoping and thinking that this won’t be the case come Tuesday and that the mighty Reds should at the very least maintain the unbeaten home record, but I’d be really pleased to see us get that fifth win in a row.