Middlesbrough vs. Forest preview..

Pre-season the bookies would have had you believe this was a game likely to be contested between two title contenders.  Whilst Forest’s assault on the automatic places has faltered a degree of late, the fate of our hosts on Tuesday has been somewhat less auspicious.  This is, of course, the game in hand – so if nothing else, by Tuesday evening we’ll have a clearer view of how the land lies.

Saturday’s trip to Millwall was a competent enough performance from the Reds, but their dominance in possession did not translate to goals as Forest struggled to break down a resilient Lions rear-guard.  At the same time Tony Mowbray’s men were on the end of a fairly comprehensive pummelling courtesy of league leaders QPR on their own pitch.

Boro have been a team of extremes in their last five games – wins against Scunthorpe at home, and Millwall away are interspersed with defeats at the hands of Palace away, Swansea and QPR at home – they’re a difficult team to predict, that’s for sure.  Indeed, reports suggest that the weekend result was in no small part thanks to outstanding individual performances from Adel Taarabt and Wayne Routledge.

Despite limping off the pitch at The New Den it’s thought that Joel Lynch will be okay to resume his duties covering for Konchesky’s injury at left back, which is good – he had a decent game on Saturday.  Earnshaw appeared to come through his return unscathed, which leaves us with Tys, Moussi and Findley on the crocks list (I refuse to accept Wils is really injured!).

Anyway, Middlesbrough are – as we’ve discovered of late with other opponents – not a side to be underestimated.  After games in which we ought to have achieved more (thinking Scunny, Preston and Millwall) we really need to develop more of a cutting edge, and fast.  Both in creating and finishing off chances.

I still think it’s too soon to say that failure to get the win at the Riverside would consign us to the play-offs at best this season, but it would certainly make an assault on the automatic promotion places a much more daunting prospect.  Whatever happens I’ll be glad to see an end to the ‘… but we’ve got x games in hand’ type thinking we’ve all be doing.

Scunthorpe away was of course a game in hand and that didn’t exactly go according to plan.  Win this one and we are level on points with Cardiff in third – a one goal margin levels our goal difference, but they’ve scored more.  It would also enhance the slight gap we have to Leeds and Leicester beneath us.

But of course we must not count chickens – Boro inevitably count this amongst their games in hand, and will be keen to be rid of such things as much as us, albeit for different reasons.  They are one of the few teams below Derby in the league table – three points adrift of the Rams, five points away from the drop zone – which is starting to look not great for the current inhabitants of the bottom three.

There’s been a degree of talk about banana-skins in our recent fixtures – and without being disrespectful, both Scunthorpe and Preston have proven to be just that of late.  It does sap my confidence somewhat, and added to the unpredictability of our hosts I’m left worrying we might end up with another frustrating evening…

Come on Billy and the boys, prove me wrong.

Forest can’t convert lion’s share of game into goals..

Solid performance from Lynch

Millwall – 0
Nottingham Forest – 0

Firstly my apologies for not posting a match preview for this one – I’d got it on my list of stuff to do on Thursday but a busier-than-usual day both at work and afterwards resulting in me completely forgetting to get around to it.  Most remiss!

So, a trip to the supposedly hostile environment of The Den was in store for the Reds this afternoon – and a reasonably open game ended goalless.  It wasn’t without interest though, the Reds had some good opportunities but were denied a goal (or indeed, too many close chances) down to dogged defending from the hosts.  I was certainly pleased with the performance, although three points would obviously be better than one.

Billy had positive news on one injury – Robbie Earnshaw was deemed fit enough to return to the squad, but on the bench, less good news in the shape of Paul Konchesky and NAthan Tyson who remained sidelined.  A return from suspension for Raddy left us with a starting line-up looking like this:

Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Lynch
Cohen    McKenna   McGugan    Anderson

The game was lively and open from the off, although few chances fell our way despite some positive possession and pressure.  The first chance of the game came after around nine minutes after Millwall sought to hit us on the break, an effort from Steve Morison was cleared by Chambers but his header only found Bouazza who headed over.

At the other end good work from Majewski found Lynch whose cross was deflected for a corner – alas, we weren’t proving much cop at corners this afternoon.  Our closest to a goal so far came from a long range McGugan effort – he drove it hard and low but Forde was able to get across to touch it just wide of the post for another Reds corner.

Joel Lynch – who’d had a solid game in defence – almost became an unlikely hero, after around 25 minutes the Reds had been passing the ball around nicely and eventually Cohen chipped it toward Lynch in the area at the back stick, he chested it down well and went for the volley, which looked good from the away end but missed the target – the official site suggests it might’ve been a cross which just missed McGoldrick.

Another opportunity from a 30 yard freekick arose, McGugan struck it powerfully but it was blocked.  So powerfully it appeared to spark-out Millwall defender Darren Purse for a moment!  Just before half time Paul Anderson went to ground after appearing to be elbowed, Forest continued to play on and attack, once Millwall regained possession the referee stopped play – much to the chagrin of the away fans.

Can understand their point on that score really – he should have spotted the foul on Anderson, but having allowed play to continue he really should have continued to do so as the home side sought to break.  Of course, I’m glad he didn’t – the largely quiet home fans did make their feelings plain as the half time whistle came and the officials left the pitch.

Which brings me to the venue – it has a certain reputation, but the New Den is a nice ground and – having not opted for the uber-secure methods of arrival (coach travel or train) I can’t say I experienced the kind of terrifying experience outside the ground I’ve heard tell of.  As for Billy’s suggestion post-match that the atmosphere was intimidating – I thought it was pretty poor aside from when even correct decisions were given against them.

Anyhow, Millwall were out and lined-up waiting for the Reds, who had the best of the opening exchanges.  Lynch found Raddy early doors whose shot from the edge of the area was agonisingly wide of the post.  Lewis was looking threatening in spells too, one weaving run culminated in a decent shot on goal which was put out for another corner by Forde.

Just after the hour Billy started to make changes – Majewski, who looked good in spells, but not many spells, was withdrawn for Tudgay to try to give McGoldrick a little more support.  After this (but probably not related) the game became a bit of a stalemate, with both defences standing firm and little attacking opportunities presenting themselves.

Forest almost unlocked the Millwall defence though when Chris Cohen spotted Gunts steaming into the area down the right – alas he opted to take a touch rather than shoot first time, although he did win us a corner!  The corner, as ever in this game, didn’t quite find its’ mark.

McCleary was the next player to be introduced from the bench by Billy, taking off Paul Anderson.  He nearly scored with his first touch too – a cracking ball in from Lewis found the Forest number 12 who touched it goalward only to find Forde there to make the save.  Shortly after this the Millwall keeper was alert again to prevent McGugan from scoring.

Ten minutes to go and Billy replaced the hard-working McGoldrick with Earnshaw, but it was second-sub McCleary who had the next chance.  A cracking run down the right saw him cut inside in the process taking the ball around three players before hitting a slightly disappointingly tame shot with his left foot which was a reasonably comfortable save for the ‘keeper.  A great run, though.

Forest continued to press and were backed by decent noise from a sizeable Reds away following – Earnie put one wide from eighteen yards out, McGugan nearly found him again but he couldn’t quite get on the end of it – and finally deep into stoppage time Earnie scuffed it from the edge of the area.  Somewhere in all that Joel Lynch amusingly skied it from the edge of the area too.

All in all, a good point – as Billy said – and an encouraging performance against a good side.  Results elsewhere see us drop to fifth which is disappointing, but we’ve seen how quickly the league table can change.  Despite limping off at the end Lynch should be okay for Tuesday, which is good given Konch isn’t – Lynch was probably our stand-out player with an excellent game.

Having just started watching The Football League Show it looks like Swansea are the ones to watch, hitting form at exactly the right time.  Scott Sinclair looks to be the signing of the season for just £500k.

Deadman walking..

Yesterday’s refereeing performance (which probably contributed heavily to the length of match report – sorry!) is still consuming my every waking moment.  I was infuriated during the game – and it seems that mostly people are thinking along similar lines.  Whilst I rarely have praise for match officials, I’m struggling to think of a poorer or less consistent performance for some time – so I decided to do some digging.

It would seem that Darren Deadman is a yearly affliction that strikes the City Ground every January or February – he officiated home games against Swansea in 2007/2008, Queens Park Rangers in 2008/2009, Reading in 2009/2010 and finally of course against Preston North End last night.  He has risen from the lower leagues, so it would seem that promotion is our only likely vaccine against getting another dose of the Deadman this time next year.

My main issue with him was his awarding of fictional fouls repeatedly, playing advantages for Forest where no advantage existed, and inconsistencies like booking Morgan for kicking the ball in the air after we scored, but ignoring the more devious kicking aways the likes of St. Ledger et al were performing throughout the game.  He didn’t clamp down on timewasting and, whilst this was to our benefit, he missed two cast-iron penalties for Preston in the second half (and one for us in the first half on Ando that I wasn’t so sure about).

Trawling through old match reports, he didn’t warrant much mention for our game with Swansea in 2007/2008, however by the time we reach the QPR game in 2008/2009 certainly I point out some issues with him.  He ignored an incident which saw Tyson withdrawn needing stitches to his head, he gave us a penalty – but didn’t red card the offender who was the last man – that man then went on to score both QPR goals.  He later booked Wes for a tackle in which he won the ball when operating as an emergency striker.

Against Reading in 2009/2010 we won 2-1, but were denied a penalty for a hand-ball in the area (that’ll sound familiar to Preston fans!), in this game he also sent off Nicky Shorey and gave a penalty to Reading when the offence looked outside the box (certainly Billy Davies thought so in his post-match comments).  Didn’t have much issue with the red card at the time, although other fans in the comments called it harsh.  Lee Camp saved the penalty.

So when next year’s fixtures are out, cast your eye for home games in January/February time and mentally steel yourself for the City Ground once again falling foul of a nasty case of Deadman.  Hopefully the assessor at the game last night saw enough of his nonsensical decisions to perhaps recommend he get bumped down a few leagues and we never have to see him again!

According to his profile page on RefWorld, Darren Deadman believes that to be a good referee requires man management and leadership skills.  I think perhaps a hasty refresher in these areas, as well as basic observation, the rules of the game, dealing with timewasting and spotting a dive are probably in order.  Am I being too over the top or was this refereeing performance one of the worst we’ve seen in ages? (And there’ve been some bad refereeing performances for us in recent years!!).

I’d be very interested to hear your collective thoughts too – indeed, those from any passing Preston fans too as I can’t imagine you guys were too happy with some of his decisions either!

Late lapse denies Forest jammy win..

Forest's newest strike pairing...

Nottingham Forest – 2
Preston North End – 2

Oof. Where do you start with that?  A below-par (and that’s kind!) performance from the Reds, a niggling time-wasting diving performance from our desperate visitors, a serious contender for the most hapless official we’ve seen in some time (no mean feat!), a late 3 points game rapidly turned into a draw in the sixth minute of five minutes added on to the game.  It was certainly eventful!

From having the kind of bench that had opposing managers looking wistfully at our options to bring on as a substitute, we seem to be alarmingly low on numbers – only six named on the bench after late injuries to Earnie and Tyson – and they included youngsters like Nialle Rodney making up the numbers.  It’s difficult not to feel a bit grumpy, but as ever I have a fairly conflicted outlook after this evening’s game.

Billy’s line-up almost picked itself with the late withdrawals of Tys – with an ankle injury (expected to be out for two weeks) and Earnshaw (back injury – no timescale specified):

Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Konchesky
Cohen    McKenna    McGugan    Anderson
McGoldrick    Tudgay

The game was delayed due to the late arrivals of the fans taking advantage of the £10 ticket offer, causing both teams to come back out to extend their warm-ups – hardly ideal preparation, and perhaps a pitfall in an otherwise decent idea to boost the attendance for a midweek fixture during half-term.  So it was 8:00pm that saw the game start rather than the scheduled 7:45.

It was a sluggish start but it was Forest making the early tentative running, with the visitors looking rather haphazard in positioning.  Four minutes in McGoldrick did well to get past a couple of defenders and get a ball into the box which after a bit of a scramble Iain Turner in the Preston goal was able to claim.  Later a lovely ball from Konchesky found Cohen whose shot wasn’t too far from finding the inside of the post but went wide.

The best chance in the first half for the Reds fell for former Preston skipper Paul McKenna though, and bloody hell he should’ve done better – a lovely ball across found him in the box in acres of space with the Preston defence at sixes and sevens, but he lacked composure and blazed it over into the visiting supporters.  A real frustration – at this point it looked like a goal would see the Lillywhites collapse, but of course, things change quickly in football!

At the other end Keith ‘Bambi on Ice’ Treacy managed to stay on his feet for long enough to whip in an excellent cross from the left which found Barry Nicholson in the box, he duly despatched a well placed header inside the far post and silence the home crowd and give the small band of fans from Lancashire the chance to cheer.

This perked up Preston and Forest just didn’t compete – Billy Jones had a decent effort from 25 yards that Camp needed to dive to save.  Meanwhile Forest seemed static and unable to string many passes together – the game descended into head-tennis which generally Preston won.  The visitors also started time-wasting as early as thirty-five minutes, the referee setting an early precedent by doing bugger all about it.

Gradually the Reds did start to build some degree of progress – a decent ball in from Konchesky found Anderson who shaped to shoot from a tight angle but his connection played it back across the goal, Tudgay was lurking and got a slight touch on it, but couldn’t react quick enough to turn it goalward so instead it gave Turner the chance to take an age over a goal kick instead.

Forget the timing but Anderson got floored in their area at some point from a corner – reminiscent (admittedly without having seen a replay!) of Chambers being hauled to the deck by his neck in the Cardiff game, predictably the referee gave nothing, but gave a series of freekicks to the visitors whenever their players went to ground regardless of any contact with Forest players.

The final chance of the half came to us when Cohen put a delicious ball in to the six yard box from the left, Tudgay got a good header on it which brought an excellent save from Iain Turner.  McGoldrick was lurking behind Tuds and might’ve had a better chance of scoring, but you can’t really blame a striker for having a go – and he brought a good save from the keeper of course.

The whistle from the referee was greeting by some booing – which, whilst the performance was below-par, is totally unacceptable.  Whether this correlates with the influx of irregular visitors to the City Ground lured by the cheap tickets or not I wouldn’t care to speculate (but sort of just have), but frankly, it’s not necessary, it’s not helpful and it’s not welcome – support the lads, for fuck’s sake!

Half time was a glum affair – particularly as scores from around the rest of the league started filtering through, with most of our promotion rivals doing somewhat better than we were being a goal down.  The promise of a Billy rocket at half time was our only solace as we contemplated what had been a disappointing performance from the Reds against a hard-battling Preston side scrapping for points.

As the game restarted it didn’t look like it was getting much better in a hurry – whilst there was more endeavour from the Reds the early exchanges were more of the same – with the referee increasingly baffling.  I don’t really blame Preston’s players for time-wasting and hitting the deck every five seconds because they profited from it every time by a very fussy referee.

I was just starting to contemplate the words of ‘Can anyone smell bananas’ on my match preview when suddenly the ball was played through to McGoldrick who turned well and found Anderson, his shot was blocked but fell nicely for Konchesky who emphatically volleyed it into the Trent End goal.  Not before time too, it really helped wake the crowd up and got Forest back into focus.

On the hour Billy replaced the increasingly ineffective Tudgay with Adebola from his depleted options on the bench, shortly after Konchesky (who was apparently limping – I hadn’t noticed!) was taken off for Lynch, naturally we assumed an injury and post-match it transpires he’s twinged a hamstring.  Just what we need, isn’t it?  Hopefully the Konch isn’t too seriously hurt – he was one of few players to come out of the first half with credit for us.

The Reds were on top now, though – McGoldrick should have made Turner work harder with a disappointingly tame effort from 25 yards out, however we were still open to threat from the visitors too, who whilst playing conservatively were foraying forward on occasion.  Luckily for us though the couple of efforts they mustered were off-target.

Nialle Rodney was introduced for McGoldrick with a quarter of an hour remaining, creating the dream strikeforce of Del and Rodney!  He probably should’ve scored a few minutes into his pitch-time.  A great ball in from Cohen to the back post headed towards Rodney and Adebola was met by the youngster – but his header clipped the outside of the post and out for a goalkick.  Gutting!

Forest were pressing now and Rodney looked lively and keen to profit from Adebola’s lay-offs, but it wasn’t quite happening for us.  A cross by Dele found Anderson who put it back across goal which won us a corner.  After this Rodney crossed towards his strike partner but Adebola couldn’t get much power on the header so it was a simple catch for Turner.

As five minutes of stoppage time was announced it looked like Preston’s time-wasting might end up biting them on the bum – a freekick was curled inswinging by Cohen.  I didn’t see a touch from him, but Chambers appeared to claim it – I thought it was straight in by Cohen personally and that’s where most of the Reds team, nay, all of them went to offer their congratulations.

That over-celebrating of course always looks daft with what we know was to come, but it probably created extra minute of stoppage time in which Preston were able to equalise.  Forest weren’t able to stave off pressure from the away side, we didn’t stop a cross into the box – Camp looked like he slipped as he came to claim what should’ve been a routine catch, leaving Jones to head over him into the waiting goal.

Very annoying because of the timing.  Having said that, we probably didn’t merit much more than a draw if we’re being honest.  I left the match spitting and ranting about Preston’s timewasting, diving and nonsense – but well, they’re fighting long odds against relegation and scrapping for anything they can get.  It’s the referee who should be spotlighted for doing nothing about it and giving so many ridiculous freekicks.

I’ll be very interested to see the ‘fouls committed’ column for this game – because every time a Forest player so much as breathed near a Preston player, if they went to ground they got a freekick.  Conversely, Preston had two pretty strong-looking claims for a handball in our area – which he didn’t give, so the visiting fans might well dislike the man with the whistle after today too.

It wasn’t until the linesmen seemed to take the law into their own hands that we seemed to get any decisions at all when our players were knocked around.  But, we were also the architects of our downfall, we started slow, we didn’t compete (particularly in the first half) and whilst the comeback showed good spirit, the lapse at the back was frustrating.

On balance I’ve decided to not be too grumpy – listening to the radio on the way home it seems my fellow Reds feel similar.  Some shit freekicks and over-fussy refereeing didn’t cost us the game – indeed, missing handballs in the area might’ve done us a favour really.  Our own performance was below par but the unbeaten run is intact.  It puts more pressure on forthcoming games against Millwall and Middlesbrough though, which isn’t ideal.

The real concern is how thin our squad is suddenly looking – Billy sounded oddly positive post-match despite this, not bemoaning lack of transfers and reiterating he will only bring in quality loan signings if available, and acknowledging that’s a tricky ask.  I’m starting to worry that we will find ourselves once again limping over the finish line when some of our fellow promotion contenders have added depth to give them momentum.

Fingers crossed the quick withdrawal of Konchesky proves to be more precautionary than necessary.  We welcome Majewski back from his suspension from Saturday which is something positive, and await more concrete news on the injuries to Tyson and Earnshaw, but it’s looking a bit of a worry that we are short on bodies at this crucial stage of the season.

As for Preston, I’ve made my peace with their shenanigans tonight – I hate time-wasting (including when we do it!) and diving, but the referee positively encouraged them with his absolutely shocking performance.  I wish them well in their battle against the drop – certainly with Norwich, Leeds, Swansea and Cardiff still in the list of their teams to play they could yet do us a favour!

And if we’re going to cast our final strike pairing as Del Boy and Rodney, then there was only one person on the pitch who was going to play Trigger, and that was the referee!

Forest vs. Preston North End preview..

From a promotion showdown to a scrap with relegation battlers at the City Ground, the games are still coming thick and fast.  Both sides will have good reason to go into these games with a positive frame of mind, too – whilst Forest were beating Cardiff City at the City Ground on Saturday the Lillywhites played host to league leaders QPR and – despite going behind – equalised and earned a draw against Neil Warnock’s men.

Phil Brown will be able to call upon Leon Clarke who wasn’t available for their last game due to the loan agreement with QPR, but is likely to be without Chris Brown and Paul Coutts.  Iain Hume is a possible returnee, he was reported to be recovering well from injury prior to the QPR game but didn’t feature in it nor on the bench.  Of course, he might not opt for changes at all after the weekend’s good result.

Forest came through their game with Cardiff unscathed – despite some ‘robust’ challenges (not least the one on Lewis in the lead up to our second goal by Quinn, the dirty fecker!).  So our only injury concerns are the long term ones like Moussi, Blackstock and Findley – and the mysterious near-constant-flimsy-injury-excuses made for Kelvin Wilson.  Majewski of course serves the final game of his suspension.

That said, it’s reasonably unusual for Billy to not to tinker with his line-up – I wonder whether we might see starts for Tyson and/or McGoldrick.  Although I’ve long since given up trying to second-guess how he will decide to start a game these days, his combination of rotating and presumably keeping an eye on how our opponents might need nullifying are beyond my expertise!

It’s tempting to see this as a home win – we’re on our worryingly increasingly well publicised home run, Preston are – whilst improved under Brown – struggling.  They may have drawn a couple, but they lost three before that – and haven’t won a game since December, and that was against Ipswich, who were also on a bit of a hapless run then.

Do you see where I’m going with this – they’re on a ropey run, indeed, on their travels they’ve not won since September – beating Coventry then Leeds in quick succession in the league.  The latter was a goal-fest, finishing 6-4 to Preston, with now-Cardiff striker Jon Parkin netting a hat-trick.  So they are, frankly, a bit pants away – we’re really really good at home at the moment…

Anyone else smell bananas?

Certainly the pitch-factor that conspired to contribute to our downfall at Scunthorpe won’t be a problem on the morrow, the City Ground pitch continues to be a credit to our excellent ground staff.  Hopefully other lessons have been learned too from last week’s mid-week wobble to avoid any complacency at all.  Complacency isn’t a word I generally associate with Billy, so hopefully he gets that across to the boys.

With Cardiff entertaining in-form Leicester and QPR at home to a rejuvenated Ipswich Town there are a few tough games up there – I’d fancy Swansea to pick up points away at Coventry and certainly think that Norwich will be able to see off struggling Doncaster at home.  So three points in our game would be most welcome to see us remain in the automatic promotion spots.

I think we’ll have enough about us to do it too – with tickets cut to a tenner for this one it promises to be a bumper crowd – even the Main Stand side of the Lower Bridgford End has been made available to Forest fans, so as ever hopefully we can generate good backing for the boys (which will be trickier with the likelihood of a smaller away following unless the game kicks into life fast!).

Thank you very much for six points, Cardiff!

Earnie pulls the trigger...

Nottingham Forest – 2
Cardiff City – 1

A great way for the Reds to bounce back from the mid-week disappointment at Scunthorpe with a rip-roaring win against fellow promotion-chasers Cardiff City.  A really open game in which both sides carve out opportunities was eventually decided by Robbie Earnshaw’s second half strike after Cardiff had levelled Wes Morgan’s opener with a penalty that should never have been given.

Many stand-out performances from the Reds – Lee Camp made two excellent saves, Konchesky had another solid game at left-back and also cleared one off the line, the centrebacks held firm against the not inconsiderable attentions of Bothroyd and Parkin, you would hardly have noticed Bellamy on the pitch which is testament to Gunter’s endeavours.

McGugan had one of his hardest working and most influential performances in a while, McKenna and Cohen both battled like troopers, Anderson had his best game in a while – Tudgay won more than his fair share against Cardiff’s larger defenders and Earnie finally netted after looking dangerous all game – a realteam performance, and really tough to pick a man of the match.

Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Konchesky
Anderson    McKenna    McGugan    Cohen
Tudgay  Earnshaw

And that is probably the story of the game for me –  our visitors undeniably have the kind of players many sides envy, but didn’t seem to gel as a unit unlike the boys in Red who worked hard to get a deserved win.  A decent following from Wales was pretty quiet – aside from pre-match largely singing about the miner’s strikes, and after they scored of course.

It was only five minutes into the game when we had the ball in the net – when Anderson was put through and he unselfishly found Earnie who finished well from close range, only to have celebrations cut short by a fairly late flag from the linesman – looked like the right call though.  A pity that the more confident Ando who would develop as the game went on, as he might’ve had a pop himself.

An open game this would be, though, and the next opportunity was for Cardiff, with Bellamy finding a bit of space to have a shot which game saved diving to his left.  On the attack again Tudgay found Earnie well with a header but the number ten fluffed his lines to waste the opportunity.  Probably the chance of the game so far came for Bothroyd who should really be scoring, but Camp was out quickly to make the save.

From the resulting corner the ball fell to Bellamy who struck a decent shot from range, it had the beating of Lee Camp who’d punched it out from the corner, but Konchesky was on the line to clear the danger.  We had three good opportunities from deliveries into the box, Chambers had two headers and Earnie one from close range where – whilst not easy chances – should perhaps have been finding the target.

After a quick break one-time Forest target Peter Whittingham would’ve perhaps counted himself unlucky with a cracking long-range strike that looked to have had Camp beaten but was also just off-target.

Our goal came from a corner forced after a decent move by the Reds, it was taken by Lewis McGugan who found Wes Morgan’s run around six yards out to plant a powerful header into the top corner of the net to give the Reds the lead.  There were complaints towards the referee after the goal, I’m not sure why – I certainly didn’t see anything other than bad marking by the Cardiff defence!

This really picked up Forest who enjoyed long spells of possession – indeed, I’d love to have counted but after Olofinjana had given the ball away Forest passed from side to side involving most of the team before finally crafting a chance when Anderson knocked it in to McGugan in the area, whose left-footed finish hit the top of the crossbar.  It would have been some goal!

The last action of the half was a corner to the visitors but Camp was on hand to claim well in a crowded box.  So at half-time it was all smiles, the Reds were up and looking confident – it’s true the visitors had opportunities too, Parkin and Bothroyd in particular arguably should have done better with opportunities that presented themselves, but well, they didn’t!

After half time was over the game started at a frenetic pace that saw both sides wasteful in possession.  Eventually the kind of open and attacking game we’d enjoyed in the first half started to resume, a decent effort from McNaughton was saved by Camp, whilst a cross whipped in from Gunter on the right was just too far infront of Earnie.

A McGugan freekick was bloody close after Keinan had hacked down Tudgay, whilst at the other end a  strike from Olofinjana saw Camp needing to be alert to make the save.  Then came the nonsense from the referee – which I need to see again, at the time I’d just said “Fantastic tackle by McKenna!” as he took the ball cleanly, the official site claims the alleged offence was by Gunts – and he was booked as Forest players crowded the referee to ask what the hell he was playing at.

That no Cardiff players or fans appealed at the time of the ‘incident’ speaks volumes.  After the complaints had died down Peter Whittingham spotted the ball up and despatched it into the bottom corner, sending Camp the wrong way – which did at least spark some noise from the numerous but disappointingly quiet away following.

It threatened to spark the visitors into life too – substitute Jay Emmanuel-Thomas hit a powerful strike from 25 yards which moved horribly in the air and threatened to wrong-foot Camp who made a good save with his legs.  We were back on the break though, and the referee waved play-on after McGugan was scythed down leaving Anderson to feed the ball through to Earnie who blasted it under Heaton and into the goal.

Whilst he didn’t exactly look unhappy Earnie spared the fans of his former clubs his customary flip – always a nice thing to see, I think.  With around 70 minutes gone McGoldrick was introduced for Tudgay, and later Tyson came on for Earnshaw.  It was a still an entertaining and open game at this point, but with little direct chances created by either side.

We should have had it sewn up though when Tys won the ball in an excellent challenge with their right-back and burst forward, with McGoldrick and McGugan getting up with him we had three men against one defender – but Tys opted for a right-footed shot rather than squaring to his colleagues for a tap-in.  It was a decent shot, and it was well-saved, but dear me! It’s a good job we held on!

Cardiff had one last main attack really but a foul by Olofinjana on Camp gave us the opportunity to take the pressure off, Adebola was introduced but despite the natural feelings of tension in a game where there’s only a goal in it in stoppage time, Forest were never really under any great pressure and saw the game out in a reasonable amount of comfort to claim all three points.

A great result by the boys – and with results panning on remarkably well elsewhere it elevates us back to second place, with our visitors dropping to fourth behind third-placed Swansea who chalked up a win today.  Not long to wait ’til Preston come to visit on Tuesday either – they came back from a goal down to hold QPR to a draw which was another good result from our point of view, so they’re not to be taken lightly…

Forest vs. Cardiff City preview..

Straight back into the saddle for the Reds after a disappointing midweek setback against Scunthorpe.  And it’s fellow promotion hopefuls Cardiff City who visit us with our unbeaten home record firmly in their expensively-assembled sights.  Cardiff currently sit in second, two points ahead of the Reds having played one more – between us sit Norwich who must visit Leeds on Saturday.

Once again Raddy is missing through suspension, but no fresh injury concerns have arisen following our last game – so it’s just the longer term injuries to Dexter Blackstock, Guy Moussi and Robbie Findley the Reds are suffering with.  Dave Jones has a lot of firepower in his locker (huh, Davey Jones’ locker – geddit? Sorry) – indeed, in their last game Bellamy and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas were on the bench!

Former Reds loanee Aaron Ramsey is likely to feature too, and whilst of course it’s disappointing that we couldn’t get the lad back on loan I’d hope he gets a reasonable reception from the Forest faithful.  As well as Bellamy and Emmanuel-Thomas pushing for returns to the starting eleven they also welcome Stephen McPhail back from injury.

In terms of form we’re both looking strong, Cardiff slightly more so owing to our recent dropped points away at Scunthorpe and QPR.  The Bluebirds haven’t tasted defeat in their last five games – and have won three of ’em – drawing most recently with Burnley and earlier in the run with Reading.  Forest of course remain unbeaten in league games at home for quite some time!

We have of course already met Cardiff this season at their place – and we triumphed with a 2-0 scoreline that I must confess surprised me at the time.  It was a costly win though, a dubious (and, shock horror, unpunished) challenge by Olofinjana left Dexter Blackstock – scorer of one of the Forest goals – on a stretcher and on his way to lengthy surgery and recuperation.

A really big game this for both teams – having missed the opportunity to put matters regarding second place into their own hands on Wednesday, this is a second bite at the cherry.  Win this game, win our game in hand at Middlesbrough, and our fate is in our own hands if we can match the results of our fellow promotion chasers.

Pretty big ifs and buts though – with 17 games remaining it seems unlikely there won’t be a few more twists and turns which is why it’s been disappointing to see a few murmurs of discontent from some Forest fans, although this is greatly overshadowed by the general view that the Scunny game is a setback we are capable of overcoming.

Whilst our visitors run of results of late have been solid, their performances are not exactly breathtaking.  A lot like us, if we’re being honest.  Like us they’ve ridden luck to a degree, got a few late goals.  Whilst their attacking threat speaks for itself I’m not so convinced by their defence – this is borne out by the stats, away from Cardiff they’ve only scored one more than they’ve let in (our away stats aren’t any better – luckily we’re at home for this one!).

A defeat in this game would be a pisser – a draw tolerable, a win would be very welcome.  I think these are two pretty well match teams as our relatively close league placing would testify.  We certainly didn’t see them at their best back in November and hopefully Billy can get the better of Jones a second time this season.  Certainly I’m expecting goals – as for who will get ’em and who, if any, will get more – I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue!

Forest slip on Scunny-shaped banana skin..

Scunthorpe United – 1
Nottingham Forest – 0

Just as we dared get a bit hopeful with Cardiff dropping points against Burnley we’ve gone one worse and managed to come away from Scunthorpe with a big fat zero points.  Only one other team has managed to do that this season, so it’s a considerable achievement, and not one the boys will relish.  A very frustrating evening where a first half goal for the home side was enough to clinch the tie.

Of course, second place is still within our control – but with the not inconsiderable obstacle of Cardiff looming at the weekend, and tough fixtures thereafter, it’s certainly not going to be something we can achieve without some solid improvements on tonight’s efforts.  I’m trying not to be too negative because we’ve not had much by way of off-days lately – but boy tonight was one.

Given his restrictions a reasonably predictable line-up from Billy started this match, with Tyson in for suspended Raddy, and McGoldrick dropped in favour of Earnshaw:

Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Konchesky
Cohen    McKenna    McGugan    Tyson
Tudgay    Earnshaw

Today started with quite good news, with Lee Camp being granted approval to play for Northern Ireland.  Despite the (I think at least half tongue-in-cheek) clamours for an England call-up, I can’t see that happening, so a good opportunity for our number one to get some International football, and the very best of luck to him as and when that call comes.

The evening less pleasing to contemplate than the daytime, a nice little unbeaten run brought to an end by a side who haven’t won on their own pitch since last August!  Still, if nothing else it adds to the competition in the lower reaches of the league where a certain club fairly close to us are casting a beady eye – indeed, if Scunny take heart from this win, then I wish them all the best in getting a second home win in a week when Derby visit Glanford Park on Saturday.

With the pleasantries out the way, on to the game.  On a difficult surface it was a reasonable start from the Reds, a Cohen corner looked to be in the danger area but was punched clear under pressure by Lillis.  Cohen again provided danger from a freekick, Lillis beat Tudgay and Earnie to the ball, but flapped it to Tys who contrived to put the ball wide from 12 yards with the goal gaping.

It was the home side that of course took the lead, as a cursory glance at the scoreline would reveal.  A break by Miller down the right resulted in a cross to Chris Dagnall who was able to bundle the ball over the line in spite of being closed down by Chris Gunter.  A disappointing goal to concede for sure, but still with plenty of time on the clock to try to make amends as Forest had shown a knack of doing in decent games.

Having said that, it was the home side who came close to doubling their lead with a smart volley from Josh Wright which brough a decent reaction save from Camp with a dive to the right.  Forest laboured to create much beyond a bit of pressure – the only real chance of note before half time fell to Earnie who wasn’t able to get his effort past the covering defender.

Very disappointing first half on a predictably terrible surface – but as people always say, both sides have the same pitch to play on, and we can hardly say that Scunthorpe have exactly been utilising their questionable turf to their advantage of late, can we?  With the hope of a ‘Billy rocket’ being detonated in the away dressing room the gathered Reds awaited the second half with no small degree of trepidation.

It looked like the manager’s incendiary device had indeed been detonated – the Reds came out the blocks well, Lewis did really well to give Michael Nelson the slip and put a dangerous ball right across the face of goal, but it was just too far ahead of both Earnie and Tudgay who couldn’t get a touch on it.

An excellent volley from Tudgay left Nelson almost sparked out with the physio called on, and another dangerous cross from McGugan was scrambled clear before Tyson could get on the end of it.  It was turning into one of those nights.  At the other end Duffy put in a dangerous freekick which Dagnall won in the air only to head just over the crossbar.

As time was starting to tick more loudly Forest did try to increase the pressure – a decent throughball from McKenna found Earnshaw who was denied by an excellent sliding tackle from Nelson.  Shortly after a shot from Tudgay took two attempts by Lillis to gather – even when the Reds were managing to craft chances they were being met by resolute defending.

With around 25 minutes left Billy introduced Dele and McGoldrick for Tyson and McGugan.  An odd call, as Lewis had been our main creative threat over the course of the game.  A lovely cross from Gunter found Adebola whose effort smashed into the crossbar and fell for Tudgay, but too awkwardly for him to control enough to get an effort on target.

Time was rapidly running out McCleary – on for Earnshaw – played a nice one-two with Cohen who then shot right-footed, beating the keeper but alas missing the goal, just over.  McGoldrick came close to bundling it in but for the intervention of Lillis, further goalmouth scrambles ensued but the home defence stood firm to claim a three points they need as desperately as us.

A really frustrating result.  Without wanting to be disrespectful to Scunny, you have to fancy your chances against a side who hadn’t won at home since August – equally, the pessimists amongst you might have sensed it as inevitable.  Having had the temerity to predict QPR might beat us on Sunday I erred on the side of optimism pre-match and was proven wrong, so maybe pessimism rules?

Having missed an opportunity to stake a serious claim for that second spot we now must contend with the visit of Cardiff City at the weekend.  Beat them and we overtake them, retaining our game in hand, and with Norwich facing a tricky trip to Leeds there might be another bite at that particular cherry.  Of course, despite their unconvincing form of late, Cardiff will be no pushovers.

Ho hum.  We never seem to make it easy for ourselves, do we?  The silver lining I’ve reaching for this evening (I’m also reaching for a nice bottle of scotch) is that at least our first defeat in a while hasn’t given any of our promotion rivals any points, as that’s the kind of double-whammy that really would be incredibly annoying, as opposed to just very annoying.

Scunthorpe United vs. Forest preview..

Second attempt at this fixture – and since December when the game should’ve taken place the two sides have had very different fortunes.  Scunthorpe are on an absolutely abysmal run of league form.  They haven’t won in their last eight games – they haven’t won at home since beating Palace at the end of August last year.  Indeed, that’s their only league win at home.

Forest of course are on an excellent run of form – we are unbeaten in ten league games, having just come through a game against the league leaders with ten men for 70 minutes (and indeed being a goal down when the sending off occurred) for a draw.  This game is also of course one of our games in hand over our promotion rivals, having originally been scheduled for December last year.

With Raddy’s rash red card at Loftus Road we are further depleted in central midfield options along with Moussi’s injury – indeed, Raddy won’t be available now until Millwall away.  Moussi, Findley and Dex remain long term injuries, but that aside we are in reasonable shape, same defence as normal, Lewis gets more of a chance in midfield, same striking options as normal.

Our hosts of course have our very own Joe Garner on loan – although he won’t be playing tomorrow as part of the loan agreement.  They also have Garry Thompson missing through injury, but Dagnall, Jones and Mirfin could return to contention.

Our recent record against Scunny isn’t brilliant – only one win in our last six attempts, although it was as recent as last season at the City Ground with Chambers and Dexter scoring to give us a 2-0 win.  At Glanford Park last season we were two-nil up through goals from Boyd and Garner but chucked it away by conceding just after half time and again just before full time.

It’s fairly difficult to state a case for Scunthorpe in this match, they’ve really be struggling of late and Forest should feel supremely confident.  The risk is they feel over-confident or – worse still – are looking beyond this game sandwiched between heavyweights QPR and Cardiff – and don’t have their ‘game heads’ on for this one.  I can’t imagine Billy standing for that, though.

And it’s not just us at risk from eyeballing the weekend fixture either, Scunthorpe have Derby County up next at home on Saturday, so they too might well have their eye on that game as an opportunity to finally snag some points, they follow that up with another home match next week against another struggling side Sheffield United.

Without being disrespectful to our hosts it’s tough not to forecast the Reds getting something from this game – and they’re most certainly capable of getting all three points.  The important thing is that the boys are properly motivated and Billy has his game plan right to ably deal with both any threat posed but also the potentially dogged defending of the Iron.  I’m going for a Forest win.

Resilient Reds repel Rangers after rash red for Raddy..

Queens Park Rangers – 1
Nottingham Forest -1

It wasn’t looking too clever for Forest, reduced to ten men after Raddy went in with a rash two-footed challenge on Taarabt when already a goal down after an excellent strike by Tommy Smith.  As we’ve seen this season though, this Forest side do not lie down and never accept defeat – and a slice of fortune in McGoldrick’s goal was no more than their endeavours deserved.

A more conservative approach to the second half was both inevitable and justifiable as Forest set the home side the challenge of breaching them again – a challenge they proved unable to best, with only a goal-line clearance by Gunter the kind of decisive last-gap defending needed by the hard-working Reds as they prevented QPR from taking advantage of their numbers.

Billy started the game with a familiar back four – and a more ‘centrally minded’ midfield that we’re accustomed to seeing, with McGoldrick drafted in to start alongside Tudgay upfront, obviously with the brief to drop into midfield when needed to help us win that midfield battle.

Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Konchesky
McGugan    McKenna    Majewski    Cohen

And what a blistering start it was for the Reds –  and within the first fifteen seconds the Reds had kicked off and Tudgay hit the post, although the striker was offside and the flag was up.  Inside three minutes we’d already had two corners neither of which we could make count.

At the other end freekick for the home side produced a header from Tommy Smith which gave Camp an easy save to make, but a minute later the same man did breach the Reds defence – he cut inside Konchesky well down the right hand side, and Chambers mis-read his intentions, showing him a clear route to goal – which he duly took, with a cracking curling finish well beyond Camp’s reach.  A deadly finish.

A few moments later it got from bad to worse for Forest – Taarabt was under the attentions of a number of Reds players, facing away from goal, so not only was Raddy’s challenge not really needed – it was a pretty ugly two-footed lunge.  No real malace in it, but studs were up and one of his two feet connected with the home side’s midfielder’s shin, there was no way that Clattenberg was going to do anything other than send him off.

As many people pointed out around me, Raddy’s ‘tackling’ is often wild – hopefully this will provide a lesson to him in future, because he really put his teammates under the kosh as a result of that moment of madness.

However, a few minutes later the Reds were back in it – Cohen was downed and won the Reds a freekick 35 yards out from the goal.  Lewis McGugan struck it hard and low, a ricochet from a home defender cannoned the ball into McGoldrick’s leg and into the bottom corner of the goal beyond the despairing dive of Paddy Kenny.

A huge slice of fortune, no doubt – but the Reds positivity had earned a bit of luck.  We continued to attack too, another Reds corner found Wes Morgan who connected well with a downward header, which was well-saved by the leg of Kenny.  As the half wore on the home side stepped up their attacking and Luke Chambers was on hand to put in great blocks from Taarabt and Routledge.

A bit of adventurous roaming from Lee Camp had hearts in mouths for a while, but he eventually got the ball clear to see us go in at half time all level – having enjoyed the best chances of the game.  It was fairly clear that the second half would see the home side come at us much stronger though, with that in mind Billy made a pre-emptive change at half time with Lynch coming on for Tudgay, dropping in at left-back with Konchesky pushing into midfield.

He was immediately put under pressure by QPR substitute Ishmael Miller and came through early exchanges well with a block on the edge of the area.  Faurlin had a thunderbolt of a shot which we were pleased to see flash wide of the goal, as the Reds sat fairly deep and invited the home side to try to find a way through.  Up front McGoldrick rarely pressed into their third.

With the home side frustrated they increasingly resorted to long punts, which the Reds weren’t having too much difficulty in dealing with.  Morgan and Chambers both turned in excellent performances – the latter would eventually go on to deservedly pick up the man of the match award.

Just as we were predicting the introduction of Tyson it was actually Anderson that Billy put on next, taking off the largely ineffective McGugan (although he had had a shooting chance where he opted for a rather tame lob) to inject a bit more pace and enthusiasm into midfield.  It didn’t really change the flow of the match which was undeniably in one main direction – towards the Forest goal!

Point-winner McGoldrick was withdrawn with around a quarter of an hour left – he’d taken a veritable battering as the lone striker, and Nathan Tyson replaced him to give our attack a very different dimension.  It was just after this that a towering header from Bradley Orr from Taarabt’s corner looped over Camp, but found Gunter on the line to head clear.

As the game wound down the Reds did have a foray forward, Tys broke well down the left but his heavy touch into the area took him too wide to have much of a chance of scoring, and with nobody to cross to he ended up shooting into the side-netting when perhaps just attempting to hold the ball up might’ve been the wider decision.

The remainder of the match was pretty much home side possession but they offered very little in final ball, most of which was dealt with admirably by the Reds defence.  Certainly after their billing (by me, as well as the media!) this has to go down as a pretty disappointing performance by them – however, no small amount of credit should go to Forest for deny them opportunities despite the disadvantage in numbers.

As the full time whistle went the Reds fans celebrated with Billy and the players, having spent the majority of the game in fine voice in an otherwise fairly quiet atmosphere.  I said in the preview I’d have taken a draw, now I find myself wondering what we might have achieved if Raddy hadn’t done something stupid so early in the game!

Scunthorpe away up next – a side who are on a sticky run of results and desperate for points.  A draw at Glanford Park would be enough to reclaim the second spot, level on points and equal on games played with Saturday’s visitors Cardiff (also level on points but with a game in hand over Norwich).  A win would be much nicer leading into another massive game on Saturday.  Cardiff entertain Burnley on Tuesday so it would be nice if the Clarets can do us a favour!

I’m so proud of how our lads battled today – many may say that we didn’t see what QPR are capable of today, but I’d point to how well our boys did at repelling the threats they posed.  Very well done, Forest – a cracking point.