Queens Park Rangers vs. Forest preview..

First things first, huge congratulations to Billy Davies who has been named manager of the month for January.  A well deserved award after the excellent league form Forest have had over a period where traditionally we always seem to slump!  I’m a bit cynical about curses and things, it seems inevitable to me that an award that typically follows an exceptional run of form is likely to be followed by less impressive results.

Queens Park Rangers are the pace-setters in the Championship – a solid defence, and a dangerous attack coupled with a well balanced midfield.  To point out that this will be a bloody tough game is a severe case of stating the bleeding obvious.  They have both guile and skill, as well as the guts you would expect any side managed by Neil Warnock to have.

Of course, should Forest triumph, and do so in their two games in hand as well (all rather large ‘shoulds’ of course) then it would theoretically put the race to the title firmly in our own hands.  That does seem like a big ask though.  The eighteen games remaining this season are all the biggest game of the season for us now as they unfurl if we’re serious about maintaining our challenge for the automatic places.

Both sides are on good runs of form – nobody better than us, but let’s not overlook QPR’s recent endeavours either – despite being a man down for most of the game away at Reading a Wayne Routledge goal gave the Hoops a one-nil win that their performance, despite the disadvantage in numbers, warranted.  Able to absorb pressure and hit on the break, as well as being able to dominate.

A lot of focus has been placed on Adel Taarabt, a talented midfielder with an eye for goal, but for those that think that our hosts are a one-trick pony you need to look a little deeper.  With the likes of Shaun Derry doing the dirty work in midfield, and potent threats through the likes of Routledge, Buszacky from midfield and perpetual thorn-in-Forest’s side Hulse up front.  That’s not even mentioning the likes of Mackie who’s out injured after a blistering start to the campaign.

So that’s how they can hurt us – but equally important they are the stingiest defence in the league (we are second).  They’ve only let in 10 goals in fifteen home games, whilst they’ve netted 32.  With the likes of Gorkss in defence and Paddy Kenny in goal it’s not all that surprising they don’t hear that many cheers from the away end at Loftus Road.

For this myriad of reasons and with a bit of second-guessing I think that Billy will probably play this one cautiously initially.  I’m expecting five in midfield and one up front – with a brief to try to keep the more creative players in Rangers’ midfield quiet with a secondary mission to hit on the break.  Moussi’s injury is a real loss in a game like this, so McKenna will need to continue the high performance level he put in against Watford last week.

Mackie and Hogan are missing through injury and suspension for our hosts, but they have no shortage of strength in depth to cover for these omissions – Forest have Moussi, Blackstock and Findley unavailable through injury.  Tudgay presents an alternative to Dex up front, and has weighed in with some goals since his arrival, McKenna will fill in for Moussi in midfield – and he’ll be busy!

I tend to err on the side of pessimism even on the back of such an excellent run of results, and this game is hardly going to change that – if I’m being brutally honest I see a draw here as an excellent result.  Certainly if the planets align suitably then this is a game we could win, but with that kind of argument the same goes for any team against any other in this league.

With the away end sold out the boys in Red should certainly get some great backing from the travelling fans – I dearly hope I’m wrong and we’ll have something to cheer about, but I’m struggling to predict anything other than defeat in this one I’m afraid.  I would dearly love to be proven wrong, of course!  I just have a feeling it won’t be our day…

Six wins on the bounce, and up to second!

Nottingham Forest – 1
Watford – 0

The Reds ascend to second in the league thanks to Norwich slipping up and recording our sixth consecutive league win.  A goal in the first minute gave Forest all three points, in an open end-to-end game (particularly in the first half) that you wouldn’t normally associate with a one-nil scoreline.  A more physical and direct approach from Watford meant the second half was less absorbing.

Billy of course had to make a few changes to his line-up – the injured Guy Moussi was replaced by skipper Paul McKenna, whilst McGugan dropped to the bench in favour of Majewski.  As I noted in the preview – the likely more open style of play the Hornets tend to deploy was probably deemed a good opportunity to make use of Raddy’s passing vision.  So this is how we looked:

Gunter    Morgan     Chambers    Konchesky
Cohen    McKenna    Majewski    Anderson
Tudgay    Earnshaw

So having swapped sides before the game the Reds were straight in the ascendency – it was just 50 seconds before we’d scored, Chris Cohen – still resplendent with a black eye – beat his man and crossed to Earnie, whose touch to control the ball and then tee it up for Tudgay was excellent.  Tudgay kept his composure and slotted the ball in to the Trent End goal past Scott Loach.

We nearly lost the lead soon after though.  Chambers horribly misjudged a header back to Lee Camp letting in Marvin Sordell, but Campy managed to get out quick and block the chance, finally getting the ball clear having ended up outside his area.  The tricky Will Buckley got a teasing cross over after this, beating Gunts, Camp and – fortunately for us – anyone else in the area.

Some good work from Wes got the ball out to Cohen, whose cross almost found Wes again – but it was fractionally too high.  The Reds built up a sizeable amount of pressure, but struggled to create too many direct chances – whilst Watford were dangerous on the counter.  Sordell probably should have got on the end of a dangerous cross from Danny Graham, moments later Camp had to be alert to make a fine save from a Doyley 20 yard effort.

Scott Loach is also a well-regarded ‘keeper in this league, and not to be outdone he looked like he literally flew to keep out a Chris Cohen shot which was beautifully struck and looked destined for the top corner.  Top goalkeeping all round.  McKenna had a burst towards the area but was hacked down when pretty much clean through – I’m still not quite sure it wasn’t a red card, to be honest.

The resulting freekick just inside the D was taken by Robbie Earnshaw and curled wide of the right hand post – it looked better positioned for a left footer to hit it for me, and was hoping we might get to see a number 3 in a Forest shirt having a pop from a freekick.  For old time’s sake, you understand.  Konchesky did stand over it initially but soon moved aside.

It continued to ebb and flow with neither side really dominating until half time – which of course came with the Reds still one-nil to the good, in what had been a very entertaining half of football from both sides at times.  Were in not for some poor composure, good goalkeeping and other factors it could really have been about 3-3 or so as we got to the break.

As the second half started we should have doubled our lead in the first minute – Tudgay burst into the area, backheeled to Cohen where with a degree of fortune it found Earnie on the edge of the six yard box, but from just five yards out he put it wide of the far post presumably trying to make sure he evaded the massive frame of Scott Loach.  It has to go down as a pretty bad miss, though!

At the other end Danny Graham was proving a real handful for Chambers and Morgan, and at one point he turned Chambers before unleashing a decent effort that brought a diving save from Camp.  Whichelow had a good shot saved by Camp before his follow-up was blocked by Gunter at the expense of a corner.  Watford were starting to play much more direct and very physically.

Raddy had a run into the box and from my seat he looked to have been caught but took a tumble perhaps too theatrically and picked up a booking from the referee for his trouble.  Oddly he stopped play and gave Watford a freekick to do this, which I’m not sure you’re supposed to do simply for a dive (as he saw it), but carry on play and book the player when there is an opportunity.

After making himself unpopular with the Forest fans it was the decent following from Watford that were upset at his decision – a Watford corner was eventually headed into the goal but the ref was quick to blow up for a pushing in the area (which was rife – from both sides – in every corner situation – but I was pretty grateful for him actually deigning to notice it this time around!).

Ando was withdrawn for the Reds having struggled to make a huge impact, and was replaced by Nathan Tyson who immediately started running at the Watford rightback.  His first cross was cleared by man-mountain Taylor winning us a corner – this was whipped in well by Raddy and Chambers will probably be kicking himself that he didn’t hit the target, instead flashing his header just wide.

Might have my timings wrong but shortly after this there looked to be two decent shouts for a penalty for Watford in quick succession, the referee perhaps remembering his lack of sympathy for Raddy didn’t give them.  Interestingly he didn’t opt to book the Watford players for diving though, just waving play-on, so I’m not sure why he singled out Majewski for special treatment in this regard.

Tys again was causing problems and a decent effort from 18 yards was saved by Loach – but really Tyson should’ve been looking for the square ball where he’d have found Earnie and Tudgay lurking.  Play continued whilst a Watford player was on the deck, and any moral highground Watford might have wanted to claim in lieu of Forest carrying on was nullified when they too carried on playing as if there was nothing wrong!

Once the ball did go out of play two more of their players – including Loach – hit the deck suffering cramp.  In the meantime Billy made two more changes, taking off Majewski and Earnshaw for McGugan and Adebola.  Raddy had been putting himself about a bit and was at risk of picking up another yellow to go with what I think was a harsh first.

The remainder of the game was scrappy and as Watford went increasingly route-one Forest defended pretty stoutly.  This style didn’t seem to suit our visitors players and the centrebacks in particular coped admirably with the largely aerial bombardment.  The fourth official held up the board indicating five minutes of added time, about right considering the substitutions and injury stoppages.

Some nice work between Tyson and McGugan culminated in the midfielder having a decent effort from twenty yards or so, but missing the target.  Eventually as the fans starting whistling the referee finally called time on the game having added around 7-8 minutes on in the end to cap off another fine result for the Reds, and propel us to second in the league.

Another solid game for Konchesky, Chambers recovered from a sketchy start, Wes was tremendous.  Gunter had a tough time from Buckley but did well, and in midfield I was really impressed with McKenna and Cohen in particular.  Raddy was doing okay but lost his head a little after his harsh booking, Anderson still just seems to lack that killer instinct.  Lovely finish from Tudgay and another gritty hard-working performance, Earnie should have scored too – but he did set up the goal.

The subs were a good shout from Billy – Tys immediately gave us more attacking potency, and Dele generally always makes some kind of impact on a game.  McGugan showed glimpses of class, but didn’t look massively interested (but needed to come on to spare Majewski the inevitable second booking from the idiot referee).  All in all, very happy with a good team performance.  I missed Camp out, who made some great saves.

Forest vs. Watford preview..

Not feeling overly confident about this one – Watford have proven troublesome opponents for us at the City Ground anyway, and that’s compounded by disappointing injury news.  Guy Moussi – a key player for us in recent weeks – will be missing, although skipper Paul McKenna will be able to stake a claim for his place in the team again.

New boy Robbie Findley immediately injured himself in training, which isn’t the most auspicious of starts, and there are doubts around Nathan Tyson who missed the Coventry game with a back problem.  Despite a clash of heads and a massive black eye it would seem Chris Cohen is likely to be available, as his his headbutter Paul Konchesky.

Watford have impressed with their open attacking play this year – I really admire Malky Mackay’s side, and it’s not surprising that on their travels they are the highest scoring side in the league.  Unlike most of our recent opponents at the City Ground I expect them to come and attack us – which whilst comes with an obvious threat, does open the door for us to play football rather than battle as in recent weeks.

We’ve won four of our last five games of course – indeed, of the last 24 points on offer we’ve taken 22 of them – which is a cracking run.  Overlaid onto that is our long unbeaten league run at home – all of which combine to make me feel a bit nervous about this one.  Watford’s form a little more mixed – they’ve won, lost and drawn their last three league games.

The home debut of Paul Konchesky will enhance an otherwise familiar looking back line for the Reds, with McKenna and Cohen likely to be in midfield with two of Majewski, McGugan and Anderson to join them.  Earnshaw and Tudgay seem the likely strike pairing – but with the likes of McGoldrick in the squad we do have some flexibility despite the missing men.

I’m hoping that we have the opportunity to play a bit of nice football on the deck against a more positively set-up opponent that we’ve been used to – in a game like that the likes of Majewski could be a really key figure.  The concern I have is that a run of scrappy (but brilliant!) wins might have unacclimatised our squad from a more free-flowing encounter.

That said, a defeat at Cardiff and a disappointing home draw against Crystal Palace in Watford’s last couple of games does offer a ray of optimism.  I’m not counting their 3-0 win against Derby at Vicarage Road because that’s just a default result against Nigel Clough’s men these days!

I think this will be a tricky one – I can certainly see goals in the game and fairly evenly matched sides.  If our defence can hold firm – and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t – then we could come through for the win.  Wouldn’t it be nice to see a number three lining up a left-footed freekick as well…?  Now I am dreaming!

Big Norm: In his own words..

Anyone who’s been lucky enough to see Big Norm during his ‘Evening With..’ appearances will know what an awesome speaker he is.  Well, firstly – and this is remiss of me because I’d forgotten until now – if you haven’t had that experience you can remedy that by clicking here and booking tickets to see him and Paul Hart at The Approach on 17th February.

Just a tenner – which is well worth it, just for Norm, let alone Harty too.

One of the reasons why you’re likely to see more of Norm on the circuit though is because he’ll be promoting his forthcoming autobiography.  Anyone who was paying vague attention to the local media during his playing time at Forest probably knows about some of his antics from the Evening Post.  Some of the stories he told on previous ‘Evening with’ nights had the crowd howling with laughter.

He has promised it will be an honest account of his career spanning all his clubs and the characters he met along the way.  I wonder whether he’ll include the story he told us in The Approach about Paul Gascoigne, Mark Crossley’s testicles and some whisky?  I imagine so!

You can pre-order a special edition hardback release of the book now by clicking here – for £19.99 delivered, and your name printed in the front – and signed by the man himself.  A bargain, I’m sure you’ll agree – the book is due for release on 1st September and, even better, you get to ‘do the deal’ with the man himself and not just a publisher or book shop!

And the Reds go marching ON! ON! ON!

Lewis: Back in the goals!

Coventry City – 1
Nottingham Forest – 2

D’you know what we’ve gone and done?  We’ve won five league games on the trot.  FIVE.  If we win against Watford on Saturday, you wouldn’t be even count them on one hand (unless you’re from Derby).  I know I said in the preview I’d stick my neck on the line and predict a win for us over the anti-football of Boothroyd’s Skyblues – but, well… bloody hell.  We’ve won five league games on the trot.  That’s impressive.

A scrappy goal conceded by ladies’ man Marlon King was cancelled out by the end of McGugan’s mini goal drought, another good goal for the midfielder – but perhaps not one of his best this season!  Heroic work from Guy Moussi, visibly struggling with injury, teed up Earnie to fire home from close range before half time, with the Reds rampant and looking good.

The second half was a tad different, reshuffling and an aerial bombardment from the powerful boot of Westwood in the Coventry goal saw the Reds more often than not with their backs against the wall, but they held firm and delivered a very welcome three points!  Billy had a late injury call to Tys, so was forced to change his plans slightly, lining up with:

Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Konchesky
Cohen    McGugan    Moussi     Anderson
Tudgay    Earnshaw

It was a quiet game at first – which is kinda inevitable with such a tiny crowd.  A bit of a chance came to Tudgay whose shot from range was easily dealt with by Keiren Westwood in the Coventry goal.  Gunts and Earnie combined well with the latter getting a shot away, which went just wide as the linesman’s flag rose to signal a slightly harsh looking offside call.

Coventry’s first opportunity fell for Gary McSheffrey with a freekick, which was easy enough for Lee Camp to deal with.  Meanwhile Forest were also creating opportunities, a good cross from Cohen looked to be finding Tudgay who cleverly let the ball run on for Lewis McGugan who hit it over from a tight angle at the edge of the six yard box.

Probably the best chance so far came after good work by Cohen again, picking out Moussi’s run into the box, the French midfielder beat his man but the shot was straight at Westwood.  Then the sucker-punch after 27 minutes, Eastwood headed it, Camp parried it to Marlon King – he then saved the striker’s first effort but it fell again for the sex-pest to bundle over the line.  Frustrating goal to concede.

Forest aren’t the toothless tiger we’ve known over the last few seasons though, as recent weeks have shown – and it was only four minutes before we were back in it.  Cohen’s ball to McGugan looked to be intercepted by Baker, but Lewis got there first and hit a 30 yard shot which bounced awkwardly infront of and then over Westwood who tried to dive to get to it.  Not one of his best – but who cares?!

The Reds were playing with confidence and some decent football too, which must have at least given the Coventry fans something different to normal to watch.  Chris Gunter did really well to get the ball into the path of Paul Anderson who’d made a decent run, but the shot let him down as he dragged it wide.

Fear not, though – the lead did of course come.  Moussi broke through the Coventry defence down the right hand side of the area, and despite appearing to pull-up with a thigh strain he was able to continue and put in a great cross which found the deadly Robert Earnshaw lurking at the end of it, who duly obliged by turning and smashing the ball into the top of the net past Westwood.

This was the end of the game for the Moose whose injury forced him off, so he was withdrawn and replaced with skipper Paul McKenna with around eight minutes left of the half.  Forest continued their dominance right up to half time, but weren’t able to breach the goal again – Richard Wood doing well at one point to repel our assaults on the Coventry goal.

It was looking pretty good at the start of the second half, too – Tudgay nodded the ball down to Cohen who crossed towards Earnie, and but for Clarke’s interception we are left thinking what might have been – however, the tide was gradually turning and as Forest withdrew deeper and deeper the game became a bit of a war of attrition.

King was proving a handful for the Forest defence and a cross from him found Eastwood whose header missed the target.  As Coventry resorted more and more to launching it from the back they adjusted their personnel to accommodate this, introducing Platt and Jutkiewicz at the expense of Eastwood and McSheffrey.  Forest followed suit with Adebola coming on for McGugan (to a nice reception from his former fans), and Lynch coming on for Earnshaw.

An interesting rearrangement which saw Konchesky end up in midfield, Lynch in defence and Adebola very much on ‘hold up the ball’ duty.  The pressure was still on though, and had King’s cross towards Platt been a couple of inches lower it might’ve posed problems, as it was Camp was able to claim the ball and Forest were able to ride out the four minutes of stoppage time and get the win.

With QPR, Swansea and Norwich winning too tonight it’s all the better we’ve kept up.  I’ve taken particular pleasure in Cardiff dropping a couple of points and thus we overtake them (and still with a game in hand).  So we are fourth, two points off second placed Norwich with two games in hand, and superior goal difference – it’s a rather splendid state of affairs that’s for sure.

Elsewhere in the league another defeat for Derby – this time to another ex-manager in Paul Jewell as he took his Ipswich side to Pride Park, with reports of scenes of protest outside the ground directed at their American owners from disgruntled fans.  I know I shouldn’t be childish, but it’s hard not to at least have a wry smile given the years we’ve endured of late!

Back to us though, which is the most important thing, an impressive win and a solid debut for Konchesky was marred by the injury to the Moose – hopefully it wasn’t as bad as the immediate substitution suggested and it was just a precaution as our talismanic midfielder has been a big part of our recent excellent run of results.  On the bright side at least the skipper is fit to step in if required.

Watford at home next.  What could go wrong with that? *shudder*