Leeds United vs. Forest preview..

Ooh, it’s been a long break, hasn’t it?  I certainly feel better for it, so hopefully that’s echoed in the Forest dressing room too as they prepare to return to action from the international break.  Leeds away is a tricky proposition in anyone’s book, and even more so given our chronic lack of recent form – and their rather good home record of late.  They’ve not lost at Elland Road since October.

We of course haven’t won in eight matches, and miraculously still find ourselves not only in the play-offs, but still with an admittedly slim shout of mounting a challenge for automatic promotion.  I’ve all but given up on that, but hopefully the glasses around the City Ground are half full compared to my half empty ones scattering the place.  Either way, with not all that much separating us from the pack chasing the play-offs, results are required regardless of our ultimate aim.

Leeds of course sit a place above us in the table, a point better off than us – to compound matters they also have a near enough full strength squad at their disposal – there’s some doubts around Jonathan Howson who has a hamstring injury, but they do have Jake Livermore – who once scored against us for the Sheep – a new arrival on loan from Tottenham.  Billy Paynter is missing too through suspension.

We don’t seem to have made much meaningful progress on the injury front, at least not so that players are yet ready to feature.  Moussi isn’t ready, Findley, Wilson and Blackstock remain on the longer term sick list, Earnie is also carrying a hamstring twinge but may be available, whilst Tudgay has recovered from the illness that kept him out of the Swansea game.  Konchesky is injured, but Lynch has recovered – so he or Bennett may get the nod.

Earlier in the season we fought a spirited draw with them – the Reds had the early running and should’ve done more than just score one, but Leeds rallied late and goal-line clearance from Bertrand gave us a share of the points.  In more recent times though certainly our respective forms have been less close, Leeds probably sit somewhere in midtable for form, whilst we’re firmly ensconced in the relegation zone.

I would dearly love to be all optimistic and predict the Reds to come back fully recharged and ready to start getting results, but it’s difficult to rationally do so – Simon Grayson has assembled a talented and hard-working squad who thrive in the atmosphere that a sell-out Elland Road will generate, and I’m not convinced our boys quite have enough in the tank to deal with it – without even mentioning the BBC cameras that will be there to document it.

Sad to say, but I’d take a draw…

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Do I not like that! Your chance to meet Graham Taylor..

Cast as possibly the most hapless man (and there’s been a few) to take the England hot seat, lambasted by the press and likened to a turnip of all things.  The icing on the cake though, rather unfortunately (for him), was when he decided to allow a film crew to document his failed attempt to qualify for the World Cup.  It’s certainly the case that Graham Taylor is someone we won’t forget lightly.

Despite this, I can’t help but get the feeling he was rather unfairly painted by the media – certainly the England job came at the wrong time for him, both in terms of his own abilities but also in terms of the calibre of players in that transitional phase.  Of course, we must also remember that this is the man that handed a cap to Carlton Palmer.  I believe it was Carlton who was infamously on the end of the ‘Can we not knock it?’ line.

The time: Thursday 12th May from 6:30pm
The place: The Approach, Friar Lane, Nottingham
The price: £10 admission, or £30 for a 3 course meal with table service

You can pick up tickets by clicking here, or by popping to the venue.  I should be an interesting night, and a chance to perhaps exorcise some of those 1992 and 1994 International Campaign demons you might have been harbouring for the last few years!

PS: Good to be back after a bit of a break.   Looking forward to the proper football starting again at the weekend!

Swansea City vs. Forest preview..

Here we go again, back with the ‘The Reds will be keen to put a poor run behind them..’ type comments.  It’s all a bit repetitive isn’t it?  Still true though, a run of six games without a win is a poor run by anyone’s standards, except maybe those down to A52.  Rather than seeking to cement our claim on second, our goalposts have shifted undeniably downward in maintaining a play-off place for now.

Having said all that, Swansea haven’t exactly been having it all their own way lately either – whilst they occupy third place at present, they’ve not won in three – and even lost to Derby in their last game.  They, like us, have been struggling to score goals in recent weeks – so for those of you travelling to the game there’s got to be a fear of a cagey encounter.  Having said that, it’s results that count for us now, much more so than performances.

On the injury front our list is a little longer thanks to Robbie Earnshaw picking up a hamstring injury against Doncaster.  Apparently Joel Lynch’s latest injury of the season should see him okay to claim a place in the squad, leaving us missing just Moussi, Blackstock, Findley and Wilson.  Nathan Tyson may be fit enough to play a part in this game, which could give us a different dimension going forward.

Swansea are hoping to be in a position to welcome back Garry Monk and Andrea Orlandi from injury, they’ve both featured in reserve games after lengthy lay-offs.

Earlier in the season we of course beat Swansea at the City Ground – back in the time when seemingly Lewis was scoring a screamer every week.  He put two past Dorus De Vries, one from the spot and one from close range – so not typical McGugan strikes at all.  I’ll tell you what, it would be good if he could hit a bit of goalscoring form at the weekend, that’s for sure.  Same for the other goalscorer that day, it was Majewski that finished off our scoring.

Depending on whether you’re a pessimist or an optimist – you could say that our recent run is worse than theirs, so they’ll win.  Or you could say we’re due a recovery from a dreadful run of results, and they’re just a few games into a disappointing run.  The truth, as ever with polarities, probably lies somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.  Given the small number of points between us, it’s clear we’re well matched.

Hopefully Billy allows for sufficient opportunity for the lads to get the win we need – if Kris Boyd is to make his starting debut for us, then it’s clear to me from the limited pitch time I’ve seen from him that he needs to be presented with opportunities.  We’ve really struggle with that lately – and we need the McGugans and Majewskis in the team to start getting creative.

A tough game undoubtedly, if I were having a bet I’d put it on a draw, which neither side will be happy with.  After this comes the blessed relief of the international break where hopefully Forest can patch up their walking wounded, get some rest into tired legs and get hearts and minds recharged for the final push – because whilst there’s still a way to go yet, the ‘games played’ column is looking quite hefty.

Groundhog day..

Nottingham Forest – 0
Doncaster Rovers – 0

A frustrating afternoon, for sure.  Whether it justified the booing at full time I would question, making a disappointing performance on the pitch compounded by an equally disappointing reaction from some of our ‘supporters.’

Once again we are left with the bitter-sweet realisation that quite a few other results went rather well for us, soured by the fact we didn’t capitalise.  Of course, Norwich and Cardiff have yet to play their games this weekend yet – so we could yet end up falling further by the promotion wayside.  However, as Billy said post-match, despite everything we are still in a very favourable position.

Billy made a few changes after Tuesday’s disappointing slump at the Blades, introducing McCleary for a rare starting berth, Majewski and Earnshaw started – with Anderson and Adebola moved to the bench, McGoldrick not in the squad at all…

Camp
Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Konchesky
Cohen    McKenna    Majewski    McCleary
Earnshaw    Tudgay

Despite my residual grumpiness, it was a pretty good start for the Reds.  They pressed forward and made Donny look very uncomfortable – but, in what was to be a recurring theme, they couldn’t convert possession in the final third into a decent opportunity to test the visiting goalkeeper.  On their rare forays forward Donny were restricted to long range efforts – but at least they were getting shots in!

Forest were passing the ball around quite well early doors – Tudgay played the ball to Gunts who was haring down the right, he put in a delicious looking cross which McCleary couldn’t get on the end of.  Really I would’ve expected a striker to be in there somewhere.  McKenna played the ball through to McCleary but he couldn’t get his cross past his marker.

Donny started to come to life a bit more as the half hour mark approached – a long range effort from Wilson as just over, and amusingly a chunk of the visiting fans thought they’d scored when I thought a freekick quite clearly went over.  It certainly gave the home fans a welcome diversion from the increasingly nullified game by occasionally apeing the cheering after random incidents in the game.

Our first of very few shots on target came with about ten minutes to go before half time – and to be honest, it was never likely to yield a goal.  Majewski struck the ball from a way out, and it looked a fairly routine stop for Woods to make.  Arguable a better chance fell for Tudgay, a decent ball from Konchesky in to him on the D saw him get a good connection, but missed the target – and he really should’ve done better.

At the end of the half we were gifted a great opportunity – a miss-kick from George Friend fell very favourably for Earnie, but Woods was very quick to come out and close down and rather than slip the ball under the ‘keeper  he went for power, and Woods was able to get a very good save in.  After this Earnie oddly ended up sitting down by the half way line before eventually going off, looked like a hamstring injury.

We weren’t able to get Tys on despite him being stripped and ready before the half time whistle.  So we were drawing, we had undoubtedly had the best of the first half, but really struggling to break down a mostly-well-organised Donny side – compounded by our own lack of craft and movement in unlocking that final opportunity to get a decent effort in on goal.

So the second half started with the introduction of Nathan Tyson to replace the injured Earnshaw, and frankly, that was probably the most interesting thing to have occurred.  We seemed intent on giving the ball away for ten minutes, whilst Donny were content to sit – it wasn’t ’til Chambers took matters into his own hands, and when he had nobody to pass to he just took the ball forward and looked a bit confused to end up at the edge of the area and having a shot which ultimately won us a corner.

Kris Boyd replaced Majewski on the hour, with Tys moving more to the left, but the game was really still very stagnant.  Donny had another effort from range, this time from Mason which was just wide and certainly looked to have the beating of Camp.  Billy put on McGugan for Tudgay to try to inject some creativity into proceedings, I would have been inclined to replace McCleary who was looking a combination of out-of-depth and unconfident.  Then again, Tudgay looked tired.

The changes didn’t seem to do much in our favour, though, it was Donny again capitalising on our poor retention of the ball and Mason again shooting from range – and fortunately for us – not hitting the target again.  At the other end another decent cross from Gunts found Tyson, but he couldn’t get his header on target.  McCleary was starting to get more into the game too, and a powerful effort from a tight angle was cleared off the line by Hird.

With time running out the Reds were trying to create but labouring, finally Lewis did really well and got the ball to McCleary who had time to take out a cigar, smoke it whilst contemplating his opportunity, adjust his monocle and perhaps even indulge in a little snooze before calmly slotting his chance into the net.  Alas, he bumbled controlling it and by the time he shot it was blocked well by Friend, and out for a corner than inevitably led to nothing.

Coppinger got on the end of a counter-attack but dragged his shot wide – after that Forest actually started to look like they were playing with a sense of urgency, a Cohen cross was unconvincingly punched clear by Woods preventing Tys getting on the end of it, and Boyd should have opened his Forest account after a good Tyson break down the left, he held it up well waiting for reinforcements to arrive and played it neatly to Boyd on the penalty spot – unfortunately he totally missed the ball!!

That was pretty much it – it was a disappointing afternoon’s work from the boys for sure, because whilst they had their moments, Donny looked there for the taking today – which isn’t surprising given their injury situation.  A few people remarked in the first half that “if we can get an early goal here we could have a rout”.  Credit to Donny, they defended well and harried in midfield, and certainly I think they were good value for a draw.

Forest vs. Doncaster Rovers preview..

When you fall off a bike, the best thing to do is get back on it.  I remember that life lesson whilst picking bits of glass from my leg whilst attempting to extract myself from the greenhouse I’d crashed into during my fledgling attempts at getting around on two wheels.  That’s the opportunity Forest have now, after an undeniably dire run of form.

Despite this recent run, culminating in successive league defeats, we’re still only four points from second thanks to our competitors also having a less than ideal run of results.  Of course we should also be aware of what’s going on just over our shoulders too, as a glut of clubs are looking to put a run together to gatecrash the play-offs.  In sixth place we’re right in the firing line for being supplanted.

It’s not a bad time to be playing Doncaster on paper (I know, I know).  They have had a monumental injury crisis, and this is further compounded by the likelihood that Billy Sharp will be missing for them – needing a hernia operation.  Much as I wouldn’t wish injury on a player, he’s a big miss for them and does have a bit of a habit of doing well against us.  They’re also missing ‘keeper Neil Sullivan.

As for us, we of course have the prospect of Kris Boyd making a home debut – but may have the welcome boost of Nathan Tyson’s involvement in the matchday squad too.  Joel Lynch too is apparently okay to resume duties – leaving us without the longer term injured list – Dexter, Moose and Robbie Findley.

After a dire spell when Donny lost eight out of nine games they’ve stabilised somewhat without blowing anyone away.  Indeed, their only win in their last nine games came at Derby, which hardly counts anyway!  They’ve lost and drawn their last two against Leeds and Coventry respectively.

One thing you can usually count on from Donny is that they will at least come and try to play a bit of football, which will be welcome as it will hopefully encourage the same approach from us.  Too readily have we been drawn into closed off games in which we’ve struggled to break down dogged opponents.

It’s difficult to muster too much optimism because, well, we’ve not been getting results in games we really ought to be if we’re serious about challenging at the top end of the table again.  However, I do fancy our chances in this game – certainly a home crowd in good voice wouldn’t go amiss.  It can be tricky to achieve that on a kids for a quid game.

There’s only so long we can get respite from other results going our way – this weekend it seems likely Swansea will pick up all the points at Pride Park, Leeds face a tricky visitor in resurgent Ipswich Town, Burnley entertain Millwall, Hull travel to Coventry whilst Cardiff and Norwich play on Sunday and Monday against Barnsley and Bristol City – I fancy them to win those games.

Basically, we need to win.  I’m sure Billy thinks the same!

Don’t stop believing.. and is Warnock gonna get his comeuppance?

Same old Warnock, always cheating?

I was grumpy yesterday after the match, still am a bit.  A few have commented on the unusually negative match report – well, it was negative, second half at least – but I’m not about to join the doom-mongers just yet.  As Billy himself said, ten games to go, plenty of twists and turns to come in this season – inconceivably we’re still only four points from the automatic places despite an awful run.

Of course to have failed to capitalise on games in hand, on games against struggling teams – to not have made a more convincing bid to keep hold of that second spot and keep pushing QPR, all these things are hair-tearingly-out annoying.  But we have to keep a sense of perspective – other teams around us are dropping points left-right-and-centre too.

So with that sense of perspective in mind let’s not get carried away with the negativity and – whilst I have no problem with people (including me!) venting their spleens in writing, let’s not let it affect the backing we give the boys at the weekend and beyond.  They need our support now more than ever, and hopefully we can play our part in delivering a much needed morale-booster against Doncaster at the weekend.

One unexpected twist-and-turn which has yet to twist-and-turn its’ way to resolution is the revelation that QPR have been accused of fielding an ineligible player (Faurlin).  More information is here – an interesting development for sure, and one that could result in a points deduction (unlikely, since the football powers-that-be are spineless as demonstrated with their dealing with Cardiff City).

If he is deemed ineligible according to FA rules, then this could result in a three point deduction per game he’s played in – which apparently is six games.  Eighteen points.  It could be certainly ironic that Neil Warnock – someone who had a massive tantrum about similar conduct by West Ham – proves to be the man at the helm of a club found guilty of the same thing.

Certainly I’ll be keeping tabs on that story with increasing levels of interest, as I’m sure will the clubs around us!  Of course, pending the findings this is something that has the potential to blow the race for promotion even more wide-open than it already is!

Billy’s battlers becoming bottlers..

Forest unveil their new mascot: Banana man!

Sheffield United – 2
Nottingham Forest – 1

So, Sheffield United haven’t won since December – enter stage right, Nottingham Forest.  Whilst I’m not one to show disrespect to our opponents, this is another disappointing result for a team aspiring to attain promotion.  Another one.  On another day when we could’ve made up ground on some other teams at the top as a mixed bag of results elsewhere played out.

Indeed, on a night where we may have to reappraise our desire for automatic promotion and start hoping we can at least keep a foothold in the play-offs.  As it stands this evening, three points separates us in sixth place to seventh placed Burnley.  Seventh placed Burnley have two games in hand over us (which, as we know from bitter experience, does not necessarily equal full points!).

After today’s signing of Boyd, Billy opted to keep his new lad on the bench – and fielded what appears to be a team to try to play the Blades at their own game rather than play around them.  That’s not something we’ve proven particularly adept at in recent weeks, but benched were Raddy, Lewis and Earnie in favour of Dele, Goldie and McKenna in a line-up that looked a bit like this:

Camp
Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Konchesky
Cohen    McKenna
Anderson   Tudgay   McGoldrick
Adebola

Sort of.  As ever, formations vary – and to be honest, I’d describe ours as largely shapeless – but I’m second-guessing what the actual intention might have been.  It was a first half of few chances – a run from Anderson fed the ball to McGoldrick whose shot towards the top corner was just wide of the goal.

At the other end Sam Vokes teed up a shot for Daniel Bogdanovic lurking around the penalty spot which brought a save from Lee Camp.  The Reds spurned an opportunity when Dele won the ball in midfield, setting up a chance for McGoldrick who shot wide from the edge of the area.  They almost stung us with a good move down the right, Lowton crossing to Vokes who shot but was denied by Camp.

Meanwhile Tudgay became the latest Reds player to fail to hit the target – having chesting the ball down, controlling awkwardly and missing the target from 20 yards.  Then commenced the customary Brammal Lane hoof ball session which resulting in neither team creating much – ultimately the stalemate of frustration was broken by a home shot on target, but it was an easy save.

It was the Reds to take the lead, though – Paul McKenna made a good run down the right, fed it to Anderson whose cross found Dele with his back to goal, but the big striker managed to turn and shoot from six yards putting it under Steve Simonsen to give Forest the lead after 42 minutes.  Little of note occurred before half time, which left the Reds in a good position – 1-0 up and feeling rather chirpy.

We could’ve been chirpier still moments into the second half, a drilled cross by Chris Cohen was almost turned into his own net by Neill Collins, but fortunately for the defenders’ blushes it ended up just wide of the post.  A freekick for a foul on Cohen was struck tamely at Simonsen as the Reds struggled to try to build on their fragile one goal lead.

The home side started to get more into the match – Montgomery had an effort blocked by Wes, from the resulting corner Lowton connected with a header but put it over.  It looked like they would be back in it when Gunter brought down Bogdanovic in the area – the referee awarded a penalty which was taken by the fouled striker, but Camp made a smart dive to his left to prevent the goal.

A rare break for Forest saw Cohen get the ball through to McGoldrick who was a little too slow to pull the trigger to prevent Colins from diving infront of his shot to block it.  Kris Boyd was introduced for his Forest debut at the expense of goalscorer Dele Adebola, but it was to be a portent of ill-fortune for Forest, as minutes later we would concede the equaliser.

Lee Camp was quickly out to prevent Vokes doing damage from a Lowton cross, unfortunately it was a bit misjudged as the striker put the ball through his legs from six yards out to get the goal.  Bugger.  Billy withdrew McGoldrick in favour of McCleary to try to inject some creativity into the side – he soon put a decent ball in to the danger zone, but Montgomery was on hand to block it.

With ten minutes on the clock Sheffield United claimed what proved to be the winning goal – a disappointing one to conceded too.  A corner, a free header from six yards, a cracking header from Lowton into the top corner of the net.  A real kick in the proverbials, and worst of all eminently preventable by simply marking everyone at a set piece.  Very frustrating indeed.

Whilst Forest laboured to get back into it, and Boyd had one chance parried away by Simonsen, but ultimately the painfully familiar scenario of us trying to force a late chance resulted in the typical end-product we’re used to seeing.  Or rather, it didn’t result in an end-product, and of course that means we didn’t get the equaliser, and we lose whilst Norwich win, Swansea and Cardiff draw and ominously Burnley lurk below us, too close for comfort.

How fickle fate is treating us, from dreaming of perhaps pipping QPR atop the table we now find ourselves casting fearful glances over our shoulders at the chasing pack.  As many people point out, there’s usually a ‘drop out’ from the play-off picture, usurped by a surging run of form.  I must confess that, despite usually trying to be a positive character, I increasingly fear that ‘drop out’ will be us.

Certainly I’m not all doom and gloom at the moment, there’s still time to put things right but our run of results of late is undeniably concerning.  Particularly against ‘lowly’ teams (in league placing at least), which is why Saturday’s visit of Doncaster – you know, struggling-injury-ridden-Doncaster also has that increasingly familiar whiff of bananas about it.  Rotten bananas.

I can’t even eat bloody bananas now, I’m that fed up of slipping on the skins.

I hope Billy’s got a plan up his sleeve.  The very thing I love about this league, the competitiveness, the fact that anyone can beat anyone on their day, the number of teams still in contention to get promotion and all that jazz.  I’m starting to change my mind about it now, since we seem to be very much on the ‘being bitten on the arse’ end of these arrangements!