Whoa, we’re half-way there..

Nottingham Forest – 5
Scunthorpe United – 1

We are so tantalisingly close to the play-offs.  So tantalisingly close.  I’ve seen a fair degree of chicken-counting already going on amongst Forest fans (why on earth were some singing about going to Wembley during the game today? why?!) – I’m not doing that just yet.  Sure, with a 3 point gap and a decent advantage on the goal difference over Leeds it looks tempting, but well, it’s not mathematical just yet.

But once the Scunthorpe resistance collapsed in the second half today was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, marred by an over-zealous piece of officiating seeing Robert Earnshaw picking up a second booking for the heinous crime of taking a free-kick too quickly.  It’s just a one game ban though, so the Welsh striker will be back for any potential play-off appearance we might make.

Billy opted to throw in a few curve-balls into his team selection again to defy prediction, Moloney’s recent cameos in the side came to an end with Gunts returning, and McGoldrick was afforded a starting berth:

Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Konchesky
McKenna    Cohen    McGoldrick    McGugan
Earnshaw    Boyd

First things first was confirmation that Luke Chambers won player of the year from the supporters – a great accolade.  Personally I’d have put him second behind Lewis McGugan – but it’s clear that Chambo has had an excellent season, and capped off the home league campaign in style today with two goals for the Reds.

Forest did have the early pressure, but it was the visitors – resplendent in a truly horrible away kit – who had the first shot on goal, a shot from Duffy bringing a save from Camp and winning the away side the corner.  However, we took the lead when Earnshaw wisely ignored a throughball (for he was offside) leaving it for Boyd to run onto clear of the defence, and finish confidently past the onrushing Joe Murphy.

It was nearly two moments later, a cross from Gunter found Earnie whose effort was good, but Murphy was equal to it and made the save.  A little after a very uncharacteristic long range shot from Gunter looked goal-bound but for more good work from Murphy to keep it out.  We didn’t need to wait for too long though.

A Chris Cohen corner was perfectly flighted to find Luke Chambers on the six yard line, he planted a header goalward, which was headed off the line by Sam Togwell.  Certainly it looked to me to have crossed the line, and the linesman infront of A-Block agreed and indicated to the referee – there wasn’t much complaint from the away side.  Two nil, and at this point cruising.

Of course, when we look to be cruising that’s when we make things difficult for ourselves – and we started to let Scunthorpe have much more of the play.  Ramon Nunez – on loan from Leeds – was catching the eye, with a lobbed effort from 20 yards which had Camp uncomfortable and tipping over.  Moments later a poor back header from Konchesky almost let Grant in, but Camp was able to make a save.

The Scunthorpe pressure did pay off, Nunez had the ball and it appeared to me lost out in a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge with Gunter just outside the area – the referee deemed this not only a foul, but in the area too.  I wasn’t that well-placed though so the replay will be interesting, particularly since I’m convinced that Lewis McGugan most definitely was felled in the area earlier.

Anyway, I digress, Michael O’Connor stepped up to take the penalty and coolly blasted it into the top corner giving Camp absolutely no chance at all of making the save.  The remainder of the half was scrappy, with no real opportunities either way aside from a wayward cross almost wrong-footing Murphy but he was able to recover and clear.

Earnie went shoulder-to-shoulder with a Scunthorpe defender and was predictably out-muscled – it looked like a soft penalty shout to me (no more so than the one given to Scunthorpe, though!), but Earnie seemed to think otherwise and had some kind of ‘afters’ with the defender in question.  I’d watched the ball so didn’t see the specifics, but the referee booked him under considerable protest from the Scunthorpe players.

So, half time – what had looked routine was becoming more laboured, but it was certainly heartening to hear news filtering through that Millwall were a goal down against Swansea.  Unusually Billy made two half-time changes, taking off McGoldrick and McKenna and putting on surprise substitute Anderson and Moussi.  Ando recovered from two cracked ribs and a 20% collapsed lung thanks to Dirty Leeds.

Ando certainly looked lively too – he had netted within a couple of minutes!  McGugan struck a free-kick well into the box, Anderson was at the near post and initially tried an amusing attempt at a header, but was granted a second chance when the ball fell kindly for him to smash firmly into the net from a tight angle to restore the two-goal cushion.

From our point of view the game certainly picked up as we looked more positive – although we also looked susceptible to losing the ball carelessly too.  A cynical hack on Cohen after good work on the edge of the area (frustratingly as he was on his way out of the area!) saw us with a freekick.  Earnie claimed it and dipped one just under the bar but Murphy was equal to it and tipped it over.

Lewis was withdrawn, presumably to make sure our talisman remains fit and well, and Julian Bennett was introduced to a warm welcome from the Forest fans.  It was nice to see him back.  Konchesky moved to a more advanced role, with Bennett slotting in at left-back.  He was immediately swashbuckling down the left and won a freekick down the left.

Cohen delivered this to the far post where Chambers was on hand to bundle the ball over the line for his second goal of the game, and Forest’s fourth.  Another freekick to the Reds came with two minutes on the clock, the referee was faffing with the Scunthorpe wall and Earnshaw took the kick, putting the ball in the net, but the referee took umbrage and booked him for the second time, followed of course by the red card.

This was poor refereeing in my book.  Earlier in the game freekicks had been called back for being taken too quickly but without bookings, similarly the referee had booked one Scunny player for getting in the way of a freekick, then let another off the same offence later.  It’s the inconsistency that frustrates even though the referee was probably acting technically within the rules.

Anyway, once the furore had died down it was Kris Boyd who purposefully claimed the ball and smashed it through the wall and into the net to give us a fifth goal.  After a wait the squad and coaching team came out to do a quick lap to show appreciation to the fans and vice versa, always nice, and finally Billy took the mic from Mark Dennison to share a few cliches.

Millwall of course ended up losing 2-0, meaning only Leeds can catch us in sixth place, if they win at QPR next week and we lose at Palace, with a combined goal-difference swing of 6.  That’s quite a lot.  But it’s most definitely not ‘job done’ just yet.  Both Palace and QPR are playing for nothing next week, so will play without pressure or fear.  We of course could still nick fifth place.

Forest vs. Scunthorpe United preview..

So here we go, as the season draws to a close the Reds are unfeasibly still in contention for a play-off position.  Currently we sit in sixth place, our fate is our own – and we must contemplate the visit of almost-certainly-relegated-but-with-a-ridiculously-small-chance-of-survival Scunthorpe United.  You’ll remember them, they were the team we lost one of our ‘easy’ games in hand against!

A win against the Iron would give us three welcome wins on the bounce, and depending on how results go elsewhere it could actually see us secure a place in the top six.  Leeds vs Burnley is the early kick-off, where a draw would probably be best, a Leeds win at a push, whilst Millwall host Swansea – I think on balance a Swansea win would be best.

As noted before, with two games left to play Scunthorpe are six points adrift of safety, and with a ludicrously poor goal difference compared to Donny who are currently sitting fourth from bottom.  Whilst there’s no condemning ‘R’ next to them on the league table, in reality, they are already down – technically they have nothing to play for, much like our next opponents Palace won’t have next weekend.

Forest decided to enhance ticket sales for this last game by slashing prices, and it seems to have done the trick if tales of ticket sales are true.  So hopefully a big crowd will get behind the lads and cheer them on to victory.  It seems unlikely that too many fans from Scunny will make the trip, which is understandable given their circumstances.

Tys remains a doubt with his thigh strain, whilst we remain without longer term injuries for the likes of Anderson, Blackstock, Lynch and Wilson.  This is the last game in which Paul Konchesky is eligible to play for the Reds – so hopefully Lynchy can get himself sorted in time for next week (I don’t want to mention the p-word again just yet!).

Scunny will be without a familiar face to us – Joe Garner’s done well for them during his loan spell.  He’s notched six goals for the strugglers at Glanford Park.  They also have doubts surrounding Josh Wright, Andy Hughes and Matt Godden.  Reading their website, their manager seems pretty defeatist, which could of course lead to a team playing without fear or pressure.

We’ve picked up three wins and two defeats in our last five games – whilst Scunny have two wins, a draw and two defeats.  That said, one of those wins was a rather eye-catching 4-1 victory over champions-elect QPR (having just been tonked 6-0 by Norwich too!).  Scunny of course have had the better of us already this season, triumphing 1-0 at Glanford Park in February despite the Reds creating and spurning a myriad of chances!

Let’s face it, on paper this should be a win.  But it’s never that simple, is it?  A bumper crowd, pressure, plenty at stake versus a side that have already come to terms with their fate, with a nominal crowd, with no pressure at all.  It would certainly be foolhardy to write them off, particularly as injuries or niggles might give fringe players an opportunity to impress.

Having said that, we should have enough about us to overcome this – and I would hope that Billy will be stamping out any kind of complacency.  In an ideal world, we don’t want to have to have a trip to Selhurst Park on the final day – whether they have anything to play for or not – desperately needing to rack up points and/or goals.  Let’s go for the win, boys.  And really go for it.

I can’t take many more afternoons like that..

Lee Camp leads the lads in a rendition of the haka..

Bristol City – 2
Nottingham Forest – 3

A real emotional roller-coaster is the life of the Forest fan – what looked to be an uncharacteristically comfortable victory was cast into considerable doubt after the home side’s revival after half time, only for a winner to arrive thanks to a looping header from Luke Chambers resulting in a tense final twenty minutes until the game was over.

With results elsewhere very favourable to our cause it’s given us a little daylight between us and the chasing pack.  Millwall and Burnley have both overtaken Leeds, who lost to Palace, and sit two points beneath us.  Sitting-on-laurels time it most certainly isn’t – although with results as they occurred, both our remaining opponents almost certainly have nothing left to play for.

Scunthorpe United now require two wins and an 18 goal difference swing to escape an all-but certain fate of relegation, where both Doncaster and final day opponent Crystal Palace could technically replace them in the drop zone.  The upshot is that both teams we have left to play have nothing left to gain or lose this campaign – I’m undecided whether it’s a good thing or not.

So, on to our game.  Billy made a couple of changes – taking Gunter back to the bench in place of Konchesky, with Kris Boyd coming in at the expense of Marcus Tudgay up front to partner Earnshaw:

Moloney   Morgan   Chambers    Konchesky
McKenna   Moussi    McGugan   Cohen
Earnshaw   Boyd

It was right from the off that the Reds broke the deadlock – or the whites I suppose, resplendent as we were in our white away kit.  A McGugan free-kick from 32 yards was well-struck, but spilled by David James, with Kris Boyd on his toes for the rebound and he sprung to power the ball into the net from close range to give us the lead.

In customary fashion Forest immediately attempted to gift the side we’d scored against an equaliser, Morgan the perpetrator as he gave the ball away to Jonathan Stead who thankfully for us missed the target.  After this wobble, Forest did actually look pretty good going forward.  A decent ball from McGugan found Earnie whose shot from 20 odd yards was blocked for a corner.

At our end we were under threat from Clarkson from a tight angle – Big Wes got himself in the way of it and eventually Konchesky got it clear.  The home side continued to threaten though, and if it weren’t for a fantastic challenge in the area by Cohen then Jonathan Stead would’ve had an excellent opportunity to make up for his earlier miss.

Half-time approached and the game slowed, until Louis Carey felled McGugan in the box as the midfielder took the ball past him.  Both Lewis and Boyd went to grab the ball, Boyd arriving first and staking his claim – before calmly stepping up and slotting the ball powerfully past David James for his – and our – second goal of the game pretty much on the stroke of half time.

The great thing about scoring on the stroke of half-time is that we can’t immediately gift our opponents a goal.  Or can we?  Well, it would appear we can, because a mere three minutes into the second half and we’d conceded a Marvin Elliott header at the back post after more Keystone Cop style defending putting the team and fans alike on edge.

At the other end Lewis struck a free-kick just wide, but Bristol City were to have more bite post half-time.  On the hour it was all level when Spence was given all the time in the world to pick out Stead with a cross, Stead’s header looked to have wrong-footed Camp who got something on it but couldn’t keep it out.

Billy made an uncharacteristically early substitution in response – Boyd was withdrawn and denied his chance of a hat-trick and replaced with Robbie Findley, and shortly after were back in the lead.  Certainly Findley is proving a lucky omen – taking to the pitch when level and ensuring we end up winning 3-2, that’s not a bad omen to have!

The goal came from a Lewis McGugan corner, he’s not been picking out Chambers of late – but this time he did, and the number four caught it very well, looping it into the top corner despite the defender on the line who looked like he might’ve headed it into the roof of the net.  Right infront of the Forest fans too, this inevitably caused absolute pandemonium.

It really opened up as a contest – Campbell-Ryce caused Moloney a bit of a headache, but the defender bested him at the expense of a corner before being withdrawn by Billy with Gunter coming on to replace him.  Soon after McGugan – who appeared to be carrying a knock – was withdrawn for Julian Bennett, with Konchesky pushing forward into midfield.

A Chambers challenge set up a promising position for the Reds, getting the ball to Findley who played a lovely ball across to Earnie who put his header off target.  Again the trinity of Chambers-Findley-Earnshaw combined and with the same result – Chambo’s tackle on Campbell-Ryce was excellent, Findley’s lobbed through ball delicious, Earnie’s rushed lob not only cleared David James, but the crossbar too.  Disappointing.

There was almost the what increasingly feels like an inevitable sting in the tail when Brett Pitman had an excellent opportunity only to end up volleying wide.  It seemed worse in stoppage time when the ball ended up in the back of the net for Bristol, but fortunately the referee was alert enough to have noticed the rather blatant hand-ball by Marlon Jackson, and booked him accordingly.

It was us that had the final chance, Konch did well to beat his man and pulled the ball back for Earnie who again was in a good position, but again his finish let him down allowing McAllister to clear off the line.  The game ended with pressure from the home side but no direct chances, so a tense finish ending with apocalyptic style celebrations from fans and players alike!

The least said about the idiot Bristol pitch invader the better – but I’d better at least mention him I suppose.  Silly lad.

All in all, a very timely and exceedingly welcome result – the continued leakiness at the back worries me immensely, although at this stage results certainly count more than performances, the last thing that we want leading into a potential play-off lottery is a leaky defence, as we’ve seen in our last two ‘performances’ in that particular tournament.

I’m very pleased though, and I’m looking forward to hopefully an opportunity to try to consolidate things at home against Scunthorpe.  Those of you umming and aahing about coming, come down and let’s generate a great atmosphere at the ground, I can’t imagine too many Scunny fans will be making the trip, let’s spur our lads on to victory.

Bristol City vs. Forest preview..

A tricky trip for sure – even though City have literally nothing to play for, the pressure is well and truly on the Reds.  Leeds and Burnley sit beneath us merely on goal difference, Millwall lurking only a couple of points behind.  Pressure.  Not something that Forest have typically been adept at dealing with.

Whilst we can of course only take care of our own results, it will difficult not to have half an eye on how our rivals are getting on.  Leeds travel to hopefully-fighting-for-their-lives Crystal Palace, Burnley host playing-for-nothing-Portsmouth whilst Millwall travel to fighting-for-survival Scunthorpe away.  Hull bringing up the rear travel to QPR who could secure promotion.

The latest random training injury is to Nathan Tyson, it’s his hip this time.  We do have Paul Konchesky available again following his suspension, so whether Billy opts to reintroduce him or stick with a back line we may have to rely on in the play-offs remains to be seen (Konch’s loan expires before the play-offs and can’t be extended).  Longer term injuries remain with Blackstock, Wilson, Anderson and Lynch unavailable.

Our hosts will be without a key player, after Nicky Maynard picked up a straight red card in their last game against Sheffield United – effectively ending his season through suspension.  Certainly this is good news for us, he’s a dangerous threat to goal, and in a game where not only our target must be to win, but to do so by trying to stretch our goal difference as much as we can, them missing a goal threat is a good thing!

Earlier in the season a Luke Chambers header was enough to separate us at City at the City Ground, but – I’ll tell you what – we haven’t half drawn a lot of games at Ashton Gate of late.  Whilst it’s premature to say a draw wouldn’t really be good enough, it wouldn’t, would it?  Then we must consider our recent form away from the City Ground.  Oh dear.

Approach this game positively and take our opportunities ruthlessly and we should be able to register a win, but we’ve struggled to do either of those things lately.  Whilst Bristol City might have nothing to play for, but pride isn’t to under-estimated and they’ll be eager enough to put a big spanner in our play-off hopes – so we need to tighten up at the back too after leaking two soft goals against Leicester.

I reckon we can get a win here, controversially given my usually gloomy outlook.  However, I can also see Leeds getting a win at Palace, and Burnley getting a win against Portsmouth – so maybe I’m just extrapolating what needs to be true to keep our play-off spot.  It’s going to be one of those stressful days, isn’t it?

A Weale-y good result!

The reds celebrate Paul McKenna's late winner

Nottingham Forest – 3
Leicester City – 2

Phew. That was close wasn’t it? A real ebb-and-flow game between two teams who looked largely like average Championship teams was decided when Paul McKenna’s fairly tame volley from just inside the box snuck it’s way under Weale (huh, huh, under wheel? geddit? pah!) to give the Reds the win.  A nice first appearance from Robbie Findley, too, which was a brucey bonus.

As I got to the ground a little early, it struck me the number of anti-Forest shirt printings amongst the away contingent.  A few anti-Derby ones too.  It’s quite touching.  It got me thinking – they’re obsessed with us.  They align ’emselves to fox hunting with that bugle-nonsense before matches – where they don red coats (and hunt with dogs – a nod to red dogs?).

Their cheese of note is called red Leicester, their service station on the M1 is called Leicester Forest East.  Hell, even their most famous export is named after one of our most famous number fours, one who was certainly a match for Lineker, who peddles them on TV.  It was quite amusing the hear Forest fans underline that we really only have eyes for the Sheep bothering ones this afternoon.

After the game too, caught in traffic near Meadow Lane there was a scrawny looking Leicester fan in handcuffs, whilst a crowd were being kettled by the police shouting vile things about Brian Clough at the queueing traffic.  Also singing a lot about shitting on the Red side of the Trent – assuming that’s south, that’s kind of inevitable when you live south of Nottingham you silly folk!

Anyhow, I digress before I get started!  I couldn’t decide before the game whether Billy’s selection was overly cautious or not, it looked something like this, with Paul McKenna as the most unlikely of right-wingers… McGugan played with quite a bit of freedom though and Tudgay spent a fair chunk of time back in midfield…

Moloney    Morgan    Chambers    Gunter
McKenna    Moussi    McGugan    Cohen
Tudgay    Earnshaw 

Leicester won the toss and elected to swap ends, to give us the sun to play into, meaning that Lee Camp opted to try to find some empathy with the away end by donning a baseball cap for the half.  He was active early doors diving quickly at the feet of Kamara before he was able to get a shot away and gathering the ball.

An initially dangerous looking run from Yakubu ended comically when the striker ended up just falling over for no apparent reason after running at a couple of defenders.  Forest slowly got into the game, the ball was knocked in towards Tudgay who chested it on to Lewis McGugan whose volley was comfortably over the bar.

McGugan turned provider on the fifteenth minute though, and it was a stunning cross from the right hand side, it was perfectly flighted for Tudgay to meet with his head and direct his header sublimely into the bottom corner of the net.  A lovely goal, would like to see a replay very much indeed!  It wasn’t a particularly powerful header from memory but the placement from Tuds made it a tough ask for Weale to save.

As Forest tend to do though, we didn’t cling on to a lead for very long – Moussi, very much in ‘headless chicken’ mode in the first half – he gave the ball away badly in midfield, managed to get back to the line to clear away a cross from Naughton, but it fell straight to Oakley, with nobody closing down he struck it hard and low, Camp got a strong hand to it, but could only palm it into the net.

Fox tails were almost certainly up, and it livened up the visiting fans to boot – Paul Gallagher and Ben Mee threatened down the left but the latter’s ultimate effort – whilst on target – wasn’t particularly tricky for Camp to deal with.  McGugan remained our only real tangible catalyst, a good turn and cross, but nobody on the end of it from the midfielder, allowing Weale to gather safely.

The half ground on very much in the mould of the first half against Burnley – two very average looking teams taking turns to give the ball away a lot really, and showing perhaps why their recent form has been fairly indifferent.  Half time certainly came as a relief to hope that Billy could inject a bit more urgency into the boys, as well as the chance to try to wake ourselves up a bit with a chat!

Forest had a good opportunity early in the second half, McKenna perhaps delayed for too long in releasing Earnie – he sent him too wide in the area, so whilst the striker got a reasonable shot in it wasn’t much of a save for Weale to make.  Hold that thought, though, of course – the Leicester keeper ultimately would decide the match by failing to make an even easier save late on!

Just as the boredom of the first half threatened to continue though, there was interest on the Forest bench as it looked like we might get our first sight of Robbie Findley.  That was consigned to the memory quickly, though – because McGugan had wriggled his way round a couple of defenders and hit a piledriver towards goal, Weale could only parry and Earnie was well placed to drill the rebound into the net.

Findley returned to the bench, whilst Forest did what they seem prone to and let in another goal.  At the time I didn’t really see what the freekick awarded was for, the Trent End seemed quite annoyed by it, but sure enough it was taken quickly, Camp flapped it out to Vassell who made no mistake from close range.  Disappointing!

This changed Billy’s thinking again on the tactical front, he opted instead of his original plan to introduce Kris Boyd for Tudgay, and only a few minutes later bringing on Findley for the hard-working Robbie Earnshaw.  Findley got a great reception from the Forest fans including the slightly cringeworthy but appropriately welcoming cries of ‘U-S-A! U-S-A!’

He was immediately in the thick of it too, racing onto a loose ball with Weale coming out of the Leicester goal, he got there first but couldn’t find the target – it could’ve been one hell of a start to his Forest career!   Rather than the fairytale debut storyline we’d been hoping for though, the winning goal would come from a more unexpected source.

A high ball in to the area was flicked on by Boyd, finding McKenna lurking at the edge of the penalty area – he didn’t exactly catch the volley with much power (understatement!!), which seemed to have caught Weale unawares as he let the ball agonisingly squirm under him at the near post, and remain prone on the floor, clearly gutted!

Forest actually managed to keep the ball in the corners and do reasonably well at it, much as I hate it.  A late injury to McGugan didn’t seem too bad as he walked off to be replaced by David McGoldrick – with little else to report, all in all, a cracking result if not a cracking performance – but good signs of resilience.

Of course, elsewhere today Reading travelled to Leeds – whilst they couldn’t get the win we wanted, by snagging a point it does allow us to retain the sixth place in the table we ascended to today.  On goal difference.  Goal difference of one.  It’s as tight as the proverbial gnat’s chuff!  Certainly Leeds’ remaining games will be of big interest to us as our own.

Some cracking action photos of the match courtesy of the (spit! sorry) Daily Mail.

Forest vs. Leicester City preview..

Another Friday night game, another late preview.  An opportunity for the Reds to steal a march on Leeds – a win would put us back in the play-off places, with Leeds to play in-form Reading later in the evening.  Of course, that requires us getting a win – and that’s not something that’s not going to be something the Foxes will want to hand over too easily to us.

The latest East Midlands team the Swedish Leech has involved himself with are only five points adrift of the play-offs themselves, and will certainly be looking to avoid any further slip-ups to keep that aspiration alive.  Their unpredictable results of late make the pessimist in me fear one of their good days rather than a bad one.

On the team front the welcome return of Chris Cohen following his suspension, a welcome return indeed to give our midfield its’ engine back.  Of course, as one door opens, another closes – we lose Paul Konchesky to suspension after he picked up two bookings against Norwich last week.  With Lynch and Bennett potentially injured I’m expecting to see Gunts or Moloney covering left back.

Boyd has recovered from his ankle injury sustained at Norwich, whilst Robbie Findley is a possibility having completed a week of training, although in the pre-match press conference Ned Kelly suggested he was some way off being ready (leading to inevitable speculation as to why Billy wasn’t there after further snipes at the board on Sky last week).

That leaves longer term injury victims Blackstock, Anderson and Wilson unavailable to us.  Leicester have cult hero Bamba missing after injuring his hamstring last week against Reading.  Their form has been indifferent of late, but then, ours has been something approximating horse-shit, so it’s a pretty unpredictable game with plenty at stake for both sides.

There’s likely to be a decent following from Leicester to cheer them on too, which should hopefully stir the home crowd into a decent performance too.  On the pitch certainly we owe Leicester a solid game, having put in a thoroughly disappointing shift at the Walkers Stadium – deservedly losing to a solitary Andy King strike.  Again with Sky cameras present.

To compound the supposed curse of Sky cameras (which of course, we use to suit our purposes – Sky were there when we beat West Brom so convincingly afterall!), there’s the small matter of the referee for the game being Mark ‘OMG I must send a Forest player off! LOLZ‘ Clattenberg is refereeing the match.  So at least we’ll know who will be centre of attention, aside from Sven.

I’m finding this one too tough to call – both sides have players capable of inflicting damage on the other, but equally both have struggled to find form of late.  Given our recent record I’m tempted to predict disappointment.  Both sides really need a win retain much hope of snagging a play-off spot, and my concern is that when the chips are down like this, Forest tend to fold.

Oh, and apparently we turned down a £5m bid from Arsenal for one of our youth team centrebacks.  What the hell?!

Ruddy hell!

Poor defending costs the Reds the lead...

Norwich City – 2
Nottingham Forest – 1

The Reds couldn’t perform the unexpected and get anything out of Carrow Road, with Norwich overcoming the early fluke opener from Tyson to score two – the first inevitably by Grant Holt – and hold on to maintain their leading position.

In many ways this game was a microcosm of Forest’s season – the Reds played okay, they created opportunities – but, crucially, they didn’t take them.  It’s a familiar tale!  Whilst Norwich created slightly fewer chances but buried two, indeed, three – one was, as it turns out, wrongly chalked off for offside.

Both sides took to the field donning black armbands as a mark of respect to the victims of the Hillsborough Disaster, which unfolded of course 22 years ago on the 15th April.  As for the line-up, Billy continues to surprise us with his selections, and he went something like this – with the usual midfield fluidity (or disorganisation? 😉 )

Moloney    Morgan    Morgan    Konchesky
Boyd    Tyson

The Reds started really positively, taking the game to Norwich and really early it bore fruit with a really surreal goal.  Tyson got away from Whitbread and closed down John Ruddy quickly, who I thought ought to be picking the ball up (having subsequently seen the replay I can sort of see why he didn’t).  Instead he spannered the ball against Tys which ricocheted into the net.

Norwich answered pretty quickly though, and of course it was Grant Holt.  A freekick was whipped in by David Fox, as it crossed the six yard area I don’t think it unreasonable to consider why Lee Camp stayed rooted to his line rather than claim it, and you can definitely put big question marks over Guy Moussi’s dealing with Holt.  He basically made a steady base for him to maintain his leap.

Forest continued to labour forward though, and did create opportunities – Lewis had a chance for the spectacular, after Kris Boyd was bundled over but he could only put the ball over.  At the other end Surman was looking dangerous and had one chance from the edge of the box which he put wide.

Great work from Lewis McGugan down the left saw him wriggle past a couple of defenders and burst into the box at a tight angle, he powered it goalward and a combination of Ruddy and a goal-line clearance from Whitbread got it clear.  Meanwhile Norwich exploited the Reds shambolic defensive line when Hoolahan played Simeon Jackson through, fortunately Camp was alert enough to make the save.

A lovely move from Forest saw McGugan beat his man in the box, shape to shoot but instead pull the ball back for Moussi.  Moussi’s effort looked for all the world to give us the lead back but guttingly came back off the post with the goalkeeper beaten.  In the meantime Boyd appeared to have fallen awkwardly on his ankle, but he pushed on regardless.

I forget the exact running order of events, but I’m sure it was around this point that Norwich had a goal disallowed.  Simeon Jackson timed his run – it turns out – to perfection, picks up a throughball and finishes well into the bottom corner of the net.  For us the saving sight of the linesman’s flag to redeem us and keep the game equal.  Having seen it now a few times it was a very close call, but he was onside.

They were quick to get over that disappointment and get one that counted though.  Moussi again a little culpable – it looked like he’d left his man for Moloney, who had stepped elsewhere.  That man was Surman, who found himself in a wonderful position to receive the ball from Jackson, bear down on the advancing Camp and lift the ball over him and into the net.

Forest continued to attack too though, Tyson took the ball down the left and crossed towards Moussi, but Tierney was on hand to block the opportunity.  An opportunistic long ball almost found McGoldrick who couldn’t control it ending up well wide.  Boyd was struggling and as half time drew to a close he was replaced by Tudgay.

The second half saw Norwich in much more dangerous looking mood – Surman again had the beating of Moussi  but his shot was off-target, the impressive Jackson had an effort well cleared by Camp.  McGugan again was providing our creative outlet, he found McGoldrick again whose efort from 20 yards went well wide.

With only four minutes gone in the half the clearly-struggling Moussi was withdrawn for Chris Gunter to play in midfield, and try to marshall Surman a little more effectively.  It sort of worked, it seemed to stablise us somewhat and eventually we did manage to start to put some pressure on the home side.

Norwich reverted as the game wore on to a more defensive position, content to hit us on the break – understandably.  A cross in from Konchesky caused some confusion in the box, the ball fell for Tys who had more time than he realised – he snatched at the opportunity and predictably spannered it over and wide when he really should’ve done better.

That was to be Tyson’s last action, he was withdrawn moments later for former-Canary Robbie Earnshaw with a little over a quarter of an hour left on the clock.  Norwich started to press again though, and only a late intervention from McKenna prevented Holt from getting a close-range shot it.  At the other end a quick break culminated with a Gunter strike which fizzed just wide.

Late on McKenna crossed into the box but Earnie couldn’t find enough wriggle room in the crowded Norwich area to get a shot away, whilst we had Konch sent off, he’d been booked earlier for complaining too much to the linesman after Norwich’s second goal, and subsequently hacked down a home player giving the referee little choice but to issue the second booking.

There was a lot of stoppage time, and Forest ‘enjoyed’ a lot of possession, but threatened very little.  A frustrating evening, Forest made a good account of themselves – particularly in the first half – but our lack of killer-instinct infront of goal is alarming at times, whilst we must take our hats off to Norwich who took their chances especially well.

Now our fates are likely to be somewhat unrelated personally I’d like to see them hold on to that second spot rather than see Cardiff get it, whilst we must renew our energies into trying to usurp Leeds into a play-off spot, starting with the visit of the latest East Midlands Sven Circus on Friday.

Norwich City vs. Forest preview..

Whilst a win against Burnley has restored some faith and confidence, Norwich is probably high on the least preferable places for us to be on Friday night.  I’m not being mean about the place, of course – a lovely city, miles away and shunted from its’ more convenient weekend slot for the benefit of Sky TV cameras.  More that Norwich have had a fantastic season and they’ll be bloody tough for us to get anything out of!

A defeat at Swansea followed by a draw with Watford has seen the Canaries drop from the automatic promotion spot they were inhabiting at the expense of Cardiff City.  They’ll be very keen to halt this blip in form and renew their assault on the top two – or, could it be that like other sides that have ascended to beneath QPR this season they are on the beginning of a tricky run of results that might see their promotion bid wane?  We can but hope so, I suppose.

For us there needs to be more evidence from the team of any kind of revival, a not-exactly-easy win over Burnley who contested most of the game with ten men doesn’t exactly paper of the cracks of the previous nine games without a victory.  Our last three away games have all ended in defeat.  A win for Norwich would put them back second, at least for a day, a win for us would see us catch Leeds – again, for one day only potentially – a draw would put us ahead of the Yorkshire team thanks to our goal difference.

Former Forest striker (or right winger, in his latter time with us – SIGH) Grant Holt is an injury doubt for the Canaries having picked up a hamstring injury.  He’s been somewhat of a talisman for them, and is their club captain too – whilst I wouldn’t wish injury on anyone, it would be useful for us if he’s either not fully fit or unavailable.  He’s having a cracking season on the goalscoring front, and I’m sure would like nothing better than to put the ball past us!

The Reds are without Chris Cohen for the final game of his suspension – with McKenna and Moussi getting back into their stride that’s not so much of an emergency now, I would expect to see Konchesky remain at left back – I’ve heard no news over Joel Lynch’s injury, nor the injury that kept Nathan Tyson out against Burnley.  Billy has been busy hinting over Robbie Findley’s return to training – I imagine a starting berth is too soon, but he may make the bench.

Whether the late brace from David McGoldrick coming on as a substitute warrants a starting place remains to be seen, Billy might also choose Boyd over other striking options – Boyd was ready to enter the pitch on Tuesday when a cramp for Moloney meant Gunter coming on instead.  I’d expect to see Gunter return to the side also – and hopefully Robbie Earnshaw can feature and prove deadly against his old club.

So how’s this one going to go?  It’s a tough ask to get anything out of Carrow Road – we’ve yet to score more than two goals away from home – and have been worrying at defending, although I do ascribe this to the lightweightedness of our midfield with Cohen, Moussi and McKenna having been missing – with two of those in contention I would hope that we will put up a more credible defence.

We’ve already drawn more games than any side in the Championship this season, but I’d be happy to chalk up another one tomorrow evening – a win would make me ecstatic.  Hopefully we can take a leaf from Swansea’s book – although we don’t really have the personnel to replicate their attacking focus which tends to be from the wings.  I do have a sneaky optimistic hope that we might exacerbate a bit of a blip for the Norwich, but that does seem to grate with my more rational thinking!

In memory of Billy Gray..

It was only back in December that I was reflecting on the FA Cup final in 1959.  I’m too young to have witnessed it in person, but had just watched what was a fantastic game on DVD.  If you didn’t the first time around I’d throughly recommend doing so yourself, it’s a stark reminder of the things about the game that have changed – some for the better, but much for the worst.  That 1959 Forest team were bloody good.

Only one member of that team now survives, Jeff Whitefoot contributed some moving words to the official site in tribute to his old team mate, Billy Gray, who passed away at the age of 83.  He joined Forest from yesterday’s opponents Burnley in 1957, and played 224 times for the Reds, netting 37 goals.  He returned to the club in the 1980s in the capacity of groundsman under no doubt close supervision from Brian Clough!

In the FA Cup run for which he and his teammates are best remembered, he scored five goals – including a vital one when there was an early threat of embarrassment for the Reds at the hands of Tooting & Mitcham.  His goal earned us a replay in the third round when it looked like an early exit was on the cards, and is firmly established in history as one of the most gifted players of his era.

Naturally heartfelt condolences to Billy’s family and friends – which I’m sure you’ll all share in offering.  A real Forest legend from an era that deserves to be remembered both fondly and proudly.  I’ll reiterate, watch that DVD and see how good we were – a fluid, skillful counter-attacking team that utterly dominated the final ’til Roy Dwight suffered a leg-break, leaving Forest with ten men for more than half of the game.

Even then, they still passed it around and tried to counter attack – it really is a joy to watch.

Rest in peace, Billy.

Back on track?..

Goldie: Matchwinner

Nottingham Forest – 2
Burnley – 0

Oof, for a considerable time this tie proved to be what the form table might suggest it would be.  The first half resembled a really slow brawl conducted by two men so inebriated they didn’t have the coordination to inflict any meaningful damage on one another.  To say I was a little bored would be an understatement.

From a Forest point of view the second half certainly improved – eventually you could actually tell which side was down to ten men after Bartley’s red card in the first half, and whilst Forest laboured ’til 73 minutes when substitute David McGoldrick broke the deadlock, there were a few more glimmers of hope in the build up.

Billy offered a few unexpected surprises in line-up, not least resting Gunts in favour of Moloney, the return of McKenna was bit of a surprise, but more so for me the inclusion of Moussi alongside him in midfield after he so obviously wilted latterly against Reading:

Moloney    Morgan    Chambers    Konchesky
McCleary    McKenna    Moussi    McGugan
Tudgay    Earnshaw

Before the game was a minute silence as a show of respect for Billy Gray, the recently deceased former Forest player who featured in the 1959 FA Cup win – I will take time later in the week to write more about him in due course.  The silence was immaculately observed by Forest and Burnley fans alike which is always good to see, and meant for a slightly delayed kick-off.

The first thirty minutes felt more like thirty years, both sides looked bereft of confidence and ideas, and struggled to keep hold of the ball for more than a couple of passes.  Burnley appeared to be set up to hit us on the break and/or go for a late run in the second half, whilst the Reds laboured to do something productive amidst groans from the crowd as passes went astray.

After the first half an hour suddenly chances on goal actually started to occur – the first fell to Burnley with a dodgy Wes clearance falling for Eagles, his shot looked to have fooled Camp who was forced into a good save with his legs diving the wrong way, the ball ending up over the bar at the expense of a corner.

Moments later might well have been the pivotal part of the game – it was hard to see what happened from my seat, but it appeared that Bartley went in stud-first on Chambers, and made considerable contact with him too – the defender was left down for a fair while whilst after the melee of angry players had subsided (perhaps a bit of an over-reaction?), the referee brandished the red card.

Forest’s first decent effort came soon after, a freekick from Lewis McGugan from an angle was smacked goalward-ish, but seemed to ricochet off Earnie and to safety.  As Burnley sat deeper it did offer the Reds more opportunity, a McGugan cross was heading for McCleary but for an interception from Duff giving the Reds their first corner of the match – on the 42 minute mark!

The final chance of the half was also from McGugan – a neat turn of his defender on the edge of the area opened up a shooting chance, his shot was reasonably well struck, but not with quite enough pace to beat the dive of Jensen who made a pretty comfortable save in the end.  A little more power and I think it might’ve slipped under him before he could hit the deck.

At half time we compared the beards we’d managed to grow and marvelled at how each of us had aged about a decade it seemed like we’d spent so long sitting there.  I exaggerate of course, but it was a half to forget for the most part probably from both fans’ perspective.  The hope was, of course, that we could make the extra man pay as the game wore on.

In truth, the second half started with more tempo – but in both directions.  A number of times we commented it was tricky to see where Forest were making the extra man count, indeed, without making the effort to count it was tricky to see which side was playing with a man less, such was Burnley’s workrate and Forest’s lack of creativity or mobility.

That said, there was more purpose than in the first half (not difficult!).  An early McGugan freekick was excellently struck toward Chambers who couldn’t quite get on the end of it, having to see it carry on and wide.  Lewis again was the architect, this time on the left where he beat his defender and crossed toward Moussi, but Jensengot there first.

The chance of the game so far came after – yes, him again – McGugan struck an excellent freekick from outside the box, Jensen made a cracking save, but parried the ball out to Earnshaw who appeared to be shoved as he headed it against the bar.  The referee waved away any appeals and, to be honest, even under attentions from a defender Earnie should be doing better there!

What looked like ‘one of those’ chipped passes forward from McKenna actually turned into a cracking ball to Earnie, who found himself clear of the last defender, but with the not inconsiderable hulk of Jensen closing him down – the big keeper did really well to smother the opportunity almost as soon as Earnshaw had the ball under control.

Burnley had opportunities too – Dean Marney had an effort from range which at least made Camp a bit uncomfortable, but he was able to dive and cover it relatively easily.  With the Reds still struggling to break down Burnley, Billy made a double-change with Raddy coming on for Moussi, and McGoldrick on for Tudgay.

An early foray down the right gave McGoldrick his first time on the ball, the second was put the ball in the net.  Lewis won a freekick after being cynically dragged back by a Burnley defender wide on the left, he took the freekick himself which deflected, falling for Goldie who swivelled and finished excellently to give the Reds the lead.

But for more excellent goalkeeping from Jensen it could’ve been two as well – McKenna found McGugan’s excellent run, which saw both him and Earnie against one defender, Lewis cleverly took it out wide and smashed a viciously swerving shot, alas it was a little too close to Jensen who made an impressive save.  Earnie was looking for the square ball, but to be honest I think Lewis was within his rights to have a pop.

Billy chose oddly to withdraw Brendan Moloney at this point to put Chris Gunter on, I thought the youngster (ha, I say youngster – I’m pretty sure he’s older than Gunts!) had had an excellent game and didn’t appear to be tiring.  He received a great ovation from the home crowd, and even a bit of a chant – which is nice, but harsh on many of the regular players who don’t have chants!

There were signs of calamity Forest at times, Burnley were increasingly gung-ho in their play as the game wore on, and we can be pretty susceptible to that at the best of times.  A late aerial assault culminated in Chris Iwelumo thankfully heading not quite over-Camp enough to prevent the Reds keeper catching it without falling back into the net!

The security of the second goal came in stoppage time – again McGugan was heavily involved down the right, he found Earnshaw on the left, who gave the ball to McGoldrick who put it into the top of the net from thirteen yards to secure the points, and hopefully secure some much-needed confidence for the games to come.


Spot the ball: Bartley goes in on Chambers, Eddie Howe things this is a tackle. Go figure.

As the scores elsewhere were confirmed (did anyone else feel dirty about cheering a Derby win?) it was a double-bonus, leaving us just a point away from the play-offs which certainly feels better than the four points adrift we found ourselves on Saturday.  Eddie Howe has kicked off about the red card so it will be interesting to see it again, as noted above, I couldn’t see it clearly.

Having said that, having been critical of a certain other red card lately I’ll reserve judgement – one thing I will say is that I was disappointed in the way some of the Forest players reacted (although they had a fine lesson in what that can achieve recently).  However, what is undeniable in this instance was that the ball was miles away and there was considerable contact from the player.  And Billy Davies stayed in his technical area.

A much needed win – hopefully a big confidence booster ahead of what is a very very tough trip to Norwich on Friday evening, once again where the TV cameras will be there to allow a nation to scrutinise our demise.  Or perhaps we might give the viewing public a surprise like we did all that time ago against West Brom.  Ah, how one of those performances would be welcome now!