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.