It’s going to be a long lonely summer..

Billy Davies: tactician on and off the pitch..

It’s hard to ignore the rumours doing the rounds, and indeed, the deafening silence from the City Ground.  Not that I think the powers-that-be should address every bit of internet-generated tittle tattle that inevitably gushes forth come the end of the season (and that I’m now adding to), but well, it would be nice to hear something.

Whilst other clubs announce their retained and released lists at Forest fans turn to Twitter to hear of Nathan Tyson’s mysterious movements up and down the M1, to intuit all manner of things in Earnie’s decision to change his profile picture from him in a Forest shirt (whenever I’ve checked his profile before he’s generally not in a Forest shirt then, either!).

One cheeky tweet seems to have spiralled into an impressive rumour based on nothing around Billy Davies being in the frame for the West Ham job.  Whilst Wee Billy might well not be heading to the Hammers, the persistent speculation surrounding the manager and his relationship with the board does perhaps stem from something rather than pure muck-raking.

Whilst I like Billy as a manager, it’s clear the man is a self-server, and that’s not always a bad thing – he wants to achieve things.  He doesn’t necessarily burn with desire to achieve things for Forest, but if he happens to be able to reach those ambitions whilst in charge here then everyone’s a winner.  For whatever reason, there does seem to be an obstacle to that happening.

Bear in mind this is my own pondering, based on a mixture of conversations I’ve had, observations I’ve made and something approximating a scenario I’ve – well – intuited I suppose.  A theory.  I suppose I’m pouring fuel to the speculation fire, but to be honest, as much as I’ve resisted and enjoyed a bit of down time since the play-off disappointment, I can’t help but write something.

I do think that the Forest board would like to part company with Davies.  I don’t think Davies would be too sorry to part company with them, but not without his contract being paid up.  The Forest board won’t want to do that, I imagine if a club like West Ham did want to take him on and pay us compensation it would delight the board immeasurably!  I wonder if they fell for ‘the rumour’?

When Billy arrived the remit was to initially save us from relegation, and then to develop a credible Championship club with a reasonable amount of investment, but definitely built upon youth and developing players – not continuing to throw bucket-loads of cash at the squad repeatedly.  As we’ve undergone two seasons where we’ve fallen short of truly challenging for promotion, you can see a source of frustration.

It’s pretty easy to understand why Billy must want more cash to sign players, indeed, it’s even easy to see why some supporters might decree that our rich owner should get his hand in his pocket and back the manager.  It’s easy to spend other people’s money in fantasy land, isn’t it?  In my natural guise of fence-sitter I can also see the wisdom in not entrusting a pick pot of cash with the manager to do as he will with.

So if my pontificating is true, and we have a board and manager at loggerheads, then we are potentially in for a summer of discontent – and, indeed, a season of such too should there not be a parting of the ways.  With the likes of Tyson, Moussi, Adebola and Earnshaw out of contract, with Wilson already gone, with the likes of Lee Camp being linked with Premier League moves (again, seems outlandish to me), it’s difficult not to get a bit downhearted.

With the only communication coming from the club post-Swansea being positive future messages from manager and chairman alike, and of course the prices we are expected to pay for our season tickets next season (I’m quite happy with a VAT-only rise in truth), it leaves the floodgates for internet gobshites (and I include myself in that definition!) to speculate.

Hopefully we’re all going a bit stir-crazy post season and our hysterical theorising is wide of the mark – however, if the above hypothesis turns out to be near to the mark then we could be in for a frustrating time.  All the more so if my headline managed to embed the Jason Donovan song in your head as it did mine when I wrote it…

Come on Forest, speak to the fans.  How many of you have renewed your season tickets yet…?

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Tell me mam, me mam, I’ll have me tea after all..

Swansea City – 3
Nottingham Forest – 1

A frustrating evening – a cracking start, the woodwork rattled, penalty calls denied – all compounded by some clown defending and deadly finishing from our hosts.  An improbably comeback denied by a foolhardy decision by Lee Camp to go up for corners with too long remaining on the clock. The end result? A customary exit from the play-offs for Forest at the semi-final stage!

Unusually though we did go out with a bang rather than a whimper – which is some kind of scant relief and sign of progress.  We had chances, we fluffed them or went desperately close, and we had an absolutely shocking referee – I’m not going to dwell on him though.  Congratulations to Swansea City – we gave ’em a run for their money but ultimately they go to Wembley to face either Reading or Cardiff.

It’s pretty customary for Forest to serve up a game that’s good for the neutrals (or indeed, our opponents) in the play-offs, and this was no exception.  Billy mixed things up to a level that even I wasn’t expecting – recalling the Moose, McGoldrick, Tudgay and Tyson into an unusual looking line-up:

Camp
Moloney    Morgan    Chambers    Gunter
Moussi
McGugan    Cohen
McGoldrick
Tudgay   Tyson

And you know what, it looked like a blinding move early doors – although it was the hosts who threatened first with danger man Nathan Dyer having an early effort that Wes Morgan put a block on.  The rebound found Borini who was blocked in turn by Chambers.  A great counter attack from Forest gave the first indication that this wasn’t quite going to be Forest’s night.

Tys used his pace to blast down the right wing and beat his fullback, teeing up the ball into the centre for McGoldrick who’d made up a tremendous amount of ground too – he left-footed strike was pretty powerful and had the beating of De Vries, but rose a little too much and struck the crossbar.  It would have been one hell of a start from the Reds.

It was starting as a real end-to-end game – at the other end Scott Sinclair couldn’t seem to make his mind up between crossing and shooting from a tight angle and achieved something between the two – hitting the ball powerfully across goal but too far infront of Borini to make contact, eventually going right through to give Forest a throw-in by the corner flag.

Meanwhile the pendulum swung in the other direction, Lewis McGugan flighted a decent freekick into the box where McGoldrick perhaps got too much on it and headed it straight at De Vries rather than glancing it past him in one direction or planting it the other side.  Again, at the other end Rangel chipped it goalward but not quite finding the target.

Swansea then rattled our crossbar – Borini got on the end of a cross from Sinclair and blasted goalward, a last-gap block from Wes Morgan deflected the ball over Lee Camp and mercifully off the bar and eventually cleared to safety.  The home side were starting to build some dominance though, and sure enough were the ones to break the deadlock shortly after.

Leon Britton made a bit of a monkey out of Marcus Tudgay on the edge of the area, cutting inside him, taking a touch before stroking a well flighted shot inside the far post giving Lee Camp little option but to stand and watch it go in.  A cracking finish, although we certainly should have been doing more to close him down in such a dangerous position.

Just after we’d been denied what looked a fairly obvious penalty when David McGoldrick was being roundly undressed by two or three Swansea defenders there was a doubly-cruel suckerpunch when previous playoff-thorn-in-the-side doubled the home side’s advantage.  I for one now no longer feel upset seeing Dobbie dying in Harry Potter!

It was a cracking goal by the Swansea midfielder though – our defenders should be doing better than this, and there was a bit of luck in the nutmeg on Chambers, but the quick shot gave Camp no chance to get down fast enough as the ball fizzed under his hand and into the bottom corner – a really well taken goal.  It was looking worryingly like game over.

I might have lost my chronology slightly, but Tyson was wrestled onto the deck in the penalty area at some point, and again appeals were denied by Mr Marriner – who moments later booked Gunter for, well, could someone tell me what for?  From what I saw he ran past Dyer and picked up the ball which was in open play.  A shocking decision. (checking the stats Gunts was booked before either goal – so I’ve probably got everything in the wrong order!!).

Just before half time it could really have been out of sight – Sinclair broke and found Borini who ended up in the area at a tight angle, his powerful shot at Camp’s near post was saved.  A gloomy half time – Moussi had been shocking in possession, our fullbacks were looking dangerously exposed and the rest of midfield were struggling to get a foothold.

Billy made no changes during the break – and certainly we can’t blame luck or the referee for what happened with the first chance of the half.  More excellent work by Tyson down the left saw him get past a couple of clumsy challenges and pulling back to Marcus Tudgay, who was wonderfully place, sent De Vries the wrong way, but spannered the ball over with his left foot.  A bloody awful miss.

The Reds had their tails up though, clearly having Billy’s words still ringing in their ears – Tyson was felled on the edge of the area, just to the left of the D.  Lewis McGugan lined it up and struck it powerfully toward the top corner but it just kept rising and thundered against the crossbar and threatened to snap it in two.  Swansea 2, Crossbar 2, Forest 0.  Frustrating isn’t the word!

That’s not to say we didn’t ride our luck at the other end – Darren Pratley, on as a sub for Swansea, had time to bring the ball down, settle into an armchair, fill and then light a pipe, smoke it to the dregs and then pour himself a nice glass of Port before calmly slotting the ball into the net.  Instead he headed it wide completely unmarked and about 3-4 yards out.

Tys was withdrawn for forgotten-man Majewski, seemed a strange move to me as Nathan had been pretty pivotal to many of our better moments, but he may have been feeling a knock or just knackered – he’s not had much game time of late.  The tide was still in Swansea’s favour though, and only a well-timed last-gap tackle from Chambers in the area denied Borini a scoring chance.

Billy introduced Boyd for Tudgay, and whilst Forest built up possession and some degree of pressure, the hard-working home side stifled us brilliantly leaving us with little by the way of chances on goal.  To make matters worse for us their pace made them very threatening on the break – with Sinclair denied by Camp, and Borini blocked by Morgan.

The final change for us was McGoldrick to come off for Robbie Earnshaw, who made a pretty immediate impact – putting it in the net within two minutes of his introduction.  A delicious throughball from Majewski found his perfectly timed run and he made no mistake smashing it powerfully and low just inside De Vries’ near post.  It was quite cathartic!

As the Reds pressed further Gunts will probably wonder why he didn’t go for goal instead of try to cross to Earnie inside the area – he overhit it with his left foot regardless and eventually it was cleared from the dangerzone.  In stoppage time Earnie again was causing the danger – a well placed shot hit the post to make the woodwork once again confound us.

Another penalty appeal, this time for hand-ball, was ignored by both linesman and referee – it didn’t feel like much of a surprise any longer, but presumably having seen footage of his howlers in the first half there was a glimmer of hope the referee might have been a little more kind to us.  If anything he spent the second half being even more rubbish.

Continued pressure saw a couple of late corners – I’m not really sure what Lee Camp thought he was doing coming up for it, I suppose I’d not even think twice if he’d headed in the equaliser, but as it was the ball cleared, Pratley took it toward the half-way line before putting the game beyond down with a long-range and well-placed shot into the empty goal thanks to Camp’s wanderings.

Despite the penalty claims that the referee denied (in both legs!), the woodwork interventions and all that guff I still think we were beaten by the better team over two legs.  Whilst I’m naturally gutted we didn’t manage to get a result I wish them well in the final – despite the sizeable number of neanderthals who decided it would be more fun to goad the Forest players, staff and fans rather than celebrate a great victory for themselves.

Of course, we mustn’t judge the whole because of a few idiots – but it does leave a sour taste.  My attitude towards the play-offs has always been if-not-Forest-than-anyone-but-Cardiff.  I don’t see any reason to change that stance – I do think over the course of the season and certainly the play-offs that Swansea are worthy promotion contenders.  Best of luck to them at Wembley.

As for us, another season of regrouping after play-off heartbreak.  With key players out of contract, continual speculation regarding the future of the manager (although he’s apparently looking forward to next year already!) and all the usual uncertainty I’m looking forward to taking some time out away from the blog to recuperate and recharge.  Thanks for all your support this season – it’s appreciated!

I noted this above, but I think it’s worth re-iterating.  We gave it a good go tonight, I’m proud of the lads and their effort.  We contested a game against a very good team, and it means a great deal that we at least didn’t succumb to some kind of ridiculous embarrassing collapse that I’ve been mentally preparing myself for ever since a play-off place was confirmed.

Well done lads, unlucky tonight – you’ve done us proud.  The final word goes to our defeaters – if it comes to it, please please please do your damnedest to make sure those scurrilous bastards that are your countrymen don’t ascend to the top flight.  Good luck at Wembley.  Best of luck to Reading too in the other semi-final.

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Swansea City vs Forest preview.. play-off second leg..

As the dust settles on Thursday night’s game it dawns on us that what we have on Monday is the classic cup tie.  Ninety minutes, well, maybe 120, maybe a few more for some penalties to be exchanged, all to play for.  Now, it’s true we already had a full game and we couldn’t beat our opponents despite having an extra player, but still.  Let’s not dwell on that, eh?

There’s lots of mixed messages and PR doing the rounds from both camps ahead of the game.  Garry Monk is wary of us, and Tudgay and Cohen are both a bit confident.  Billy is hoping they’re a bit tired, and in the meantime the key team news from the Welsh side is that dangerman Fabio Borini is fit, and they are bizarrely appealing the red card decision.

When I think about it though, it does make sense – if the hearing hadn’t been rushed to Monday then the player would’ve been eligible ’til it had taken place.  If it’s upheld, they’ve not lost anything – indeed, even if the ban is extended for a pointless appeal there’s nothing lost.  Contrary to my first suspicion, the Welsh FA apparently have no love of Swansea, preferring to restrict their bias to Cardiff City (thanks John!).

On the Reds front the two players who perhaps we’d hoped would feature in some way following on from injuries were Guy Moussi and Robbie Findley.  Despite claims of a fully fit squad before the game, neither player featured – but both are apparently in contention for Monday.  With Moussi he needs to be fully fit otherwise there’s little point in playing him – Findley at least could be used as a late impact substitute.

We obviously know all about the threat Swansea pose to us – they had arguably the better, or at least were the equal of us with only ten men at the City Ground – and will feel confident on their home turf where they’re unbeaten for a good stretch of time.  That said, I can remember when we had a lengthy unbeaten home run too – there’s no point getting hung up about that, they all come to an end sooner or later.

Second-guessing how Billy will approach this game is a dangerous game – I’m struggling to predict anything other than a cautious approach to try to stifle our hosts, which is dangerous.  Anyone who went to the Liberty Stadium for the league game will bear testimony to that.  Having said that, we only lost that goal by one goal and were desperately close to snagging an equaliser.

Probably the single-most interesting thing to happen between the games though was the experiences of an unfortunate Swansea fan who decided to enter into a bit of trolling over on LTLF only to end up being made to look rather foolish by some of the members on there.  If you’re reading, Liam – I hope you’ve learned your lesson, fella!

But I digress.  Swansea are going to have Borini, they’re going to have Sinclair and Dyer – and to compound matters they’ll also have Dobbie who was sacrificed in the home game.  Forest certainly need to up their game to provide a suitable challenge.  My heart says we could do that, my head struggles to see much beyond a win for the home side though, I’m afraid.

I would say may the best team win, but obviously I’d rather it were us who get the trip to Wembley at the end of the month!  That’s not being derogatory to the mighty Reds of course, but I do think that Brendan Rodgers has assembled a better team than we are currently able to field for whatever reason.

Better team or not, we’ve beaten teams that are better than us before – and indeed, we’ve overcome longer odds than entering into a game level on score with a full 90 minutes to play.  Who knows what moments of individual brilliance, costly mistakes or a referee’s decision might occur and swing the game dramatically in a particular direction.

Whatever the outcome of the game we should all be proud of the lads who’ve worked hard to deliver a second successive play-off campaign.  Whoever is celebrating come Monday evening I hope ends up doing so at Wembley later in the month – even if that means Liam the crazy Swansea fan is partying like mad.  In the meantime, our job is to get 100% behind the boys in Red.

With our backing it can only give them a boost – and it would be foolish for anybody to say we’re not capable of getting a result at the Liberty Stadium.  There’s too many variables to make it anything approximating impossible – or even improbable.  Let’s see what happens but play our part to the best of our ability and drive the players to do the same.

COME ON YOU REDS!

They only had ten men..

Treacle: Forest struggled to wade through it this evening...

Nottingham Forest – 0
Swansea City – 0 

I’ll tell you what – I’ve yet to encounter fans more tuneful than Swansea ones, and they can count too – they were, I guess rightly, proud of their ten men for standing firm this evening.

So this is half time. To be honest, I left the ground pretty disheartened as a laboured performance from the Reds was rather upstaged by a visiting Swans side reduced to ten men after a mere minute into the game.  For the optimists out there, we’ve just equalled our best ever play-off result at the City Ground, so it can’t be that bad, can it?

There were chances – a goal struck off (apparently correctly according to my Sky Spies), a penalty not given for handball due to the referee’s view being blocked, some decent goalkeeping from De Vries too (and indeed, from Lee Camp), but you can’t help but feel a bit frustrated that we couldn’t make over ninety minutes with an extra man pay dividends really.  Can you?

Billy made a couple of changes, Guy Moussi succumbing to injury apparently saw a return to the middle for Paul McKenna, with Tudgay dropping to the bench for Earnshaw who returned from suspension:

Camp
Moloney   Morgan   Chambers   Gunter
Anderson   McKenna   McGugan   Cohen
Boyd   Earnshaw

 So, a mere minute into the game and the ball is infront of A Block, from my seat it looks like their left back goes in late two footed on Lewis.  I’ve not seen a replay yet, my Sky Spies seem undecided – one thinks the ball was won, the other thought it a horrible challenge.  Semi-optimistic ‘off! off! off!’ chanting quite surprisingly resulted in the referee brandishing just that.

Rodgers was quick to adjust – with Dobbie being withdrawn for Monk, but it seemed that in a perverse twist of accepted logic that the extra man was working against Forest, and being a man down was benefiting who seemed to get a little more traction going forward through their pacey wingers.  Traction was a bit of a problem though, the slick pitch causing a few slip-overs.

The first real opportunity fell to the visitors, but a promising break ended with Angel Rangel’s cross-cum-shot went straight through and out the other side for a goal kick.  Forest started to show signs of being positive, only to gift the ball back to Swansea, Borini nearly profited having found a way past Chambers, but unable to beat Lee Camp from a tight angle.

Shortly after Borini again was tormentor, a freekick from around the twenty-something yard mark was well struck by the striker and brought a decent save from Camp who tipped it over.  Whenever Forest did push forward the visitors got back in numbers and worked very hard to deny us any opportunities.  Meanwhile Borini brought another save from Camp.

35 minutes was how long it took for Forest to give De Vries a meaningful test – which kinda says a lot about the match really.  Boyd picked up the ball wide on the right near the goal line, and looked up to pick out Earnie with a cracking cross.  Earnie, uncharacteristically, met the ball very well with powerful drive – which, alas, was pretty close to De Vries who made a smart save.

The half ended with Swansea attacking and Moloney effectively marshalling Sinclair to safety.  Half time arrived, and to be honest optimism wasn’t running massively high for me at least.  I thought Swansea deserved a great deal of credit for their approach to the game having had a man sent off, whilst Forest just didn’t seem to get going.

It was a more positive start in the second half, a decent powerful strike from McGugan from range could only be parried by De Vries and was so close to being knocked out into Boyd’s path, but just evaded him before a defender cleared well.  Borini fell over and didn’t get up, the Reds played on before good work from Lewis found Earnie who spannered it into the Trent End from the edge of the area.

Borini limped off the pitch to be replaced by Luke Moore, which – whilst I wouldn’t wish injury on a player – has to be decent news, as he’d been a very influential player for our visitors.  Another shot from range wasn’t particularly well struck and provided a fairly routine save for De Vries to make.

Moore did have a decent effort after this bringing a save from Camp, before Cohen struck goalward only to be denied by the arm of a Swansea defender in the area.  Unfortunately for us, because it was pretty obvious from my seat, referee Mike Dean’s view was pretty much blocked according to Sky Spies, so it was never going to be given and there’s not much point in quibbling!

Then we thought we’d finally broken the deadlock – a McGugan corner found Boyd who flicked on (at the time, I assumed it was just a glancing header directly in), finding Earnie at the far post to head in the net – but he was flagged offside.  Confusing at the time, as we thought it was straight from the corner, but I’m reliably informed that the linesman got it spot on.  Damn him!

Almost immediately after the ever-dangerous Dyer got loose and was one-on-one with Camp, who made an excellent save from the winger’s shot.  Billy responded with a double substitution, replacing McKenna and Earnshaw for McCleary and Tyson.  Presumably the desire was to add a bit more pace and directness to our game.

It almost paid off – Anderson did well to find Tys in the area who managed to eventually get the ball past a couple of defenders before getting a shot away that was well blocked.  Tys again was on hand to try to get a diving header on a Cohen ball into the box, but wasn’t quite able to get on the end of the ball.  Tudgay replaced Boyd from the bench.

The last effort of the game for us was with Anderson striking the ball without masses of power, but it was well placed and brought a decent save from De Vries.  The four minutes of stoppage time involved Forest pressure, but very little danger for the resilient visitors who saw out the game without conceding and duly celebrated like crazy with their fans.

It’s understandable really – a really credible performance from the ten men, certainly whilst we had chances to get a goal, so did they – they were more than good value for the draw.  So we’re now truly at half time – the bright side for me is that we must go to the Liberty Stadium to get something from the game.  Imagine how spectacularly negative we might’ve been if we were taking a fragile one goal lead there?

Having said that, Swansea too will have to go for it – and we know how good a side they are on their day.  It’s going to be interesting.  I’m still not feeling confident, but then I wasn’t before kick-off today, and wasn’t even when it looked like a dream start for us with our opponents being reduced to ten men.  I’m prepared to do my bit and support the lads though, that’s all we can do!

Forest vs. Swansea City preview.. play-off first leg..

Ngah. The Play-offs.  Do they bring anything other than cold dread to Forest fans?  It turned out that any stresses over qualifying for the end of season mini-tournament were to be quickly allayed thanks to a comfortable stroll to end the season in South London.  Fate conspired elsewhere to pair us up with the team that I probably least wanted to face at this stage.

However – that kind of attitude won’t do.  We’re in the play-offs on merit, and whilst we don’t know much about triumphing in said tournament, there’s little point in showing too much fear to any potential opponent.  Three of the sides in the play-off places have been on pretty good form of late, and we are one of them – so the Jacks will be casting a cautious eye over at us just as we are at them.

As I’ve noted before – I’ve got great respect for Brendan Rodgers and the side he’s assembled, my main concern is their more traditional approach and use of the wings with the pacey trickery of Sinclair and Dyer.  Pair that up against our narrow midfield and at-least-one-fullback-not-in-their-natural-position and it is a bit of a worry.  It’s quite a lot of a worry, in truth!

We do have very good news though – Lee Camp and Guy Moussi, both substituted at Selhurst Park after picking up injuries, are fit and available for Thursday’s game.  The other good news is that Rob Earnshaw is unscathed having had an accident on the way back from visiting family in Wales, it was with some relief that I read that he and his son walked away from the car unscathed.

Over in Wales, Rodgers has been amusingly talking his side down as underdogs – despite them finishing considerably closer to challenging for automatic promotion than we did!  Their away record probably stopped them doing that, but the same could certainly be said for us – the Swans have a better record on the road than us this season, that’s for sure.

He has a fully fit squad at his disposal too, a squad well oiled at playing both attracting and – crucially – penetrative football.  They’re a positive side and geared up to attack, so I can’t see them coming and sitting back or ‘parking the bus’ – we need to be on our mettle defensively and also looking for gaps to exploit at the back ourselves.

Earlier in the season we didn’t see them at their best at the City Ground and triumphed 3-1.  It was a different story at the Liberty Stadium though where we were pretty much annihilated.  However, despite being thoroughly outplayed the scoreline was 3-2, and we had a chance to level it at the end.  I do think we will have chances, what is crucial for us is that we take them when they come.

Mike Dean will be officiating the home game – and we really did dodge a bullet as Mark ‘Leeds United’ Halsey will be in full effect in one of the games between Reading and Cardiff.  Controversial officialdom may strike us though as the fourth official is Stuart Attwell, a referee that Derby fans would have you believe favoured us in that game – he did make some howlers, it’s true, but the biggest was sending off McGugan for a good tackle!

With a big crowd of Forest fans, including a chunk of the Lower Bridgford end, there needs to be an electric atmosphere to get behind the boys.  We need to be positive in our play but not lose our heads and leave too many opportunities for the likes of Sinclair, Dyer and Borini to exploit.  Whilst we know better than anyone a play-off semi-final isn’t over in the first leg, I do think we need to take a positive scoreline back to Wales.

And that won’t be easy!

I’m looking forward to and dreading the fixture with equal measure at the moment.  To have finished in the top six is an achievement for both sides, for sure – both will be itching to overcome the other and make a date with either Cardiff or Reading at Wembley.  Let’s hope that Billy and the squad aren’t thinking quite that far ahead just yet.

As for the shit-stirring elsewhere regarding Billy and ‘lawyer-gate’ – that’s all best ignored, we should focus our attentions on the match just as I’m sure the coaching staff and players will be.

So, back to the match – I think it’s too close to call.  Both teams on their mettle will prove a really stern test for one another – as Billy always bangs on about, this is the kind of game that could well hinge on a moment of genius, a slice of luck or a referee’s decision.  Let’s hope if it comes to that we get a bit more of that kind of thing than a biased me thinks we usually get!

Reds brush aside Palace and look to the play-offs..

The Reds (well, Whites) celebrate Lewis' opener..

Crystal Palace – 0
Nottingham Forest – 3

A nice finish to the regulation season for Forest saw them run out comfortable winners at Selhurst Park and cement their place in the play-offs.  Whilst Leeds did come from behind to beat QPR at Loftus Road, their one-goal lead would mean that Palace would have ultimately needed to put eight past us to let them supplant us.  Even taking Campy off at the end wasn’t likely to result in that!

With the QPR hearing over and no points deductions applied, it’s now appropriate to offer them congratulations on securing the title and promotion – whilst I don’t think we saw the best of them in either of our games, they’ve been up there all season and deserve tremendous credit.  As do Norwich who make up the remainder of the automatic places.

Back to our game though, Billy made a few changes –  Moloney came in for loan-ended Konchesky, who was present at the game to cheer the lads on – nice touch.  He slotted in at right back with Gunts moving to left back.  Tudgay replaced the suspended Earnshaw up front.  Anderson came in for McGoldrick and Moussi replaced McKenna in midfield.

Camp
Moloney  Morgan   Chambers   Gunter
Moussi
Anderson   Cohen
McGugan
Tudgay   Boyd

 The opening stages of the game were quite scrappy, both sides losing possession all too readily – but we were quickly cheered by news filtering through from across London that QPR had taken a ridiculously early lead against Leeds.  The most interesting thing early doors in the game I noticed was how quick Palace’s right back looked!

Our first chance came from our first corner of the game – a decent delivery from McGugan found Chambers who planted his header into the ground, it rebounded, hit a defender on the line then the crossbar.  Chambers tried the same trick as against Scunny by celebrating, but – much like the ‘goal’ against Scunny – I don’t think it had crossed the line.

Shortly after the ball broke for McGugan on the edge of the area who caught it with a slightly awkward volley, but powerful though his effort was it was wide of the post with Speroni looking like he had it covered to me.  Another attempt, this time from Ando after good work from the number 7, but alas he ended up on his left foot and let fly with a weak shot straight at the Palace ‘keeper.

Forest did score soon after though – a direct ball into the box found Tudgay being challenged by a Palace defender – I’m not sure whose head it came off, but it dropped nicely for Lewis who fired it into the ground, bouncing it awkwardly and into the bottom corner of the net.  As you often see with Lewis, never quite sure whether or not he meant it to do that.

Moments later we thought it was two nil, some lovely one-touch passing culminated in a Cohen cross to Boyd who netted with his head, but alas Cohen was judged to be offside.

After this Palace were reduced to ten men, Dean Moxey unleashed what (having seen replays) was a bloody awful challenge on Marcus Tudgay, bringing his studs down onto his upper leg.  Tuds got up and then hit the deck again – the jury’s out for me, I think he over-reacted a tad (with the hands-over-face stuff), but it was definitely a red card – and a little silly in a game that had no consequence for Palace.

As the first half played out the Reds looked composed and in control of the match, as our hosts adjusted to playing with ten men.  There really wasn’t much incident, although I was texted that at one point we’d had 67% possession according to the Sky Sports statisticians – that’s pretty impressive, and certainly we did seem to have the lion’s share of the ball.

The second half started more evenly, again the Reds seemed to be in ‘give the ball way’ mode.  Moussi did well to get on the end of a Darren Ambrose freekick to concede a corner early in the half, before the Reds were eventually able to get back on the offensive.  A decent cross in from Ando found Boyd who shot into McCarthy, the ball falling kindly for Speroni to gather up.

It was end to end though, Neil Danns had a chance at the other end but put it wide.  Billy opted to make a change, taking off Guy Moussi who apparently suffered a calf issue and had ice put on it straight away.  To replace him was Paul McKenna.  In the meantime Palace were still threatening, McCarthy heading wide from a long ball.

David McGoldrick was introduced for Kris Boyd with 69 minutes on the clock.  On the seventy minute mark came goal number two – a lovely cross in by Brendan Moloney in space on the right swung outwards, and found Marcus Tudgay in the six yard box between the central defenders and free to head the ball past Speroni.  After scoring he made a beeline for the you right back to acknowledge his part in the goal, which is always good to see.

Then came a surprise, Lee Camp was withdrawn having picked up an ankle injury giving Karl Darlow an unexpected debut.  Camp was immediately on the bench and with an icepack on his ankle – having received a great ovation as you’d expect from the travelling Reds fans.  That said though, he was still off the seat and jumping up and down when we scored the third.

So, the third – Chambers passes the ball to McGoldrick pretty far out, he turns, has a look and unleashes an absolute piledriver into the roof of the net.  It was the kind of goal we’re used to seeing from McGugan – great to see him netting too.  At the other end Gunts picked up a yellow card for a foul, and Ambrose hit the resulting freekick goalward which Darlow dealt with well.

Post-match it was great to see the Palace fans give our lads a bit of an ovation (Tudgay aside, who they’d been giving dog’s abuse all game for what I guess they thought was a bit of gamesmanship in the red card incident).  All in all, though, it was a lovely gesture from fans out to have a good day having secured their future in the Championship the week before.

Elsewhere Swansea beat Sheffield United 4-0, whilst Cardiff only managed a draw at Burnley, which gave the more palatable Welsh side in our league third place – and a play-off tie with us.  I have to admit, I would have preferred to face the Bluebirds in the semi-finals, however, I’m thrilled to have made it into the top six and – let’s face it – if we are to triumph, then we must face good teams.  It’s inevitable.

Brendan Rodgers – a manager I am full of admiration for – has already tried to cast his excellent Swansea City side as underdogs.  I would disagree most strongly with him, as I’m sure he does too away from the media.  I think for the first time Forest are actually probably being considered underdogs in a playoff semi-final, and hopefully this role suits us better.

Our play-off campaign kicks off at The City Ground on Thursday, tickets are already on sale – season ticket holders have ’til 8pm tomorrow to claim their seats, then there’s the priority of NFFC members, bizarrely people who went to the discounted Scunthorpe game, and then it will be general sale.

So all that remains is to offer massive congratulations to Billy and the boys, two consecutive play-off campaigns isn’t to be sniffed at regardless of the outcome.  Being the typically cautious and pessimistic sod that I am, I struggle to feel too confident just yet, but it’s fantastic to be in the mix at this stage of the season and see what Billy has up his sleeve to hopefully reverse our fortunes in this end of season lottery.

One friend – not a football fan, but familiar with the pain it causes me – texted me this morning, I quite liked the sentiment, although it might not be statistically robust.  “If I understand it right, there’s a one in four chance of winning the play-offs, Forest have been in them three times and lost – so surely it’s a statistical certainty they’ll triumph this time!”

As Billy said post-match, it’s definitely time for the boys to come of age.

Crystal Palace vs. Forest preview..

One point will do it.  Indeed, no points will do it so long as there’s not a six goal swing between us and Leeds.  Anyone else tempted to go for a few two-bet accumulators covering off the various outlandish result combinations that might result in us ending up outside the play-offs?  Hmm. Just me then?

So we get to go on a jaunt down the M1 along with a load of Leeds fans heading to QPR and of course some jolly Stags fans heading to Wembley for the FA Trophy final.  Selhurst Park is probably amongst my least favourite trips, it just seems like such a tremendous pain in the arse to get to, and once you’re there it’s not like we have a fantastic record there either!

Palace have nothing to play for, their safety in the Championship is now assured.  Meanwhile, also in London, Leeds face a Queens Park Rangers side who, well, we have no idea whether they’ll have anything to play for.  My understanding is that any point deduction must be applied before the end of the season (ie, full time on Saturday).  Of course, my understanding might be wrong.

I’ve given up on speculating on it, or reading the speculation of others regarding it – because the variation in views would suggest that no bugger has any idea!

So, to us.  Robbie Earnshaw is missing thanks to his foolish sending off last week.  Fellow Robbie of the Findley variety remains a doubt with what is described as a slight thigh problem, seems to make no sense in risking him.  Konchesky has gone back to Liverpool, Lynch is injured – which means either Bennett, Gunter or Cohen are likely to be Billy’s left back options.

All come with their pitfalls – of course, it gives Bennett a chance to get out infront of the Palace fans after his loan there earlier in the season.  I suspect that Billy will opt for Moloney at right back, Gunter at left back and – assuming all is going well results-wise – give Bennett a run late in the game and putting Gunts back to right back.

Tys is also still likely to be out with a thigh problem (what is it with us an thigh problems?), whilst of course Dex remains on the long-term sick list.  As does Wilson, whilst we all really know that he’s not injured and just been ousted pending his buggering off up to Scotland in the summer.

Our hosts will be able to welcome back Neil Danns and Sean Scannell who return from suspension, Alex Marrow is injured and not available.  Dougie Freedman may take the opportunity to give some of the Eagles’ highly rated academy players a run out in a low-pressure environment, however.

Earlier in the season we strolled 3-0 past a very off-form Palace, Marcus Tudgay marked his debut with a lovely lobbed goal, with Chambers and McCleary netting the other two goals.  In terms of recent form, ours is pretty good – three wins on the bounce, four wins from the last five – Palace are unbeaten in three, although only have one win in their last five – happily for us, against Leeds.

I can imagine that this won’t be exactly entertaining – Billy will be aware that a draw will guarantee a play-off finish, and won’t want to risk injury or fatigue.  Much as it rankles sometimes, I predict – and actually approve of – a cagey defensive away performance to deliver the result we need.  I hope I’m wrong and we can register a win and as such continue a good run into a play-off campaign.

Now I’m just off to check the odds on some insane scoreline combination accumulators for our match and Leeds’ game… pessimist? Me? Surely not!  Might be better off betting against the FA actually doing anything to QPR before the match starts…