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!
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