Forest vs. Birmingham City preview..

It’s official, Forest cannot conspire to ruin your Saturday this weekend.  Admittedly your Sunday might take a turn for the worst, because that’s when the game is – a 3pm kick off, so don’t get caught out.  This is, of course, to accommodate Birmingham’s participation in the Europa League this season.  Can I honesty say I’m looking forward to resuming the City Ground pilgrimage? Not really.

After a shameful performance midweek at Burnley, and the subsequent sacking-of-man-not-employed-then-offering-him-a-job bemusement surrounding David Pleat, also gone from the backroom is reportedly unpopular Bill Beswick.  So on the one hand McClaren appears to be being backed by the so-called removal of a man who hasn’t been active at Forest for months, on the other hand he’s had a trusted ally taken from him.

Tricky times for the manager, that is for sure.  Another failure to win at the City Ground won’t prove popular, with protests already mooted in some circles for before the game, it will be interesting to gauge the fans as they muster around the ground – it’s difficult to do so purely online.

Anyway, I digress.  Birmingham.  Managed by Chris Hughton, who certainly showed a degree of elan last time he managed a newly relegated team in this league – but he too has enjoyed an inauspicious start to the season in league terms – like us, just two league wins so far for the Blues, which puts them also on 8 points, like us, but with a positive swing of seven goals on the old goal difference.

No new injuries for Steve to worry about, but well, he should damn well be looking to go for something rather different to our last outing.  Whether he actually shows some nerve and considers whether the form of seemingly immovables Messrs Greening and Chambers really justify a starting berth, or whether he continues to go by habit well, it remains to be seen.

Personally, I’d be tempted to drop Chambers (no offence, Luke) and go for a back four with Hill at centre half and Lynch at left back.  Or possibly switch the left siders – not sure.  Moussi and Radi in midfield – then we have a problem, no fit wingers.  Maybe he could consider Lewis in there as well, then going for the three up top with Miller, Derbyshire and Findley.

As I start to tinker, it does make me realise it’s a tricky prospect.  It’s also quite easy to make decisions on paper safe in the knowledge that they’re not ever likely to be tested properly.  We are still without Anderson, Boateng, McCleary, Blackstock and of course Cohen.  Birmingham have doubts over Stephen Carr and Curtis, both of whom have knee injuries.

So, predictions are always tricky – it’s difficult to see Birmingham coming for an all-out-attack, but then again, maybe they’d see flailing Forest as the perfect opportunity for a kick-start.  Certainly I do expect to see pockets of discontent from the fans before and possibly during the game, the numbers involved will be really interesting as a proper barometer for the mood.

Basically, a win would make everyone’s life a hell of a lot easier.  I wouldn’t bet on it, though.

Who is telling fibs at Forest?

David Pleat: Superfluous consultant or sacrificial lamb?

Mark Arthur says that David Pleat has been relieved of his part-time consultancy role at Forest.  A couple of weeks ago John Pelling said that he was no longer in such a role at Forest on BBC Radio Nottingham’s Matchtalk programme.

I’m not one to point fingers when I’m not privy information to substantiate – but it seems to me that one of these two versions of the truth has to be incorrect.  Maybe it’s because in some quarters is was previewed with the billing of ‘big news’ coming from NFFC – maybe it’s just delayed confirmation of what Pelling said.

Or, if I’m being more cynical, perhaps – in the face of increasing unrest from the fanbase – it’s a fairly shoddy attention-deflector.  It’s true that David Pleat has always been targeted by some sections of our fans as a kind of malign influence on our club’s doings – maybe the club thought they could leverage this groundswell of ill-feeling an make Pleat into a sacrificial lamb.

For what though? It’s not likely to provide a sufficient lightning conductor to detract the rage many are feeling towards both Steve McClaren and/or the board at the club in the wake of a spectacularly disappointing start to the season under a new manager.

On the flipside, it was pretty well known that as well as a section of fans our former manager Billy Davies wasn’t exactly fond of the arrangement with David Pleat in place – so maybe we can intuit the removal of Pleat from his role as being a show of support in the manager.  If that’s true, of course, it means that John Pelling is a liar.

Plus is the board giving full backing to a manager who has been so demonstrably bad at tactics, selections and motivation necessarily a good thing?  Man, I’m grumpy.  I don’t like not being able to find a positive way of thinking about something, but whichever way you look at this story somebody on the Forest board is telling big fat porkies.

Maybe I’m a bit naive to find that unsettling.

Forest find the bottom of the barrel, and keep digging..

McClaren is running out of ideas, if you make the charitable assumption he had any in the first place!

Burnley – 5
Nottingham Forest – 1

You’ll understand I’m sure my reluctance to get around to writing this, what a disastrous development in the spectacularly underwhelming reign of Steve McClaren.  If I were a betting man then I’d certainly be starting to think about looking at what odds he were to be next in the sack race (as well as the usual “shall I just have a think about betting against Forest” ponder).

Five goals against, five defensive errors – certainly credit to Burnley for punishing, but well, we didn’t exactly make life difficult for them did we?  The most disappointing thing is listening to how absolutely clueless the manager sounds in his post-match comments about how to go about resolving our problems – cluelessness that perhaps is hinted at in the team selection:

Gunter  Chambers  Morgan  Hill  Lynch
Greening  Moussi  Reid
Derbyshire  Miller

I’m not going to dwell too much on the game.  The early signs weren’t good.  Even before the early concession a clearance from Hill got in the way of Burnley’s first chance.  Shortly after a cross came in, Charlie Austin put it back across goal and Rodriguez put it in.

Another chance, another defensive fuck-up – another cross, a header by Rodriguez, a goal.  A rare Reds chance created by Lynch was missed by Miller, meanwhile the home side continued to threaten – a cross by Wallace caused consternation in defence, but Rodriguez this time missed the target when the ball fell to him.

Realising how inept we were, Burnley – who’d been struggling at home – piled pressure on, Austin got a good chance from a corner which Camp saved well.  McClaren obviously spotted things weren’t quite going right on the pitch and made an early tactical switch, taking off Gunter and putting on Findley to try to shift the emphasis from defence to attack for us.

It didn’t really work – we were soon three down, this time a corner wasn’t cleared leaving McCann free to fire in from close range.  At the other end Miller tried to create an opportunity for Derbyshire who couldn’t get on the end of the cross.  Shortly after this Reid and Derbyshire combined to create a chance that resultied in a corner.  Miller missed from close range from a Findley cross too.

A brief respite for the long-suffering Reds fans, though – it was four just before half time, a poor pass from Wes to Lynch let Wallace nip in and take the ball into the D and put a curling shot into the bottom corner past Camp just to compound our misery.

Half time was odd, the team were out early, McClaren just sat there looking bereft of inspiration or ideas.  One idea he did have was to take off Andy Reid and replace him with Majewski.  The early signs were more positive, a more energetic start from the Reds, and this paid back with a goal for Miller – he got away from Edgar and Grant perhaps should’ve done better in the Burnley goal – he was probably shocked we had a shot on target!

It didn’t last for Forest though, Burnley got back into their stride – Bartley strolled away from Majewski and missed the target from the edge of the area, at the other end Findley hit a decent effort but he struck the outside of the post.  With 20 minutes left it was Greening who gave the ball away, Burnley broke quickly and crossed to give Austin the chance to put a looped header past Camp, Morgan almost cleared it off the line but it was ruled in.

A disgraceful performance.  McClaren had no excuses after the game, but still alas does his best to justify the hapless/useless figure that the media paint of him.

I’m not one for knee-jerking but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that there are serious issues at Forest.  You only have to read the message boards (if you can bare it) to see the disharmony amongst the fans, indeed, I’ve been texted to alert me to non-specific protests about “the way things are being run” that will take place before the Birmingham game.

It isn’t that surprising, there’s a disconnect between the promise of pre-season, the disappointment in the transfer market at the end of pre-season followed by the hapless performances as the season begins.  The idea of appointing a coach like McClaren then not quite delivering the squad he needs or talking about financial fair play a lot seems at odds.

Whether the traditionally slow-acting Forest board have a plan remains to be seen, but for peace-loving folk who just like to go and support their team, times like this are both demotivating and quite stressful.

Burnley vs. Forest preview..

The Reds go for what seems like an outlandish second win on the bounce on their travels, with a midweek trip to Turf Moor tomorrow evening.  After the hardly-scintillating smash-and-grab against Watford at Vicarage Road, Steve McClaren will be hoping no doubt that renewed confidence at the back coupled perhaps with a little more intent going forward might see us sneak away from Burnley – who have yet to win at home – with all three points.

Indeed, Burnley haven’t had the most auspicious of starts this season either – registering just one win so far, against Derby.  Having said that, a credible draw at home against table-toppers Southampton in their last outing would suggest that they have more about them than their early form suggests.  Hopefully the same can be said about us on that score!

Perhaps McClaren’s many viewing angles of the game at the weekend will have given him ideas about the formation he may opt for.  Personally I thought that our clean-sheet was as much down to poor finishing from Watford and some excellent goalkeeping from Lee Camp as it was an extra defender – I also thought sacrificing a midfielder left Lewis and the two strikers with little to work with, and our goal came from good fortune (and good chasing from Miller).

So was 5-3-2 a success?  I’m not sure – Lynch stood out again, but I’m not convinced the change in emphasis gave Gunter much benefit, and whilst Hill was commanding and impressive on his debut, were the other two centrebacks?  Unsure.  If it were me, ignoring my lack of training ground exposure of course, I’d be throwing down the gauntlet to Chambers and Morgan to make a case to keep their place and reverting to a back four.

One success at Vicarage Road was no new injuries – so it’s just five injuries (just!) we contend with – Cohen, Anderson, McCleary, Boateng and Blackstock remain sidelined.  Our hosts are missing Brian Jensen, but could well have winger Treacy available after he missed the weekend’s game.  Treacy is a potentially tricky customer – particularly against a team like us with little width.

Last time we played Burnley a brace of late goals from David McGoldrick (yes, you read that right!) saw us run out 2-0 winners against a dogged Burnley side who’d been reduced to ten men in the first half.  At the very start of last season at Turf Moor despite putting in a decent performance, a solitary goal from Chris Iwelumo was sufficient to settle the game in favour of the Lancashire side.

Tough one to predict, neither side have had impressive starts to the season and both would have aspirations of being considerably higher up the table sooner rather than later.  I fear this might prove to be another Watford-esque affair, which – let’s face it – was a game between two pretty poor sides decided by luck.  It could have gone either way – I suspect this will be the same.

So the question is, are you feeling lucky?

Miller time for Forest with lucky win..

Watford – 0
Nottingham Forest – 1

It was ugly.  Forest reverted to a formation not seen since the early nineties, or used by particularly belligerent people on FIFA or in Football Manager (or indeed, back in the dark days when Danny Cullip joined two other central defenders in our ranks).  It was always going to be ugly.  Kind of understandable though, we have shipped too many goals, we needed to get a clean sheet by hook or by crook.

So Clint Hill made his debut as a third centre-half, with Lynch and Gunter asked to provide the width for our attack alongside three central midfielders and two strikers.  A 5-3-2 converting to 3-5-2.  The kind of crazy plan that could actually work, surely?  Or a final act of desperation as Steve McClaren tries his twentieth change of formation? (sic).

It looked a little something like this:

Gunter   Chambers   Morgan   Hill   Lynch
Greening    Moussi    McGugan
Findley  Miller

It was a sluggish start from both sides – Watford aren’t on a great run either, particularly at home where they’ve yet to register a win – whilst we’re well versed in the difficulties Forest have been suffering.  It was the home side that created the first opportunity – former Reds striker Joe Garner connecting with a Forsyth cross, but slipping as he struck it and missing the target.

Forest’s first chance fell to debutant Hill, who rose unmarked in the centre of the area to connect with a Lewis McGugan freekick that was just a little too high for him to be able to get over it to put his header on target.  On the break Carl Dickinson – a left back signed by Watford in the summer (are you watching, Forest?!) – looked dangerous but was well marshalled by Greening, having to settle for a corner.

Fans must have been clamouring to pop a bet on Joel Lynch for first goal – he had two bites of the cherry, latching onto a Miller flick on and hitting a shot at Loach’s near post which the keeper saved.  A cross or pull-back might’ve been a better option, but it won us a corner from which Lynch found himself with a free header at the back post which he really should’ve put on target – it went just wide.

At the other end Watford had perhaps the best goalscoring opportunity of the game – it fell for Joe Garner, after a nice bit of skill and an excellent cross from Marvin Sordell on the right hand side.  Garner got infront of Chambers and glanced a diving header towards the bottom corner which Lee Camp did very well to get a hand on to put it wide for a corner.  Camp seemed in general to have a bit more of his ‘strut’ back, which is good to see.

Lame claims for a penalty when Hill won the ball were nearly as bad as those our fans made at the other end earlier in the game when Moussi had performed a ludicrous dive that negated any contact he might have met.  After the home fans penalty appeal the referee ended up with further jeers from the crowd when he gave the Reds a freekick after Camp was impeded.

Half time and it looked like what I suppose it was – a slow and ponderous game between two struggling sides.  Both had created chances, but not many.  Forest had looked more solid in defence, but by no means impervious, but had really struggled to create much for Miller and Findley, both of whom I feel could’ve worked a little harder.

It’s not surprising their service suffered when you sacrifice a midfielder for a defender.  Lynch was probably our most dangerous outlet – which doesn’t speak too highly of Lewis either.  As Steve McClaren spent the game commuting between the stand and the touchline, we could merely hope that he’d have seen something with which to inspire an improved second half.

The second half didn’t start particularly energetically either – a nice ball by Moussi gave Gunter the opportunity to put the ball towards Miller who didn’t seem to be on his toes, allowing a challenge to come in to prevent an effort on goal.  Good work from the impressive-again Joel Lynch released McGugan to put a cross in, which was a little too high for Miller to profit from.

As the Reds started to run out of steam though, Watford tails were starting to prick up – that change in emphasis we’ve seen a few times already this season, when an opponent realises that we’re not actually all that composed at the moment, and if they press us they will unlock opportunities to cause us damage.  That’s what the home side started to do.

Forsyth was slipped through one-one-one with Lee Camp who was out quickly to him, and happy to make the save with his legs – it was a poor connection from the Watford player who should really be looking to clip the ball over Camp into the empty goal.  Moments later Eustace had all the time in the world on the edge of our area to clip a ball to the back post where Garner opted for an over-elaborate diving header and put it wide.

Just as on Twitter I was lamenting how lazy Miller had been, I had the delightful serving of humble-pie to enjoy as a long kick forward by Camp was left by Watford’s big ugly centre half presumably as he’d had a shout – either way, he missed it, his partner missed it, the keeper wasn’t out quick enough and Miller was able to get a touch on the ball to put it past Loach and into the net.  A great piece of opportunism.

Realising quite how fortunate we were Forest started to look a lot more withdrawn, understandably.  Derbyshire was introduced for Findley who’d struggled to get into the game at all in the second half.  Reid came on shortly after, replacing Lewis McGugan.  Forest were increasingly sitting deep and Watford throwing a little more caution to the wind, so it was nervy stuff for the Reds.

Yeates struck a freekick from range which perhaps was designed to get a touch from a player in the box, it didn’t and Camp was in the right place to make an easy gather.  Tudgay was introduced for match-winner Miller, and within a couple of minutes had profited from a defensive mistake to pick up the ball, step outside a defender to hit a decent left-footed strike from the edge of the area which Loach needed to dive low to save.

The last chance came for the home side, Eustace side-footing an effort through a crowded box which Camp saved, fumbled then gathered.  A more powerful shot from Eustace would surely have produced a goal for the home side.  It would have been frustrating, but hard to claim that they weren’t good value for a draw on the balance of play and chances over the course of the game.

Still, as McClaren himself said – it was a horrible win, but it was a win we needed.  We profited from some good fortune at both ends of the pitch, just as other sides have done against us – so whilst Watford will be feeling hard done to, I’m not going to feel too bad about it – needs must, and those much-needed three points put us up to eighteenth in the table, above Watford.

I’m not sure that 5-3-2 is the answer, though.  Whilst Lynch continues to catch the eye, it doesn’t seem to be a formation to bring the best out of Gunter.

Going, Cohen, gone :(

After hitting the deck in the Derby match and eventually hobbling off (once the Rams had equalised), it transpires that Chris Cohen has sustained the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament rupture.  Think Julian Bennett, think Dexter Blackstock – think up to a year out.  It’s absolutely shit news for Chris and for Forest alike.

Naturally I wish him a speedy recovery – I value him above most of our squad (albeit not as a left back as Steve McClaren seems to insist on utilise him).  The tiny shred of silver lining of this whole issue is that it underlines our need to, you know, sign a left back… which leads me to the next bit of team news…

We’ve signed Clint Hill on loan for 93 days from Queens Park Rangers.  Do you know where he played last season?  He played left back.  For QPR – the team that won the league.  That said, I’m still quite partial to the idea of him putting some pressure on the centre halves and deploying Lynch as left back – he’s impressed me when he’s played there this season (he impressed me at centreback yesterday too).

Hopefully the arrival of his child (congratulations!) will perhaps help lift the heavy weight of the captains armband from Luke Chambers.  We shall see – but a huge welcome aboard to Clint, regardless – I must admit I’ve always thought of him as a bit of a thug – but QPR and Palace fans I’ve asked think differently, although I wonder what Ando thinks as I’m sure he once elbowed him in the face!

Certainly our defence has lacked some steel and leadership – which is one of the reasons I kinda hope that Hill will be used to displace one of the centre halves and Lynch gets a run at left back.  Since that seems so unequivocally sensible I am 99.9% sure that this isn’t the path that Steve McClaren will take…

Newcastle put Forest out the cup.. eventually..

'Fro Mercy: Coloccini's late extra time winner puts Newcastle through..

Nottingham Forest – 3
Newcastle United – 4
(After Extra Time)

Apologies for the delay, I’ve been having untold technical problems – but I’m back with something other than my phone with Internet access again!  It’s fair to say this game didn’t fill me with excitement – an opportunity for an as yet unbeaten top flight side to make mincemeat of our flimsy defending seemed on the cards.

On the whole, it wasn’t like that at all – some really promising signs, albeit still some flimsy defending.  A credible performance and perhaps even an opportunity to rue not being in the hat for the next round draw – maybe that’s ideal, a confidence-booster in some regards, but no resulting distraction in the form of a draw in the next round.

Changes were needed due to injury if nothing else, and a change of formation of sorts too.  It looked a little something like this:

Moloney    Morgan    Lynch    Gunter
Greening    Moussi   McGugan
Derbyshire    Tudgay    Findley

The first half began sluggishly from both sides – very little forward motion from either side, content to keep possession and build slowly, and generally to nothing.  The Reds eventually forced a couple of corners which, predictably from our corner taking of late, came to little – Findley got a flick on the second but there was no Red shirt in place to convert it.

Newcastle hit us on the break down the right hand side, it took a last gap tackle in the box from Moloney to prevent Marveaux doing us any damage at the expense of a corner.  At the other end Coloccini lost the ball to Tudgay but despite it being the defender holding back the Reds striker, the referee gave a freekick to Newcastle.  This was to be the start of a series of decisions that would heavily favour the top flight side.

Marveaux again was causing problems, and it was the unlikely figure of Derbyshire who cleared from within the area.  At the other end Moussi found McGugan who’s shot was blocked but not cleared, the ball came back to Lewis who picked out Robbie Findley who wasn’t able to beat his man and the away side got it clear.

They took the lead when that man Marveaux found space down the left hand side to put in a cross that went over Morgan and found Lovenkrands in the box, who headed in.  We are, it seems, as vulnerable as ever from crosses into the area.  It was pretty much the last meaningful action in a fairly lacklustre half in terms of direct chances being created.

A big improvement in the second though, right from the off Forest hauled themselves level.  A long ball from Lee Camp found Robbie Findley who turned well and struck a lovely shot past Rob Elliott from outside the area.  The goal certainly perked up Forest who enjoyed a spell of possession, but it was Newcastle with the next chance of note – Ben Arfa made a good run and found Lovenkrands who put his shot straight at Camp.

McGugan had a try from range but it was a pretty standard stop for Elliott, whilst a the other end naive defending from Moloney saw him concede a penalty to the easy-to-go-to-ground Marveaux.  Soft, but despite considerable debate in the stands I think it probably was a penalty.  Lovenkrands took it, and despite getting a hand to it Camp couldn’t keep it out.

Forest were quickly on the offensive again, Wes Morgan set Findley away on goal but the American striker’s control let him down and he ended up basically passing it back to Elliott.  We did get back on level terms again shortly though, a nice pass from Greening found Matt Derbyshire who deftly side-stepped the Newcastle keeper before popping the ball in from a tight angle.

We put on a bit of pressure then too – a ball slid through by McGugan headed towards Findley in the six yard box, Danny Simpson slid in to make the clearance and it appeared there was a decent chance of handball – naturally it wasn’t given.  Majewski was introduced for Moussi – who’d had an excellent game – which was a surprise.

Ishmael Miller was introduced for Matt Derbyshire with about six minutes left on the clock.  Shola Ameobi further demonstrated the referee’s blind-spot for black-and-white based infractions when he ignored the striker appearing to strike Joel Lynch in the face (albeit not particularly hard – maybe Joel should have gone to ground Joey Barton stylee?).

Reid was introduced as the final sub for Lewis McGugan who’d picked up a bit of a knock, as the game started to look like heading to extra time.  A poor clearance from Morgan gave Obertan a chance – but the put it over with an amusing mis-kick.  The last chances fell to the Reds with Moloney finding Miller but we could only force the corner, finally Findley squared back toward Lynch but Newcastle got the ball clear.

Extra time it was, then!  Two minutes in and Newcastle got the lead for the third time in the game – Simpson crossed from the right but the looping ball swerved into the net over Lee Camp at the far post.  A complete fluke – even admitted by the player to questions from the Clough Lower stand.  Forest responded well, a cross from Reid was headed off the underside of the bar by Lynch, the rebound headed over by Findley.

Newcastle started to slow the play down and frustrate – which saw the first period ground out with little momentum forward for Forest, and this looked set to continue into the second period too.  Patient work from Forest did start to bear fruit though – although a pea-roller from Reidy wasn’t likely to beat Elliott in the Newcastle goal.

Gunts almost gifted Ameobi a chance but his attempt deflected over for a corner that was ultimately safely dealt with by Lee Camp.  We levelled again after this, for the third time, when Miller broke loose and put a nice ball into the box, finding Tudgay unmarked to convert from close range to make the score 3-3, much like the previous round of the cup (also against the Magpies!).

Camp did well to claim a couple of crosses as Newcastle started to press to reclaim the lead they’d lost three times now – at the other end Tudgay was perhaps a little unlucky to put a volley on the turn just over – particularly when in the final minute of the game Coloccini rose at the far post to head in Obertan’s cross to win the game for the visitors.  A late effort from Majewski brought a late save from Elliott.

So a credible performance – which we’ve not said too much this season so far, let’s face it.  Plenty of positives – still some concerns, but the small crowd by and large seemed to enjoy the spectacle they’d witnessed – certainly it was light years from the non-performance against Derby at the weekend, that’s for sure.

A credible performance and no subsequent distraction of non-league fixtures until the FA Cup kicks in – aside from the exertion that extra time will have inflicted, that’s perhaps not a bad outcome if we’re thinking big picture.