COMPETITION: Win a luxurious Savile Rogue Forest scarf!

After the horror-show yesterday, it’s high time Forest fans had something to be cheerful about – and in that spirit I have teamed up with Savile Rogue to give you the chance to win one of the world’s finest cashmere football scarves in Nottingham Forest colours.  This could give you the opportunity to not only wear your Red and White with pride, but with the height of style and sophistication too!

Savile Rogue scarves give a nod to football terraces of yesteryear, shunning in-your-face logos and cheap nylon in favour of a traditional bar design and the comfort, quality and warmth of top grade wool.  Winter is bound to turn up sooner or later so keep your neck snug as you enjoy, erm, I mean sit and tolerate Forest’s winter fixtures.  Not only that, it’s the sort of scarf you would be happy to wear even when you’re not at the match!

To get your hands on a Nottingham Forest scarf, all you need to do is send me an email with the answer to the question below:

In which year were Nottingham Forest founded?
(clue: it’s also the name of another excellent Forest related blog too)

Drop me an email with the answer, I’ll select the winner at random from the correct answers and get in touch to grab your address so that the kind folks at Savile Rogue can post your prize to you!  The deadline for entries is 5pm on Friday 2nd December 2011.

You can follow Savile Rogue on Twitter or Facebook.

You should’ve gone Christmas shopping..

Nottingham Forest – 0
Leeds United – 4

Thanks Leeds fans for the headline.  I was tempted to go with one of the rare amusing Forest chants of the night: ‘How shit must you be? You’ve only scored four’ – but well, I didn’t want to clutter up the news feeds with naughty words!

A well observed minute’s applause for Gary Speed was probably the highlight of the evening for Forest fans.  Steve Cotterill took heed of the issues we’ve been facing and put Anderson and Reid in the starting eleven.  A good move, almost universally thought.  Greening and Gunter missed out, with McGugan moving into the middle as part of the bargain.  Chambers remained in his makeshift rightback role.

Chambers    Morgan    Lynch    Cunningham
Anderson    Moussi    McGugan    Reid
Tudgay    Findley

I – funnily enough – don’t propose to dwell too much on this one.  I’ve just about thawed out from an evening of sitting zombie-like watching perhaps our worst performance of the season in many ways.  Leeds will be embarrassed for two reasons – one, it was too easy for them and two, they only managed to score four goals.  It really could – and arguably should – have been more.  And not because Leeds were brilliant, they didn’t need to be – we were just awful.

That’s not disrespecting our visitors – I guess they established quite quickly that aside from closing down and working to a semi-competent level they didn’t really need to break much of a sweat.

So, the planned tribute to Gary Speed – chanting from 11 minutes in for 11 minutes started on time, it was greeted with applause from the home fans and a brief join-in, but we left the Leeds fans to continue the tribute – the game didn’t exactly set on fire, and the effect of the chant was quite soporific – so much so that it appeared to have hypnotised Cunningham who left Snodgrass cut inside him on to his favourite left foot and smash the ball in past Camp literally as the 11 minutes were up.

It should’ve been two ‘nil – Camp tried to clear a long ball by chesting it away from Snodgrass but made a hash of it.  Fortunately Moussi managed to get something on the resultant open-goal opportunity for the Leeds man and caused the ball to loop over the goal.  Howson missed a great opportunity after Snodgrass made a monkey of Cunningham again – but conspired to miss the target from close range.

He made amends at the end of the half when Becchio was able to nod the ball over Lynch to Howson, who had evaded Cunningham who’d been drawn to the ball – and gosh it was a nice finish, giving Camp no chance with a finish to the top corner from the edge of the area.  To be frank, it wasn’t good.  Admittedlly it had been individual errors expertly punished – but we’d got away with a couple of bloody good opportunities for the visitors too.  Optimism was not high.

Cotterill made an unusual-for-him step of a half-time change – taking off Findley, who had been frankly mostly awful, for returning-from-injury Ishmael Miller.

Whatever he had said at half time didn’t seem to make much odds – four minutes in and it was three – and it was embarrassing.  Brown seemed to have all the time in the world to pick out an excellent cross to a similarly unmarked Becchio who put in a lovely glancing header.  Again, very well taken – but we made it so easy by not offering any kind of opposition to either cross nor header.  It’s not like this is something new this season!

A couple of rare but ultimately flaccid chances fell for Miller, one deflected over, the other a pea-roller directly at the keeper.  Our first shot on target, around an hour on the clock.  In the meantime the harassed Cunningham and the anonymous McGugan were withdrawn for Chris Gunter, who moved to right back with Chambers going central and Lynch going left back, McGoldrick replaced McGugan.

Guess what? Leeds scored again moments later.  Moussi slipped, Howson nicked in and brought a save from Camp, Gunter looked set to clear but Camp punched it away from him, to Clayton who popped it in the goal from close range.  It was frankly getting embarrassing watching new ways in which pretty much the entire Forest squad seemed hell bent on making Leeds look like world beaters, despite the visitors clearly not really getting out of first gear!

A strange consolation nearly came when a Lynch cross almost went on target – but it popped just over.  Shortly after he appeared to pick up a knock, but struggled on since we’d used all our subs.

Oh yeah, and Reidy – who had, in fairness, put in a few decent balls (albeit with nobody busting a gut to get on the end of them) got sent off for two second half bookings, both of which were warranted (unlike the earlier booking for Lynch which was absurd).  Forest continued to offer little, Leeds had further chances including a 3-on-2 break but weren’t able to coax Forest into providing them further gilt-edged opportunities to convert.

A flattering result.  Flattering to us.  Leeds could’ve easily extended this scoreline to be incredibly embarrassing.  Is anybody else feeling a bit reluctant to make that bloody long trip to Brighton this weekend?  This really was a disgustingly bad performance.  It’s true there were a lot of specific errors that led to goals, but to have pretty much the whole team have an ‘off day’ is worrying.  Very worrying.

Steve Cotterill claims the players are hurting at this result – I hope he’s right, because they didn’t look like they gave much of a shit on the pitch.  Perhaps that he has a more professional outlook than I do is a blessing, though.  I’m bloody seething.

Forest vs. Leeds United preview..

Disappointing results for Forest and Leeds at the weekend will give both sides the motivation to want to see an improvement at the City Ground tomorrow night.  Whilst Forest perhaps as expected fell to Cardiff City, at Elland Road a more surprising result was Barnsley triumphing 201 over their Yorkshire rivals to continue their rather patchy home form of late.

Of course, the weekend results paled into insignificance a day later with the shock news that Gary Speed had passed away.  As a mark of respect there will be a minute of applause before the game – and I know that the Leeds fans are planning their own ways to mark the passing of one of their former players.

Personally I prefer the solemn dignity of a silence, but as the news was still fresh at Swansea vs Villa a planned silence erupted into spontaneous applause, and it was very moving – so perhaps following that lead is appropriate.  A real sad loss to the game.  In addition to the applause both sets of players will don black armbands in his memory.

After a relative period of stability of starting elevens, it is – in my view – time for Steve Cotterill to consider shifting things around.  Given Paul Anderson is fit for me it’s time to utilise him rather than wasting Chris Gunter on the wing, this gives him a dilemma over the skipper – but frankly, it would be more harsh to drop Wes or Lynchy, so for me it would be Luke to make way.

In midfield Lewis has demonstrated ably that a left winger he is not – if Reid isn’t fit to last a game then start him there, or possibly Raddy who made more of an impression in that position, giving an opportunity to put McGugan in the middle.  For me, Greening would be the one to miss out.  I don’t have too much issue with Tudgay or Findley, although Dexter champing at the bit to come back presents a tempting option – albeit perhaps a little too soon.

As for Leeds – well, they’re a pretty potent force on the road of late so will certainly present a challenge.  Simon Grayson has both O’Dea and Pugh returning from fitness to bolster his options.  They’ve notched wins in their last two away games – at Leicester and Burley – and lost the home game before that against Blackpool.  So they are threatening consistency on the road and at home, albeit in different ways!

Further portents of gloom are that we’ve not beaten Leeds in our last ten attempts – indeed, 1995-96 was our last win over them when we managed to do the double over them.  Should you want any further misery piling on to any optimistic thoughts you might be harbouring, the referee for this fixture is Darren Deadman – the man who single-handedly cocked up our game against Preston last season with a ridiculously incompetent showing.

I’m expecting a tough challenge from Leeds, they’ll have a decent and vociferous following as ever – but hopefully the recent resilience we’ve shown at home will come to the fore and see us meet that challenge head on.  Even with us dropping to within a point of the drop zone again and really needing to kick on with some points on the board, it’s hard to get too wound up by matters on the pitch in the wake of such awful news regarding Gary Speed.

Groundhog day for Reds in Wales..

Freekick, cross, header, goal. Groundhog Day.

Cardiff City – 1
Nottingham Forest – 0

It’s that all too familiar story for the Reds really.  Weather an early storm, improve and make a decent contribution to the game, a cross comes in – we don’t defend it – goal.  A very frustrating habit we seem to be getting ourselves into, and one I’m sure Steve Cotterill must be banging his head against the wall to trying and fix in training.  Particularly as we seem to do this after getting a foothold in games.

There was to be no dramatic comeback this time, and of course on the balance of the whole game it’s hard to quibble that the hosts weren’t worthy victors.  The gaffer chose to stick with consistency and didn’t change the starting eleven from the Ipswich game last week, so game-changer Andy Reid remained on the bench, Ando remained on the bench, Lewis remained out on the left wing…

Chambers   Morgan    Lynch   Cunningham
Gunter   Moussi   Greening   McGugan
Findley   Tudgay

The first half starting slowly, but it was the home side who started brightest (and in truth, remained in the ascendancy for most of it).  Five minutes in a cross from Gunnarsson found Gerrard whose shot was deflected to give the Bluebirds the first corner of the game.  A rare break from Forest saw Findley and Chambers combining well, with Chambers finally launching a cross which was put behind for a corner.

It was scrappy though, and both sides found possession difficult to keep and chances in either direction were at a premium.  Then Cardiff seemed to come to life somewhat – a decent ball forward by Gunnarsson looked to give Kenny Miller a great chance but for Lee Camp’s alertness allowing him to get to the ball ahead of the striker.  A Cowie cross found Conway at the back post – but he conspired to shoot over from close range under the attention of Gunts.

A rare move forward from Forest was created by a long punt upfield from Camp, Tudgay flicked it on to Findley who missed the target from the edge of the box under pressure from the defence.  The home side should’ve probably taken the lead as they caught us napping with a quick throw-in ending up with Cowie crossing to Turner who headed straight at Camp.  Just before half time an excellent block from Lynch prevented Cowie converting a squared ball from Conway.

Half time a welcome break from Forest, and must’ve been frustrating for Cardiff who were starting to look like it was only a matter of time before they’d breach our defence.  So a chance for Stevie to regroup the lads and get them firing on, well, some cylinders.

It certainly looked that his half time team talk had done the trick too – a much more convincing showing from the Reds.  An early chance from a Lewis McGugan free-kick which fell for Tudgay, his shot on the turn looked decent enough but Anthony Gerrard was alert enough to get a block in to deflect the ball out for a corner.  Findley was making a pest of himself, too, but he should have done better after burst down the right but making a hash of his cross.

But we know this script only too well – somewhat against the run of play for that section of the game Forest concede a freekick – it’s whipped in by Peter Whittingham and defended, well, badly.  Joe Mason was the one to get his head on it and put it in at the far post.  A decent delivery, a good header – but bloody annoying, it’s like Groundhog day in our goals-against column lately!

The answer to the riddle was perhaps predictable (at least two-thirds of it were) from Steve Cotterill – he introduced three subs, Anderson, Reid and McGoldrick were introduced for Gunter, McGugan and Findley.  They were immediately involved, with McGoldrick receiving the ball from Anderson and laying it off to Reid whose cross was intercepted by Gerrard at the expense fo a corner.

Reid again created danger with a cross in to Anderson who headed across goal, Marshall flapped at it somewhat palming it to Luke Chambers who was only able to head over from close range.  Forest carried on pressing, a lovely cross from McGoldrick found Anderson who got to the ball along with McNaughton with the ball looping up over the bar as they all came together.

As full time approached Tuds tried to head the ball to Anderson but he couldn’t quite compose himself to get his own header on target.  Whilst we pressed we weren’t able to notch that vital equaliser – and (obviously benefiting from hindsight) it does seem we perhaps left it too late to introduce the more potent attacking threats we had on our bench.  That said, we were only a defensive lapse away from a draw I suppose.

I was expecting a comfortable beating by Cardiff, so that it wasn’t forthcoming should be heartening as we prepare for the arrival of Leeds on Tuesday.

And speaking of Leeds, there’s really only one story in football today and it concerns a former Leeds player – because it was today that Wales manager Gary Speed was found dead in his home, having taken his own life.  Such a sad discovery, I was only watching him on Football Focus yesterday and remember him well as a talented player – and judging from the results Wales have been getting lately a talented manager too.

Thoughts with his family and friends, and may he rest in piece.  42 is no age at all, such a terrible tragedy.  Whilst he had no direct link with Forest I do hope we mark this awful news with a minute’s silence before the game on Tuesday.

Cardiff City vs. Forest preview..

I have this habit of over-estimating Cardiff in recent years – and I’m hoping that habit continues, because I think a trip to their ground is a daunting prospect.  An overtly talented squad at their disposal last year did have the considerable drag factor of manager Dave Jones to counterweight it, whilst now a more sensibly assembled collection of players is enhanced by the undeniable talent of Malky Mackay at the helm.

The Bluebirds are on a very good run of form too – unbeaten in seven, and have only lost once at home all season to a then-in-form Brighton.  They find themselves, as they have tended to over recent seasons, firmly ensconced in the play-off mix -but with designs on the automatic promotion spaces too.  Of course, since the removal of Schteve and the arrival of Steve we’re on a much healthier run ourselves – but well, if I’m honest a draw would be delightful if I were offered it right now.

Following the weekend’s last-gap victory over Ipswich Town we don’t have any fresh injury concerns – in fact, quite the opposite.  Paul Anderson obviously made a substitute appearance in our last game, and we are further boosted by news that Dexter Blackstock – injured a little over a year ago ironically at Cardiff, Garath McCleary and George Boateng are all potential options for Steve Cotterill having got some game time this week in a friendly.

It’s probably too soon for Dex, George and Garath – but it’s an option and it’s good to start to see us approximate a full squad for the new gaffer to choose from.  Our hosts are unsure over the fitness of Hudson in defence who missed their last game at Coventry with a groin injury.  Also of undoubted interest will be whether former Red Robbie Earnshaw will get a run out against us – he was on the bench in their last game.

In an über-historical look Cardiff actually considerably have the better of us – we’ve won 12 out of 40 league clashes whilst they’ve notched 18 league wins against us – ten games ending in draws.  In more recent history they’ve failed to beat us in our last four meetings – we of course did the double over them last season, whilst the season before both games finished all square between us.

Whilst it sounds a bit downbeat and – as ever when I’m a bit pessimistic – I would be delighted to be proven wrong, it feels to me like this fixture will be Cardiff’s chance to reverse that recent trend.  I expect the Reds to line up conservatively and look to soak pressure, spoil the hosts attacking play and try to profit from the occasional break or set-piece.  The danger being of course that we will need to defend well and concentrate.

Risky strategy – even with a much improved era under Mr Cotterill we still look susceptible to defensive lapses.  I do think it’s the sensible approach for the game though, and I trust the gaffer to have prepared the players and his tactics to match Cardiff as best he can.  But just looking at the combination of form, balance and individual talent in the squads it’s difficult to imagine how we can prevail easily.  I hope I’m wrong!

Fly your plane here every week..

Derby supporting plane stunt organiser at full time today...

Nottingham Forest – 3
Ipswich Town – 2

As the forlorn little plane with the banner did a couple of circuits of the City Ground pre-match before heading for a trip over Pride Park to give Derby fans their only cheer of the afternoon, it was tempting to consider the folly in such a delayed stunt.  That folly turned out to come true as the Reds went on to win, whilst Derby limply slipped to a home defeat against Hull.  As Colin Fray said, I hope that plane landed okay, what with all the wheels falling off at Derby.

Meanwhile, at our end of the A52 we had two equalisers and a late winner to send us home feeling rather happy – any ire felt by the limited number of Forest fans who noticed the pre-match goading completely dissipated.  Steve Cotterill opted to name an unchanged line-up despite a disappointing result in their last run out at Portsmouth – albeit in a game where the scoreline perhaps didn’t tell the whole story.

One pleasant surprise though was a return to the bench for Paul Anderson, who continues his recovery from injury after a couple of friendly appearances.  From a starting eleven point of view we looked like this:

Chambers    Morgan    Lynch   Cunningham
Gunter    Greening    Moussi    McGugan
Tudgay   Findley

The first half-chance fell to the visitors, the away end seemingly thinking Jason Scotland’s shot from the D was a lot closer than it was, it looked pretty comfortably wide to me!  Forest did look promising early  doors, with some neat passing and pacey play – but utterly struggled to fashion too much by the way of meaningful opportunities.  Similarly Ipswich had their moments too, but didn’t have much by way of threat on the Forest goal.

Our first opportunity of sorts came from a Chambers cross from the right, Tudgay intelligently flicked the ball back to Moussi who shot, but didn’t make it too difficult for Stockdale who made a comfortable save.  Cunningham – looking more eager to get forward than before – was making good progress going forward too, but his first chance to cross in was prevented by Ingimarsson.

A foolishly conceded freekick is always going to lead to a certain degree of nervousness – it was a decent delivery too from Aaron Cresswell to the near post and Danny Collins made no mistake with the header under little or no pressure from the Reds defence.  Camp was left with little chance to do anything about it, and as seems to be becoming a habit we undo our positive work with a sloppily conceded and badly defended set-piece.

I guess it’s fair to say that things even themselves up though – because Ipswich conceded a sloppy freekick not long later – a decent delivery from McGugan into the danger zone found Joel Lynch, who couldn’t get a goalbound effort off, but nodded down towards Robbie Findley who was able to capitalise on the absolute chaos in the Ipswich penalty area and bundle the ball in for the equaliser.

With the crowd lifted somewhat there was a thrill of anticipation when the Reds were awarded another freekick – this time it was more central and around 25 yards out.  Reds fans and possibly Ipswich fans alike might’ve been mindful of that freekick against the Tractor Boys by McGugan last year.  It was Lewis who struck, it was a decent one too, but Stockdale in the Ipswich goal was equal to the low driven effort.

All square at half time was probably not far off fair, Forest had probably shaded the play – but in terms of chances created beyond the goals it was limited from both teams.  As ever, we struggled to create by having no ‘proper’ wingers – Lewis was having limited opportunity to get in the game and Gunts, for all his endeavour, lacks a certain finesse out wide.  Of course, I can write that quite comfortably with the benefit of hindsight!

The second half started in a reasonably lively fashion – Gunter got a decent ball in which Findley was lurking near, but unable to get to it before their ‘keeper.  Ipswich too had an early opportunity which Camp saved, into the danger zone, but Chambers was able to get it clear.  At the other end Cunningham appeared to be impeded by Edwards, looked like an obstruction just outside the area to me, the referee didn’t think so though, assuming it was just a collision.

Forest again went on the attack, and one of those rarest of occasions – a good corner from Forest was struck powerfully in by McGugan, finding Luke Chambers.  His header looked every way a goal before some kind of superhuman clearance (I hope it features on the Football League Show later) by Cresswell on the line kept it from going in the net.  Sure enough, as we looked to be getting better the suckerpunch came.

Around an hour on the clock and a Bullard corner just looped over – I think – Lynch, whilst Scotland cunningly got in the way of Camp and the defenders in the middle it fell nicely for Cummings who met the ball with a diving header to put the ball firmly in the net.  Another set piece, another bit of dodgy defending really – and a goal completely against the run of play which is becoming a bit of a nasty habit!

Tuds – with another industrious performance – almost got us back in it with a powerful strike that was stopped by Stockdale, who couldn’t hold it but his defenders were able to get the ball clear after it had squirmed out of his grasp.  The next occurrence of note was probably what won the day for us – Cotterill opted to make late changes, 76 minutes and Gunter and Greening were replaced by Anderson and Reid.  They moved to the right and left wings respectively, with McGugan taking a more central role.

Reidy was immediately involved with a shot from the edge of the area which was always curling wide, and Anderson too had early involvement – bursting down the right but unable to beat his man.  The next change, with nine minutes on the clock, was forgotten-man David McGoldrick who replaced Robbie Findley.

The second equaliser came – a Reds corner by McGugan wasn’t particularly well taken and cleared as far as Reid who put a lovely curling ball back into the box where Lynch rose and flicked a header across the ‘keeper who got a hand to it, but only to still see the ball end up in the ‘net.  A lovely header, and a great reward for a player who really has been on great form for us over the last few games.

We could’ve had the winner a little early too.  McGoldrick seemed to take an age after gathering the ball on the by-line, but there was prudence in not rushing a cross – he picked out McGugan with a nice pass – his powerful left-footed strike was decent enough but near enough straight at Stockdale who had no problem denying us the goal.  But of course, we were to get that happiest of endings, a stoppage-time winner.

This one came courtesy of some great work down the left – Cunningham had space to pick out a cross to the six yard box.  An Ipswich defender got a head to it, but only to tee up Marcus Tudgay to head in from close range at the back post to make the City Ground absolutely erupt – as with Lynchy, great to see Tuds’ hard working performances rewarded with a goal.  At the time I thought it was an own goal, but I’m assured it was definitely Tudgay who put the ball in.

A game that was probably two-thirds frustration and one-third decent, but it’s amazing what an ending like that can do to evaporate that feeling of boredom and drudgery that – in quantity of time terms – made up the majority of the afternoon.  Three points on the board puts us seven points clear of the drop zone, and seven points away from the play-offs.  Perhaps, given the epic fail that was ‘plane gate’, more pertinently it leaves us just four points behind Derby.

To give that undeserving of subjects a bit more air time, there’s been a nice response from some Reds fans.  Reflecting that in excess of £2,000 is an awful lot to waste on an unoriginal and untimely stunt that ultimately landed like a wet fart – it would have been much nicer to raise money for good causes.  As such Forest Fans for Charity has been set up with a target of raising a comparable amount for the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes.

Never Forgotten indeed.

Reds can’t Fratton down the hatches..

Portsmouth – 3
Nottingham Forest – 0

“We dominated” said Steve Cotterill after the game – certainly the Reds gaffer has some justification in feeling aggrieved at fate, who conspired to let Forest control big chunks of the game – but then, you know what? You can’t really feel too hard done to when the other team proved more adept at dominating one critical part of the game, a part we’ve struggled with of late.  Finishing.  Taking chances.  We didn’t dominate that.

That was to be our undoing – and whilst I agree with the gaffer that the scoreline is incredibly flattering to the home side, I’m perhaps not quite as surprised (he has, after all, only been with the club for 20-something days, let’s not forget).  He just made the one change, putting Greening in at the expense of Majewski in an otherwise unchanged squad from the previous match:

Chambers   Morgan    Lynch    Cunningham
Gunter    Moussi    McGugan    Greening
Tudgay    Findley

The home side started in positive frame of mind – two corners early doors for them, but it looked like being a false dawn.  The Reds grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and started to dominate possession and territory.  Robbie Findley burst through onto a flick-on, but his effort missed the target under the attentions of a Pompey defender.  It was the American again looking to score, this time from 25 yards with an effort on target.

A lovely move from Forest saw Gunts make a run down the right hand side, and cross the ball in to an unmarked McGugan who didn’t make the best connection with his shot, leaving Henderson with a relatively easy save.  Further attacking saw Tudgay and McGugan combining, but the eventual cross from McGugan went straight through the area, evading any opportunity for a Forest player to convert.

With half an hour approaching Portsmouth started to come back into the game – Huseklepp started to look menacing, but his advances were stopped by Chambers.  Kitson too was starting to prove a threat, but a deflection off Guy Moussi took the ball wide.  At the other end Lewis McGugan put a freekick on target which Henderson did well to tip over the bar.  The resulting corner caused some consternation for Pompey, but Moussi’s delivery back into the box after a poor clearance was straight to the keeper.

As the half came to a close the home side again threatened, Razak played the ball through the defence towards Varney, Lee Camp was fast to advance from his line but lost control of the ball – but fortunately Wes Morgan was on hand to put the ball out for a corner.  They did get the lead before the break though, a freekick-which-wasn’t-a-freekick (according to Cotterill – I wasn’t so sure and it wasn’t featured in the Football League Show highlights).

Regardless, a freekick was struck excellently by Hayden Mullins – striking the join of post and crossbar before falling favourably for Huseklepp who finished with aplomb, curling the ball into the top corner.  Frustrating but not entirely unusual for Forest to fail to take advantage of domination possession and not exactly carving out cast-iron chances (that said, Lewis really should’ve done better with his mis-controlled effort from Gunter’s cross!).

The second half begun with a much more confident looking home side – Razak again fed the ball to Varney who pulled it back for Norris, who would’ve doubled Pompey’s lead but for an excellent save by Lee Camp.  Kitson too threatened but under pressure from Camp again wasn’t able to hit the target.

At the other end unusually a McGugan corner found a Forest head (sorry Lewis!) but Chambers’ header was blocked by Mullins for another corner.  McGugan again caused problems from a setpiece, this time a freekick, a delivery right into the crowded area deflected off a Forest player but loooped up and over the bar.

It looked like we might have got the equaliser when Tudgay got the ball to Findley who wriggled and turned free in the area, getting a despairing stab on the ball which looked to be heading towards the top corner, but for a cracking save from Henderson to put the ball out for a corner.  It was the kind of run of play that started to make you feel like it was never going to be our day (it never seems to be at Fratton Park!).

At the other end the troublesome Huseklepp was drifting his way past a couple of defenders before Cunningham was able to prevent him causing further damage.  Gunter had another chance for us, Cunningham had crossed and it was cleared badly, falling for the makeshift winger who got completely under the ball and spooned it over the bar.  As, of course, we were building some pressure and daring to dream again, the opposite happened!

With a little under a quarter of an hour to go Portsmouth doubled their lead – their first corner of the half was delivered well into the near post where Dave Kitson rose and headed in.  Gutting.  Cotterill’s answer to this was to replace Joel Lynch with David McGoldrick and reshuffle the team around (Chambers to the middle, Gunter to right back, McGoldrick into the amorphous entity that is our attack/midfield).

It didn’t really do the trick – six minutes to go and the game was out of sight – a cross from the right was badly dealt with, it came back from the other side and eventually Huseklepp was there to turn the ball in.  It could’ve been four too, in truth – Greg Halford headed into the floor from 4 yards and the ball bounced over the bar, a spectacularly bad miss!  Oh yeah, Reid came on for McGugan at some point too, and that didn’t make much odds either.

To be honest, the 3-0 scoreline is a bit of a misnomer, it does flatter Portsmouth – but I’m not quite so red-tinted in my outlook as the gaffer seems to be.  That we didn’t defend better for all three goals is a concern, and that – for all our possession – we didn’t cause more problems to the Pompey defence.  If we’d lost 1-0 it would perhaps not seem so bad, but a 3-0 scoreline always jars even if it seems a little on the harsh side.

A home game is up next before the international break – Paul Jewell’s spectacularly inconsistent Ipswich side are our visitors.  We could use a win.  Oh, and on a much more cheerful note, a big hello to Twitter sensation Wesley Hall who has apparently been utilising the blog to get up to speed on the world of Nottingham Forest that he’s been thrust into unawares!

Portsmouth vs. Forest preview..

Well, if you wanted someone in the ranks with a decent knowledge of Portmouth FC then we have it in Steve Cotterill.  He’s been with us a month, and since then Pompey have been looked after in a caretaker capacity by Guy Whittingham and former Forest player Stuart Gray.  It’s rumoured Cotterill would like Gray to come to the City Ground, but is respectfully awaiting what transpires with the managerial situation at Fratton Park.

This is the last game before a two week international break, so it would be rather good to go into that break with another positive result.  I was going to say take the momentum from Tuesday into the game, but well, I guess we’re all hoping for something a little more captivating than that particular episode!  Pompey aren’t doing too shabbily either – two wins, a defeat and in their last game a draw against in-form Crystal Palace.

It seems likely to me that we will – for the first time since Cotterill took over – name an unchanged line-up for this one.  No fresh injury concerns is a frankly relieving thing to type – Ishmael Miller joins the crock-list after his hernia operation, a list of course also featuring the usual suspects of Blackstock, McCleary, Anderson and Cohen – and presumably Boateng (who didn’t get listed on the official site!).

Our hosts have injury doubts over Liam Lawrence – the Nottinghamshire born midfielder – and frankly, whilst I wouldn’t wish injury on him, this can only be good news – he’s a cracking player.  I remember wondering why we never tried to sign him whilst he was still at the Stags way back in the day.  Greg Halford will likely be available following surgery on his shoulder.

Historically we have the edge over Pompey with 19 all time wins over them compared to 16 for the South Coast side – however, and it might be wrong, I always think of them as quite troublesome opponents for us in more recent years.  I’m too lazy to go and hunt out the stats.  A little over a year ago they beat us 2-1 at Fratton Park, whilst back in January we beat them by the same scoreline thanks to two very late goals after Kanu had scored for them.

So we have two sides that have been struggling but appear to be turning a corner – both have talented but smallish squads, they’re within a league place of one another.  Having Cotterill on hand will undoubtedly be a benefit to us, but of course, the fact that Pompey have seemed to pick up their form since his departure might suggest they’re doing things a little differently much as we are now thankfully now the useless Schteve has packed up.

It’s really tempting to predict a draw.  And to be honest, a draw wouldn’t be too shabby at all – 10 points from a possible 15 under the new gaffer going into the International break would be the kind of prediction that would have you locked in a loony bin shortly after his appointment, after all.  Wouldn’t a win be lovely though?  Wouldn’t it?  No, draw.  At best.  And virtual tinnitus thanks to that bugger with the bell.

Olé, olé olé olé, Tudgay, Tudgay!

Tonight's heroes - Tuds the workhorse gets the goal, but the Lynch-pin really stands out in defence again..

Nottingham Forest – 1
Reading – 0

It wasn’t pretty – but three points is three points and despite only elevating us to the heady heights of nineteenth in the table, that’s what counts right now for us.  Reading didn’t come and play like a team on an eight match unbeaten run.  The game threatened to go the way of the weekend game against Hull, but for an improved second half which eventually brought about the much needed breakthrough.

Cotterill made what I described on Twitter as ‘common sense’ changes to the team – Miller is injured, and was well below-par at the weekend (possibly carrying aforementioned injury) so was replaced with Findley, whilst Moussi back from suspension dropped into midfield at the expense of Greening.  Sensible moves in my book, giving us a team that looked like this:

Chambers   Morgan   Lynch   Cunningham
Gunter    Moussi    McGugan    Majewski
Tudgay   Findley

Early in the game my fears borne of last season’s mauling by Reading started to look justified – the Reds struggled to get the ball out their own half.  A tackle by Wes Morgan and a claim of a cross by Lee Camp thwarted early pressure from the visitors who looked began the game reasonably confidently.

We thought we’d snagged a goal when the ball fell kindly for Tudgay at close range – he put it away tidily only to be greeted with the offside flag.  On first viewing I thought the linesman probably called it right, but driving home Steve Cotterill sounded adamant in his post-match interview that there were a couple of defenders playing him on.  It will be interesting to see if the scant highlights we see from midweek games include it to see again.

At the other end Robson-Kanu was making life difficult for Chambers – he managed to get a cross in which was ably dealt with by Lynch (aka ‘The Lynch Pin’).  A bit of luck smiled upon us too – McAnuff hit a decent effort which appeared to beat Camp and hit the woodwork, the rebound falling for Gorkks who dithered for too long and allowed Camp to claim the ball.

Another let-off followed thanks to the wasteful finishing of Adam Le Fondre, who blazed over when he should really be scoring after good work from Leigertwood.  As for us, we just couldn’t keep hold of the ball – we weren’t closing down and certainly weren’t winning the second ball.  We livened up a little, an odd corner saw Lewis hit it hard and low to Raddy who tried to swivel and shoot but put it over.

A decent break from the Reds saw McGugan felled by Alex Pearce, I thought in the area quite obviously (but then I always do), the referee thought not and gave us a free kick right on the edge.  Lewis took it himself, and struck it powerfully straight into the wall – eventually it was cleared.  Another freekick from Lewis was drilled low into the box, it hit a couple of defenders, almost fell for Tuds who put his shot over from in the area.

I won’t lie, it was  dull first half – there were chances for both sides though, I suppose.  Cotterill apparently thought the same from the way Luke Chambers described the half time exchange in his post-match interview.  There needed to be more endeavour, more workrate and something to wake the disappointingly low crowd from their slumbers – just over 18,000 Forest fans in the ground with a fairly modest following of 446 fans from Reading making the trip.

Reid replaced Majewski for the start of the second half, and moved to sit behind Tudgay, with Findley moving to the left wing.  The second half certainly started more positively from a Reds perspective.  A delivery from the left into the box from McGugan caused some uncertainty in the box, but was eventually cleared after a couple of attempts.

The Reds began to look a bit more like breaking the deadlock though – even deliveries from corners weren’t completely shocking as they have been of late – a McGugan corner almost found Chambers in the box.  Tudgay – working hard to hold the ball up and be a threat up front with sometimes fairly limited support – latched onto a pass from Findley and fashioned a shooting chance from the D, the set-up was better than the shot which was pretty much straight at the keeper.

Loan-man Cunningham was having a decent game in defence too – he was on hand to block an effort from Karacan, again fortune favoured us somewhat when the rebound fell for Cummings who missed the target on the follow-up.

We eventually grabbed the lead with fifteen minutes on the clock.  Reid had lost the ball, but pleasingly worked back to help get it back – eventually it came to McGugan who fed Chambers who’d overlapped down the right, he put in a nice cross in to Tudgay who showed great skill in controlling, turning and striking a decent shot past the keeper and in off the far post in the Trent End goal.  A fitting reward for his hard work of late.

This really helped to give the ailing crowd a boost, and seemed in turn to spur on the Forest players.  A nice run from McGugan was halted cynically by Cummings, the resulting freekick being hit by the fouled man and nearly catching out Federici at his near-post.  A corner after, this time from Reid, was cleared as far as McGugan who tried his luck from range but missed the target.

Cotterill shored up a little by introducing Moloney for Findley, taking up position on the left of midfield (so that’s two right backs on the pitch, playing on both wings, with a centreback at right back – and we thought Smoulderwood was a sod for square pegs and round holes!!).  He pinged in a lovely shot shortly after coming on though, after Reid and McGugan had been playing keep-ball in the corner.  Federici was alert enough to make the save at his near post from Moloney’s well-struck shot though.

Into stoppage time and Reading – who’d been very quiet in the second half – finally started to show some urgency and came bloody close to equalising.  A cross came in from the right, and Le Fondre got a decent header on it looking like it was going to get across Camp and in, but the Reds ‘keeper was able to parry it away, and make sure it wasn’t into the path of other onrushing Reading players, allowing us to get the ball clear and to safety.  A cracking save.

All in all, a very welcome three points indeed.  If I’d had the chance to do a preview I’d have been somewhat reticent to predict a home win – but perhaps reflect that with Reading typically likely to play a more open style of football than the Hull City’s of this world, it might give us opportunities.  As it turns out, this was a pretty closed-off encounter too between two teams perhaps not at their attacking best at the moment.

It doesn’t matter though – it’s all about points on the board for the Reds in these early games of Steve Cotterill’s tenure.  As he said himself post-match, our job is to play our part and get behind him and the boys as much as possible to spur them on.  Preferably by not spouting the usual fate-tempting masterpieces like ‘How shit must you be, we’re winning at home!’ type songs – don’t you people learn from games like against Birmingham?!

To finish on a completely unrelated-t0-Forest note – it was really saddening to hear about Doncaster Rovers striker Billy Sharp losing his baby son this week just days after his birth.  What a brave thing to have played this evening – and how great he notched a goal that he dedicated to the memory of Louie Sharp.  Rest in peace, Louie, and I’m sure I can feel safe in extending mine and all Forest fans best wishes to Billy and his family.