Forest vs. Southampton preview..

I’ve got a mate who supports Southampton, our next opponents, and current leaders in the Championship.  “We’re there for the taking at your place” it said.  I wondered whether I missed a previous text and this was the punchline to a bizarre joke, but apparently that’s what he thinks – hard though it is for me to imagine why!  Of course, missing their top scorer Rickie Lambert through suspension is a good omen for us – but well, it’s not like he’s their only decent player, is it?

Having followed up our happy reunion with goalscoring at Ipswich with a goalless draw against Leicester in the cup, the Reds are – well – still not all that convincing a proposition at the moment.  Unless we happen to be playing a team in blue, from Suffolk, who are managed by Paul Jewell it seems.  We don’t have that kind of luxury on Saturday – and despite losing their last two league games to Bristol City (who’ve done the double over ’em now!) and down at Brighton, I’m not as convinced that is enough to write them off as my mate seems to be.

On the player front we’ll be hoping that Greg Cunningham has recovered from a hamstring niggle that kept him out of the FA Cup game last weekend, although youngster Kieron Freeman acquitted himself well in that game, his inexperience and perhaps fatigue was starting to show towards the end.  Findley is still doubtful with his dodgy shoulder, whilst Miller’s mystery injury remains – and Cohen, Wes and Moloney are on the longer term crocked list.

As noted above, the significant team news for Southampton is the loss of Rickie Lambert, both their and the league’s top scorer – he hit a hattrick against us at St Mary’s.  I’ll be glad to not see him lining up against us!  Saints gaffer Adkins also has injury doubts over Jaidi, Seaborne and Chaplow.  New signing Tadanari Lee is unlikely to be available for selection due to complications of work permit acquisition.

Fans who went to the Q&A session with Steve Cotterill and Mark Arthur commented on the manager’s apparent high regard for Marcus Tudgay, and for the recently prevalent 4-2-3-1 formation – which would suggest that Harewood might have to content himself with a place on the bench.  We of course also have a couple of ex-Saints strikers waiting in the wings in the form of Dexter Blackstock and David McGoldrick (not to mention their former ‘keeper on the bench, too).

Those of us who ventured south for the reverse fixture earlier in the season under the reign of Schteve McClaren will recall a game that featured something that has been somewhat of a recurring theme in Forest games even in to Cotterill’s tenure.  Referees seem to have formed a pact to not give us penalties – there were several solid claims in that match, including one immediately before the home side grabbed the decisive goal.

Anyway, I digress.  I’m really hoping the home crowd can be rewarded for their patience with a goal or two – even if we have to endure the godawful goal music (I can’t even remember how it goes, anyway).  However, that’s a tough ask – and it’s difficult to imagine a side of Southampton’s undoubted quality to not pose us problems at the other end either.  Until I see a run of more convincing performances and results I’m afraid most of my concluding paragraphs will sound a bit like this…

Bore draw squared…

Reidy denied by Schmeichel...

Nottingham Forest – 0
Leicester City – 0

The result I wanted even less than a win, a nil-nil bore draw in the bore draw leading to a replay.  Something we could do without from every position except perhaps fiscal – after all, I imagine a healthy sized home crowd for the return fixture will boost our coffers considerably given the apparent popularity of the fixture down the A46.  Before this, of course, is the inevitable ‘good draw’ for the next round, which will be dashed when we lose the replay.

Grumpy? Yeah, hadn’t you noticed?  Steve Cotterill didn’t elect to field a weakened side really, injuries aside.  Cunningham is the latest injury worry, dropping out to be replaced by Kieron Freeman who returns from a loan at Mansfield, Boateng missed out – and with Lynch returning to defence gave Moose the opportunity to return to defensive midfield alongside Jonathan Greening, giving us this line-up:

Camp
Gunter    Chambers    Lynch    Freeman
Moussi    Greening
McCleary    McGugan    Reid
Tudgay

Despite fears there weren’t more Leicester fans than Forest, 7,816 fans in blue in the designated areas at least, amongst a crowd of 18,477.  The game begun at quite a frenetic pace, and as seems to have been the custom of late an early injury – this time to an opponent though, Jeff Schlupp taken off on a stretcher and replaced by Jermaine Beckford having gone into a challenge with Jonathan Greening.

Forest seemed to continue to be pretty well spurred on – a good run from Gunter down the right was ended with a decent ball in to McGugan, his volleyed effort was well saved by Schmeichel but rebounded to Reid who tried to put the ball goalward but for the intervention of what appeared to be the arm of a visiting defender.  Naturally enough the referee saw fit to ignore this transgression much like against Cardiff the other week!

Reid was looking dangerous though, having beaten his man he was through on goal, but Schmeichel was equal to his effort and managed to get a touch on to it to put it out for a corner.  Forest had clocked up about five corners before Leicester really came into the game – as ever, we are about as penetrative as a sword made of butter from corners though.  Once Leicester did start to come into the game they looked on occasions quite dangerous.

A freekick from wide on the right was clipped into the box by Paul Gallagher, finding the head of David Nugent before cannoning off the crossbar.  Freeman – generally looking tidy – nearly made a Phil Jones-esque error when he tried to head the ball back under pressure from Beckford, fortunately Lee Camp was alert enough to dive and prevent an embarrassing own goal from the youngster.

Reidy remained our principle source of enterprise, cannily spotting Schmeichel off his line he went for the chipped effort which the ‘keeper had to backpedal to get to before tipping it out for another Forest corner.  As ever with Forest though, failure to breach one goal is often followed by a gift at our own – a short header back from Chambers was intercepted by Nugent who conspired to miss an open goal.

Half time all square – whilst Forest had started well and had Leicester on the ropes, there were probably better chances for the visitors.  Sounding familiar?  It should.  There was plenty of hard work but not masses of quality, particularly going forward.  It was good to see Freeman come through the half relatively unscathed though.  The Reds lined up to kick towards the Bridgford End for the second half.

It was a frenetic start to the second half – a lot of effort and little craft from either side resulting in a lot of lost possession.  McCleary worked well down the right to release Gunter whose ball into the box was cleared.  McCleary picked it up and fed Moussi who miskicked.  Meanwhile Abe picked up the ball for Leicester and did well to get forward and play the ball in to Gallagher who hit it over.

The visitors were getting more of the ball and putting on more pressure – we were treated to one of those moments when a stand of fans look silly, as the away end to a man celebrated what they thought was a goal, Gallagher had taken a shot however it struck the side-netting, which perhaps wasn’t all that apparent from the Bridgford End.  He was withdrawn almost immediately as part of a double substitution from the visitors.

Cotterill followed suit with his increasingly late subs, taking off perhaps our only real creative force (but increasingly knackered-looking) Andy Reid – who was afforded an excellent reception from the fans as was Marlon Harewood, resuming his Forest career after a break of more than eight years.  Pretty much the first thing Marlon did was get caught offside, so he certainly still has the knack of that particular trick!

Further opportunities for the away side followed, Konchesky latched onto a Lynch clearance and sent a dangerous ball across the face of goal which was deflected out for a corner.  At the other end McCleary presented a similar opportunity by playing the ball across the six-yard line and out the other side – as ever, no Forest strikers had gambled that far forward so weren’t able to get on the end of the tantalising cross.

Jermaine Beckford illustrated perhaps why he wasn’t cut out for Premier League football with the miss of the game, in acres of space fifteen yards from goal he conspired to scoop the ball high over the crossbar when he should really have been scoring, or at the very least hitting the target.  Dexter replaced Marcus with about twelve minutes to go, Tuds – as he does – had worked very hard with little support or service at times.

Leicester, in the meantime, continued to conspire to miss chances that looked easier to score – Camp did well to save from Nugent’s header, but parried the ball directly to Dyer who, from four yards out, volleyed it over.  Anderson was our last substitute in a straight swap for McCleary – leaving a few muttering about the clear need for a more creative head like Majewski who seems to be tremendously out of favour with Cotterill.

That said, with McGugan and Gunter both playing and risking being cup-tied despite supposed interest from other clubs, maybe it’s Raddy who is attracting interest?  Or do you get cup-tied even for being an unused substitute?  I don’t think you do – so in fielding Gunts and Lewis we’ve at the very least lessened their value to any would-be interested parties by playing them today.  Interesting speculation, of course, but not really part of the match report!

Matt Mills chose to highlight what has become the customary spectacle of a shit refereeing performance of the City Ground by giving Dexter Blackstock a blatant elbow to the head – the former Reading defender picking up only a yellow card.  The only other incident was a brief treatment of Freeman just into stoppage time, before the game ended without further incident.

For me a draw was the worst possible outcome – an opportunity to replay a game we could have done without in the first place will generate some funds, particularly given the likelihood of a higher-than-normal home attendance for this round of the cup, however with the number of injuries we have an Cotterill’s apparent lack of desire to rest key players we could see our increasingly important league programme put under pressure.  It’s almost a sin to say, but I would rather have lost than drawn given our wider circumstances.

As it is, we are ‘still in the draw’ so to speak.  Sod’s law dictates an exciting prospect of a top flight visitor or trip that will have some fans already excitedly forgetting the replay to overcome, followed by the customary shoeing we’ll get at the Walkers Stadium.  Magic of the F.A. Cup my arse.

The replay is on Wednesday 18th January.

Forest vs. Leicester City preview..

Ah, the magic of the FA Cup third round.  Is strangely absent when it comes to us, whilst Leeds notably seem to get a plum draw each year, we generally don’t.  Marry the inauspiciousness of the fixture itself, replicated earlier in the season in the league, with obviously the largely appalling recent form we’ve shown and it’s not really all that surprising that Forest have just finally grudgingly opened one of the upper tiers to home fans.

Of course, it’s a little different down the A46 – 8,000 odd Foxes fans are expected in our fair city, not including those rumoured to have acquired tickets in the home ends.  Having eventually seen a Leiceister victory at the City Ground in the Carling Cup back in 2007 (remember, when we were winning with about 2 minutes to go yet still conspired to lose? Paul Smith scored for us!), missing out on a league win earlier in the season, so I guess an FA Cup win is another step toward that aim.

I need not mention our form really – we of course went 7 games without scoring, nestled either side of that were wins against Ipswich.  Our visitors haven’t exactly been pulling up trees either, so to speak.  They were five games without a win until snagging a 2-1 victory at Selhurst Park over Crystal Palace on Monday.  It would seem that Nigel Pearson has – much like Steve Cotterill – struggled to tangibly improve results after the departure of a costly ex-England manager.

On the team-news front it’s been confirmed that we have international clearance to field Marlon Harewood for his first appearance in a Forest shirt for over eight years.  He’s signed up ’til the end of the season after his contract in China came to an end.  Joel Lynch is available following his suspension, whilst Paul Anderson and Dexter Blackstock have come through their latest injuries.  Findley is a doubt with his gammy shoulder, leaving Choen, Miller, Morgan and Moloney on the longer-term crocked list.

Leicester will be missing targetman Steve Howard who was sent off against Crystal Palace earlier this week, and Gelson Fernedes whose season-long loan from Saint Etienne was prematurely terminated.  They will also be without Sol Bamba and John Pantsil who check in with their respective international sides for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament.  Liam Moore is cup-tied having played in an earlier round for Bradford City whilst on loan.  Former Red loanee Paul Konchesky has returned to training following an injury so may be fit to play.

If I were Steve Cotterill I’d have the dilemma of perhaps trying to build on the Ipswich momentum and fielding a strong team (such as we have, admittedly, given the injuries!), or – and probably more likely – not risking too much and giving some youngsters and opportunity to play.  A cup run is all well and good, but it’s a distraction and a potential source of yet more injuries, of course it’s also a source of revenue – which is all the more important in the post-sugar-daddy age at Forest.

So I’m quite glad it’s the gaffer with the difficult choices and not me.  Leicester haven’t exactly impressed this season considering the expensively-assembled squad – but of course, we haven’t impressed to the power of ten, so this is one of those games that could go either way.  With an attendance perhaps illustrative of the disenchantment many fans are feeling, coupled with a large away following, it will be a strange City Ground the players run out to.

Obviously it’s difficult to wish for anything other than a Forest win, and the promise of a more interesting draw in the fourth round, but I can’t help but feel that we could do without the distraction of a cup run and focus on what is a dire league position we are facing.  The devil in me hopes Steve Cotterill rests as many key players as injury allows and tests out some youngsters (and Marlon) – and if they triumph, do the same again in the fourth round.

It could be a useful proving ground to see who in the reserves and youth set up might be ready to step up to the plate and help our league campaign.  Given the unpredictability of Cotterill’s approach to selection for this game, along with the fact that both Forest and Leicester are quite difficult teams to predict anyway, I’m going to abstain from anything other than making the rather blithe observation that ‘it could go either way’.

Oh sweet blessed relief!

(S)Nottingham Forest, officially crowned as Ipswich Town's bogey team! Six goals in nine games. All against Ipswich!

Ipswich Town – 1
Nottingham Forest – 3

Ooh, that feels better doesn’t it?  After seven games of drawing blanks it took a mere 5 minutes for Tuds to latch onto a throughball from Reidy and score.  Before half time it was 2-0 courtesy of another lovely finish, this time courtesy of Garath McCleary.  An unsaveable penalty kept the nerves jangling (as did some fragile looking defending) but t’was Tudgay again who restored our two goal cushion with a delicious headed goal.

Ipswich must hate playing us!

The latest round of injuries and the suspension of Joel Lynch forced a certain degree of reshuffling the team again, the most surprising perhaps being the return of forgotten-man George Boateng in midfield – enabling Moussi to resume defensive cover in place of the suspended Joel Lynch.  Steve opted for Tuds upfront alone, with McCleary, McGugan and Reid providing attacking impetus from midfield.

Camp
Gunter    Moussi    Chambers    Cunningham
Boateng    Greening
McCleary    McGugan    Reid
Tudgay

The opening stages of the game looked to be more of the same from Forest – an early chance falling to Tudgay whilst the Ipswich defence were caught napping, but the striker blazed over.  This wasn’t to set the tone of the day though as with previous games – just minutes later Reidy spotted Tudgay and picked him out with a lovely through-ball, Tuds made no mistake with the finish this time, slotting it into the far corner from around fifteen yards.

Forest really had their tails up, some good work from McCleary saw him beat a number of players before appearing to lose control of it – it fell favourably for Lewis who couldn’t get much power behind his shot, leaving an easy save for Lee-Barrett to make in the Ipswich goal.  It wasn’t all one-way traffic though, an Edwards freekick was headed across goal by Delaney where Jay Emmanuel-Thomas must be rueing heading the ball straight at Lee Camp.

Returning midfielder George Boateng had a decent effort from range too, their keeper spilling but then reclaiming the ball.  Ipswich did start to provide a sterner test of Forest’s resolve though – and to be honest, a combination of sometimes fortunate defending and awful finishing from the hosts kept us in the lead.  Boateng in particular made a nuisance of himself and appeared to pressure Delaney into shooting over from the edge of the box.

Just as the nails were starting to be chewed though we pulled another goal out the bag – Forest got the ball forward and a short pass inside found McCleary in what didn’t appear a particularly dangerous position, until a mazy run combined with good resilence to avoid the attentions of the man behind him gave him a chance to unleash an unstoppable pile driver into the far corner of the net.

It was almost three moments later too – Bowyer was wasteful with the ball for the home side, giving McGugan an opportunity on the half-volley from around thirty yards, it looked to be bound for the top corner of the net but was just over.  More like what we’ve seen of late, good work from Gunts down the right culminated in a dangerous ball across the six yard box, but with no red shirts in a position to capitalise.

Ipswich in the meantime really were reminiscent of recent Forest games – Daryl Murphy somehow conspired to shoot straight at Camp from six yards out whilst pretty much unmarked.  A cracking effort from Emmanuel-Thomas looked like a goal from around 30 yards, crashing into the crossbar and falling for Bowyer who fluffed the rebound, albeit from an offside position so anything goalbound wouldn’t have counted.

Reid pretty much ended the half for us, working well to get away from a couple of defenders and get a sight of goal – but his chipped shot lacked any real power nor direction to give the home ‘keeper anything to worry about.  So half time and two goals to the good – certainly a strange feeling, positivity was prevalent – with an underlying concern and sometimes actual utterances regarding Ipswich’s recent comeback against Barnsley.

The second half kicked off and the Reds were straight out the blocks again – a corner from Reid was met by the head of Tudgay only to be cleared off the line by an Ipswich player.  Moments later McCleary tricked his way past Cresswell and cut the ball back for Reidy, his shot was blocked and fell for McGugan who certainly should’ve been hitting the target from 16 yards, but was both high AND wide!

Ipswich started to build some pressure on us, and our defence was creaking appropriately.  A rash challenge from McCleary gave them a freekick on the edge of the area, but Emmanuel-Thomas put it over the bar.  At the other end though McCleary was continuing to pose Ipswich problems, beating his man again and putting a cross in for Tudgay who was able to get on the end of it, but ultimately we only ended up with a corner from it.

It has to be said that both the composure and committed challenges of George Boateng really helped dissipate some of the pressure the Reds were coming under, but the home side continued to attack – a ball in from Emmanuel-Thomas nearly caused some panic but for Cunningham to be on hand to clear for a corner.  From the corner Ellington rose to head but put it wide.

The pressure did reward them with a chance though – Emmanuel-Thomas went to ground in the area having jinked his way in there, under the challenge of Cunningham and/or Boateng.  The resulting penalty from Leadbitter was powerfully struck low into the left hand post, ricocheting right along the goalline, off the right hand post and in – not a fat lot that Lee Camp could do about that despite diving the right way, a cracking penalty.

Getting a goal back lifted the otherwise docile home crowd and it’s fair to say nerves were jangling aplenty for the Reds both on and off the pitch, but a break from Forest culminated in a fantastic cross from Reidy and an absolutely brilliant header from Tudgay to loop the ball beyond the ‘keeper and inside the far post to give Forest the two-goal cushion that left us feeling not-quite-so-nervous-but-still-quite-nervous.

A tired looking McCleary was withdrawn for Derbyshire with about seven minutes on the clock, and Forest started to – well – not exactly bust a gut to get forward and do their best to stop Ipswich doing so.  It was working well.  The only threat posed in the closing stages was a long range effort from Leadbitter which Camp saved.  Reid made the slowest withdrawal from a pitch we’ve seen since Billy’s time here and was replaced by Patrick Bamford, who pretty much got to hear the final whistle.

What a relief – of course, we’re not out of the mire yet by any stretch of the imagination, but a few goals and some points will do the lads the world of good.  It’s a pity we have the distraction of a cup game next week and can’t crack on with league fixtures, but such is life.  Well done to the lads on turning it around, it’s so great to have something positive to write about rather than my what-has-become-usual pissing and moaning!

If you’ve not seen them, the goals are here (before the YouTube police delete them!)

Stats for nffcblog.com for 2011..

WordPress.com has very helpfully compiled a report of the calendar year of 2011 for the site – which always, when I trouble to look at the stats, reminds me how many of you pop along to read and comment on my ramblings.  I really appreciate it – you can see the report by clicking on the link below.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 220,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 9 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Ipswich Town vs. Forest preview..

The hunt for a goal goes on the road on Bank Holiday Monday, and ironically our next opportunity to find the onion bag comes against the team against whom we last managed to score.  Indeed, we scored three goals against them. Could this frankly painful ten and a half hour stint of no goals come to an end against Paul Jewell’s school of clown defending?  If it doesn’t, then – if you held any hope we weren’t already – we really are in trouble.

Forest have, at times, shown desire and drive over the last few games, but frankly have not given opposing goalkeepers much to do at all.  Our last game against Cardiff was a great example of this – dominated possession, territory and ‘pressure’ – but didn’t make their keeper have a single genuinely uncomfortable moment all game (aside from the opening minutes where he fouled Findley).  Despite being the poorer team, Cardiff brought a save from Camp, missed a golden chance and scored.  Therein lies the difference.

Ipswich are a real chalk or cheese team – a seven goal losing streak featured earlier in the season (including our win against them), but then an amazing fightback against Barnsley was followed by a win over Derby.  That said, like us they saw out 2011 with a defeat – in their case at the hands of Reading at the Madejski Stadium.  I don’t much rate Jewell as a manager, but alas fear he might have the edge over Cotterill on the ability stakes.

To add to recent injury woes we have doubts over Robbie Findley, who suffered a problem with his shoulder after an awkward fall early in the Cardiff game.  Joel Lynch picked up his fifth booking (frustrating – one more game and the suspension threshold increases) so misses this game through suspension, meaning Moussi is likely to be moved back to defence.  Dexter and Anderson are both doubts with their injuries, whilst of course the longer team crocks Miller, Cohen, Morgan and Moloney will all miss out.

There’s a slight chance that the Chinese FA and FIFA might have got Marlon Harewood’s paperwork sorted out in time for the 32 year old to make his second Forest debut, post-match yesterday Steve Cotterill rated this at about 50:50 – so by no means a guarantee – meaning that we are increasingly picking through the dregs of our striking options.  After a passionless and effortless showing from Derbyshire yesterday I’m hoping young Bamford gets himself a start.

Our hosts are in reasonably fine fettle on the injury front – although will be without their top scorer Keith Andrews, a midfielder on loan from Blackburn.  Their recent two wins look increasingly like a blip with a draw and a defeat in their most recent results, and we know only too well from the City Ground encounter that – much like us – their defence is prone to comedic lapses that result in goals conceded.

If we want to get the ‘not-scoring-goals’ monkey off our back, then there are few opponents more likely to oblige, Ipswich have only kept six clean sheets all season in the league, only one in their last ten games.  Unfortunately we too have only kept six clean sheets all season – two of which came in our last ten games – so whilst we might well break our goalless streak, by the same ‘logic’ it seems highly likely we’ll concede too.

We really need a win to ease pressure on players and manager alike – and of course to provide a spark of hope to an increasingly bleak looking league table.  Unfortunately I just can’t envisage that actually happening.  Sorry to continue a theme of depressing predictions of late, but there you go!  I might start sticking a tenner on Forest to lose each game just to have something to cheer me up come full time – either making a spot of cash or seeing us snag at least a point!