Crystal Palace vs. Forest preview..

A three match unbeaten run is a pretty modest boast, all told, but it seems miraculous considering what we’ve become accustomed to.  That’s what we’re taking with us to Selhurst Park tomorrow, still five points clear of the drop zone following successive draws at home to Brighton and then away at Leicester, which of course followed on from that game at Leeds.  I can’t really mention the scoreline again can I? Oh, okay, I can.  7-3.

For those of you that enjoy the jaded experience that is Soccer AM (hmm, maybe twelve years ago for yours truly) then you might want to tune in to see some Forest fans playing the role of ‘fans of the week’ – personally I might just wait for the YouTube highlights having long since tired of the show and also dispensed with Sky Sports.  These are, of course, austere times, after all!

If you’ve managed to avail yourself of enough fuel thanks to the combined idiocy of our government, our media and the great unwashed, then you might be relishing a trip to London to see Forest take on our former player Dougie Freedman’s Eagles.  The rookie manager has proven a natural, and has elevated Palace from a more customary lower-mid-table berth to within sniffing distance of the play-offs in a short time.

That said, it’s a sniffing distance that requires a rather keen sense of smell – it has to be said.  Palace’s excellent start to the season has descended into a degree of mediocrity of late – mind you, they’ve only lost once in their last twelve league outings – and that was to Derby of all people.  The problem in mounting a play-off bid has been the number of draws – in those twelve games eight of them have ended in stalemate – leaving just three wins.

They’re stronger at home than on their travels though, so not to be underestimated.  As if we’ve been doing much underestimating of late, have we?  I still struggle – in spite of considerable improvement of late – to muster much by way of optimism when it comes to our prospects against pretty much any opponent.  Three decent performances on the bounce if anything make me more uneasy.

On the injury front the big news for the Reds is the uncertainty surrounding Garath McCleary and his troublesome hamstring.  A scan hasn’t offered much clarity and whilst he’s not been ruled out, he’s certainly a strong doubt.  Danny Higginbotham should be available following an appearance from the bench midweek, and whilst George Elokobi is on the road to recovery he’s not likely to displace Cunningham from the side.

Palace will be missing Anthony Gardner and Mile Jedinak both of which who’ve received the shit news this week that they’ll be out for the season.  Paul McShane is missing with a hip injury, and Sean Scannell will be out with an ankle injury.  It has left Freedman talking about utilising youngsters – something that the Eagles have certainly thrived at doing lately – and given the lack of pressure to get points unlike us it might tempt their gaffer to be a bit more experimental in his approach.

Given the imbalance in their squad at the moment and the chance that they might well use the game as an opportunity to test some inexperienced or fringe players should be a benefit to Forest.  For us, we are imbalanced by nature thanks to the summer squad assembling by Steve McClaren, and if McCleary isn’t fit to play then we seem likely to see Gunter out of position on the wing again as we try to keep some semblance of shape.

Of course, a win would be most welcome – but frankly plenty of teams have come away from Selhurst Park with bugger all this season to mean that a point would have to be considered a decent result.  The calibre of ‘goodness’ of a draw naturally rather hinges upon what Portsmouth do at home to Burnley, what Bristol City do at home to Derby, what Coventry do on their trip to Hull and whether Birmingham hold on to the lead they have over Doncaster Rovers as I type.

Reds hit the big four-oh with a decent draw at Leicester..

Leicester City – 0
Nottingham Forest – 0

A draw ain’t too shabby really, considering, is it?  It gets us to the forty point mark which, whilst not by any stretch is a watermark of safety, it’s something that seemed a million miles away not all that long ago.  It means now with all teams around us having notched 39 games so far this season we know we’re now five points clear of the drop zone in our own right, we’re level on points with Millwall and just four behind Peterborough.

Steve Cotterill made some changes here, which isn’t really surprising – with McCleary nursing his hamstring in the last game he decided not to risk the danger-man at all, electing to play Chris Gunter further forward on the wing and popping Wootton in at right-back – otherwise the side was the same as we’ve seen lately – although Higginbotham deemed fit enough for a spot on the bench.

Wootton   Chambers    Lynch    Cunningham
Gunter    Moussi    Guedioura    Reid

Forest had the first of the opportunities, Dexter winning a header and getting it on target after just six minutes, but not with enough power to cause much difficulty to Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal.  The Reds did keep up the pressure early in the game though, Lynch was a whisker away from connecting with an Andy Reid free-kick, whilst Blackstock again had the opportunity to test Schmeichel but instead fired wide having shrugged St. Ledger off the ball.

With a little over ten minutes gone Guedioura was making a nuisance of himself, he picked up the ball on the edge of the area and switched to shoot with his left foot, bringing a decent save from the Foxes goalkeeper.  This pressure from Forest eventually waned and lulled the home side reluctantly into life – and eventually saw them start to dominate proceedings after the very positive start from the Reds.

Cunningham was on hand to prevent Lloyd Dyer hitting a volley on goal at the back post, and whilst Wootton was beaten in the air by Ben Marshall, Lee Camp was on hand to save the resulting header.  Camp was called into action again – making a decent save from a long range volley from Sol Bamba.

The Reds were able to force a brief break in the home side’s pressure on twenty minutes – Cunningham had a shot which was cleared, but only as far as Guedioura who struck his shot wide from the edge of the area.  As the half hour approached Leicester gained more momentum – a powerful drive from Nugent was tipped around the post, and moments later he had another close-range effort blocked as the Foxes laid siege to the Forest goal.

On 34 minutes Leicester really should’ve taken the lead – Bamba moved forward well with the ball and laid the ball in to Beckford, the in-form striker played a cracking ball to Dyer who guided his shot fractionally wide of Lee Camp’s post.  Booking number one came for Scott Wootton for fouling Dyer.  He responded well though, by getting forward and feeding Chris Gunter on the edge of the area, but the make-shift winger couldn’t get his shot on target.

The half ended with Danny Drinkwater picking up a booking for a foul on Raddy.  All in all, a decent start from the Reds and some stout defending.  Lee Camp had been called to action and had done well when this happened.  Plenty to be positive about, enough to remain a bit concerned about too.

The second half kicked off and struggled to match the pace of the first – the only real chance of note in the early stages fell to Drinkwater whose deflected effort ended up straight at Lee Camp.  After the hour the Reds broke down the left with Reid pulling the ball back to Majewski on the edge of the box, he got his left-footed effort on target, but it was also straight at Kasper Schmeichel who was able to gather the ball easily.

Clearly unhappy with the lack of action Leicester withdrew Nugent for Schlupp, and shortly after Cotterill too opted for a change, taking off Raddy and replacing him with Marcus Tudgay in a bid to get more attacking momentum.  Forest had further chances – on 75 minutes a Reid freekick was whipped in, finding a glancing header from Lynch that clipped the bar, however the defender was adjudged to have been offside.

Forest had another opportunity, a corner from Reid was cleared but the ball got back out to the Irishman who whipped in a decent delivery which was met by Luke Chambers who sadly couldn’t get his header anything other than handsomely over the bar.  Reid was withdrawn late in the game for Higginbotham as Forest opted to hold on to the point they’d earned, and duly succeeded in doing so.

Certainly not a classic, by any stretch of the imagination, but a potentially very valuable point for us.  With Portsmouth winning, and more importantly Doncaster picking up a point on the night, it makes it all the more useful to have snagged a point.  A tricky trip to Palace on Saturday is looming for us, whilst Doncaster host Birmingham on Friday, and Coventry travel to Hull on Saturday too.

These frankly half-unexpected points we’ve been picking up at Leeds and Leicester and at home against Brighton could prove absolutely invaluable.  Glancing down the fixture list doesn’t betray a whole lot of ‘easy points’ in this season of underachieving so we do need to keep picking up points we might not expect now our standards seem to have plummeted so readily.  Long may the surprises continue!

Leicester City vs. Forest preview..

Sorry, running late with the preview today!

Much like against Leeds, no reminders should be needed for the Forest players about what has gone before – in this case also in the King Power Stadium against tonight’s hosts. Forest take to the road for their game in hand match against the Foxes. A 3-7 thriller at Leeds on their last trip, and a performance that belied the draw we earned at home to Brighton sees the Reds in much more productive mood of late.

Our hosts are sniffing around the play-off periphery, a five point gap separates them from the end-of-season lottery whilst of course we have a similar gap between ourselves and the drop zone. The Reds will be pleased to have Garath McCleary fit despite not completing the full match against Brighton, and there’s the distinct possibility that injured loan duo Danny Higginbotham and George Elokobi might be sufficiently recovered to play a part.

Leicester will be missing their captain Neil Danns, after he was dismissed for trying to snap our former captain Paul McKenna in half in their last game against Hull. They may have the opportunity to welcome back Richie Wellens to the fold having missed the weekend match with a calf problem. They are without Paul Gallagher, Andy King, Darius Vassell and Martin Waghorn through injury so it’s fortunate they’ve got such a massive squad!

Of course, there will be the possibility of the incongruous sight of former Reds stalwart Wes Morgan in a Leicester shirt. The big defender took a while to break into the Foxes first team but has impressed with his performances at the back since he has had his chance – as I’m sure we knew he would. I’d hope that he’ll get a good reception from the Reds, he served us well and faithfully and even gave us the opportunity of a cash windfall when needed.

Our last game against Leicester was in the FA Cup where we frankly put on a disgraceful performance – having dragged a 0-0 draw out at the City Ground the replay in Leicester ended with a 4-0 drubbing, including a hattrick for Jermaine Beckford. I wonder what happened to the last team that drubbed us 4-0 before that? It might be a bit too much to hope for a ten goal thriller – but I’m sure the Foxes won’t be taking us too lightly.

I’m still pretty pessimistic as ever – two quality performances from the Reds in a row leave me awaiting the suckerpunch which has generally followed after just one decent showing this season. With Steve Cotterill seemingly starting to stick with selections and styles that have been working then maybe I’m being over-cautious in predicting negativity, but well, y’know, once bitten twice shy – so if you’ve been bitten as many times as we have then you’d be daft not to be a little wary.

With the right kind of performance though there’s no reason why the Reds can’t profit from the trip – Leicester have been the picture of inconsistency since the return of Nigel Pearson, and of course with the game being our game-in-hand over others this will provide the opportunity to find out exactly how the land lies in the league table, with Doncaster visiting Crystal Palace and Portsmouth hosting Hull also this evening.

Reds robbed by Brighton, again!

Reidy's freekick strikes the post...

Nottingham Forest – 1
Brighton and Hove Albion – 1

It was almost going to be the most undeserving double a team have ever done.  Earlier in the season at the Amex Stadium the Seagulls triumphed 1-0 with a late goal, their only attempt in a game dominated by Forest, and this afternoon fortunately their goal – the only attempt in a game dominated by Forest, was a little earlier this time.  It gave us time to get an injury time equaliser to rescue a point that could have been all three.

Brighton are a surprisingly niggly team for one with a reputation for attractive football, full of gamesmanship, sneaky kicks and cynical play.  With a referee who didn’t clamp down on it, it made for a frustrating afternoon at times.  Whilst it’s disappointing to have not got win, particularly given the chances we had and the defensive lapse that let the visitors score, four points from Leeds away and Brighton at home is good going.

Perhaps unsurprisingly Steve Cotterill decided not to tinker with the side that got such an impressive result at Elland Road.  Tudgay returned to the bench from suspension, the only potential other chances might have seen Higginbotham or Elokobi returning – but their recovery clearly isn’t that far along, or perhaps Steve Cotterill is considering the need to keep the loan pair fresh for battles to come.

Gunter    Chambers    Lynch    Cunningham
McCleary    Moussi    Guedioura    Reid

It was a decent start and a decent atmosphere from the home crowd, buoyed by the midweek heroics.  A good following from Brighton too, whose travelling supporters have risen along with the stock of the club in recent years.  A cagey start saw the visitors comfortable to keep possession patiently and Forest struggle to get a hold on the game.  There were no real significant inroads made by either side on the goals.

Our first real attempt was a long ranger from Adlene Guedioura – it brought some Ooohs from sections of the ground but for most it was apparent his powerful drive was considerably off target.  For their part the Seagulls attacked and saw Barnes cut in from the right and also hit an effort well off target.  Gued was getting to grips with midfield though, some good work from him on the right saw him get the ball across the face of the goal but with nobody to convert we had to settle for a corner.

There were cries for a penalty but the referee got the call right from my view, when either some cunning trickery or accidental clumsiness saw Moussi get the ball past two before being cynically chopped down by Lewis Dunk right on the edge of the area – he gave the free kick which was right of centre, taken by Reidy it was expertly curled around the wall and off the far post to safety.  A cracking hit from him.

Guedioura was making a nuisance of him self again – he nicked the ball from a visiting player and looked to have shaped to shoot, but instead tried to tee up Blackstock who couldn’t get his effort on target.  Probably our best chance came when Reid picked out a cracking cross to the back post where he found Blackstock but the Reds striker put his header wide when he really ought to have been hitting the target (although he was under a bit of pressure from a defender).

Another long range effort from Guedioura was just wide – the ball had come out from a corner and this time was much closer to hitting the target.  It was a pleasing half from the Reds, they’d played well and knocked the ball around nicely – a bit more sharpness in front of goal and things boded well.  Brighton had offered little going forward, although obviously those of us who went to the away fixture will remember well they only need one chance.

Much like the first half the second took a while to spring into life – McCleary, who’d been quiet and quite well marshalled – had a break down the right, and put a low ball in which almost picked out Guedioura.  The attempted clearance fell to Moussi who fed the ball to Reidy, but as with many of the Irishman’s crosses this afternoon it was too close to the ‘keeper and was gathered fairly easily by Brezovan.

As noted above, Brighton are a dirty niggly side – none more so than Ashley Barnes.  He should’ve been in the book for an ugly hack on McCleary who’d shown him a clean pair of heels down the right.  A moment later he did the same to Gunter on the right of the area – he got the booking this time, but this should’ve been his second.  He even had the nerve to protest his innocence.

Then the suckerpunch – a freekick was given when Lynch was a little over-zealous in an aerial challenge, the right call from the referee, but similar incidents at the other end hadn’t given us freekicks.  Vincente delivered it from 35 yards out over the packed area to the six yard line, for reasons best known to our defenders Sam Vokes was able to break from the pack without so much as a sniff of a marker, Lee Camp half-came then didn’t and the striker glanced his header over him into the net.

A well-taken freekick, a great run – but bloody awful defending for sure.  This brought the visiting fans to life somewhat, they were impressive in number if not in voice aside from straight after the goal.  This spurred on the home fans somewhat, which was mirrored on the pitch as Forest looked to pick themselves up and get back into it.  Guedioura unleashed a powerful drive on target this time, but it was straight at the ‘keeper who punched rather than try to gather.

McCleary worked well down the right and fired a shot from a tight angle – it deflected, and brought a save from Brezovan for a Reds corner.  Tudgay was introduced with about twenty minutes left for Majewski, Raddy had had a decent game but did appear to be tiring so probably the right call from the gaffer. Guedioura had another long range effort, this time he had the keeper well beaten, but not the post – it struck the inside of it and came back out.

Steve Cotterill withdrew McCleary who it transpires has been feeling a tight hamstring and replaced him with the lacklustre looking Ishmael Miller who went out onto the right.  It was the substitute whose fairly feeble effort evaded everyone in the box and dribbled against the post before eventually being cleared out for a corner.  The final throw of the dice was to take off Cunnningham – an excellent game for the youngster today – for McGugan.

As noted before, Brighton should’ve been a man down anyway – but they were as stoppage time arrived when Matt Sparrow picked up a second booking for a fairly silly foul.  It was deep into stoppage time when the ball was knocked into the box with Tudgay nodding down, it was a bit messy in there, and a hint of a handball from Lynch I thought before it eventually fell for him to shoot low into the Trent End goal to get us the point.

A good game, and a solid performance from the Reds who were desperately unlucky.  Just as elements of luck saw everything go in at Elland Road, today the woodwork spared Brighton’s blushes as did our wastefulness with a couple of opportunities to be a little more deadly.  Workrate was great though, style of play much more pleasing than of late – so there’s a lot to be pleased about, but a cursory glance at the league table underlines there’s still a lot more work to do.

It’s disappointing to have been effectively undone by a single solitary defensive lapse – and whilst I’ve been critical of Brighton’s niggling and cheating and gamesmanship, credit has to go to them for making the best of the limited opportunities they created.  Gus Poyet sounded displeased with his sides’ performance in his post-match interview on the football league show, as well he might be – Steve Cotterill rightly praised his side and the fans.

Tuesday’s trip to Leicester will finally end the game-in-hand debate and make the likely target we are working towards more transparent.  With Portmouth and Doncaster also in action (and Peterborough if we’re slightly optimistically looking upward).  We really could’ve done without Coventry picking up the win today.  I think eight points might be enough for us now, using a crude combination of prediction, basic assumption and random guesswork.

Now, whilst we’ve got some daunting fixtures between now and the end of the season if we can’t pick up an average of a point per game for the remainder of the season, then you’d be forced to conclude that we are indeed relegation fodder.  I feel cautiously optimistic if we can keep McCleary, Guedioura and Reidy fit, continue to reintegrate Raddy into the side and of course keep Dex firing.  A team effort indeed.  We were robbed, though.

Forest vs. Brighton and Hove Albion preview..

Hmm, it is of course tempting to fill this page with doom and gloom as I did for the Leeds preview.  It wouldn’t be unreasonable, Brighton are a decent side – and they’ve only lost one game in 2012 so far and find themselves firmly ensconced in contention for the play-offs.  Irrespective of the justifiable boost that Tuesday’s game at Elland Road will give us, it’s probably reasonable to assume that the Seagulls will provide a sterner test.

Marcus Tudgay returns to contention following his suspension – and with no fresh injury concerns from the midweek game it will give Steve Cotterill something to ponder, hopefully not for too long, I was really pleased to see Majewski back in the fold (although whether he has two games in him following his exclusion from the squad remains to be seen).  The other consideration is the fitness of Higginbotham and Elokobi who are both recovering from hamstring injuries.

Brighton arriving at the City Ground make it our third game in a row against a club that Brian Clough managed – who can remember that happening before?  They will be missing defender Reyes who is suspended after being sent off against Blackpool, but El-Abd, Vokes and Assulin are available to make the trip to Trent Side after recovering from a combination of injuries and illness.  Elphick remains sidelined with an Achilles problem.

Those of you that made the trip down to the Amex Stadium back in December will remember a game in which we dominated from start to finish, but alas not through into added time when Will Buckley popped up in the 92nd minute to score the only goal of the game and left Forest ruing opportunities spurned by Tudgay, McCleary, Anderson and Majewski – none managing to provide a stern test for Ankergren in the Brighton goal from good opportunities.

Whilst undoubtedly a daunting prospect Brighton’s form on the road hasn’t been that auspicious lately – they’ve only won one on the road since February, and that was Leeds – so that hardly counts! – but of course we must balance what is probably best classed as indifferent form on the road with our particularly atrocious home form – although more recent games at the City Ground have shown signs of promise.

Being the consummate pessimist if there was ever a game that was bound to be a bit of a damp squib it’s this one – after the lord mayor’s show, whatever cliche you want to use, I can’t help but think of a cracking win at Birmingham, a decent draw at Barnsley and then… BOOM… Doncaster at home.  Having said all that, having been such a grump about the Leeds game and expecting a shoeing, suddenly a draw at home to the Seagulls wouldn’t seem so bad.

With Leicester City looming on the horizon it’s feasible that Steve Cotterill might be lured into making changes to keep his squad fresh – clearly the weekend off provided a degree of benefit midweek (as of course did the clown defending from Leeds), but with games coming up more frequently there’s bound to be a bit of shuffling.  Hopefully the home fans can capture the kind of spirit we see away from the City Ground and the Reds can surprise us again.

Reds in seventh heaven at Elland Road..

Reds heed the advert and host their party at Elland Road..

Leeds United – 3
Nottingham Forest – 7

Well, well bloody hell. It just goes to show what I know – doesn’t it? Ten players who put up a limp-wristed attempt to out-hoof Derby a week ago also started today and conspired to become the first team to put seven past Leeds at Elland Road. Certainly a result that defies prediction, and to a degree, explanation – one that of course offers much hope, particularly given the now seven point gap between us and the relegation zone.

A soft (read: not a) penalty after a positive start looked to be the beginning of a more predictable outcome after a promising start, but a thunderbolt from Guedioura and a late first half goal from McCleary saw us go in at half time a goal to the good. In a crazy second half it was 1-3, 2-3, 3-3, 3-4, 3-5, 3-6 and finally 3-7 as defending basically went out of the window and seemingly Forest were firing deadly accurate.

So, as noted above, Steve Cotterill (who must take his fair share of credit for this result – much as we lay into him when we don’t get ’em) elected to make one change – a surprising one. Forgotten man, ‘injury’ victim, Raddy Majewski was restored to replace the suspended Marcus Tudgay in a 4-5-1 or 4-4-1-1 type arrangement against Leeds’ more conventional 4-4-2 formation:

Gunter Chambers Lynch Cunningham
McCleary Moussi Guedioura Reid

The game commenced at a decent enough pace – and we weren’t far off opening the scoring right from the off with McCleary bursting down the right and firing in a cross which was met by Blackstock, in between the two centrebacks, but he couldn’t get his effort on target. So very early signs of optimism – which took a considerable hit moments later.

McCormack picked up the ball on the edge of the area, evading McCleary and Majewski and into the area – Guedioura moved to get out of his way, McCormack tumbled theatrically to the deck, the referee gave the spotkick. Soft decision, but kind of what you come to expect these days (except, of course, when it happens to our players!). Leeds captain Robert Snodgrass spanked it well into the top corner, sending Camp the wrong way.

Guedioura responded to what he clearly saw as an injustice in the perfect way – he picked the ball up and after a touch fired an unstoppable piledriver from distance giving Andy Lonergan absolutely no chance in the Leeds goal. The game calmed down somewhat after the goal, but Forest looked uncharacteristically composed – more good work from McCleary found Andy Reid who could only get a tame shot away straight at Lonergan who made the save.

The referee seemed to take an age to get his cards out in the midst of an awful lot of niggly play from the Leeds players – Paul Robinson had the dubious honour of picking up the first booking for a disgraceful challenge on Dexter Blackstock. Another decent cross from McCleary deflected taking its’ sting meaning it was difficult for Moussi to get anything on it, making it an easy save for Lonergan.

Garath didn’t give a hint of what was to follow with his first couple of efforts in the game – a corner fell to him 25 yards out and he volleyed it wildly off-target. Three minutes later he was closer after Moussi laid it back, but put a powerful strike just over. As the half closed out Leeds started to pile on a little more pressure – Snodgrass put in a cross to White who attempted a cheeky back-heel that missed the target.

Just as we got nervy again though the unexpected happened again – a Leeds corner had us worried when Guedioura broke with the ball and played a cross-field pass to McCleary who had found masses of space, he unleashed a decent enough shot which Lonergan was unlucky not to save, he got a strong hand to it but it still found its’ way into the net to give Forest the lead at the break.

Certainly deserved – Forest had been uncharacteristically positive against a leggy looking Leeds side, they’d done the scrappy stuff well, but also passed it around well and didn’t succumb to the series of niggly fouls particularly on McCleary and Blackstock. All in all, it was very pleasing – but of course, as ever with just a one goal cushion, a nervy time of it. Nobody was expecting a seven goal thriller of a second half.

Five of those goals came within fifteen minutes – the first saw Reid nick the ball from Snodgrass and whip in a bloody brilliant cross to the back post where Dexter Blackstock was on hand to head home. Then came the sucker-punch, scrappy defending allowed Snodgrass to get the ball across the area where a ricochet made it fall kindly for Becchio who managed to stay on his feet for a chance and put the ball in the net.

A minute later and it was 3-3. What looked to me like a foul throw saw the ball launched into our area, it was half-cleared but only as far as Michael Brown who hit the kind of goal that – had it not been for Gued and McCleary – would’ve been a real talking point, a well-taken half-volley on the outside of his right foot. A cracking finish, for sure – but a mere tap in compared what was to follow (well, not quite, but this is a day for superlatives).

With fans reeling Forest yet again showed they had a real sting in their tail – in five minutes we’d have scored five. McCleary scored what for me was the pick of the goals – a long ball found Gaz wide out on the right and with little support from his teammates he simply smashed it over Lonergan and under the bar from an acute angle – a bloody amazing piece of technique from the in-form winger.

Garath got his hattrick minutes later – Reidy again was the architect with good work down the left before cutting it back for McCleary to finish low from inside the area. Leeds were briefly stirred into life again – Snodgrass brought a cracking save from Camp, and substitute Danny Webber perhaps ought to have done a little better from the resulting corner, heading just over.

It was a mere flash in the pan though, Forest again picked up the initiative – and it was McCleary again, this goal was reminiscent of the one he scored at Elland Road last season. He picked up the ball on the right hand side and dribbled into the area, cutting inside and smashing it into the goal with his left foot to give us a three goal lead and send the visiting fans into raptures.

The rout was completed with around nine minutes left – Blackstock had more than a whiff of offside about him as he latched onto a great pass from Guedioura, it was a cracking run though and a lovely finish to calmly get the ball past Lonergan and inside the post. Moments later he was similarly very-close-to-being-offside but this time the assistant referee opted to raise the flag. Leeds offered little other than a McCormack miss, and thus the game finished 3-7.

So, our first win at Elland Road since 1996, a first EVER team to score seven goals there against the home side, the first time we’ve scored seven goals away from the City Ground since 1995 (also in Yorkshire – remember that one?), the first time we’ve had a four goal hero since we beat Stoke 6-0 in 2003. As I type, today would’ve been Brian Clough’s 77th birthday – 7-7 would be the aggregate score between us and Leeds this season.

We win on away goals.

Anyway, enough gloatery – with results elsewhere as noted above we’ve amassed a seven point gap between us and the drop zone. It would be fantastic if we can take the confidence from this result into the weekend game against Brighton at the City Ground, and of course into our game in hand at Leicester City next week. Despite the exceptional scoreline, this isn’t our first unexpected good result – now we need to master getting a good result after the Lord Mayor’s Show.

As noted above, a huge congratulations to Steve Cotterill and the team. Difficult to pick a man of the match but obviously McCleary is up there – but Guedioura and Reidy were pretty instrumental, Blackstock played a blinder. Not man of the match, but it was good to see Majewski back in the fold. The goals are below, for as long as YouTube keep them there!

This one’s for you, Chris Cohen.

Leeds United vs. Forest preview..

A week away from the misery and we’re back on the road with a tough trip to Neil Warnock’s new squeeze.  Seven days to recharge the batteries is certainly welcome ahead of the journey to Elland Road to face Leeds United, the Reds will also be heartened by the weekend’s results which broadly went pretty well with our fellow relegation scrappers not picking up a huge amount in their games leaving us still four points clear of the drop zone.

Whilst the run Leeds have had under new boss Neil Warnock doesn’t look auspicious – just one win in five games – they have had a degree of misfortune over those results, not least against West Ham at the weekend – a late Becchio goal looked to have given the Yorkshire side a win only for Danny Collins to have picked up a last minute equaliser for the Londoners, leaving Leeds frustrated.

They’re tenth and still with a very tenuous sniff of the play-offs, though, if they can put together one hell of an impressive run from now on – and certainly they’ll see this game as an opportunity to start one.  If they remember back to their visit to the City Ground they’ll remember an embarrassingly easy victory as they won comfortably without breaking out of strolling pace against one of the worst City Ground performances I’ve witnessed.

Still, that was then.  Cotterill will be forced to change his line-up for this game – the two bookings earned by Marcus Tudgay means he’ll miss the game, which lures the gaffer into either going 4-5-1 (hopefully not) or perhaps introducing Ishmael Miller for a start.  Fingers very much crossed that Danny Higginbotham and George Elokobi are fit to return from their hamstring injuries – we’ve missed Danny’s leadership.

Leeds hope to have Alex Bruce and Leigh Bromby in contention for the game – both have returned to light training in the last week after being out injured, aside from that ol’ Colin doesn’t have too many injury concerns which is what makes this seem like a pretty difficult trip for the Reds to undertake.  Whilst we’ve tended to fair better on the road, this is a trip I’m not holding out much hope for.

The weekend’s results going the way they did could turn out to be a real blessing for us if – as I’m afraid I expect – we leave Leeds with nothing.  I’m afraid it’s come to looking at how the rest of the strugglers might fair on a pretty much full roster of Championship games – Bristol City host Watford, Donny host Millwall, Portsmouth host Birmingham, Peterborough host Reading.  It could be tight at the bottom by the end of the night.  Well, it will be – all that remains to be seen is where we end up in the conundrum.

Ho hum.  None of us were expecting fun, were we?  We haven’t won at Elland Road since 1992, a 4-1 win in Brian Clough’s last season – it’s not a record I’m expecting to tumble tomorrow either.

Edit: good news, we beat Leeds in 1996 by 3 goals to 1 – which unforgivably evaded my research even though I was at the bloody match!!

Derby hit a new high, and a new low..

Reid felled by Davies in a at-times fiery encounter..

Derby County – 1
Nottingham Forest – 0

Well that’s that, then.  It’s sad to have lost a record that’s stood for such a long time – but it’s hard to offer much sense of hard feeling aside from the softness of the freekick leading to the late late late winning goal from Jake Buxton to feel hard done to.

Cotterill elected to fight hoof with hoof, and rarely did a game of football threaten to break out as two decidedly average looking sides basically slugged it out – I’m disappointed with how we set out to get a point.  Sure, it nearly worked and I’d have been pleased with it, but bloody hell when will our manager learn that our players just aren’t built to scrap?

There’s much talk of the home supporters chanting derogatory things in relation to Nigel Doughty passing away – it was loud, there were a lot of them, it went on outside the ground after the game too.  It’s disappointing that the more right-minded Derby supporters who presumably make up the majority of them couldn’t regulate the idiots amongst their number a little better.

On the line-up front we had the big miss of Higginbotham – whilst I’ve no problem at all with Lynchy, he doesn’t provide the leadership we get from Danny and as such doesn’t always have the benign influence on his teammates.  That means, to his credit, the manager decided to stick with a four-four-two line-up rather than any kind of crazy rearrangement as many feared.

Gunter   Chambers   Lynch   Cunningham
McCleary    Moussi    Guerdioura    Reid
Tudgay    Blackstock

Whilst possession was largely dominated by Derby, the first chance came to Chambers who nodded over from a Reid freekick.  Derby threatened with a series of corners delivered dangerously by ex-Notts midfielder Ben Davies – indeed, what he lacks for in mobility he certainly offers threat from deadballs – on the ten minute mark he hit a freekick low through a crowded box which Camp needed to be alert to save.

The first booking came shortly after, Davies – Steven this time – felled Reid and picked up the card from D’Urso.  It kind of set the tone, Guedioura hacked Tyson down much to the delight of the travelling fans – and also picked up a booking.  Then Moussi was in on the act, pulling back Bryson unnecessarily and also picking up a yellow card.  The wronged man nearly got Derby the lead with a header but missed the target.

Tys had a few chances to get his first Derby County goal but couldn’t quite get onto the ball as it was headed back into the area after a freekick, he also latched onto a ropey pass from Guedioura but didn’t react fast enough.  Steven Davies came close from a Paul Green cross but his glancing header missed the target – shortly after he shot from long range but put the ball well over.

As for us – our best chance came from a HOOOOOF from Lee Camp, Shackell made a mess of dealing with it allowing Marcus Tudgay to nip in behind him – but he lacked composure with the finish and put it over from around twenty yards.  Another opportunity followed for Chambers who again couldn’t find the target.  The last chance fell to Ben Davies who dragged his shot wide after a pull-back from Tyson.

All in all, a scrappy half devoid of quality edged by the home side at least in chances created.  Kind of predictable I suppose, and since we’d managed to avoid conceding, there was some feeling that there might be the chance of a turnaround in the second half – after all, it wouldn’t be the first time we’d seen a poor first half followed by a much improved second half!

A livelier start to the second half again saw Forest with the first opportunity, a cross from deep by Cunningham had Frank Fielding flapping at it, the ball falling to Moussi whose effort was blocked and missed the target.  Exchanges beyond this were limited and scrappy with neither side creating much – with a little under an hour gone Cotterill took off Guedioura and replaced him with Jonathan Greening.

The Rams started to press more – Tyson with another opportunity to get off the mark as a Derby player cut in from the right and hit a shot but put it wide of the near post.  Marcus Tudgay picked up a yellow card for fouling Ben Davies, the fouled man then taking a freekick that almost crept all the way in eliciting an excellent last gap save from Lee Camp to prevent it going in.

Echoes of earlier in the season saw the home side play on with Joel Lynch prone on the deck, no goal this time – but a number of petulant challenges from all and sundry ended up with one of those embarrassing pushing and shoving nonsense.  Dexter Blackstock – maker of the latter petulant challenge – was singled out for a booking apparently for his part in the post-foul scenes – not sure what he did that others didn’t, but there you go.

Forest did still create some opportunities – a cross from the left was met by Tudgay and Barker simultaneously resulting in the Derby skipper needing lengthy treatment (since writing this I’ve learned he’s broken his leg – here’s to a speedy recovery, Shaun) – he was eventually replaced by eventual matchwinner Jake Buxton, whilst Ishmael Miller was introduced to replace Dexter Blackstock.  Once back underway, Tudgay had another close opportunity flicking an Andy Reid cross just wide.

The last ten minutes were pretty much pressure from the home side – Reidy cleared one off the line, Camp made a point-blank save and eventually we had the potential for our only ‘we only had ten men’ story (although I’d like to think we’d not stoop to hiring a poxy plane) as Marcus Tudgay  received a second booking for a challenge on Bryson.  As stoppage time added up it was a Ben Davies delivery that finally broke the deadlock.

A freekick awarded more from the reaction of the crowd than from what occurred on the pitch was delivered well from deep, was not dealt with and Buxton was free to head into bottom corner at the back post – I know we’re a man short, but there’s really no excuse for that.

A disappointing lack of composure, a scrappy match that in truth could’ve gone either way – but Derby certainly created the best opportunities.  Whilst the journey from Pride Park on the back of a bad result is never fun, it just ended up feeling a bit numb to be honest.

I wasn’t going to mention it, because I’d like to think it’s a brainless minority, but I would hope to see some form of apology from Derby for those fans who decided it was a good idea to sing derogatory things about the death of Nigel Doughty.  Loudly, and repeatedly – there were a lot of them.

Alas, I’m not confident that if the boot were on the other foot some of our own idiots wouldn’t indulge in similar – so there seems little point in getting too worked up by some pond-life.  Still, congratulations scumbags – an achievement some of your fans have desperately hankered after seeing for 40 years has finally been realised, and the headlines will be all about your idiotic and disgusting chanting.  I hope you’re proud of yourselves, you sad pathetic human beings.

Elsewhere Donny grabbed a point against Reading, which – whilst not ideal – could’ve been worse as they were winning.  So, for the first time in my life Derby have done a league double over us – and d’you know what, I don’t feel as bad as I thought I would about it.  Worryingly I think I’ve become accustomed to failure.  Leeds away up next – the light at the end of that tunnel is looking further and further away…

Derby County vs. Forest preview..

I’m still finding it difficult to get too worked up for this fixture, which is a worry.  There’s the usual rabble-rousing and flagrantly biased cock-waving going on in both Derby and Forest online communities that generally precedes matches between us –  but well, much like back in February when the snow put paid to the scheduled date for the fixture it’s a bit difficult to muster much excitement.  However – we are on much better form now than we were then.

Both sides of course come off the back of home games at the weekend – we got a morale-boosting-even-if-a-bit-fortunate 3-1 win against Millwall whilst the Rams lost 2-1 at the hands of Watford.  Doncaster aside, we’ve had a few decent results lately, whilst Derby are sitting lowly in the form table with poor recent performances.  Not that the form book generally has much say in this fixture typically.

With a welcome win against the Lions we have elevated ourselves to five points clear of the drop zone – tempting me to look at this game more as the game in hand it is.  Derby are in a reasonably comfortable lower-mid-table position so are not as desperate for points as we are – but Nigel Clough and co will be rather eager to notch a catalyst to revive their ailing form.  He will, of course, have his eyes on the first league double Derby have managed over Forest since his dad was in charge at the Baseball Ground.

On the team front Steve Cotterill is waiting on confirmation over the availability for Elokobi and Anderson who were both missing at the weekend having picked up injuries during and in the warm-up-to the Doncaster game respectively.  Whilst means the longer-term and suspicious injuries are those that remain – which means, so far, there’s no excuse for an outlandish square-pegs-round-holes formation.

Derby have a few niggles – Gareth Roberts missed their weekend defeat through illness although is likely to be fit to return, whilst Shackell has been carrying a hamstring injury that he’s been playing through.  Jamie Ward has been out too with a thigh injury, although they do have the ‘boost’ that glass-man Nathan Tyson is apparently fit to face his former club.

From a Forest point of view – and indeed, from Derby’s point of view – it’s all about the start, Derby have started games badly of late and given themselves a difficult job to come back into games – much like us, remember the Donny home game?  Ultimately this is a game between two mediocre-at-best sides which will probably be decided by a fairly slim margin – fingers-crossed that fortune will favour the Reds.

With a tough few games coming up in the shape of trips to Leeds and Leicester as well as the not inconsiderable visit of Brighton to the City Ground then this fixture represents the ‘on paper’ best opportunity for acquisition of points.  So maybe trying to write it off as a bit of a bonus game in hand is probably not quite right – and no matter how necessary points may or may not be the bragging rights are important.

I’m lucky enough to work with a number of Derby fans – it’s fair to say that they tend to be less magnanimous in victory than I am (and it’s more of a novelty for me, too!), so if karma is at play in this encounter then it should surely lend a fated hand to the Reds.  This is an age of austerity afterall, a Forest win wouldn’t see reams of paper and printer ink being wasted in petty small-town decorations adorning desks around my office.

It certainly wouldn’t result in the carbon footprint of a small aircraft being chartered in a few months time.  Mind you, if we arranged a similar stunt of a ‘months after the event’ reminder then we’d be in the middle of summer before the visible-if-you-squint banner was flying over an empty Pride Park.  I can’t call this one – Derby have to be the favourites by virtue of being the home team – let’s hope Reidy plays and has magic in his boots again, he was the difference between us and Millwall on Saturday.

Uncharacteristically deadly Reds tame the Lions..

Reidy seals the game, and a man of the match performance, with our third..Nottingham Forest - 3

Nottingham Forest – 3
Millwall – 1

It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job – the Reds relied on a fair degree of luck with the visitors rattling the woodwork on a number of occasions and a reasonable looking shout for a penalty.  At the other end Forest were uncharacteristically deadly in front of goal, there weren’t all that many chances created – so the conversion rate of those we did make was most pleasing for the home fans.

Unlike midweek, the team that Steve Cotterill went for wasn’t far away from what many of us would select, I think – a conventional 4-4-2 with people playing in their proper positions.  True, Elokobi missing through injury isn’t ideal, and I’m sure like me many fans might consider whether or not Chambers’ recent performances in defence justify keeping out Lynch or even Wootton on the bench – but all in all, I was pretty pleased.

Gunter    Chambers    Higginbotham    Cunningham
McCleary    Moussi    Guedioura    Reid
Tudgay    Blackstock

Millwall won the toss and elected to make us swap ends, so the incongruous sight of Forest kicking towards the Trent End started the match for us.  It was the visitors who had the first decent chance, too – James Henry (remember him? he played for us for about ten minutes whilst on loan from Reading) struck a shot from in the area, hitting the upright before Lee Camp was able to claim the ricochet.

Another opportunity falling to the Lions left us fearing the worst, the ball coming off Henry to Keogh whose volley was just over.  Forest started to awaken a little and some good work from Adlene Guedioura saw him get the chance to cross from the right to Dexter Blackstock whose effort was dragged wide.  It did start to see us liven up a little though and take the game to Millwall a little.

Gunter and McCleary work really well together down the right hand side – it was the Welshman feeding the ball to the on-form winger whose snapshot was almost diverted into the goal by Andy Reid, the ball ending up just wide of the post having beaten the dive of Forde.  We didn’t have too long to wait until we did manage to break the deadlock, though.

Reid picked up the ball on the left, and with no pressure from Millwall took his time to pick out a lovely cross to the back post where it found Garath McCleary lurking.  The ball in was too high to volley comfortably, too low to head standing – Gaz opted to practically get onto his knees whilst heading the ball into the net at the far post to give Forest the lead with their first shot on target.  Nice!

Spurred on by a buoyant City Ground, the Reds carried on attacking – Guedioura took the ball down the left and played it across the pitch to Gunter on the right.  He put in a decent cross towards Dexter, but Paul Robinson was on hand to intercept and get the ball clear at the expense of a corner.  Naturally, it being a corner – and us being Forest – very little of note came of this!

A second goal was to come though.  A decent run forward from Greg Cunningham was cynically cut short by a Millwall foul.  Reid delivered an outswinging ball towards the back post where it was headed up in the air by Chambers, falling fortunately at the back post to Danny Higginbotham who kept his eye on the ball and struck a fantastic volley into the net from a ridiculously tight angle.

Millwall reminded us they were still a threat though – James Henry again was causing problems, unleashing a powerful dipping shot from around the twenty yard mark.  I thought Camp might’ve got a decisive touch on it that caused it to cannon off the underside of the crossbar, eventually the ball was put out of play thanks to a poor shot from visitors.  I do think Kenny Jackett had his side briefed to ‘shoot from anywhere’ against the Reds.

We closed out the first half with Millwall trying to mount the pressure on us with little success – at one point (and I can’t quite remember the placement of it, it might even have been at 1-0) Garath McCleary appeared to clip Scott Barron – the defender’s overly-dramatic swan-dive perhaps costing his side the decision from the referee who waved away protests.  It certainly looked like a penalty to me.  Still, how many should-have-been-penalties have we not been given?

Funnily enough with goals to talk about and results elsewhere to check (kudos to County for being 4-0 up down at Charlton at this point) I must confess I didn’t pay any attention whatsoever to the kicking-the-ball-through-Victor’s-hole competition – so I couldn’t tell you whether or not it was managed this time around.  That is something that always bodes well!

A lively start to the second half saw the visitors again getting the first chance – a break culminating in an effort from Keogh which Camp was able to save.  Some nice work again between McCleary and Gunter saw the former flick the ball through to the latter – Gunter then crossed brilliantly across the six yard line only for nobody quite being able to get on the end of it to apply the killer touch.

Millwall responded positively by attacking – and a nervy clearance by Cunningham in a crowded penalty area gave Alan Dunne the chance to hit a powerful shot that Gunter was able to deflect out of play.  At the other end McCleary had a go from long range which – whilst straight at him – was spilled by Forde but he was able to regather it before any danger was posed by other Reds players.

Our visitors were good value for a goal at least though – and it arrived after it looked like Josh Wright was to be the latest unlucky player for them to hit the woodwork.  His shot deflected off Higginbotham and looped up and over Camp to strike the post.  Agony turned to joy for the Lions in an instant though, the ball rebounded to Darius Henderson who had all the time in the world to pop the ball in the net to get the visitors back in the game.

I was feeling pretty nervous by this point – but to their credit the bulk of Reds fans kept positive and vocally behind the lads – Forest were spurred on and Gunter again was well forward and crossed in towards Moussi but Robinson was on hand to clear.  As the game threatened to fizzle out the ball fell to Reid deep in midfield.  With nobody closing him down he carried the ball forward a few yards before picking out a delicious shot from around thirty yards into the far top corner.

Millwall continued to battle – Robinson should’ve done a lot better with Bouazza’s cross but he conspired to head it over from close range.  Forest wound some time down by using the fairly limited options on the bench – first Wootton came on for Tudgay, the substitute lining up in midfield.  As the stoppage board went up revealing five minutes of time added on we made two more changes, Lynch replaced Reid who got a great ovation, and eventually Miller came on for Blackstock who hadn’t spotted it was his number up.

By this point Millwall had all but given up really trying by this point so it was a relatively stress-free close out to the game not least thanks to the two goal cushion afforded by Andy Reid’s strike.  It feels good to be celebrating a win, it feels very good to have a better points cushion from the drop-zone and puts me in a much more positive frame of mind for the trip to Derby on Tuesday.  That’s our game in hand on everyone but Doncaster.

Whilst we should always celebrate three points and acknowledge the good things – so let’s do that, well done Steve and the boys.  Reidy, Higginbotham and McCleary in particular (and not just for their goals) stood out.  However, there’s still plenty of room for improvement and a side less wasteful in finishing, and with a bit more luck with efforts off the woodwork or with refereeing decisions could’ve seen this result be different.

But it wasn’t, which would explain why I’ve had a few well deserved celebratory pints!  You Reds!