Thank goodness that’s over..

Dexter caps off a great recovery from injury with a brace against relegated Pompey

Nottingham Forest – 2
Portsmouth – 0

A pointless game played at generally a little above walking-pace by two sides who’ve endured a torrid season.  A decent  but quiet home crowd, and spirited going-to-have-a-good-time-no-matter-what made for a strange atmosphere, but a reasonably good-natured one.  A largely forgettable first half was goalless, a Dexter Blackstock brace snagged the points for the Reds putting us 19th in the final league table.

I believe that’s one place higher than where we were when Steve Cotterill took charge of us.

I’d half been expecting to see fringe players chucked in, but the gaffer stuck with the formula that has enabled us to limp our way out of the relegation picture, and ultimately it delivered a rare home win, but well, it wasn’t one that will live long in the memories, that’s for sure!  Funnily enough, nobody wanted to pitch invade (that magic tape worked for a change!) so the ‘lap of appreciation’ went off without a hitch, aside from what felt like a huge delay.

Gunter    Chambers    Lynch    Cunningham
McCleary    Guedioura    McGugan    Reid

Forest started okay, Blackstock wasn’t quick enough to react to a McGugan crossed ball allowing Ashdown to make the save.  Guedioura fashioned a chance for himself with some nice skill to beat two players, his shot was on target but an easy save for the Pompey ‘keeper.  At the other end an increasingly common Camp fumble could’ve caused us problems from an Etuhu shot, but Chambers was on hand to clear the danger.

Another break from the visitors culminated in a shot from Norris that was blocked by Cunningham.  With their tails up, Chris Maguire had a decent effort from around the twenty-five yard mark which again Camp was less than decisive with, making the save at the second attempt.  The game then rapidly descended into the pedestrian really.  Reidy tried to cause some problems but his shot was deflected for a corner.

As is customary for a Forest corner, the ball soon ended up back in our area – Camp more decisive in saving from Varney who had shot from inside the area.  Back on the attack it was Reid of all people who rose in the box to head the ball towards the back post where it was scrambled wide.  The best chance of the half probably fell to Gunts, some great work by Cunningham on the left saw the ball drilled in low, falling for Gunter running into the box, he elected for a left footed effort which ended up in the Pompey fans.

The first half fizzled out and well, it was kind of par for what has been a spectacularly disappointing season.  Scores from elsewhere were announced, and nobody really paid attention, once again a selection of supporters failed to kick the ball through the hole in the Victor Chandler board – possibly the most rubbish half-time entertainment ever.  Garath McCleary had won player of the season – unsurprising, personally I’d have singled out Joel Lynch without wishing to downplay the fantastic contribution Gaz has made too.

The other thing of note was I managed to get my mits on a programme at half time to see the season ticket prices for next season – frozen.  If they’d gone up it would’ve taken the piss, personally I think the prices compared to similar-stature clubs is already too high, however with the uncertainty around ownership and funding it’s likely that the club will depend more wholly on cash it generates – so a price cut would probably have been reckless.

Early in the second half Dex spurned a great chance – Gunter was the architect of the chance, winning the ball and getting the ball to Blackstock who conspired to hit it over from ten yards out.  Forest actually had a fair bit of possession but struggled to do much with it, a scrappy encounter in our area ended with Norris putting his shot over from the edge of the area.  Gunter needed to be on hand after to block Varney’s cross which was heading to Maguire.

A little past an hour gone and Majewski was withdrawn for Paul Anderson, who certainly looked eager with some promising early touches, but again Forest struggled to create many meaningful opportunities.  Just as we were resigned to a limp 0-0 finish Dexter Blackstock – who’d had a wasteful afternoon so far – broke the deadlock.  Cunningham crossed, it found McCleary who cut it back across the goal giving Dex an open goal from a yard out.

Moussi was introduced for the not-exactly-energetic (sic) McGugan, and Dex was nearly on the scoresheet again – he couldn’t get much power on his header but it was well-directed and only stopped thanks to a fine save by Ashdown.  He made two more saves from the Forest frontman who’d got more accurate, but not quite enough to beat the ‘keeper again.  Guedioura had picked up a few knocks over the course of the second half, and was finally taken off.

It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the impact Adlene has had on our season – it’s huge.  He’s been a revelation in midfield and whilst I don’t hold out much hope, I dearly hope that that isn’t the last time we see him in a Forest shirt.  Clearly I’m not alone, he was given a fantastic ovation by the appreciative Forest fans as he was replaced by his fellow Wolves-mate George Elokobi – who was warmly welcomed to the pitch.

Portsmouth took a bizarre corner, it moved in the air and it appeared that Camp ended up punching it up onto the underside of the bar, I think it ended up in but the linesman had indicated the corner had curled out of play before reaching the danger area.  A strange one indeed!  In the meantime, Forest ended the season by actually scoring from a corner!  Dex rose to meet Reid’s corner and squeeze his header through a crowded area into the net.

Much like our first goal, the Portsmouth fans probably celebrated just as much as we did – if not slightly more.  Amusing chances of ‘Let us score!’ were almost taken up by home fans too, such is the forlorn hope their club has become at the moment, it wasn’t to be though – but there was plenty of mutual appreciation between the two sets of fans which is always good to see.  I hope the future for them isn’t as bleak as it appears at the moment.

All in all, an average game to finish off an appalling season.  I suppose our opponents for the day give us that stark relief of realising that it could’ve been worse though – now we enter a summer of more uncertainty than we’ve had for some time.  As ever, I’m not really interested in seeking or re-hashing the inevitable flurry of rumours – so I’ll await some news before joining the speculation about the future of the club.

Whilst I was cynical about the ‘lap of appreciation’ it was a good opportunity to show some love to the loan signings that have made such an impact, as well as some of our established squad who we might not see in a Forest shirt again – it was great too to see Chris Cohen walking around with the lads, and George Elokobi deciding to film the crowd with an iPad of all devices.  How many of that group of people walking around the pitch are here next season remains to be seen.

Have a great summer, everyone – I’m sure there’ll be a few updates before next season commences.  In the meantime, I hope you’re all coping in these drought conditions!

Forest vs. Portsmouth preview..

I was going to say this season has been one to forget, but whilst it’s been frustrating, depressing, painful and of course incredibly sad, it’s probably one we will remember for a while.  Our visitors too will undoubtedly wish to hasten the consignment of this campaign to the history records, having already confirmed as relegated this is the consummate pointless end-of season fixture, with little at stake other than pride.

Still, it beats being stressed out in a last day showdown that could have been the case.  I suppose a symbolic win at home would be nice, given our appalling home record this season – indeed, even in the latter ‘turnaround’ we still haven’t notched a win at the City Ground in three matches.  Portsmouth too will be sure to want to finish their torrid season with a decent send off for their traveling supporters.

Forest can welcome back one of the key figures in their Championship survival – Garath McCleary returns from his suspension.  Other notable players Dex and Lynch missed the Hull trip with knocks, so might not be risked.  Blackstock’s replacement at the KC Stadium was Marcus Tudgay, but he picked up a knock whilst there too.  Other than that, given that there’s nothing at stake it’s difficult to know what Steve Cotterill will do with his selection.

All in all, I’m looking forward to a stress free trip to the City Ground, to see out the season with friends and have a great time without worrying about the match at all really.  Of course it’d be nice to see a decent match, but well, it doesn’t really matter does it?  I’m more excited about the plans of drinking and excess that are afoot for after the game, if I’m completely honest.

So quite why Steve Cotterill feels compelled to ask the fans not to pitch invade is a bit baffling – pitch invasions are for a last gap survival, a play-off finish, a promotion – maybe even a relegation, thinking back to 1993.  I’m not sure why anybody would be compelled to breach the magic red and white tape to run on the pitch at full time.  I’m not really that bothered by a lap of appreciation by the players either, but each to their own!

It promises to be an interesting summer, with Financial Fair Play coming into play, with our ownership still in the balance – who knows what to predict?  Heaven forbid we might look back on this season with dewy-eyed fondness.  Or maybe not.

Dull city..

Apologies for the brevity – I’m having untold technical issues at Nffcblog Towers and don’t fancy doing the whole report on my phone. Plus the match was, well, just what it was – a not-particularly torrid encounter betwixt two teams with nowt to play for.

A fair few Reds fans tried to raise the spirits with a lively atmosphere and a fair few in the traditional last-away-match fancy dress, but the occasion and lack of reciprocation from the hole support in the stale KC Stadium made it an uphill battle.

This was similar on the pitch – some bright play from the Reds with the lack of killer instinct we’ve become accustomed to was stifled by dogged defending from the home side, whilst in the second half an excellent strike for them struck the post and rebounded off the helpless Gunts into the net. The penalty was soft but not contestable really – Chambers climbing, their player falling, Fryatt with the inevitable goal past us with a smart penalty.

Into stoppage time and Raddy miskicks in the area, but has the last laugh with a smart adjustment and finish to give us the consolation goal. All in all, not one that will live long in the memory but perhaps symptomatic of an end-of-season game with no consequence – a rarity for us over the last few seasons, it has to be said!

With both Portsmouth and Coventry having their fate sealed, it means the relegation places are sealed, rendering the final game at the City Ground against Pompey meaningless too. Sometimes I lament the stress of our seeming propensity to yoyo between play-off battle to relegation scrap and back again – but maybe safety in the middle is worse.

Ho hum! With any luck I’ll have attended to my gremlins in time to get back to business as usual from next week.

Royals rise, Reds survive to fight another season..

Reading – 1
Nottingham Forest – 0

That feels better, doesn’t it?  Championship status secured.  Sure, we lost – and it was a disappointing defeat too in a game where we made a decent show of ourselves, but you know what?  It’s been a while since I cared less.  In snagging the win Reading secure promotion, so huge congratulations to them, whilst we can thank Millwall for securing the win that ultimately decided our fate at the Ricoh Arena.

So, to our game – Forest started strongest and repelled Reading early doors, the home side began to press before half time, and the second half blossomed into a more open encounter with both sides creating but failing to convert chances – until the late winner for the hosts which, by this stage given the later kick off time, didn’t really matter (although I’m sure it did on the pitch!).

As promised Steve Cotterill made some changes to the side, although only a couple, giving the left side a break with Cunningham and Reid dropping to the bench to be replaced by Elokobi and Wootton, giving us a slightly lop-sided looking midfield..

Wootton   Chambers    Lynch    Elokobi
Gunter    Guedioura    McGugan    Anderson

Very early in the game the Reds were looking to strike, with Gunter and Majewski combining well to feed McGugan for a strike from an angle, but it ended up just wide of Federici’s goal.  Whilst Reading retained the ball well they struggled to muster much by way of attack, whilst McGugan was looking dangerous for Forest, he picked out Gunter with a lovely pass but unfortunately the makeshift winger was just offside.

Reading did have the ball in the net after 20 minutes, but it was disallowed owing to the fairly obvious foul on Lee Camp leaving him prone and unable to guard an empty goal from Jason Roberts converting.  Guedioura had a powerful strike from range on target, Federici couldn’t hold it and it fell for Blackstock but the Reds striker was offside.  Dex had the next chance too, a ball from Lewis sent him clear with a nice turn, his shot to the far post lacked power and gave the Royals keeper a simple save to make.

As the first half came to close the home side did start to build the pressure – culminating in a decent strike from outside the area by Leigertwood which was well saved by Camp.  The remainder of the half was basically Forest repelling increased pressure from the home side – there weren’t any real scares though.  At half time we were still safe – Coventry were level, we were level – safe.  For now.

The second half kicked off and Reading were very much on the front foot – Kebe crossed to Hunt in space, who conspired to miss the target with his head from ten yards with no defender near.  A dangerous ball in from Ian Harte followed, but Elokobi was on hand to head it away, ricocheting off Hunt and giving the Reds a goal kick.  Big George showed a touch of class at the other end too, connecting with a corner by the means of an overhead kick from around twelve yards, just missing the target.

Forest started to build pressure upon the home side – but much as Forest had in the first half Reading showed they could repel the borders effectively too, despite some promising positions Forest weren’t even able to muster a shot on target.  The home side were dangerous on the break too, and combined with a slip-up by Joel Lynch it could’ve given the home side the lead when in-form Adam Le Fondre got clean through against Camp, lofting his shot over the ‘keeper but mercifully wide of the goal.

This seemed to galvanise the home side somewhat – despite attentions from both Guedioura and Gunter – Shaun Cummings was able to get a shot away, but it was considerably wide of the target!  Forest had their own spell in attack, and it was a McGugan corner that gave us our closest chance – with Elokobi again connecting but this time hitting the bar.  Guedioura and McGugan combined but the end effort was well over.

Then the deadlock was broken – a cross from the left evaded everyone but Leigertwood who put the ball in from close range.  There followed a kerfuffle with Forest players complaining to the referee presumably believing a foul to have taken place.  Certainly the referee didn’t seem to think so, and simply booked Lee Camp.  A win of course would secure automatic promotion for the home side, which saw some potentially premature celebrations kicking off in the ground.

Majewski was ready to try to quell the partying but his shot from the edge of the area was over the bar.  Cotterill made a triple-change as a last throw of the dice – Reid, Tudgay and Greening replacing Wootton, Majewski and McGugan.  The substitutes almost conspired to spoil the party, a great ball in from Reidy found Tudgay whose goalbound header was cleared off the line by Alex Pearce.

The final whistle heralded scenes of celebration from thousands of pitch-invading Reading fans, with a few Forest players left battling their way to the away end to applaud the visiting fans.  On face value, a disappointing defeat in a game where we gave more than just a good account of ourselves – however, given the bigger picture it seems churlish to be too down about not picking up a point (or maybe even three).

Huge credit is due to Steve Cotterill and his team, the players and the supporters – sure, there’s been plenty of mistakes made over this season but certainly the direction of travel for Forest is a vast improvement, as has been the quality of performances.  With our Championship status assured it will hopefully ‘grease the wheels’ of the takeover discussions that are supposedly already underway with a number of interested parties.

All in all, a massive sense of relief.

Reading vs. Forest preview..

Having been unfortunate not to have managed to do the double over Blackpool at the weekend, we are handed perhaps a more challenging opportunity to do the same over promotion-chasing Reading.  It’s easy to forget that 1-0 win over them at the City Ground back in November, isn’t it?  A Marcus Tudgay goal enough to give us the points against the Royals before they found their groove and mounted a promotion assault.

As we get to the business end of the season lots of permutations and possibilities could come to fruition.  Most pertinent to us in the question of our avoidance of relegation.  Quite a simple one to determine – win, we’re safe.  If we don’t win, then we need to match Coventry’s result – so basically, if Millwall can do us a big favour and notch a win at the Ricoh Arena.

Of course, our hosts have much reason to still be highly motivated too – a victory for the home side coupled with the admittedly-unlikely with a failure of West Ham to beat struggling Bristol City away would secure promotion for the Berkshire side.  To all intents and purposes a win for Reading will see them up barring some kind of spectacular exercise in incompetence.

Steve Cotterill has already hinted at making changes, and to be truthful I can see why – a fair few games over the last few days are bound to have taken their toll.  He of course can’t pick the suspended McCleary, and I’m sure will be hoping that Guy Moussi is available for selection again to add a bit more muscle to midfield and give Adlene Guedioura the opportunity to get forward a bit more having been playing more of a defensive cameo in recent games.

Reading have a few more on their injury list, Leigertwood, Connolly, Robson-Kanu, Karacan and Anderson have all suffered injuries of late and could be missing – but as their last performance at St Mary’s will show, they’ve got a big enough squad to still pose a daunting threat to to us.  As I might have said before before big trips away, it’s difficult to see Forest getting much – and d’you know what?  I stand by it.

A sell-out crowd in the mood to celebrate could work in our favour if we manage to frustrate the home side or nick a surprise goal – but well, I’m not holding out too much hope for this midweek trip to the Madejski.  It would be a literary treat if Majewski could silence the Madejski, though, wouldn’t it?  I won’t be placing any bets on it, though!

Inching closer to safety..

Cotterill has almost fulfilled his mission to guide the Reds to safety

Nottingham Forest – 0
Blackpool – 0

It wasn’t a massively memorable game, but certainly it was one in which Forest dominated chances and possession and perhaps ought to have notched all three points against a surprisingly lacklustre Blackpool side.  That said, there were only a few clear-cut chances for either side – having said that, it justified more than the minute and Tangerine-biased coverage the Football League Show deemed fit to show.

Steve Cotterill stuck with the same system that has been paying dividends lately – making just the compulsory change he needed to due to Garath McCleary’s suspension, restoring Paul Anderson to the side on the right, and also sticking with the late change he made at Peterborough, with Lewis McGugan retaining his midfield spot in place of the injured Guy Moussi.

Gunter    Chambers    Lynch    Cunningham
Anderson    Guedioura    McGugan    Reid

It was Dex who perhaps was the man who should’ve been the one to break the Blackpool resolve – not least because I had him on my betting slip too!  As early as two minutes he had a great chance after a nice pass by Andy Reid played him through, he rushed the shot from the edge of the box when he had time to take a touch closer and compose himself.  The result was a shot off-target.

The visitors had a bit of play too, Chambers and Camp did well to thwart Dobbie from doing us damage after Guedioura had given the ball away.  Man-of-the-moment for Blackpool dragged an effort wide from 25 yards having cut in side.  Majewski had an effort on target after nicking the ball from Baptiste, but it was straight at Gilks.  Dex again was wasteful after either an amazing or fortuitous (I suspect the latter) put him clean through, but he lost his footing and put his shot over under pressure from the recovering defender.

A rare effective corner from Andy Reid was deep and towards a decent header from Paul Anderson of all people, bring a decent save from Gilks.  Dobbie was posing problems at the other end, as he tends to do against us, he got past Gunter to have a shot that was saved – but the ball came back to him, fortunately Chambers – looking much more composed than of late – was on hand to marshall him to take the ball out for a goal kick.

Greg Cunningham – having a cracking game coming forward, did well to cut into the box and have a powerful shot to the near post that was saved by Gilks.  Whilst I can’t blame him for having a go, it was regrettable he didn’t think to square it beyond the ‘keeper where a number of Forest players were laying in wait to pounce.  It was Cunningham again who created the best chance of the game – whipping a delicious cross in to Blackstock who met the ball well but headed straight at Gilks who made the save.

This save seemed to take its’ toll on the ‘keeper who required a chunk of treatment afterwards – with no reserve stopper on the bench it was a concerning moment for the visitors – but he last out ’til half time and presumably was able to get further treatment then.  The last chance of the half was again the Cunningham-Blackstock combination, this time Blackstock got his header horribly wrong and put it well wide.

So, half time.  One thing that struck us was the odd obsession the Blackpool fans seemed to have with us – chants of ‘Where were you in Premier League’ and, bizarrely, ‘how shit must you be, we beat you four times’ were quite common-place, and four-finger gestures harking back to two seasons ago when they of course beat us on four occasions (not, ironically, the number of points we’ve won against them this season).  All in all, it was a bit bemusing.  Still, if it keeps ’em happy!

Forest started the second half well by forcing a couple of corners – of course, a corner for us is as good as giving the opponents a goal-kick these days.  Blackpool threatened from he corner too – Dobbie whipped the ball in and found the tricky Thomas Ince at the back stick who headed goalward only to be thwarted by Lee Camp at the expense of another corner whic was this time cleared well by Chambers.

The referee, who’d been largely okay, missed what looked a pretty obvious trip on Gunter in the area by Phillips – he wasn’t having it though (having said that, Dobbie was clipped a couple of times in the area earlier in the game, and I’m sure I saw a couple of Forest players handball it, so maybe we shouldn’t complain too loudly!).  Blackstock again was set up with a chance to shoot at Gilks thanks to a great pass from McGugan, but he was unable to beat the Blackpool ‘keeper.

Forest continued to press, but struggled to create many clear-cut chances – giving Blackpool the opportunity to break, Dobbie again was the danger-man but was only able to direct his shot straight at Lee Camp.  Taylor-Fletcher perhaps could’ve done better with an effort after a poor punch from Lee Camp fell to him, but he was only able to put his effort wide of the far post.

Cotterill responded to the increased danger posed by the visitors by introducing ‘He’ll eat you alive’ George Elokobi for Andy Reid, pushing Cunningham further forward and putting the substitute left-back into defence.  Greening followed, replacing McGugan, about ten minutes later as the game rather fizzled out with neither side really haivng many ideas to try to break the deadlock.

Forest laboured forward, and good battling from Blackstock against two defenders saw the ball fall for Cunningham who again hit the target but was unable to beat Gilks.  Majewski was the last player to be withdrawn, replaced by Marcus Tudgay with a couple of minutes left on the clock.  Lynchinho could’ve sealed it with an amazing goal – he chested it down, beat a couple of players but was wild with his shot and put it off-target.

As the four minutes of stoppage time wound into six minutes plus, Blackpool started to pile on pressure and I must admit I was feeling pretty nervous we’d see yet another example of chucking away a game where we’d not deserved it.  Fortunately the opportunities they had late on from freekicks were both off-target, leaving the game to finish all square.  I thought we’d done enough to win, but then again, it was our own poor finishing that cost us!

So, we’re still seven points from danger – there are nine left to play for.  It ain’t mathematically close – but it’s close.  Doncaster of course succumbed to relegation in a controversial game against Portsmouth, who face a monumental challenge to stay up themselves.  With tricky looking trips to Reading, then Hull, it would’ve been nice to have got the win that would’ve all but guaranteed safety this weekend, but such is life!

Forest vs. Blackpool preview..

In what’s been a not particularly auspicious season of home games, it’s not exactly sad to think that this is the penultimate game at the City Ground of the campaign.  A win here, and barring some extraordinary results in the last three games of the season, it would be a case of safety assured, forget this season ever happened and move on.  Or something.  Sounds a bit fairytaleish at this juncture, and we don’t tend to trade in those too often.

An impressive and dominating performance against Peterborough will hopefully give the lads confidence and avoid that straight quality-sapping soporific effect our own turf seems to have on the players.  Certainly after the disappointment of our last home match against Bristol City I would hope manager and squad alike are keen to put that behind them and deliver a decent result for the City Ground crowd.

Of course, there’s the small matter of our opponents to consider.  Blackpool have still get heir eye on a play-off finish – they’re currently sitting in fifth place with the likes of Brighton and Boro sitting four points behind them in seventh and eighth.  The Seasiders are on decent form too – they’re unbeaten in three games and at this juncture will probably welcome nothing more than a trip to the easiest away game in the league to pick up points.

Forest will be without Garath McCleary – his red card against Peterborough was unsurprisingly upheld by the Football Association appeals process, presumably because we’re not a massive Premier League team (and, in truth, it was a reckless challenge).  When the opponent manager sticks up for your dismissed player though you’d think they’d show a little leniency.  But no, Gaz will be missing sadly.

We have doubts surrounding Guy Moussi too – he withdrew from the game at London Road shortly before kickoff with issues around his calf.  This of course led to a surprise inclusion for Lewis McGugan – who hadn’t even made the bench – and the midfielder put in an impressive performance, which might have earned him a return to the fold.  Whether Anderson is fit, or whether Gunter might be pushed into a midfield role, remains to be seen.

Our visitors should have Taylor-Fletcher available after he missed Monday’s game against Barnsley, however Ian Holloway will be without the suspended Keith Southern, and the injured Roman Bednar.  His other injury concern is Kevin Phillips, who’s been troubled with a hip problem (presumably at his age he’s due a replacement! Fnar!).

This game represents one of those rare opportunities for us this season – to do a double over someone!  Blackpool succumbed to a 2-1 defeat at Bloomfield Road thanks to strikes from Majewski and Morgan, and their open attacking style might present us with our own opportunities rather than face an overtly defensive side that seems to have been customary.  We shall see.  Have we done the double over anyone other than Ipswich this season?

With Doncaster playing Portsmouth the day will end with one of them relegated; Coventry and Bristol City face tricky trips to Burnley and Birmingham respectively – whilst of course we must focus on our own challenge, I can’t help but think in that context it would be a most timely juncture in which to pick up a point or three.  Then we can look forward to the West-Country-fest post-match interviews between the two managers!

It’ll be a tricky game – difficult to predict too, it should be open – there should be chances, which worryingly points to the side with the most effective finishing and perhaps the most on-form ‘keeper triumphing.  We’ve not excelled at either of these things lately!  Ho hum!