We only had ten men..

.. and a fat lot of good it did us, a limp showing from the boys in Red led to defeat.

So yeah, I predicted one goal would settle it. Derby managed it with their sole effort on target – a half yard tap in for Bryson after good work down the right by Coutts and a decent ball into the box. There’s been a lot of ire directed at the referee, rightfully, but that shouldn’t distract from our own shortcomings.

I’m going to keep this brief as I’m on my phone, and I can’t be arsed. We weren’t at the races, a tame effort from Cohen and a last gap Gillett effort (which Fielding did well to save) were our only efforts on target. We didn’t create enough, and as seems to have become characteristic of this fixture, the visitors seemed to arrive with a more effective game plan and wanted it more.

Blackstock shouldn’t have been red carded for a fairly innocuous looking challenge, and quite how Buxton and Keogh consistently got away with GBH on him throughout the first half is something only the referee can answer. For me though our lack of threat was a result of our own lack of application, the referee – albeit atrocious – was a mere side story, one that ought to be followed up by the powers-that-be of course, but not one to distract us from how we need to improve.

Fielding had looked suspect on crosses – we didn’t subsequently put more crosses in, partly down to that perpetual problem with lack of wingers so there’s little chance to get the ball wide then in the box. Derby were largely industrial in their approach, but it was effective at stifling our game and once the referee handed them a one man advantage they took the chance they made.

That’s a few games of ineffectiveness now for the Reds – our early season ‘clicking’ perhaps took our opponents by surprise as much as it did many of us. Now it seems teams are finding it relatively easy to limit our Plan A, as yet we’ve not seemed to create a Plan B that looks like it could cause teams too many problems.

We might see an alternate approach on Wednesday – Blackstock is suspended, I’m assuming if we appeal the Football League will as ever ignore whatever evidence is submitted and stick by their incompetent official. Simon Cox is out too, after being booked for – get this – standing a bit near Fielding (who was time wasting). Coxy has picked up a LOT of bookings in his short time here though, it has to be said.

A very disappointing afternoon. It’s always a shit fixture to lose, and there’s usually always some handbags or cries of injustice but the most annoying thing is that we didn’t do more to control the game. Gillett had a decent game, and it was nice to see Cohen back, but well, there’s a whole lot of cloud and not much silver lining from where I’m standing.

Blackburn aren’t going to be pushovers in Wednesday either. I hope fans and owners alike aren’t going to start getting silly with regard to Sean O’Driscoll – patience is needed by all concerned as he works with the squad to get our results back on track.

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Forest vs. Derby County preview..

In case anybody hadn’t noticed, there’s a football match this weekend.  It’s that football match – the one that we like to look out for when the fixtures are announced.  Of course, it being preview day has been rather overshadowed by the loan signing of Jermaine Jenas from Spurs.  The perpetually injured midfielder has been deemed surplus to requirements at White Hart Lane so joins us for a month.

The romanticist in me likes the idea – but of course, he typically occupies a position on the pitch where we’re quite well stocked.  However, I suppose the argument at Sean O’Driscoll would use would be if he’s fit to play, then he adds a rather higher calibre of skill to some of our existing options, and of course Guedioura has gone and got himself suspended.  Despite my slight confusion, a big welcome back to Jermaine.

So, Derby.  We are both in the indifferent bracket of form – they sit a couple of points behind us, and we both lost in our last games.  Our form is quite similar, both only winning a couple of games at home so far – Derby have lost two and drawn one on their travels.  Of course, looking at form when contemplating this fixture would be a fool’s forecast.

I’m lucky enough to number a few Derby fans amongst my friends – and having gleaned information from them it seems we are more similar than we’d care to admit.  The direct style we’ve become accustomed too from our neighbours seems to be making way for attempts to get the ball on the deck with a much more lightweight looking line-up going forward – having said that, many goals are coming from setpieces.

Must admit, I’ve been a bit haphazard at catching the Football League Show much this season – but when I’ve caught it and Derby have scored they seem to specialise at the set-piece into the box, a defender steamrollering through the box and scoring a header. I’m hoping that the referee is on the ball for this, particularly given Dex had a perfectly decent goal ruled out up at Elland Road, yet some of the goals I’ve seen have involved Derby players getting piggy backs from defenders!

It would be refreshing to face a team that doesn’t try to stifle us in midfield, I’m dubious that will happen as both sides will be probably initially focused on being cautious – probably.  This fixture has a habit of being eventful – I’ll be honest, whilst there’s a certain buzz to that kind of thing, I think it’s high time we actually saw the sides try to have a decent game of football for a change instead of all the playground antics!

The other tidbit my friend gave me was that youngster Coutts looks a dangerous prospect on the right – which is a bit of a worry, as we have looked vulnerable down our left side – and guilty of not stopping crosses coming in.  So perhaps advise for whoever lines up at left back would be to put him into the Brian Clough Stand as soon as possible.  Aside from this I’ve gleaned very little except that – like us – they are very prone to defensive lapses.

As for us, the Jenas factor is an interesting one – to be here on a short term loan presumably means he’s here to play, so we should probably expect to see him in some shape or form come Sunday.  When predicting our own line-up, approach, formation or anything is a difficulty then predicting the outcome of a match between that and another similarly unpredictable side seems futile.

Throw in the ‘local derby’ factor and well – I’ve no idea.  We both have a propensity this season to ship goals, but oddly I’ve got a feeling this will be a low scoring affair.  Certainly those players that remain from last season’s debacle a little over a year ago owe us a performance, and I’m sure Sean O’Driscoll will be at pains to underline to those that have arrived since how important this fixture is.

Luckily for me I’ve quite a busy schedule between now and then, hence the slightly-earlier-than-normal preview because I’m not sure I’ll find the time tomorrow, which means I won’t have too much time to ruminate and get nervous about the fixture.  But the ol’ nerves are starting to tingle a little, there really is no other fixture like this as far as I’m concerned.

Reds left with lessons to learn at Leeds..

Dex attempting to understand the bamboozling performance from Mr D’Urso under the attentions of Diouf

Leeds United – 2
Nottingham Forest – 1

So, it was nice being the last unbeaten Championship side for a few hours, but it didn’t last long.  And despite Leeds being unsurprisingly Leeds-like, and D’Urso being unsurprisingly D’Urso-like, we never managed to offer enough in an improved second half to counterbalance a pretty shoddy first half in which the home side scored both their goals.

Coppinger was given the nod to slot in in place of Guedioura on the right-ish of midfield, with Guy Moussi preferred to Lewis McGugan in midfield for reasons best known to Sean O’Driscoll.  Dexter returned to a starting place alongside Simon Cox, whilst Lansbury and Cohen featured on the bench:

Camp
Halford   Ayala   Collins    Harding
Coppinger  Moussi   Gillett  Reid
Blackstock   Cox

Despite this largely being a first half to forget, Forest did start quite brightly with decent possession and pressure on the edge of the Leeds area.  A Gillet shot was charged down, a nice pass from Coppinger gave Cox an opening but his effort was straight at Kenny who held on to the ball to deny Blackstock the opportunity of a rebound effort.

Leeds started to awaken though, a Lees headers from a corner was just wide – but Forest were still at the races, more good work from Cox won us a corner from which the ball was put in the net by a combination of Collins and Peltier – the referee deemed this a foul though. Difficult to tell from our seats, and needless to say the replay board didn’t deign to show it.

The home side took the lead shortly after – Diouf performed a bit of trickery to get space from Harding to put in a dangerous cross, the Reds struggled to clear and the ball fell kindly for Becchio – the last person you’d want it to fall to – who was able to powerfully strike the ball into the roof of the net from inside the area to give Leeds the lead.

It’s fair to say this boosted the home side immeasurably and Forest seemed to wilt as Leeds’ confidence grew.  The lead was doubled when Ayala made a mess of what should have been a fairly routine clearance, giving goalscorer Becchio the opportunity to shoot – Ayala recovered to get a tackle in but the ball fell kindly for the onrushing Poleon who finished well to double the lead.

Forest attempted to haul themselves back into it – largely through some fairly crude direct football.  A decent ball from Ayala found Cox who was summarily hacked down by Pearce, D’Urso booked him – the freekick seemed to take a while to take, eventually Reid put it off target.  Coppinger put one just wide just before half time, and that was pretty much it aside from two more good opportunities for Leeds.

So O’Driscoll had a job on at half time, because whilst there was an element of fortune to both Leeds goals, they were undoubtedly good value for the margin of their lead and we were not playing well at all.  He made two changes, switching is back to a 4-1-3-2 formation by taking off Moussi and Reid and introducing McGugan and Lansbury.

Early in the second half Coppinger had a decent chance to get us off the mark but was denied through the attentions of Adam Drury.  A McGugan free-kick struck a defender first enabling Kenny to make the easy save – but Forest were definitely setting about their opponents more than they had for much of the first half.  Another McGugan freekick after a cynical foul on Blackstock was struck into the wall.

The goal came from the ultimate direct source, which probably seems apt since we’d struggled to play much decent football this afternoon.  A long throw from Halford into the box found Blackstock who got to the ball ahead of Kenny to head into the goal – amazingly the referee could find no reason to disallow it so it was game on with an hour on the clock.

Leeds’ main tactic to deal with a resurgent Forest was to make a couple of substitutions lasting approximately three weeks each, and to have their players go through cycles of feigning injury whilst waiting for the trainer to come on.  The referee was spineless, and fell for every single trick – which was frustrating.  I used to hate it when we did that kind of thing under Billy Davies, but I suppose you expect it at Elland Road.

Coppinger had another effort, this time cleared off the line – although it wasn’t all going our way, a header from Austin (probably the most influential home player, I thought, as the second half progressed) was saved well by Camp.  Cox created a good chance for Dex, whose effort was blocked, the ball came to McGugan who struck a good shot goalward which was stopped well by Kenny with a diving save.

Lewis McGugan struck a decent freekick just wide, and Forest continued to try to press.  Lewis was having a bit of an impact, a nice turn in midfield was rudely halted by Lees – the resulting freekick was struck powerfully into the area and appeared to strike a hand in the box, which was – naturally – ignored by the referee.  Halford had an effort from close range blocked, as Forest continued to be frustrated in their efforts.

Sharp was introduced late on, replacing Coppinger for the last seven minutes or so – but Forest were struggling to keep up their momentum in the midst of both our own lack of ideas on occasion but also the frequent stoppages in the game through fouls or mysterious injuries to Leeds players.

Six minutes of injury time were announced, but Forest had started to run out of steam.  We certainly had opportunities to snag an equaliser, and whilst our second half performance was much improved, it wasn’t enough to counter the poor first half – so I’m consigning this one to a learning exercise for the manager.

It’s demonstrated that Moussi and Gillett together doesn’t really work very well – and on the brighter side I liked the look of what I saw from Lansbury, it will be exciting to see more of him in a Forest shirt.  We have a little over a week now for one of our most important fixtures of the season – there will be no better occasion for the Reds to bounce back with a positive result.

The goals are here if you’d like to see them, and you might have spotted a familiar name in the Leeds United programme if you decided to cross Ken Bates’ palm with four quid.

Leeds United vs. Forest preview..

Some degree of repeat of last year’s antics at Elland Road would be rather nice, but seemingly quite unlikely.  That game was a rare highlight under the charge of Steve Cotterill last year as the Reds ran riot to register a memorable 3-7 scoreline much to our own surprise as much as anything.  I’m sure our hosts will be keen to avoid that kind of outcome again, and will be keen to dish out some revenge whilst they’re at it.

The Reds of course remain unbeaten – their last two outings have seen them come from behind to snatch points, one deserved at home to Birmingham, and one definitely a case of smash-and-grab (albeit a lovely goal) away at Palace.  Leeds have succumbed to defeat in their last two games away at Cardiff and at home midweek to Hull City – so will be eager to make amends and get some points on the board.

We await news on the extent of the injury that brought Hutchinson off the pitch at Selhurst Park midweek, and Adlene Guedioura will miss the match as he begins his three game suspension for his silly red card – so one thing is certain, there’ll be no repeats of his epic piledriver in this game last season, and obviously with Garath McCleary having moved on too we are going to have to look elsewhere for goals!

Leeds are without striker Ross McCormack, which is good news for us, and have injury concerns over Adam Drury and Luciano Becchio – but both have a good chance to playing. David Norris and Paul Green are also unavailable to Leeds boss Neil Warnock.

Whilst we’re rapidly becoming draw specialists, certainly on the road, Leeds have only shared to spoils once in their six games so far, which sees them firmly in mid-table (for what a League Table is worth after six games).  Also like us, they’ve only kept one clean sheet this season in the league – and it was on the opening day too – so maybe that does point to a high scoring game between us.

As ever, a difficult one to call – Leeds have had a fair bit of personnel change, admittedly not as much as us, this season with the departure of a number of their players to Norwich – and of course we’re still very much finding out shape and best style of play (do remain unbeaten whilst doing so is an impressive feat!).  Cliché or not, this is one that could go either way I think.

Both defences seem to have had trouble keeping the ball out of the net and whilst Leeds are undoubtedly letting in too many goals, as are we, they are banging plenty in as well – they’ve yet to fail to score in a fixture this season, putting ten goals in so far compared to our nine – so should we manage to get our noses in front there’ll be nervousness in the ranks, and the same will be true for them if they score first.

The only other thing to note is the referee is Andy D’Urso – try as I might I can assign any specific howlers to him, but it is before 8am on Friday morning so that could be my brain not being up to the job, and his name is familiar – which is a bad sign normally for referees. Our last couple of trips to Elland Road have been eventful to say the least, let’s hope for a competent display from the man in the middle.

Who said I wasn’t optimistic!?

Dex gets Forest out of jail..

Dur Dur Dur Dur! Dexter Blackstock!

Crystal Palace – 1
Nottingham Forest – 1

As 1,800 or so hardy trickies make their way from Selhurst Park I feel a bit guilty sat in my warm living room cobbling together what I remember from Colin Fray’s commentary as well as pinching bits from the official website match report. Certainly the travelling reds weren’t treated to a feast of football from the Reds in probably our least effective performance of the season.

With any luck a late equaliser from substitute Dexter Blackstock after we’d been reduced to ten men in the second half might just have warmed their collective cockles enough for the long journey home. Because let’s face it, even if you live in bloody London it’s a long journey home from an away game against Crystal Palace!

Sean opted to start out with the 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 hybrid formation that seemed to help us get back into the game against Birmingham City at the weekend, giving us a starting line-up that looked a bit like this:

Camp
Halford Ayala Collins
Hutchinson Harding
McGugan Gillett Reid
Sharp Cox

Palace, on the back of a local derby win over Charlton, started the brighter – after only nine minutes Wilfried Zaha was able to find plenty of room to cross from the right, finding Glenn Murray who saw his header end up striking the post. Lee Camp was required to deny the home side goals, too – Williams robbed Hutchinson of possession and brought a save from the Forest ‘keeper.

The home side continued to press, eventual goalscorer Dikgacoi struck a rasping shot just over from the edge of the area. Lee Camp was on hand twice more before the half time whistle – Jedinak had a pop from range, and after Ayala had lost possession on the edge of the area the Forest ‘keeper was alert enough to deny Murray to spare the Spanish defenders’ blushes.

To start the tale of two substitutes, an injury to Hutchinson meant that Guedioura was introduced from the bench with around five minutes remaining. The Reds had weathered the home storm for the first 45 minutes and offered little going forward themselves. Clearly an opportunity for SO’D to get the lads firing, I imagine Dougie Freedman would’ve loved an extra five or ten minutes of first half.

As it transpired, the momentum carried on with the home side into the second half – just five minutes gone and Dikgacoi met a corner from Williams and put a looping header beyond Lee Camp to give Palace a lead their possession and chances undoubtedly deserved. Forest started to awaken, McGugan created some space for himself on the edge of the area but his shot was charged down.

Guedioura picked up a booking for a foul after 55 minutes, then was foolish enough to kick out at Jedinak after the referee had given a dubious freekick against Reid. A silly action giving the referee no choice – the Algerian midfielder has already apologised to his teammates and fans alike via the medium of Twitter. Hopefully this gives him a bit of thinking time, because he’s come close to losing his head a few times already this season.

Sean O’Driscoll introduced Dexter on 73 minutes at the expense of Sharp – who hadn’t really enjoyed much service, and on 79 minutes replaced Lewis McGugan with Majewski. It seemed that the manager’s bench-based alchemy was to bear fruit again – Simon Cox turned well on the edge of the area and got the ball to Blackstock who beat Speroni with a cool finish.

Dex gets the headlines, but Coxy carries on his record of either scoring or assisting in every game he’s played for us – long may THAT stat continue!

We could’ve nicked a ridiculously undeserved win, too – Halford took a long throw into the six yard box which was met by the head of Blackstock, and saved brilliantly by Speroni. At the other end Camp made a brilliant save from a point-blank header from Peter Ramage, leaving both sides to be content with a draw – I imagine we will feel rather happier with the point than Palace will!

So Sean said we got out of jail, it’s hard to argue with it – and whilst it’s a bit concerning that we put in such a lacklustre shift for most of the game, it’s rather heartening to see another demonstration of resilience from the Reds who are able to continue to boast an unbeaten league record – somehow! Under the circumstances it’s a cracking point for us, dropping to ten men when already a goal down.

Leeds away up next – they lost 3-2 at home to Hull City tonight, so they’ll be pissed off anyway without even mentioning what happened when Forest went to Elland Road last season – but we don’t want to mention that, do we?

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Crystal Palace vs. Forest preview..

After a tricky start to the season with three league defeats this was looking like a tasty trip, but Dougie Freedman’s side have enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in form of late with wins first against Sheffield Wednesday before the International Break and then followed up with a derby day win over Charlton at The Valley on Friday evening.

It makes them a team that so far has specialised in extremities – three defeats, two wins, no draws – contrast that with us, we are not-losing specialists with two wins, three draws and no defeats.  Sky Bet have us as slight favourites (6/4 vs 7/4) with odds of 23/10 being offered for the draw – so they’re expecting a winner on the night it would seem!

We’ve no fresh injury worries coming into this match – Simon Cox was the obvious weekend worry, but his performance from the bench to help us come back from 2-0 down to secure a point will have been heartening for Sean O’Driscoll, and continues the former West Brom striker’s record of either scoring or making a goal in every appearance he’s made for us.

I can never make my mind up about Crystal Palace – they looked destined to struggle, but seem to specialise in pulling the unexpected out of the bag.  Obviously any side including the much-coveted Wilfried Zaha  shouldn’t be written off, and the addition of (childish snigger) Goodwillie on loan from Blackburn should give them added potency up front.

So far SO’D has been resistant to wholesale tinkering, and I think that’s appropriate – although with a game in such quick succession with some players looking a little leggy against Birmingham I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few changes.  It would be surprising to not see Cox starting, probably in place of Blackstock, and perhaps Coppinger in place of Guedioura.

This is my first radio-bound match of the season – the Tuesday afternoon trek to South London was too much of a test of my resolve.  I am sad not to be going in some ways, but Selhurst Park really is the most awful place to get to at the best of times – and Tuesday night certainly isn’t one of those!  Best of luck to those of you travelling!

It would be nice to see us register three points on the road having been unlucky not to do so as yet, but as I’m sure the gaffer is aware, Palace ain’t going to be pushovers.

Reds remain unbeaten with two-goal comeback..

Nottingham Forest – 2
Birmingham City – 2

A fairly unspectacular first half in which the Reds had some chances, but were largely nullified by the visitors exploded into goals in the second half.  Forest lapsed in concentration twice in quick succession and found themselves two goals down – a couple of O’Driscoll substitutions later and we’d hauled ourselves back level – so it should go down as a good result.

The only change to the line-up was Simon Cox – subject of an injury scare – was dropped to the bench and replaced by Billy Sharp.  On the subject of whom, some fans have set up an initiative where they will donate cash to the LJS Foundation for every goal he scores for us – check out this link if you’d like to join in, I think it’s a great idea!

Forest too are getting behind the cause, agreeing to stock wristbands in the club shop and have collection containers in there – from what I heard they sold out of bands before the Birmingham game, which is great!  I digress, here’s the team as started:

Camp
Hutchinson    Ayala    Collins    Halford
Guedioura   McGugan    Gillett    Reid
Sharp   Blackstock

Our first real opportunity came a little after ten minutes when Butland struggled with a Hutchinson cross, Sharp latched onto the ball in the area  but by the time he’d composed himself the shot was straight at the ‘keeper.  The next chance was from McGugan – a carbon copy freekick from the same spot as against Charlton, if anything struck better, but tipped over well by the ‘keeper.

Probably the best opportunity for us came part way through the half – a ball from Gillett sent Sharp a little bit too far down the right, but he dug out a ball to Reid on the left.  Reid had options for the pull-back into the area but instead opted to return the ball over to Sharp, a pity but some nice movement and awareness nonetheless.

At the other end Camp was alert when King was put through by Lita, getting out to block any chance of the sex offender scoring.  Reidy had a freekick on target which again Butland was equal to with a tip over, whilst King squandered a decent opportunity for Birmingham by firing over as the half drew to a close.

Our half time reflections were that Birmingham were certainly – Wigan aside – the best team we’d seen so far at the City Ground, they were proving more difficult to execute a passing game against, we also lamented the lack of cutting edge of decision-making for the opportunities we did fashion.  We’d edged the first half, but only just.

We started the second half brightly with a dangerous cross from Reidy, but quite rapidly the game became somewhat of a struggle.  Referee Mark Halsey was proving unpopular as ever so it was quite amusing when Sharp inadvertently took him out (the referee, of course, missing the foul on Sharp that caused him to floor the official).

SO’D made an uncharacteristically early change on the hour, taking off the tired looking Dexter Blackstock and introducing Simon Cox, but it was the visitors who were to draw first blood soon after.  A lapse allowed Marlon King a shooting chance which was well blocked by Hutchinson, but the rebound fell for Mullins who struck powerfully goalward and in via a deflection.

We’d barely had a chance to blink when Redmond made a great run down the right, cutting the ball back to King who placed an accurate finish in the bottom corner to put the West Midlanders two goals to the good.  Harsh on Forest in terms of balance of play, but you certainly couldn’t argue with the incisiveness of the Blues’ attacking play.

It only took us a couple of minutes to reignite our game though – a precise pass of fifty yards or more from McGugan found Cox in the box, he deftly controlled it with his right foot, cushioning the ball up infront of him – in the meantime, Butland was rushing out of his goal, Cox casually flicked his right foot again to put the ball over the ‘keeper and in the goal, evading the two defenders on the line.

Sean made another change, introducing Harding for Guedioura (who’d also had a rather quiet game).  Harding went to left wing back, Hutchinson to right wing back with Halford slotting in to the right hand side of a defensive three alongside Collins and Ayala.  A ballsy move, but one that started to give us the width we’d lacked earlier in the game.

Whilst we were making inroads, the last change saw him gamble on losing the defensive screening of Gillett – another impressive game from the midfielder – and introducing the creative influence of Majewski.  Whilst the Pole might not have been directly involved in the equaliser, his presence certainly gave our opponents something different to think about.

As it happens, it was an unlikely source of a goal – but as Halford took the ball forward a gap like Moses created in the Red Sea opened up, he duly took advantage and strode further forward, clipping a decent ball in which found Harding at the back post.  His shot was off target but deflected in off a defender to give us the equaliser.

I will admit it was quite a thrill to see a blonde haired number 3 marauding forward to sweep the ball into the net, even if it was really an own goal!  There was a chance for the winner too, a difficult aerial ball was met by Billy Sharp but he couldn’t get his header on target – I’d have liked nothing better than to celebrate three points by chucking the first of what I hope will be many pound donations to the LJS Foundation.

As it is, it wasn’t to be – and given the circumstances a draw is a decent result.  Despite their shaky start I expect Birmingham to be in the play-off or even automatic mix as the season draws on, the jury might be out for some on Lee Clark but he has a cracking squad at his disposal.  Whilst it’s annoying to have lapsed and let in two, our response to that was fantastic, and should see us in good spirits for forthcoming trips to Palace and Leeds.

The goals are here if you’ve not seen ’em yet.