Mr T Jones
Payton pen 79mins
|Report by Bridport Red
I had a bad feeling about this game. OK, so we might have stuffed them 5-0 at home a few weeks ago, but even a cursory glance at the Clarets’ record (especially at home, where they are the Division’s only unbeaten side) would tell you that clearly that was something of an uncharacteristically off night for them. I knew they’d be hard to beat anyway, and a late injury to Ben Olsen (hamstring in training yesterday) plus Jack’s one-match suspension would only make it harder.
After 75 minutes of the match, then, I was pretty pleased with the way we were playing. What had been a tight if scrappy game in the first half had degenerated in the second 45 into stalemate as the rain came streaming down and both midfields strangled each other’s space – in short, we were watching a sure fire 0-0 draw where the two sides essentially cancelled each other out and neither deserved either to lose or to score.
As I have reflected several times this season already, one of the many improvements in watching Forest this time around has been our dramatic change in luck with referees. Think Grimsby, Baggies, Blades or Wolves last season… I suppose, therefore, it was inevitable that at some stage we would fall foul of a poor piece of refereeing. I just wish it made it easier to swallow when it happened!
But there were 75 minutes of football to describe before that. To be honest, this was a pretty poor match as a spectacle. For all Marlon’s excellent workrate and very high nuisance value to the opposition defence, we missed Jack’s ability to hold the ball up and relieve the pressure. Likewise, welcome though it was to see ML-J back in the squad after his niggly injuries, we missed Ben’s creativity on the right. None the less, we defended very well as Burnley pressed, keeping them sufficiently at arm’s length for them to resort to lengthy periods of passing it backwards and forwards across the face of our defence. All three defenders had good games today, but I thought that Bart in particular was outstanding – more often than not he had to deal with Ian Moore, and we know better than most that (if nothing much else) he has fierce pace, which is about the only thing Bart lacks; Bart’s reading of the game and crisply timed tackles simply played Moore out of the game. There were even strains of “You’ll never beat the Bartman” to the old Des Walker song from the large and noisy travelling support (and it is high time we had a proper song for our skipper).
A mark of how well we were keeping them out is the simple statistic that Lurch had only one save to make in the entire first 45 – and that was a simple one. For our part we were doing our usual away thing of hitting them on the break – Andy Reid had another fine tricky game (even winning a fair amount in the air, which is amazing given his size). Understandably, though, since he and Marlon have probably never played together before at any level, their understanding of one another’s runs was patchy at best – too often either Marlon or Andy would pile forward with the ball but find themselves on their own and be forced to shoot for lack of support. None the less, we were well worth being level at the break.
During the half time interval (cue the usual pre-Christmas assortment of C List “stars” of the local panto and strange men in hideous gold lame suits) the heavens opened, and the next 20 minutes were pretty dire. The Clarets’ defence had learned that you give Reidy space at your peril, and both midfields had clearly been urged to get in the face of the other, so we were reduced to more and more high hoofs up the middle by both sides, which each defence ate up with ease. The fans were getting a bit restless as more passes went astray, and only the occasional piece of excitement relieved the midfield scrap. Keith Foy easily headed a header off the line, Lurch was finally forced into serious action (but only the once), and at the other end a rare piece of quality football on the floor from Reid split the Burnley defence and laid the ball into the path of the marauding Riccy – his shot was well saved low down at the near post. But most of it was scrappy, airborne and ordinary.
Then came the moment. ML-J had been replaced by Richard Cooper shortly after half time, and he was doing a decent job down the right. Then a long diagonal ball came high in the air towards him, the winger jumped straight into him and the ref, not without more than a few disgusted looks from the Forest defenders, gave a dubious corner. The ball was flighted across and there was what our erstwhile Large Orange Manager (oh how we don’t miss him in the slightest!) would have called a “crowd scene” in the box. A couple of blocked efforts and the ball was flighted to the far post, half met by a Burnley forward, and headed off the line by Prutts. I say again, headed off the line by Prutts. No Burnley players were appealing, the crowd weren’t howling, I was applauding Prutton for a good piece of defending – and the ref was pointing to the spot. For a brief moment no-one quite knew what on earth he was talking about, but then the penny dropped and Prutts was booked for protesting his innocence. (A minor detail, Mr Ref, but if you were so certain that Prutton had cleared the ball with his hands, why didn’t you send him off for deliberate handball? Or could it be that you were all that certain but gave the penalty anyway?) Whatever - Paton scored.
At the time all was confusion, but my instant reaction was that the pen must have been for a push that I hadn’t seen, or something like that – only when the ref clearly signalled that he’d given the pen for hands did my sense of humour depart. I haven’t yet seen the highlights on the TV, but I have spoken to several people who have and they say that Prutton clearly headed the ball clear and nothing else. Platty rarely storms off after a game without talking to the press, but this time he shot straight out to the coach to watch the video – and then gave the ref as much criticism as he dared without getting himself into trouble.
Ah well – enough. It wasn’t a penalty, but it was given and we lost 1-0. Frustrating, certainly, but we all teams get things like this every so often so we might as well shut up, smile and get on with it (unlike, say, Preston, whose fans are STILL whining on their site about the ref at the City Ground several weeks ago).
Not our greatest performance of the season, certainly, but decent enough – worthy of a point, though as Williams, Foy and Reid tired late on we were gradually showing the current stretched nature of the squad.
Burnley? I wasn’t particularly impressed, to be honest – well organised and strong, certainly, but nothing special. One or two neanderthal fans, though – there were some dodgy scenes behind the stand after the game that were like stepping back 20 years. (Most of their fans, I hasten to add, were normal people just like the rest of us, but someone ought to tell a few of their number that hooliganism never was cool, and now just looks pathetic and so 1970s. Grow up!)
© Nottingham Forest 2000