3rd Feb
The McAlpine Stadium


George Cain

Goal One
Scimeca (12)

Goal Two
Facey (45)

Beasant   Vaesen
Edds   Heary
Edwards Dyson
Bart-Williams Lucketti
Benali Moses
Prutton (44) (20) Smith
Williams   Holland
Scimeca (12) Armstrong
Reid Thornley
D.Johnson (45) Facey
Harewood Gallen
Substitutes     Substitutes
Roche   Margetson
John (83) Gray
Vaughan (49) Gorre
Brennan (55) (88) Irons
A.Johnson (73) (63) Baldry

Three weeks off - 3 weeks of court cases, dodgy work permits and nothing much to keep us excited. Finally back to football at last - so at least we can get back to our more usual worries about the table and how we're doing. And I think we have a lot to think about.

Following the well-known maxim that the closer you are staying to the ground, the later you arrive, I scraped into the edge of the well populated Forest stand just as the teams were running out. After the kindergarten teams of the last few weeks, it was good to see the return of some of our longer term absentees; not only were Riccy and Prutts back in the side, but even Johnno was on the bench. Sure, we are still short of the likes of Tank, Doig Benny and Jack, but at least the team had a more familiar look and contained a mere 4 teenagers (as opposed to the 6 or 7 of recent weeks).

Let's face it, you can almost date the exact start of our gradual subsidence down the table to when we last played the Terriers. We were on the back of a fantastic run, they apparently couldn't get a point for love nor money, we "only" needed to win 5-0 to go second..... but we ended up getting well & truly stuffed, and things have never quite been the same since. So we owed them. And after about 20 minutes it looked good for pay-back time. We were playing well, Reidy was swapping from wing to wing as he felt like it, and thus giving BOTH their full backs a torrid time, and (big mistake, this) I found myself reflecting to my neighbour "How on earth did we lose 3-1 to this lot?" (When will I ever learn about saying things like that?)

We started off well, getting round the sides of their defence, utilising the pace of DJ, Marlon and Reidy to good effect and dominating the midfield. We weren't getting enough shots on goal for my liking, even at that stage, but things were looking nice and comfortable. Vaessen made one good save as he came out to meet DJ after he'd been released one-on-one by a peach of a ball from Williams, but then we scored. Reid did a bit more of his trickery down the left before turning back to the arriving Benali. Franky put in a fine curling cross to the far past where Riccy rose and planted a majestic header into the far corner (Riccy's third goal for us, and all of them have been excellent - clearly this man does not score tap-ins!). The McAlpine Stadium, hardly a seething cauldron of noise even before that point, subsided into sullen silence of almost Fulham-like proportions (last season's crowd at Craven Cottage was the quietest football crowd I have ever heard, but this lot came close).

And yet from that point onwards we slowly but surely let the game slip away from us. Reidy, having started like a man possessed, gradually began to show less and less confidence until he reached the point where he appeared not to want the ball at all, and was substituted (we shouldn't be surprised that our Academy players are inconsistent at this level; almost all teenage players suffer from the same problem). In the centre of midfield, for some reason best known to those who were playing there, we played fewer and fewer accurate passes to feet, and more and more boots over the top. OK, so this tactic might work well if you have a Niall Quinn up front, but we have one forward who is 5'6" and another who wouldn't win anything in the air even if you gave him his own Spitfire, why do we do it? Needless to say the Huddersfield defence, a good foot taller than Johnson (and considerably more talented than Marlon) ate this up without breaking sweat.

[Actually, to my eyes this is how you can tell whether Forest are going to play well; if the ball pings around in midfield with short passing, we are going to have a good day (Gillingham, Barnsley, Palace away, Burnley home etc). If, however, the ball bounces off people's knees, the opposition players seem to win more than their fair share of the 50:50s and our players are reduced to smacking the ball high up the middle because they don't have time to do anything else, we are going to struggle. Today, strangely, we had a bit of both!]

Ten minutes before half time, then, we were cruising. By ten minutes from full time we were hanging onto a point for dear life. The Terriers even managed to equalise before half time, when in injury time we completely lost concentration at a free kick, watched the ball go down the right wing (their right winger played well all day - sorry, no time to buy a programme and I didn't recognise his face), watched the ball come in on the cross and watched as it was touched past Beasant. Even before that the Forest fans had been stirring uneasily a bit as we ceded control of the midfield, so it had been coming.

The second half was a mirror image of the first, with Huddersfield now playing with a confidence which had been completely lacking in the first 30 minutes, and thus looking a different side (you can see why they have recovered from their terrible Autumn - but equally early on you could see why they'd had such a terrible Autumn in the first place). We, however, continued to play only in patches and with eroding confidence; giving the ball away too much was a particular fault. More than once the evergreen Lurch came to our rescue (I can remember at least 3 outstanding saves), and if you'd have offered us a point with ten minutes to go we'd have taken it.

Finally this strange game took another twist, because suddenly, and with no apparent reason for the change, Forest started to play again. Johnno came on and tightened up the midfield (welcome back, Andy - it seems a long 3 months), Jim Brennan changed the threat down the left by using extreme pace (and some good crossing, too) instead of Reidy's trickery and Stern came on to play with his flicks and hold-up play instead of Marlon's.... uhhhh... whatever it is that Marlon's got. But those changes in emphasis shouldn't account for the fact that, miracle of miracles, Forest suddenly stopped hoofing it up the middle and remembered to pass it again, suddenly looking twice as dangerous - our best chance of the match being when DJ was put through the middle with 3 minutes to go. He elected to shoot early rather than try to take it round the keeper, but his dipping swerving half volley fizzed past the angle of post and bar. He probably should have scored - certainly his slumped body language suggested that he believes he should have scored - but in truth it was one of those where we'd all have been lauding his exquisite unstoppable finish had it swerved a foot less. That is the risk you take when you go for the spectacular. [I would also like to report, incidentally, that the Forest Secret Moaning Cell have not let me down - it took until only 12 minutes into his second match before I heard my first fog-horn yell of "Johnson, you're **** rubbish!". Ah, the patience, tolerance and good humour of the true Larry-Caller...]

So we ended up with a point. With the greatest of respect to Huddersfield, who are clearly capable of playing far better than their precarious league position would suggest, these are exactly the games we have to be winning if we are to maintain credible pretentions to reaching the play-offs. At half time I noticed that the Baggies were losing and Watford struggling to draw away at Hillsborough. In the end that might be the difference between them and us; the Baggies came back to draw and Watford scraped a 3-2 win, but we didn't and gradually the play-off pack draws the odd point or two further away from us. If we are not to finish a frustrating 7th or 8th, we need to put together a good run very very shortly. We know we are capable of it because we have already done it once this season - but if you were picking two games to start with, you'd pick Palace home and Huddersfield away (the ones just gone) rather than Blackburn home and Fulham away (the ones we have coming up).

Of course it is still possible - there are plenty of games to go, including ones against most of the teams above us - but if we are honest with ourselves it is looking slightly less likely every week. By failing to take advantage of games against the teams at the bottom we put ourselves under added pressure in the hard games. On our day, with a full squad, we are capable of beating anyone in this division - and I include Fulham in that. But equally, on another day (or even sometimes in the second half on the same day) we are incapable of beating an egg. So we must get our consistency better - something which would obviously have been helped by fewer injuries to key players.

But also, finally, we must stop shooting ourselves in the foot. David Johnson is a good player who has scored bags of goals on a consistent basis. Given his size and his pace, in the past he has played best off a target man. Well we ain't got no target man at the moment. So let's concentrate on playing the ball on the ground, in front of the man where he can run onto it and do some damage. In other words, gradually ease a talented striker into the Forest game (like we were playing with such great effect with Jack Lester & Robbie Blake up front), rather than play the Ipswich way without the crucial James Scowcroft figure.

Don't despair. We are better than this. But we have to show it NOW, or we will be returning to this neck of the woods yet more next season as we play at Valley Parade....

© Nottingham Forest 2001


Copyright © 2000 Nottingham Forest F.C.