3rd Mar
Molineux Ground


P Richards

Goal One
Edds og 47 mins
Goal Two
Proudlock 60mins

Beasant Oakes
Edwards Muscat
Bart-Williams Naylor
Benali Pollet
Eddsog Dinning
Scimeca Butler
Prutton Robinson
A.Johnson Sinton
Foy Proudlock
D.Johnson Ndah
Freeman Branch
Substitutes     Substitutes
Roche   Stowell
Vaughan Roussel
Reid Lescott
Jones Kamara

The Bridport Red Report - a personal opinion

If anyone is looking to cheer themselves up by reading this report, I'm afraid they've come to the wrong guy.

Sorry - but another fed up report tonight as Forest pick up their favourite bazooka and shoot themselves in the foot with it yet again. To be honest, I think this particular self inflicted wound will prove to be the one which finally puts paid to our chances of promotion this season (my heart says it can still be done, but my head says probably not)... but we'll come to that.

What exactly is it about Wolves? We have played them twice already this season and failed even to score, let alone win, and our last 6 visits to Molineux now read D L D L L L. Yet, frankly, they have been a pretty damn average side now for many years - almost a by-word for the pouring of millions into a once big club which has failed to get anywhere near realising its undoubted potential. So, of all the clubs in this division, it was galling to hear their fans singing "Forest are going nowhere" - because of all the fans in this division, you suspect that they recognise the symptoms all too well. On today's performance and those of the last few weeks, you have to admit that the observation is a pretty accurate one.

Not only that, of course, but this was our first return to Wolverhampton since last season's farcical defeat there when TV was sent off for being the victim of an assault and Michael Branch scored the infamous "cheating" goal. It ought to have been a day for cool heads and allowing the football to do the talking. But it wasn't, and frankly I am pretty pee'd off about it.

The first 42 minutes didn't really set anyone's pulses racing. Platt stuck with the 11 players who'd finished so strongly last Saturday and, though they had to weather an early string of corners, gradually they began to piece a performance together as the half wore on. Beas pulled off one superb save from N'dah, with Foy completing the clearance off the line, but otherwise, though they dominated early possession, Wolves weren't giving Lurch much to do (and, for their part, Forest were creating nothing more than scraps for Freeman and DJ).

Predictably enough, Beas (terrible cheat that he was to try to kick the ball out to allow treatment for an opposition player) was booed throughout by the home fans (as was Branch by our lot), but for the first half hour or so the abuse was more ritual than vitriolic. The minute's silence for Stan Cullis (Wolves' equivalent of Cloughie) before the game had been immaculately observed, and neither set of fans seemed to be able to get too exercised about the events of last year. This was epitomised when Beas ostentatiously seized on the chance presented by an injury to Swanny to pick up the ball and thump it as far as possible out of play (he only failed to clear the stand by a foot or two) and then bowed to the crowd. Most of them laughed, and when Branch made sure he took the resultant throw, dummied not returning it to Beas and then grinned broadly as he duly did so, I for one thought that sanity had finally returned and we could get on with the football.

How wrong I was. Forest's one and only decent spell of the game came from about the 30th to the 40th minute - a couple of good crosses from the wing backs and the welcome sight of Prutts charging through the middle were just beginning to stir the away fans. However, as one of these attacks broke down on the left, Andy Johnson completely took leave of his senses and landed a full-on hay-maker on Ludovic Pollet. Quite what Johnson thought he was up to God only knows - the ball had so long gone that I wasn't even looking in that direction any more. A couple of my neighbours say that Pollet aimed a loose elbow at David Freeman and Johnno reacted to it, but if Pollet did there was certainly no contact - and even if he did, so what? You can't throw punches on a football field and expect to get away with it.

The ref had absolutely no option but to send Johnson off, and with him probably departed our chances of winning the game. Johnno, we are glad to see you back after your long injury, but today you behaved like a 5-star berk. Experienced, international, senior pro, hero of the Trent End? Not today - more like petulant schoolboy who got everything he deserved and totally let his team mates down. I'd said to my brother after 10 minutes that Johnno would be lucky to get through 90 minutes if he kept on playing like a headless chicken on speed, but that did nothing to improve my humour when he enhanced my Mystic Brid reputation by failing even to complete 45.

This was about 5 minutes before half time, and amazingly a couple of minutes later we ought to have gone 1 up. A nice move down the right between Prutts, DJ and Edds saw the ball arrive at Keith Foy's feet on the left corner of the box. He gathered himself and fired in a cross shot which the onrushing Freeman missed by a whisker. Had he connected he couldn't have missed at the near post - and as it was he almost sold an unintended dummy to the keeper, but the ball missed the far post as well. He should have scored.

0-0 at the break, then - a pretty uninspiring game of football, to put it mildly, between two ordinary teams, with only the stupidity of Andy Johnson to write home about at half time (plus, of course, an incredibly annoying PA producing endless drivel at such a volume that you had to shout even to talk to your neighbour).

As the team came out for the second half, we hoped to see them roll up their sleeves and up the tempo to eke out a point - and, you never know, we might even be in a position to nick it at the end. Fat chance, I'm afraid - Wolves exploited the man advantage very well and we never even looked remotely like hanging on, let alone scoring. Not only that, but some of our players lost their discipline in a way that we haven't seen since last season (since, in fact, our last visit to Molineux). Last year we did this all too often, but until this afternoon it seemed to be an area we had got rid of this season. Francis Benali, in particular, was lucky to receive only a yellow card for a nasty tackle which saw him put his raised studs into N'dah's back.

Not that Wolves were entirely saintly either - Branch didn't exactly go out of his way to avoid stamping on Keith Foy's shoulder (and then showed that he remains as big a prat as a year ago by turning round and goading the Forest fans while Foy was being treated). Kevin Muscat scythed down Prutts in full flight more than once (though the second time for some reason only known to the ref there was no free kick). For our part, Bart was unlucky to be booked for a 50:50 challenge where both players were high, but equally there were several other tackles which escaped a deserved booking as half the players on each side decided to settle a few scores and the ref gradually lost control.

Amongst all this unedifying, unneccessary and (frankly) boring knocking lumps out of one another, there was time for a couple of goals. The first came after we'd managed to hold out for an impressive whole 5 minutes since the restart - a cross from the right reached Adam Proudlock, but his header was a poor one which would have missed the far post. Unfortunately Gareth Edds was marking the man immediately behind Proudlock, and the ball cannoned off his shoulder into the net. Most of Forest's problems today were self inflicted, but this was simply bad luck on Edds, who couldn't possibly have got out of the way.

Even so, a few minutes later we almost repeated the dose, when Bart at full stretch smacked the ball against the post (our own post, this is) with Lurch beaten - Foy reacted superbly to clear the danger a fraction before N'dah got there.

By now it was all Wolves, who were passing the ball through the Johnson-shaped gaps in our midfield with some ease. A better side would have buried us completely - but their second goal was well taken. Bart lost the ball on the half way line and Benali, who appeared to have borrowed Jonah's lead diving boots to play in today, was not even close to being fast enough to head off the danger. Swanny was thus left with both N'dah and Proudlock to mark (very similar to the final minute of the FA Cup game). Just as he did in January, Proudlock buried it and the game was over. Some, no doubt, will blame Bart for giving the ball away, but frankly if our defence is now so shaky that losing possession on the half way line immediately threatens our goal, then we are in trouble. Surely it shouldn't hav elooked quite so easy to slice through us?

When, with ten minutes to go, Platt brought on Marlon (who promptly got himself booked for a needless and reckless tackle) and the Carl Lewis of Tranmere, Jonah himself, it was apparent that we were not going to get a thing out of this game. The sun had gone, it was getting damn cold and the atmosphere (rude but not aggressive at the start) was showing signs of turning ugly as some players from both sides took the opportunity to put in a few cynical challenges. So I did something that I have never done before in hundreds of trips to watch Forest - I left early, fed to the back teeth with watching a dismal game of football in which the team I love show absolutely no sign of doing anything to make me smile.

So I missed Marlon's second wild lunge in inury time to earn himself Forest's second brain-dead red card of the afternoon. But even if I had seen it I couldn't have come away any more annoyed.

There is no point in kidding our selves any longer - we are not good enough. Yes, we played well against Blackburn and pretty well at Fulham, but since then I have watched 265 minutes of Forest (against Wednesday, Grimsby and Wolves), during which time we have played well for approximately 25 minutes. If we have realistic pretentions to earning a place in the play-offs, then those three fixtures have to be 9 points - 7 at the absolute minimum. Playing decent football for less than 10% of the three games is hardly the way to set about it, so we can hardly claim we deserve any more than the 3 points we have in fact cobbled together from those games. Let's face it, even in the game we won we were on the awful side of bleedin' average for almost an hour.

On 13 December we were on the back of a great run during which we had won 8 games out of 10, with even the two defeats (Burnley away and Wimbledon home) being unlucky. That night we had the chance to make significant strides up the table into the automatic promotion slots. We blew it completely (against Huddersfield), and since then we have lost 8 and drawn 2 out of 14 League and Cup games 17 points out of a possible 39. This is NOT promotion stuff. You can mount a plausible argument, in fact, to say that we have't really played consistently well since Jack was injured and Robbie went home to Bradford, which is now over 3 months ago.

With Watford losing friday night, today we had yet another chance to get right amongst it - and yet again we stuffed it up; the only conclusion can be that, just as they start to approach the high ground, each time some of the players look down and get vertigo, panic... and bottle it. A cursory glance at the table shows that we have a worse home record than everyone except Wednesday and Huddersfield - and as soon as you get into that habit, then you can no longer afford the odd bad day at the office away from home. (And note, incidentally, that Sheff United were 1-0 down away at half time, but still came back to win - that's the difference between the play-offs and mid table mediocrity).

Ah well. I sincerely hope I am wrong, and that we bounce back from our new lowly position of 9th (our lowest for months) to mount a late run. But I have to confess that I now fully expect to be returning to Molineux next season. Ooh, I can hardly wait - perhaps we can finish with 9 men for the third year in a row.

Quite where all this leaves us in the long run, who knows? There are too many imponderables to form any more than a highly subjective opinion (Court Case result, whether we can finally manage to clear the Stiffs of all that expensive dead wood during the close season - Toto, Calderwood, Allou and Hjelde alone must be costing us a pretty wage packet each week, and clearly none of those are likely to light up the first team again in a hurry. Not to mention, of course, the question of whether we are forced to sell any of our good players to balance the books - Bartman or Prutts, for instance. After today's performance by the Welsh Mastermind (not exactly his first convincing impression of an aggressive headless chicken), there are one or two other assets I'd be less upset to see leaving the club. But that's just my opinion.

We don't know the answers to any of these. But we do know that Plan A (get back up inside 2 years) is on the verge of collapse. It remains to be seen what exactly constitues Plan B, but unless someone finds a jam jar with a hell of a lot of money in it in some forgotten cupboard at the City Ground, it seems more and more likely that our future will consist of the gradual building of a side around the youngsters, coupled with some shrewd wheeling and dealing to seed our home-grown talent with a bit of experience - rather than spending yet more millions on players who are neither quite good enough nor possible to get off the wage bill. After all, look at Wolves - they've spent far more than we have, and they are still nothing more than average Division 1 cannon fodder, I'm afraid.

All that could take some time - several years, even - and the manner in which we have subsided in the second half of this season must cast considerable doubt on the illusion that we have made quite the progress that we thought. Unless, perhaps, there is a change of heart. (Damn - is my spelling letting me down again?)

No doubt all of us have our own theories about what to do. Predictably enough, lots of them would involve the word "Psycho" - which, personally, I think would be a recipe for disaster, but there you go. But I am very sad to say that I fully expect that it is this sort of thing we'll be disussing over our summer beers, rather than plotting the premiership season.

We are playing like this more often than not at the moment - and it is nothing like good enough. Depressing, but true. Sorry!

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© Nottingham Forest 2001



Copyright © 2000 Nottingham Forest F.C.