The Bridport Red Report - a personal
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
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
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
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
We are playing like this more often than not at the moment - and it is
nothing like good enough. Depressing, but true. Sorry!
Comments to [email protected]
Nottingham Forest 2001