4th Nov
The City Ground


Mr B.Knight

Goal One
Macken 5mins
Goal Two
pen 23mins
Goal Three
Olsen 58 mins
Goal Four
pen 66 mins

Preston North End
Beasant   Lucas
Edwards Alexander
Bart-Williams Edwards
Vaughan Murdoch
Scimeca Gregan
Prutton   McKenna
Johnson   Appleton
Jones Macken
Rogers Meijer
Blake Anderson
Lester Rankine
Substitutes     Substitutes
Roche   Moilanen
Louis-Jean Jackson
Harewood Cartwright
Olsen Gunnlaugsson
Williams Robinson

Report by Bridport Red

What is it about this season? Last minute penalty saves at Palace, 4-3 wins away at Oakwell, our first 5-0 win for almost 10 years...... and now this; 4 goals, 2 sendings off, 2 penalties. No-one could accuse us of being boring!

In further encouraging signs that gradually we are settling into a nice rhythm, Platty was able to put out an unchanged side for the third game in a row.

Since I was back after missing a game or two, needless to say we got off to a dismal start. Jonathan Macken has been scoring goals for fun for a couple of seasons now up at Deepdale, and when a chip over the top of our defence into the right channel completely bypassed TV, Macken latched onto it in a flash and smacked it into the far corner. Great finish, but not our finest piece of defending this year. 1-0 to North End, 3 minutes on the clock. Who let Bridport back into the ground, for God's sake? He misses 2 games where we score 7 goals and get 6 points - the moment he comes back we are a goal down almost immediately. Boo, rubbish, get off, Brid.

North End then proceded to justify their high league position (and they won at Fulham recently, remember) by playing some neat tidy passing football for ten minutes or so. We were stuttering - the ball was in the air too much and we were being pressurised in midfield (David Moyes had clearly watched the Watford game and tried to do the same). Another ball into an identical place on our left resulted in more iffy positioning at the back, but Anderson was clearly (and needlessly, given the fact that he was looking along the line) offside, so we got away with it. The Preston fans, of course, looking from the far end, thought this was an outrageous decision; despite the fact that the whistle had gone and we had all stopped by the time Anderson put the ball in the net, they obviously hadn't heard it and started the "you don't know what you're doing" chants and decided that the ref (Barry Knight, a regularly controversial figure...) was useless. Since the game exploded after about 15 minutes and everyone from Preston spent the next hour or two raging about Mr Knight's performance, a disallowed "goal" probably seems minor stuff to them now, but the seeds were sown early....

I and other reporters on this site have frequently remarked recently that this year's performances are a welcome contrast with a year ago. Anyone remember an interesting trip to Bramall Lane in October 1999? You know - the one where we were 1-0 up away and playing well, but then Quashie got himself controversially sent off and we spent the next 75 minutes playing through a red mist and queueing up to have a go at Paul Devlin, culminating in Platty's own red card late on and Forest losing the game? Well today was like watching a replay, only the team who totally lost control was not Forest; loud as they are moaning this evening, Preston have only themselves to blame. They started well and looked a decent side when they played football. Unfortunately, after 15 minutes they stopped playing football and started hitting people, complaining, trying to intimidate our forwards out of the game and throwing their teddies out of the pram when they weren't allowed to get away with it. If they'd stuck to what they are good at I reckon I'd be writing now about a home defeat. But they didn't - and as we know from last year, the only place that road leads is to touchline bans for coaching staff and big FA fines for indiscipline.

Having drawn the contrast with the Blades game last year, however, it is worth pointing out that our sendings off in that game were for fouls - always more controversial because more subjective for the fans. Today's procession of players into the early bath was caused by dismissals for violent conduct, which is a big difference. How many times have all of us heard the likes of Alan Hansen say "Well he's stupid! Everyone knows that if you raise your hands to another player, you're off - simple as that!"? Clearly television reception is poor up in Lancashire - two PNE players were sent off for throwing punches, and still they are complaining.

The first incident came after Jack Lester, chasing back to close down PNE defender Graham Alexander, fouled him from behind. Clear foul, ref blows his whistle and reaches for the yellow card. Nothing especially odd there, then. But Alexander then took leave of his senses, stood up and smacked Jack with a right handbag hook right in front of the lino and the ref. They conferred briefly and Alexander got first use of the soap. Crazy. But funnily enough - so far at least - I haven't heard a single Preston fan or official saying "What on earth was Alexander playing at, punching opposition forwards?". Instead they all - the fans, the coaching staff, David Moyes and most important of all the players - decided on the spot that clearly the ref was incompetent, a homer and out to get Forest three points. As such this was the turning point of the game; PNE stopped playing and started the long "'snot fair, Daddy!" session - and thus machine-gunned themselves in the foot and threw the game away.

Ten minutes later we were level. Gradually we had started to remember Mr Clough's adage about there being no grass in the sky, and we put together a couple of promising moves down the left. From the first Robbie Blake flashed a tumbling header narrowly wide. But from the second Tank cut in and played an incisive ball into Gary Jones' path on the edge of the box. Jones (who is improving with every match in midfield, by the way) pushed it wide of the keeper and was clearly brought down by Rob Edwards. A clear penalty (and I have seen it several times on Sky since, so this is not the view of a Trent Ender). Bart lifted it straight down the middle. 1-1. Preston moaned.

The rest of the half was relatively uneventful. We were still not playing especially well (not rubbish by any means, but nowhere near some of the stuff we have seen recently), and I was a bit concerned that a good manager like Moyes would be sensible enough to calm his players down at the break, get them playing football again and still make a tight game of it.

Almost straight after the restart I thought he might have managed it - Macken wasting a good chance by pulling it well wide (though this was nothing to the sitter he was to fluff 30 minutes later). But in fact Mr Moyes had allowed the red mists to infect him as well - he spent so much of the second half complaining to the 4th official and ostentatiously counting on his fingers when Preston got a free kick that eventually the ref had to go over and tell him to shut up.

As a consequence we gradually took the game over. At half time Platty had taken off Prutts (who is going through the dip in form that so often happens to teenagers who have made a blistering start - don't worry, he'll be back) and replaced him with Ben Olsen. Ben played like a proper winger - hugging the touchline, demanding the ball and running at defenders with pace and skill. He looks a terrific player - I wonder if DC United could be persuaded to part with him permanently....?

13 minutes into the second half and Ben scored his first goal for the club. He cut in from the right and had his initial shot blocked (one of his many gifts is the ability to shoot convincingly with both feet - I wonder if he could do some work on Tank's right leg!). The ball rebounded to Jack Lester just outside the box, and he played a lovely defence splitting ball into Olsen's path. Under severe pressure Olsen lifted it with the outside of his right foot over the advancing Lucas... and most of us, including Ben himself by the look of it, thought it was spinning wide. Instead it crept over the line, hardly having enough power to reach the net, and Olsen was submerged under a few young fans at the front of the Trent End. Preston moaned that he was offside (he wasn't).

At this stage PNE did at last remember that they were here for a game of football rather than a scrap, and they looked dangerous for a while; Macken especially looks a fine player (though Erik Meijer looks a Norwegian cousin to Andrea Silenzi). But, inevitably with ten men, they were beginning to tire at the back and Platty was quick to spot it, sending on Marlon to run at them and generally hassle them into error with his pace and tricks (I would say "and his demon finishing", but I am sober). Marlon did his job superbly, putting himself about, staying out of trouble (something he has improved a lot this year), and generally making himself a right pain in the neck for the Lilywhites [incidentally, can some marketing genius tell in which particular parallel universe white shirts clash with red ones? Why exactly were North End playing in blue this afternoon?].

8 minutes after Olsen's goal we killed the game off. A good break our of defence by the excellent Johnno (my man of the match today - really getting back to his best of a couple of seasons ago) ended with the ball at Marlon's feet wide on the right. He had a lot to do and four or five defenders between him and goal, but we know that Marlon is not afraid to take people on and he set off along the edge of the box evading three tackles and trying to work the space to shoot (people were seen getting ready to duck all over the Trent End Upper). Instead Sean Gregan (whom I have always thought a good player, but who today lost his cool completely and played like a slimmer version of Andy Morrison) advanced to the edge of the box, made no attempt to play the ball, and inserted his right shoulder into Marlon's chest.

It was certainly a foul, but my immediate reaction was an indirect free kick for obstruction and a booking for Gregan. Instead the ref gave a second pen. I think this was harsh, but let's face it we have all seen them given before for such fouls, and the challenge was cynical, clumsy and crude. Bart banged this one into the corner. Preston moaned yet more. And the game was over.

After this we spent most of the time playing keep-ball to wind them up and tire them out (which worked well except when Riccy dwelt too long on the half-way line, allowing Macken a clear and unopposed run to goal. Lurch came out to meet him and a player of Macken's proven finishing ability ought to have buried it. It went miles wide and a dispirited-looking Macken was taken off shortly afterwards. Probably moaning, I expect.

There was still time for Christian Edwards (the song "Onward Christian Edwards" is starting to appear amongst knots of fans) to head narrowly over from a corner, for Marlon to feed Olsen with a beauty into the box which Olsen walloped over the bar, for Gareth Williams to show a couple of wonderful subtle touches to emphasise his increasingly loud knocking on the door in midfield, for the ref to wave away a clear if probably inadvertent handball and a decidedly iffy tackle on Tank in the box to deny Bart his hat trick of pens (or even 4!) and for Lucas to tip over a speculative Johnno lob... and for Preston's tissue-thin discipline to disappear totally as they lost another player.

Centre field, Jones on the ball. Gregan and Murdoch wade in with as much subtlety as a Metallica riff and the three of them end up on the floor. Murdoch decides to do his best shaven-headed windmill impression and starts to pummell Jones with both hands. Half a dozen players from both sides steam in either to join in or break it up or both (top marks to Paul McKenna, Riccy, Johnno and Olsen, at least, who were clearly hauling players of both sides away). A swift consultation with his linesman and out comes Mr Knight's red card again. Murdoch follows Alexander and Preston's self-control on their early exits from the game. Bizarrely, Jones is not booked (I thought he might be off for reacting to the fight, though we couldn't see who landed what punches in the mellee following Murdoch's initial flurry), but Christian Edwards, who appeared not to be involved at all, was shown a yellow card. Gary Jones - tall midfield player from Chester. Christian Edwards, tall defender from Caerphilly with huge bandage on forehead. Yeah, I can see how you'd get them mixed up. Of course, Preston moaned.

So we won. We didn't play all that well today, I thought. There were flashes of some good stuff, but we didn't generate the attacking rhythm of some recent games. Preston started off looking a good side and, since we weren't playing well, could well have given us major problems had they stuck to kicking the yellow round thing rather than the players in red shirts. In short they blew it big style and ought in the cold light of day tomorrow to be disgusted with themselves. They won't be, of course - as we well know, once you have decided that a ref is poor, nothing will change your mind. Which is fine for the fans; the players ought to have more discipline.

So they'll moan again, no doubt!

The last time we won three games in a row was the three meaningless wins after we'd already been relegated from the Prem. The last time when it actually mattered was in April 98 as we surged towards the Division 1 title. We are a good way from that, but so far things are going very nicely thank you; a win at home on Wednesday against the terriers and we go well into the play-offs. Keep it going, lads - with our fixture list leading up to Xmas we could be serious contenders by then.

[A quick word for Paul Hart and the Under-19s, too - still unbeaten and scoring goals at a ridiculous rate (P 10 W 8 D 2 L 0 F 36 A 10 so far this season). Today they went up to Leeds to visit Mr Hart's old employers. A 4-0 win. Don't suppose you enjoyed that one much, Paul!]

© Nottingham Forest 2000


Copyright © 2000 Nottingham Forest F.C.