|Beasant||van der Geest|
Bridport Red Report:
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaagggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! In the 30+ years I have been watching Forest, unfortunately I have seen us shoot ourselves in the foot many many times. Especially in the Cups. As seems (inevitably) to have been forgotten in the predictable hysterical reaction on the internet to tonight's result, we have lost to lower league opposition before - and no doubt we will do it again. However, even by Forest standards this was depressingly incompetent. Farcical, even. Even several hours later and back in London, I am still trying to work out exactly how we contrived to lose a game which we ought to have won at a canter.
For the first half we were so much the better team it was almost embarrassing. Darlo couldn't get the ball and they didn't have a single shot on goal for the entire first 45 minutes. Forest, on the other hand, were playing some reasonable passing football, with Platt again prominent for his ability to play the defence-splitting pass. It wasn't up to Palace first half standards, or anything like them, but it was pretty sound: not great, but more than good enough both to win this match and continue to build on the Palace improvements. Uhhh. Not quite. BOY did we blow it from then on.
During that first half we ought to have scored three or four goals. The one we did score was good - a Prutton tackle on the right, ball breaks into Platt's path, he plays a great first time ball into Stern's path, Stern buries it. The game is 8 minutes old. During the next half hour or so, Blake hits the post, Stern has two headers go close (at least one of which he really ought to have scored), Prutts panics and blazes over from close in with his wrong foot after another peach of a pass from the manager, Blake has another 2 efforts saved. Brennan is playing well down the left, Prutts slightly less so down the right, the central midfield seem to be able to keep the ball with ease and to possess the patience to wait for the right moment to get into their box. TV and the excellent Doig are dealing with Darlo's rare attacks easily. Lurch could have sat down and read a book (ironic, in view of what happened later...)
Half time; OK, so it's only 1-0, but surely even Forest ought to be able to step up a little bit and win this one 3- or 4-0. From the moment the whistle blew for the second half, all that good stuff evaporated. It was no surprise to me that Darlo came out with all guns blazing. After all, what did they have to lose? To the Forest players, however, it seemed astonishing. Suddenly they looked twice as sharp as us, twice as quick to the ball - the 50:50 balls were falling to white shirts, it was our passes which were going astray. Should any Darlington fans be reading this, I do not mean to belittle your team's efforts. Darlo played some good football at times, they kept possession well in the second half, and they worked their socks off. Most of all - and here's the nub of the matter - they looked like they wanted it more.
Forest played the second half at a funereal pace. No explosions into action, no sudden swift movements to unsettle the defence - just ponderous and increasingly aimless passing to nowhere in particular. The game was crying out for us to seize it by the scruff of the neck and kill it - at half time Darlo were laid out ready for the taking. Instead we meandered about, let them back into it, and only played with the sort of urgency that was required when we suddenly found oursleves 2-1 down with 3 minutes to play. The crowd were getting more and more restless, and it was completely and utterly obvious from where I was sitting that we could not continue to play so lethargically and hope to get away with it - yet on the pitch seemed to be the only place where this wasn't clear.
Sure enough, about 2 minutes after the Webmaster and I had exchanged worried frowns and said "We are in severe danger of messing this up" (or Anglo-Saxon words to that effect), Darlo equalised. Good move, actually - ball passed from right to left, cross from left and excellent header leaving Beas no chance. But when all is said and done it was their very first shot on goal and it had taken almost an hour to arrive. Why on EARTH was the game not over and done with and wrapped up at 3-0 by that stage? OK, so they're back in it. Surely NOW Forest will wake up again and play with even a little bit of urgency? Nope, sorry. Much the same, really - SLOW and, even when the edge of the box was finally reached, rather too elaborate.
Then the crowning glory. 4 minutes to go, another Darlo attack comfortably dealt with by TV. Routine back pass to Lurch with no forward anywhere near him. OK, so Beasant's first touch takes him a bit wide, but so what? Great big wind up for the big kick up-field.... then enter Billy Smart's Circus. He slips and totally scuffs the ball, it flies gently to a Darlo midfield player standing on the edge of the centre circle, who looks as though all his birthdays have arrived at once as he neatly volleys the ball back 45 yards into the totally unguarded net. Forest wake up a bit (AT LAST) and huff and puff - a couple of good saves and the odd goalmouth scramble, but all far too late.
Final whistle, Forest troop off to a chorus of boos. Sigh. Listen, I don't want to go overboard, especially at individual players. Dave Beasant won't need me to tell him he dropped a 5-star clanger (and it is his first complete howler in 3 years here). But frankly his gaffe ought to have been embarrassing but no more, because it ought to have given Darlo a comical but essentially irrelevant consolation goal late on in a routine Forest win. The fact that it didn't is because of two things: firstly we didn't take our chances, and secondly in the second half we played far too slowly and for too much (to the fans' eyes at least) as though we didn't really mind that much.
Missing chances is not ideal, but we can live with it. Looking as though you don't give a toss is NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Three things concern me greatly about tonight: 1) This was not the first game this season where we have played well for half of the game, yet COMPLETELY failed to kill the game off. The Palace game we ought to have killed stone dead at half time, yet we ended up hanging on grimly. Tonight we ought to have been capable (with the greatest of respect to Darlo) of killing them off without breaking sweat. Yet we never looked like doing it.
We MUST learn to put teams away when we have them at their mercy - because they are absolutely certain to come back at us if we don't.
2) We look brittle at the moment. Mentally, I mean. Several times already this season we have shown ourselves well capable of playing some good football. But equally several times we have played some abject rubbish - frequently in the same match. I know that confidence is a self-sustaining thing, but surely our confidence ought to be high enough to survive a half time cup of tea?
The moment something goes wrong (like an equaliser tonight or a goal back at Palace), the confidence seems to drain from the boys. The fight, and the ability to bounce straight back and redress a set back, seems extremely fragile. With the fixtures we have coming up, that is a big worry.
3) I know, because I was there, that Forest played pretty well at Palace. OK, we nearly let them back in at the end, but as a riposte to the Brum dross it was pretty convincing. Unfortunately, only about 1500 of us saw the Selhurst game. The vast majority of Forest fans have now seen two consecutive home games where we woefully under-performed - Brum and now tonight. Judging by the reaction at the final whistle, most of them (understandably) did not like what they saw.
People like me can go on about how admirable the Palace fans are because they roar on their team even when they are 3-0 down until we are blue in the face - at the City Ground in modern times it simply ain't going to happen. We now face two tricky trips to Ewood Park and Hillsborough, where we will have to play well to get anything. Then, a mere 10 days from now, Fulham come here on a real roll. If we don't play well that day, I can see the crowd becoming really hostile - and then we are into the hideous booing-confidence-booing viscious circle that we saw last year. Time to stand up and be counted again, boys.
Play like this against Wednesday, Rovers or Fulham and we get a big fat zero points.
© Nottingham Forest 2000