7th Jan
The City Ground


D Pugh

Goal One
Proudlock 87 min

Beasant Oakes
Edwards Muscat
Bart-Williams Naylor
Edds   Robinson
Brennan Dinning
Jenas Lescott
Williams Osborn
Jones Andrews
Gray Proudlock
Reid Branch
Harewood Sinton
Substitutes     Substitutes
Roche   Kerr
John Green
Cooper Emblen
Freeman Ketsbaia
Calderwood Kamara

Forest Cup Run Ends. by Bridport Red

I bet the Evening Post must set up that particular headline automatically at the same time each year! Ah well, nothing changes. So why is it that I can't get all that excited about it? I was gutted when Wimbledon beat us in injury time a few weeks ago, and not exactly happy when Burnley conned a penalty with 5 minutes to go at Turf Moor. But today, when Adam Proudlock scored an excellent and decisive goal with 3 minutes to go, my overwhelming feeling was one of relief that we wouldn't have to risk yet more injuries in a replay. The managerial cliche on these occasions is that we can now concentrate on the league - and it always sounds pretty hollow to me. But if it came down to a choice between 3 points vs Brum last week and a win today, I know which I'd have taken.

So if there is a faint air of resignation - or even of incongruous relief - over this report, now you know why!

Suspension for TV (gosh, how unusual!) was something we knew about in advance. We also know that Prutts will be suspended next week, so on Thursday Platty recalled Jermaine Jenas (known throughout the club as 'JJ') from his trip away with England Under-17s. The plan, presumably, was to put JJ on the bench and maybe give him a few minutes of experience towards the end, but late on Saturday Prutts was taken ill, so we found ourselves with our youngest Academy man yet making his debut at the ripe old age of 17. Without wishing to be insulting to any of the players, young or old, who played today (because none of them played badly), I think you can safely say that we are now down to the absolute bare bones of our squad. The average age of today's team was something like 21 (and if you remove the keeper it falls to well under 20!) - and we have now managed the full set this season by having played a complete team of 11 players in their teens: Roche, Cooper, Doig, Dawson, Edds, Foy, Prutton, Williams, Jenas, Freeman, Reid. Add to that the fact that players like Edwards, Brennan, Marlon and Gray are hardly in the veteran class, particularly in terms of experience, and you might see why I am prepared to settle for a home defeat in the Cup 3rd Round without getting too upset. No doubt many will not understand this craven attitude (feel free to castigate me to the usual address), but there you go. We have, it is true, missed out on a glamour trip back to Grimsby, but I'll just have to live with that. As it is, we now have only 3 games in the next month, so we might finally get a chance to rest the walking wounded and get a few people off the treatment table - recently we seem to have been averaging 3 games in about a week!

The first half is easily dealt with. Turgid, soporific stuff with Wolves looking desperately ordinary and Forest trying to outdo them in dullness. I can seriously only think of one incident of note, which was when Reidy skinned the Wolves right back (not for the first or last time this afternoon) and planted a perfect cross on Marlon's head about 5 yards out. Yes, all you Marlon fans, he had done well to escape his defender. Yes, his anticipation was excellent. Yes, we should all sing loud Hallelujahs that he timed his run to perfection. (There, you see - I am not always slagging him off.)

What? Oh..... yeah. You mean you hadn't guessed? Marlon missed it, somehow contriving to head the ball so hard into the ground that it bounced over the bar. Yes, of course - he ought to have buried it. But we mustn't forget that he has potential, I am assured.

Half time, and the World Paint Drying Championships were suddenly looking a good bet.

Happily for us fans, at half time both Platty and Dave Jones had clearly woken their players up, because the second half was far more entertaining as both sides finally looked like they wanted to win it and we settled down to a proper cup tie. The pattern of the match gradually emerged, with Wolves stronger through the middle of midfield on the counter attack and Forest causing more trouble down the wings - especially down our left, where Brennan played well and Reid was outstanding. Even on the right we were more than OK, where Edds acquitted himself well seriously out of position and both Gray and later David Freeman whipped in a few decent crosses.

Incidents? Kevin Muscat had clearly done his homework on the Bartman free kick goal machine, because he dropped back off the wall to head off the line with the keeper standing there statuesque like some dodgy mime artist. Reidy and Brennan got free again to get a cross whipped across the face of the goal inside the 6-yard box - Stern and Jonah both missed it by inches. And closest of all, David Freeman (last seen in the first team over a year ago, and considered unlikely to feature again by this particular fan, but who did very well in his few minutes this afternoon) cut in from the right and curled a beauty with his left foot towards the far top corner, only for Oakes to pull off a fine save.

At the other end we had a warning about 12 minutes from the end, when Proudlock streaked away on a counter attack to be denied by a good save from the Mighty Lurch (booed throughout by the Wolves fans, who are still no doubt smarting from the outrageous way he lured Branch into cheating at Molineux last season by having the barefaced cheek to kick the ball out...). Earlier the Old Man had produced an even better one, seen late and low down at the near post, after we'd faffed about clearing a corner.

We failed to heed the warning, though - with 3 mins to go we were on the attack and Wolves hoofed the ball up the middle in exactly the same desperate way we did for Jack's third goal at Gillingham. Suddenly the ball had floated over Edwards' head and Proudlock was advancing at pace on goal again. Edwards did at least get back to him to delay the shot, as did the hard-working JJ. But Proudlock had been the only Wolf to look truly dangerous all afternoon (he looks a good player), and he took his time, dummied JJ and hammered the ball into the corner. Great finish - a far better goal than the match deserved, to be honest.

So why am I not annoyed? Principally, I think, because today didn't tell us a single thing that we didn't already know. Even with a seriously depleted squad (a mere 13 players unavailable today for various reasons - with only TV's absence self-inflicted) we still played some decent stuff at times - I can't think of anyone who had an especially bad game. Jenas' debut was more than decent for a 17-year-old; he still has some physical filling out to do, but there were moments when he showed distinct promise with the ball at his feet, he is quick, he works hard and he grew in confidence as the game progressed. Yet another young man we will be seeing a lot of in due course. There were lots of good things going on from what was largely our Youth team.

But we didn't score. We already knew it, and today did nothing to change anyone's mind - we badly need a striker. Even with Benny back in a couple of weeks, we simply cannot rely on the midfield to score goals every single week. And the strikers.... they both try, but Marlon does all his good things outside the box, looks a class act out wide and then turns into Mr Donkey inside the 6-yard box, whereas Stern looks dangerous as a predator close in, but has a frustrating capacity to make himself very difficult to pass to when we go forward by rarely pulling his defender out of position and always staying central. Of the 2, personally I think Stern is the better bet alongside someone else, but the fact remains that at the moment the pair of them are well on course to score again sometime in 2004. And we could do with the odd goal a bit before then. Even with our current injury list we are a good forward away from being a decent side - with anything like the full squad fit we are a good forward away from being a very good side. But Jack is still weeks away, and apart from him only Reid looks capable of scoring a goal from up front. Which ain't too sharp, really.

As for all these young lads, the experience can only stand them (and therefore us) in good stead in the future. They are more than holding their own even as they are - and the likes of Jenas (still eligible to play for our Under-17s, let alone the first team) show that there are still more to come from the stable that's already given us the likes of Prutton, Reid & Doig.

So there you have it. Even I can't quite work out why I don't appear to give a toss about losing today - it is the first time I can ever remember feeling like this after a Forest defeat. But I guess the bigger picture is more important. And if we could only cobble together eleven fit players every so often, the future is looking good. We simply need to be patient and hope that the club Doctor can start scoring a few goals herself.

© Nottingham Forest 2001



Copyright © 2000 Nottingham Forest F.C.