The Bridport Red report
Appearances can be deceptive, eh? What a week! Last Saturday, stuttering
performance against QPR, 2 points dropped, fans not happy. Last Tuesday,
another 3 points gone against Watford, seemingly widespread acknowledgement
that we had all just heard the sound of the final coffin nail being hammered
into our play-off hopes. Wednesday not a happy day to be a Forest fan
as we contemplate the prospect of trips to Millwall next season.
But then Thursday, when Forest comprehensively won the single most important
match we have played this season, refereed by Mr Justice Hart (no relation
of Paul, I assume!) The case seems so long ago that many of us had pretty
much forgotten it, but at the end of it all let there be no doubt that
the Good Guys won. If you're sitting there now expecting 50M quid to miraculously
appear out of nowhere and Forest to buy themselves back into the Premiership
instantly with money no object, I'm afraid you're supporting the wrong
team. But if you were as worried as I was that we'd lose the case and
end up with a semi-permanent malign presence in our midst blocking any
long term progress, then now you can smile; at long long last it leaves
our beloved club in a position where its hands are not tied. We can gradually
rebuild ourselves into a force in the land on a firm business footing
in the way that we see fit and on our own timescale (about which more,
no doubt, at the end of the season). Nigel Doughty and Eric Barnes made
positive noises about putting the Nottingham back into Forest; now, assuming
there is no appeal, finally they have managed it. And if that isn't a
prize worth winning.....
Two days later and we reach the end of a long week in the fortunes of
the Garibaldi. Waking up in London it looks like it'll be a fun day -
blue skies, bright sunshine. But by the time we reach the South Coast
it is sheeting it down with rain out of slate coloured clouds, and apparently
has been all morning and half the night; the ground underfoot is, to put
it mildly, a bog.
Just to prove that the Gods have started smiling on the righteous followers
of the Tricky Tree again, literally the minute we draw up to the pub the
rain stops. Though occasionally threatening, it remains dry until about
10 minutes after the final whistle, and then promptly starts hosing it
After Wednesday there are a couple of changes. Swanny, so excellent for
most of season, apparently had a bit of a 'mare at Vicarage Road, and
is replaced by Chris "Who Let The Doig Out?" Doig. Doigy's first game
since October, and a welcome sight he was too. The other change is the
return of Johnno from his suspension for the Wolves rush of blood at the
expense of Jonah. We line up 4-4-2 and set about our business.
Which, I am happy to report, the boys do with some considerable panache.
We have seen just about every version of Forest this season, from the
dynamic and exciting to the downright awful. But what we haven't seen
too often is a performance which is clinical, professional, unspectacular
and routine. Today's was one of those. We came, we took the measure of
the opposition, we scored a couple of goals, we kept them at arm's length,
three points thank you very much. We won and it was dull, if that makes
sense. The last time I remember feeling the same about a performance was
at Port Vale last season, which seems a lifetime ago!
Having seen the weather earlier, I wasn't surprised to see the Fratton
Park pitch throwing up the odd drop of water. In fact if it had gone on
raining hard for another hour, I reckon the game might have been in doubt.
As it was the pitch was good through the middle but very boggy down either
flank, where the ball would stop dead with the usual comedy over-running
by the players on a regular basis. Credit, incidentally, to the ref (Roger
Fernandiz); on a slippy slidy day like today a true Division 1 "I think
you'll find that Subsection 71a of Rule 23 quite clearly states that..."
Jobsworth like Lee Cable or the Infamous Pantomime Horse would have been
chucking yellow cards about like confetti as many tackles by both sides
inevitably ended up with the players entangled on the floor. This guy
took his time, tried to weigh up intent, played advantage when he could,
and we ended up with 90 minutes without a single booking. Of course he
didn't get every decision right - no ref ever does. But he did get most
of it spot on, and he displayed ample evidence of that commodity so rare
in the modern ref, common sense.
The early exchanges were even enough as the players got used to the conditions.
Forest were the first to get their fans on their feet when, after 8 minutes,
Riccy and Prutts exchanged passes on the right before dropping a perfect
cross onto Stern's head 12 yards out. Stern buried the header with aplomb,
but the lino's flag was up for offside. We were at the far end, so I can't
tell you any more. Even there the impression was that Stern was not the
culprit (great header, too).
A couple of mintues later our very next attack rendered any debate academic.
A similar exchange of passes in midfield resulted in a cross from the
right which went beyond the far post to DJ's feet. Scott Hiley slid in
to rob him, but couldn't control his momentum in the conditions, slid
too far and quite clearly (even from our end) handled the ball. Bad luck
on Hiley - on a dry pitch he'd have been fine. But he did handle it, and
it was certainly a penalty. If you need telling that the Bartman stuck
it away without fuss, then you haven't been listening this season.
Pompey, who need the points desperately to avoid the yawning chasm beneath
them, came back at us. You can begin to see the Graham Rix influence in
some ways; throughout the game they played some neat football on the floor
in midfield. Equally, however, you can see why the Pompey fans are so
upset at the departure of Steve Claridge; they carved out a few chances,
but don't look like they could score in the proverbial brothel. Carl Tiler
(rescued from some bathchair or other) managed to put a header over from
three yards, Lee Mills was denied by a superb tackle from The Doig, Lee
Sharpe (bathchair presumably parked next door to Tiler's) shot woefully
over from 10 yards, and finally Mills found himself free 8 yards out but
then panicked at the sight of Lurch's not inconsiderable frame in front
of him and shot straight at his legs.
We are all too aware ourselves of the potential value of missed chances,
and as the half drew to a close gave a swift lesson about why it matters.
Johnno and Prutts worked some space in the middle and fed the ball into
the path of the marauding Stern. Stern took his shot early from some way
out, beat the young keeper all ends up and watched as the ball cannoned
off the inside of the post and bounced across the goal. Bart arrived and
lifted it over the despairing defender with glee, and the game was probably
over. From Forest working hard to keep it at 1-0, suddenly it was half
time and we were 2 up. Muswell's Dad, who had managed to endure 2 Norwich
games, Rangers away and Fulham away without seeing a single goal, must
have been positively giddy at this rush of 2 goals - his first of the
season - in half an hour! As for the incomparable Bartman, he started
the season with 17 goals from 162 full appreances; this season he has
15 from 41. Nice one, Skipper.
The second half was, to be honest, pretty soporific. Forest seemed content
to let them have the ball and defend to keep them at arm's length, hitting
on the break as necessary. We defended excellently - Doig (my man of the
match) a strolling zone of calm uncomplicated solidity, Hjelde at his
best, Franky Benali enjoying stuffing it up the Pompey as only a true
Scummer can and Andy Gray having arguably his best defensive game for
us (I am not a huge fan of Gray as a right back, but today he got in several
excellent tackles and generally handled Harper well). Three incidents
stand out - an immaculately timed stretch of the long leg by Jon Olav
Hjelde to take the ball cleanly off Sharpe's toes in a dangerous run,
a goal saving header under pressure at the far post by Chris Doig, and
one of those trademark Bartman plucks of the ball out of the air, instant
control and look up to see what was on as though he had all the time in
For our part, if I have a criticism it would be that our midfield wasn't
able to keep the ball once the defence had got it away - as a consequence
in the second half the sight of the red & white pouring towards our fans
was relatively rare. But, when all is said and done, Beas could have got
out his deckchair and cigars pretty early on. We didn't even feel the
need to send on any subs, which is rare nowadays.
And there you have it, really. A solid performance to steady the ship,
where nobody had a truly outstanding game but euqally everyone played
well enough and did their part. A team performance, with Johnno and The
Doig both returning and making a big difference. Such games might not
be exciting to watch, but we all know we could have done with a few more
of them of late.
Plus, of course, there is the minor detail that all the teams around us
appear just as anxious to make a mess of their run in as we do! Preston
were thumped by the Clarets. The Bluenoses lost yet again (wheels seem
to be falling off all over St Andrew's, so watch it on the M6 at the moment).
The Baggies drew (admittedly a good draw away at Fulham). And Watford
managed to score 2 goals in 2 minutes near the end at home to Palace...
and still concede a last minute equaliser.
In other words, incongruous though it might seem, it ain't all over yet.
Yes, Preston have games in hand, but one of those is away to Blackburn...
Next Saturday, away at Deepdale, suddenly looks a Cup Final; cobble together
a win there and we might yet pull something unlikely out of the fire.
After all, Cloughie only took us up by the skin of our teeth, so there
is a precedent.
Ah, the imperishable optimism of the football fan! Seriously, though -
5 games left. Preston, Wimbledon and Tranmere away. Stockport and the
Gills at home. Win them, and...........
Today, being ex-Navy, I took with me a posse of mates who still live down
there, including three of the next generation who were attending their
first football match. With ten minutes to go my 8-year-old Godson turned
to me and said "You know what? I don't think Pompey are very good." 'Bout
sums it all up, really!
Nottingham Forest 2001