10th Feb
The City Ground


Mr A Bates

Goal One
52 mins
Goal Two
Edwards 66 mins
Goal Three
Jansen 88 mins

Blackburn Rovers
Beasant   Friedel
Edwards   Curtis
Bart-Williams Dunn
Benali   Flitcroft
Olsen   Berg
Prutton Mahon
A.Johnson Taylor
Scimeca Duff
Brennan Bent
D.Johnson Hughes
Jones McAteer
Substitutes     Substitutes
Roche   Filan
John Short
Harewood Jansen
Williams Berkovic
Hjelde Gillespie

Report by Bridport Red

Important stuff today - no more messing about. Looking at the table and the fixture list this morning, it was clear that this was a game we simply had to win if we were going to hang onto the coat-tails of the top six and not find our season petering out into a quiet end. We were playing one of the best sides in the division, a side who haven't lost in the league since November, who came straight off the back of a complete stuffing of Derby in the Cup, and who we haven't beaten at home for a very long time. No excuses - time to stand up and be counted.

The good news was that we were at long long last able to field a fairly strong side - not the best possible, what with the absence of Tank, Chris Doig, Jack etc, but all the same much the strongest we have been able to field in about 3 months. Andy Johnson was making his first start since 18 November, Benny was back for his first game this year.... even Jon Hjelde was on the bench after being injured since August.

Just before kick-off the team went into a huddle Celtic style, and it was immediately apparent that this was not to be a game for the faint-hearted, as both sides tried to wrest control of the midfield by getting amongst it early. The pitch was a paddy field after all the recent rain, so running with the ball and sharp turns were a bit of a problem, and the game rapidly turned into a war of midfield attrition. Graeme Souness has been a figure of derision in Nottingham for 20-odd years, so I don't know why I was so surpised at the way his team had come to play. All the same, I have seen Rovers on the box quite a lot, and generally been impressed by them. At Ewood Park in the Autumn they beat us fair and square by playing slick football, but from the first minute today it was clear that today they had elected to use different tactics
.Mark Hughes and Francis Benali Mark Hughes managed to get in his first aggressive finger-pointing whine to the ref within 90 seconds, and he was rapidly followed by Berg, McAteer, Mahon, Berg, Duff and Dunn. Good players all of them - so quite why they feel the need to resort to this mardy approach to the game defeats me - and in my opinion it makes them less effective as a team. When you consider that they combined this constant complaint to the ref with being probably the most physical and cynical team to have played at the City Ground yet this year (constant holding, climbing etc), you wonder what on earth is going on... until you remember who the manager is. Why, when one of the world's most dirty and cynical players of the past 25 years is in charge of them, should I be remotely surprised to find that he is fashioning a team in his own image?

Platty had clearly done his homework at Shame Park on Wednesday, and he knew that the first thing we had to do was to stop them playing by denying them space. In this respect the returning players were crucial - Benny gives us an outlet and some width, plus his exemplary workrate in defence (how we have missed him), and Johnno ran about like a lunatic tackling anything that moved. And they didn't like it. Prutts, Riccy and Johnno denied them time, and at the back Franky, Bartman and "Swanny" Edwards were mopping up anything that got through (Edwards in particular was clearly relishing marking his international manager out of the game, which can't have done his chances of a recall to the Welsh squad any harm).

Since we were not producing that much going forward, the game quietened down into long periods where Rovers had possession but failed dismally to make anything like a clear-cut chance out of it. As the half wore on they began to press more and more, and I was stirring uneasily in my seat - but it still has to be said that Lurch didn't have a single serious save to make in the first 45.

At half time Platty clearly told the lads to step it up a bit, as the game was there for the taking. The midfield trio had done so well in the first half destructively, but at no stage had we seen Prutts running at them or any of our guys play a truly incisive pass. Almost straight from the second half kick off, however, Forest began to run the show every bit as much as Rovers had just before half time.

There followed one of the best 45 minutes from a Forest side that we have seen in months, soaking up considerable amounts of pressure but looking dangerous on the counter every time we went forward.

Jim BrennanSuddenly we began to see Prutts with the ball at his feet and Benny and Jim Brennan making inroads down their respective wings. Up front, David Johnson had looked an isolated figure for the first 45 as Jonah helped out in midfield, but now Jones moved forward and made a nuisance of himself against the shaky-looking Berg, and we began to look dangerous.

6 minutes after half time one of these breaks saw a fine crossfield ball from Brennan arrive at Riccy's feet ten yards outside the box, where he was clumsily brought down by David Dunn. Bartman territory! The wall was nothing like ten yards away and Friedel looked confident that it covered one side of his goal.... and then stood there rooted to the spot as Bart curled an absolute beauty over the wall into the bottom corner. Before this season, though he had scored some decent goals for us, I don't recall Bart being a prolific taker of free kicks. Today's was his 12th goal of the season, and now we are beginning to hear that expectant buzz in the crowd when he steps up to take one, just like when Psycho or that Dutch bloke were here.

Bart-Williams celebratesCue "That Loving Feeling" and a suspicion that Forest's season is very far from over.

All the same, we knew we'd probably need 2 to make it safe, so that suspicion didn't begin to firm up at all until we scored again. Once again Brennan was involved, being fouled out on the left. Once again Bart stepped up, but this time he curled a perfect free kick beyond the defence and the far post, where Christian Edwards arrived to crash a header past Friedel. This was his first goal for the club, and boy was he delighted as he disappeared under a pile of red shirts. (He also became the 16th different player to score for us this year, which goes a long way to explaining why we are still in touch despite lacking a prolific goalscorer). Hats off to Edwards. He is looking an assured and reliable defender nowadays (transformed from the hesitant and clumsy man, good for nowt much but winning headers, that I watched play for the Stiffs at Arsenal in August), and it is now hard to imagine that this was a player who was so totally out of the manager's plans that we didn't even take him to Florida pre-season. How Bristol City (who, if rumours are to be believed, could have had him for peanuts in the Autumn) must be kicking themselves.

Edwards and Johnson celebrateGood on yer, Swanny!

Rovers came back at us, as you would expect, but even then Lurch had only to produce one really good save (a one-handed cracker low to his left), so good was the cover in front of him. And the more they pushed on, of course, the more vulnerable they looked to counters using DJ's pace. Unfortunately, of course, the best breakaway chance of them all fell to Jones, who displayed several qualities today... but not even his Mum would call him fast. So when Prutts lifted a beauty over Berg's head into Jonah's path, we then had the ludicrous spectacle of a centre forward apparently wearing lead boots as Berg caught him up with nonchalant ease. David Johnson would have scored. Marlon would at least have got a shot in. Jonah just lumbered to a frustrated halt. He'd run himself to even more of a standstill than his normal slow pace, and was taken off soon after to a deserved ovation. Stacks of effort, some neat touches, several rank hoofs up in the air, some headers won, whole hearted but average. You gets what you pays for, I guess, but on days like today Jones does a job nobody else at the club could manage.

I have been very critical of Marlon in recent weeks, but this was a situation ready made for him. He is not yet (and in my opinion never will be) anything like ready to be the club's first line centre forward, but as a man to have on the bench to come on with 20 minutes to go against a tiring defence on a heavy pitch and generally make himself a pain in the neck, there is no-one better. And Marlon proceeded to do exactly that, catching the dodgy Berg in possession more than once and generally dashing about like a bull in a china shop.

Things only changed once Souness finally took off a couple of his cloggers and replaced them with Eyal Berkovic and Matt Jansen. Personally I think Jansen is the best striker in the entire division, which explains why I was (and I suspect Bart, Swanny and Franky were) so pleased to see him sit down on the bench for well over an hour. Jansen began to run at us and make things happen, and Berkovic's quick feet are always difficult to counter. Even so, we held them at bay until injury time, but when Jansen finally managed to cut inside Benali and get his first clear sight of goal, we knew exactly where the ball was ending up, thus leaving a slightly tense final couple of minutes. Who knows what might have happened if Souness had played him from the start, but then that's what you get for picking a team for a scrap rather than to play football.

Before that we had created more chances, notably when Johnno walloped a screamer over the bar from a corner, when Berg came within an inch of completely stitching up Friedel with a truly hideous back pass which the keeper just managed to stretch to volley away before DJ arrived, and when, right at the end, Brennan curled in a cross to the near post which DJ dived at full length, missing only by a fraction. If he'd connected he'd have bust the net (and probably brought the house down), but he shouldn't worry because he looks a good player who is settling in well, and he won't always be as isolated as today, especially once Jack returns. Nor, of course, will the pitches always be this heavy, so his pace will come into its own shortly. Still a good buy, and the goals will come in due course.

Today was a deserved victory against a good side, and it completely keeps the chase alive and realistic. Everyone above us either lost or drew, and the gap which was in danger of opening up has been kept to a manageable size. The way we played today, the fact that our away form has long been better than at home, and the way our confidence will be boosted, all mean that next week's trip to Fulham is not the impossible task it might have been - even they are not playing quite as well as they were, and it wouldn't amaze me if we were to get a point there...

After such a team performance it seems invidious to pick out individuals - everyone played their part and they all deserve a pat on the back. Bart was probably my MoM, but Benny and Johnno also deserve special mention for showing us how much we have been missing. Johnno's effort in lasting the full 90 minutes, on what must have been a calf-sapping pitch, was outstanding after so long out.

Take a look at the fixtures. At home, with the notable exception of the Bolton game, our remaining games could be a lot worse; Wednesday, Grimsby, Barnsley, QPR, Stockport and Gillingham - frankly we ought to win all of those. Once Fulham is out of the way next week, we still have a couple of tricky away games at Bramall Lane, Vicarage Road and Deepdale, but our away performances have been so good this year that we should expect to get something from at least some of those, with Wimbledon, Crewe, Pompey, Tranmere and Wolves making up the rest.

Compare that with the Baggies, for instance - still to go away to Brum, Blackburn, Fulham, Wolves, Burnley and Preston. Which of those two run-ins would you rather have? I really think that if we'd lost today that might have been it - but as it is, the game is still well and truly on.

© Nottingham Forest 2001



Copyright © 2000 Nottingham Forest F.C.