12th Nov
Priestfield Rd


Mr D.Crick

Goal One
Lester 9 mins
Goal Two
Onuora 19mins
Goal Three
Lester 45 mins
Goal Four
Lester 77 mins

Beasant   Bartram
Edwards Patterson
Bart-Williams Smith
Vaughan Ashby
Scimeca Hessenthaler
Prutton   Gooden
Johnson   Pennock
Jones Hope
Rogers Thomson
Blake Onuora
Lester Shaw
Substitutes     Substitutes
Roche   Southall
John Browning
Harewood Saunders
Olsen Lewis
Williams King

Report by Bridport Red

I spent much of this week anxiously scanning the skies and ringing the Gills to see whether the game was likely to be on. It's ironic, therefore, that while the game was going ahead in blazing sunshine, I missed it because I was supervising the builders who were stopping the water coming into my flat from those kind people above me with a blocked drain. Ever eager to get the full fan's eye view to your screens as soon as possible, however, I cheated by watching the game on Sky. OK, OK - less of the "part-time supporter" stuff. I don't miss many!

Blimey. We spend months gradually improving but failing to win 2 on the trot - then, like the proverbial buses, wins come along all at once; this makes 4 in a row. It was a deserved win in the end, too, despite the fact that we were highly flattered by a 2-1 lead at half time. The Gills will feel that the score-line was something of a distortion as they had much of the game and played some good football, and they are probably right in saying that - but if they are honest they probably wouldn't dispute that we deserved the points (Andy Hessenthaler certainly didn't complain afterwards). But - and it gives me enormous pleasure to say this for the first time in months and months (probably since the Campbell sale) - the difference between the two sides in the end came down to Forest's vastly superior finishing.

Forest were unchanged for the fourth consecutive game (hoorah for consistency, since we have won all four!) - the only change at all being the return of Stern to the subs' bench. Both sides started brightly, with Gillingham having more of the ball (something that was to remain the case for the entire first half), but Forest looking extremely dangerous on the counter attack.

We almost scored with our first attack - the ever-dangerous combination of Jack and Robbie up front carved open the Gills' defence wide on the left, Robbie crossed it and Vince Bartram saved excellently from Jack's close range shot. The next time, however, they were not to get away with it. Gillingham were on the attack, Johnno broke it up and played it to Robbie Blake in acres and acres of space in the centre circle. At this point, with only Jack ahead of Blake, plus Tank arriving at pace down the left, Bartram probably thought the four defenders in front of him ought to deal with it pretty comfortably. But no - the two central defenders stepped up, but the two full backs stayed back, allowing Jack a clear run in from 30 yards onto Robbie's delicate through ball. Jack side-stepped Pennock, leaving him on his backside, and swept the ball clinically across the keeper to score. 1-0 to Forest, 9 minutes gone. The away support (either rendered suspiciously quiet by the placing of Sky's microphones or about twenty times quieter than they have been at all the away games I've attended this year - I suspect the former) launched into an early "That Loving Feeling".

To their credit, Gillingham did not wilt - far from it. Our outstanding away form of late has been largely based on the midfield and forwards hunting in packs and never allowing the opposition time to settle on the ball, coupled with our increasingly impressive counter-attacking. In the first half today, however, this was conspicuous by its absence, and as a consequence Hessenthaler, Smith and Gooden dominated midfield with some neat and progressive passing through the middle, and ahead of them Shaw, playing in the hole just behind the front two, was looking a constant menace. Yet again giving the lie to those Platt-haters who claim that our manager is a tactical pygmy (yeah, right), Platty noticed this early and did something about it - moving Prutts infield to shadow Shaw and pushing Riccy wider to cover the right side.

Unfortunately, after allowing the Gills lots of the ball but without suffering too many alarms in the 10 mins after we'd taken the lead, our plans were then disrupted by injury. Tank came out much the worse in a 50-50 tackle with Pennock (no blame to the full back, I hasten to add - the injury appeared to be caused by Rogers twisting as he fell rather than anything else). While Tank was off getting treatment, Prutts moved again, this time to left back, and once more the midfield was reorganised. 30 seconds after Tank re-appeared, though, with Forest still sorting the defence out, they were level. Yet more patient passing through the middle ended with the ball out on our right wing. Thompson's movement in the box pulled TV out of position, so when the ball arrived at the far post Bart was left exposed one-on-one with Iffy Onuora in the air. Onuora has given us trouble before - it was he who so cruelly exposed Moreno Mannini's lack of pace at Swindon last year. This time it wasn't pace, however - he simply out-muscled Bart and buried the close range header. Back to square one.

For the rest of the half we were rocking - the midfield couldn't get hold of the ball and was allowing them too much space, and they pressed forward with menace - our three defenders were working overtime, with Christian Edwards outstanding yet again (he deserves the utmost credit for returning from total forgotten man status to our best defender in the space of ten games). Bart was shouting, pointing and clapping his hands at anyone who would look at him and we were up against it. Tank eventually had to go off - he collapsed in clear agony after twisting his knee again and went off on a stretcher (get well soon, Alan - but sort out that "they're all trying to sell me behind my back" paranoia while you're at it). Ben Olsen came on to the right wing, Prutts moved for the final time to left wing back, and we held on, with the evergreen Lurch (today playing his 700th senior game) making a couple of good saves.

But for the final 5 minutes of the half gradually we began to show signs again, and almost wrapped the game up in a lethal 3 minute burst. First Jack won the ball in midfield and passed it to Ben Olsen. Ben skinned the full back and played a one-two with Blake in the box, before squaring it to Lester, who made no mistake. 2-1 - totally against the run of play, but there you go. The Gills clearly couldn't believe it - and almost conceded twice more before the whistle; Jack's solo run saw a bobbling shot cleared off the line, and then he nutmegged the hapless Pennock only to see Blake ram the ball against the post from close range when he ought to have scored. At the other end Lurch saved well from a Thompson header which he too ought to have buried.

Still, we went in at half time somehow in the lead, having been outplayed for much of the half. On the other hand, Hessenthaler is nobody's fool, and will no doubt have pointed out to his boys that this is exactly what happens if you don't take your chances and let a side as good as we are on the counter run at your defence. It is no good having loads of the ball if you can't get it into the net.

Platty clearly had a few words to say at half time, because the second half was far more comfortable. The midfield, with Johnno a bundle of energy, rediscovered its ability to deny the opposition any space, and we continued to look lethal on the counter. The result was that, though the Gills continued to have a lot of the ball, Lurch didn't have a single serious save to make (and this after his goal had been under siege in the first 45). By the time they did mount an effective attack we were 3-1 up and cruising - and Bart caught the ball on the line between his knees to add insult to injury. This second half was much more like the Forest we have seen away from home this year, and with Prutts having his best game for weeks running at people on the left and Olsen continuing to impress on the right, it seemed only a matter of time before we scored a third to wrap the game up. (Ben Olsen also displayed a side to him we haven't seen before - a distinctly feisty character which meant he totally refused to back down in a running battle with Ty Gooden. Don't be confused by the Alice band, Div 1 left backs; this guy can look after himself as well as play.)

When we did score, however, there was more than a hint of controversy about the goal. The Gills had the ball in our half and Johnno once again broke up the attack. He will no doubt tell everyone that it was a raking 50-yard pinpoint pass turning defence into attack in the blink of an eye - I have to say that to me it looked more like a hoof up the pitch! Either way, the ball suddenly found itself at Jonesey's feet just outside the centre circle. Chris Hope showed us why Cloughie let him go by missing the ball completely, and suddenly Jones and Jack were running at one defender. Jones drew the man and squared the ball, and Jack smacked it in for his hat trick, this time with his right foot (the first two had been with his more usual left). The controversy was because when Johnno played his hoof (I beg your pardon - "raking pass"), Jack was clearly retreating from an offside position. This opens up the usual can of worms about interpretation of interference with play - Jack continued back into an onside position before running forwards to score, so the ref allowed the goal (much to the defence's disgust). Personally I am with the great Mr Clough on this one; "if you're not interfering with play what are you doing on the pitch, young man?". And besides, how can you not be interfering when you score 5 seconds later?

For all that, the goal was allowed and the game was over (in truth it was probably over even before that, as we were looking pretty comfortable). All the same, if that goal had been scored against us I would not have been happy, so in the interests of balance.... Even after that, Bartram had time to produce a stunning one-handed save to deny an Olsen rocket which he must have seen very late. But 4-1 really would have been a travesty!

The Gills huffed and puffed a lot and Bart did his circus trick on the line, but on truth they didn't look like scoring for most of the second 45, and away we went with our 6th away win out of 9 games - already more than we managed in the whole of last season.

Man of the match? Who do you think? Jack, of course - our first hat trick since SuperKev's at Crewe in March 98. A few weeks ago I heard Platty talking about Jack as a potential 20 goals a season man, and I have to say I was distinctly sceptical. Don't get me wrong - even without the goals he is a valuable player, because his movement and close control makes space for others and he invariably works his socks off (my only quibble with him would be his Heskey-esque sense of balance in the box...). But I was unconvinced by his abilities as a finisher - I thought we had a bargain at 300k, but as a provider rather than a Dougie-like sniffer. I am delighted to say that I was wrong - today he was outstanding; 3 goals, another cleared off the line, another saved brilliantly at close range. 8 shots at goal, and only one of them off target - and that in second half injury time. Top stuff. Colin Calderwood, commentating on Sky, pointed out that Forest generally play well when Jack plays well - so let's hope that his rich vein of form continues!

A word also for Gary Jones. Many of the fans were on his back earlier in the season - the word "donkey" has been regularly used near me on the Trent End. But recently he has shown his value as a combative midfield player with rather more skill than his gangly frame might suggest. Sure, he is no Hoddle or Maradona and we are not going to sell him for megabucks to Barca, but that is not the point. He is proving himself an excellent utility player who can hold the ball up well, mix it with some of the division's more robust midfielders, and pass the ball well going forward. And, lest we forget, he was a free transfer. Platty described him as a useful squad utility player, and he is now doing exactly what it says on the tin. Nice one, Jonesey.

So things are going nicely - the division is splitting neatly into two (there is now a 6-point gap below us, and we are 3 points behind 3rd place with 2 home games in hand). A few weeks ago we were all depressed after being outplayed by Fulham at home. Lest I should lose my entirely undeserved reputation for anorak-wearing, perhaps it is worth looking at the games everyone has played since then:
Burnley P 11 26 Pts Blackburn P 11 23 Pts Fulham P 9 20 Pts Forest P 9 20 Pts Baggies P 10 20 Pts Watford P 11 20 Pts Preston P 9 19 Pts Norwich P 10 17 Pts Brum P 11 17 Pts Bolton P 12 17 Pts Wednesday P 12 16 Pts Pompey P 10 15 Pts Blades P 9 14 Pts Crewe P 12 13 Pts Grimsby P 8 12 Pts Wimbledon P 9 11 Pts Gills P 10 10 Pts Barnsley P 12 10 Pts Wolves P 9 9 Pts Palace P 9 7 Pts QPR P 11 7 Pts Tranmere P 10 6 Pts Stockport P 10 5 Pts Huddersfield P 10 3 Pts

You can look at this any way you like, all you increasingly quiet Platt-haters, but surely even you cannot escape the conclusion that no-one is doing better than us - and most are doing a lot worse!


© Nottingham Forest 2000


Copyright © 2000 Nottingham Forest F.C.