13th Mar
Gresty Rd



Goal One
Rivers 75mins

Crewe Alexandra
Beasant Bankole
Scimeca Smith
Vaughan Macauley
Benali Gannon
Jones Sorvel
Prutton Wright
A.Johnson Lunt
Bart-Williams Little
D.Johnson Ashton
John Rivers
Substitutes     Substitutes
Roche   Ince
Gray Street
Freeman Charnock
Harewood Foster

Report by BurtonRed

Afficionados of "Blackadder goes Forth" may remember the episode in which Blackadder attempts to skive off by being in charge of a concert party, one of whose acts is "the three twerps". General Melchett fails to spot the joke that there are in fact only two of them and points out that "the three twerps were one short - again". Well, sadly, tonight Tony Vaughan was "one brain short - again".

Bridport Red had seemed inexplicably reluctant to make the 300-mile round trip from the North-East (cries of "part-time supporter"), so brother Burton, fresh from his triumph at Stockport in the Autumn, was pressed into service again. My office is in Burslem, so since the sad demise of Vale, the Alex match really is the nearest equivalent to "Port Vale on a Tuesday night". I also had a late pass from Mrs Burton. Too good to miss, you might think.

It could all have been so different, but it was all so much the same. Four or five times this season, Forest have been in a position where a win against mid to low-table opposition would put them up to xth place in the table, where x is less than 5. Each time they have blown it. Usually this has been a mid-week match. But the omens looked good tonight. Morale should have been good after the win at Bramall Lane, the team was unchanged, and surely there would be no slip-up...

Well it is sad to have to report that there was the same old slip up, and for the same reasons - all in the mind.

Crewe started brightly and tested Beasant early on - well, tested row Z actually, but they looked a tidy side. Forest weren't playing badly, but too many passes were not being picked up on the edge of our box. Kenny Lunt and Colin Little looked useful for the home side, without quite looking like scoring. After 15 minutes Prutton made a good breakaway, and this was followed immediately by an excellent save by Beasant at the other end. Johnno then shot powerfully over the bar, and an excellent chance from the six-yard line was fluffed after good work by David Johnson on the left.

There were positive signs. DJ and Stern are starting to look as though they have played together before, and balls played to them with back to goal did at least look as if something might happen. Stern was looking fitter. Prutts was playing with skill - even if he did seem to have an invisible bootlace tying his feet together on occasions, causing him to trip over. Bart was his usual self. Benali was playing well on the left - there is no doubt that he suits four at the back better, especially when going forward. And Tony Vaughan was playing with skill and intelligence. Several times he brought the ball out of defence on the dribble and got it to Andy Johnson or Prutton. I was almost reminded of the way Kenny Burns used to do that. It looked as if he had been retro-fitted with a new outlook on the game, and I was beginning to think that I had been wrong in predicting that he would not play many more games for the club. Johnson was also doing his best to make amends for Molyneux.

I missed the last 8 minutes of the half because of one of those heart-sinking "will the owner of car registration number blah blah blah return to his vehicle" moments and returned to the ground just as the teams were coming out for the second half. I was not in the best of moods, having been accused by Cheshire plod of causing an obstruction (when lawfully parked), and the extra 20 minutes walk was an optional extra I could have done without. The only bright spot was that when I got back, the hat that I had been wearing - a truly shocking item even if warm (I'm not proud) - had disappeared. Possibly Mrs Vaughan was in the crowd and thought she might need some camouflage.

Whatever, the second half started brightly, and Forest if anything seemed to be playing better. Then came the incident which changed the match and possibly the season - how many times have we read that recently? Tony Vaughan made an excellent run through midfield, right into the area. Bankole in the Alex goal made a dive at Vaughan's feet and the ball went out. Both players went down, although in my view it was all completely innocent and neither had fouled the other. I was just looking to see whether it was a goalkick or a corner when Vaughan lashed out at the 'keeper with a foot. All this happened very quickly, and it's difficult to recall exactly what happened without the benefit of a replay, but my recollection was that it was similar to the Beckham incident against Argentina, only worse. More importantly, I do recall that my immediate reaction was definitely "that's off". I couldn't understand why the linesman had not flagged, except that possibly the ref - who had a good game, incidentally - had already spotted it and blown. Anyway, off he went.

This was one of those sendings-off where you could tell from the reactions of the other players that there was no doubt about it. The referee was right on the spot and had absolutely no choice. It's sad that this is the second successive game that I have seen in which one has had to say that of a Forest player. At least in Johnson's case at Molyneux there might (possibly) have been some provocation. But on this occasion there were absolutely no mitigating circumstances. Vaughan hadn't been near the opposition area all night, so there was no question of any niggling. The game was not dirty. The ball was not in play, and the other player involved was the opposition goalkeeper lying on the ground in his own area after a legitimate attempt to play the ball. This was unacceptable behaviour from any professional footballer in any circumstances.

The rest is shortly told. Crewe were strangely reticent and Forest coped well for most of the rest of the match. Bart-Williams dropped back into central defence, and Forest really only looked stretched on one occasion - when the ball went into the net. A good diagonal ball found Mark Rivers on the corner of the box and his shot appeared to be deflected off Benali over Beasant into the net. No criticism of Benali. He shouldn't have been at full stretch, and with the extra man he wouldn't have been. Game over.

Did Vaughan cost Forest the match? Between the sending-off and the goal it was Forest who had looked more likely to score and they continued to look good(ish) when going forward, without really looking like scoring. Johnno and Prutts in particular ran themselves into the ground. In my view the match would probably have finished 0-0 in any event, but if Forest had played as well with 11 men as they did with 10 between the 55th and 75th minutes, it might well have been different. They would certainly not have lost.

And so to the "mind games" bit. There are - it seems to me - a number of points.

1. The players clearly have a problem at beating teams who are supposed to be easy to beat. Part of this is the method of play - it's easier to play a counter-attacking system against sides who really come forward. But part of it is either fear or arrogance, and I'm not sure which. The manager clearly needs to address this, and fast.

2. Our disciplinary record is poor and will cost the club large sums of money. Worse, if we get a reputation for being a dirty side, it will be difficult to shake off. And this sort of thing tends to have a self-fulfilling effect. For example, I would expect that most centre-forwards in the country would fancy their chances at getting Tony Vaughan sent off by niggling him in the first half of a match - or at least getting him booked early on so that he can't take any risks.

3. Of course the game has changed, and there is always the risk of getting two yellow cards in a game for mistimed tackles. But straight reds for off the ball violent conduct are a different matter, and we have had far too many of them. I'm old enough to remember the first player in the Garibaldi to be sent off - it was Frank Wignall, by the way - and even recently it was newsworthy. Now we have a situation in which it is no longer exceptional for one or even two players to be off. This is not acceptable. Again, one can't blame the manager for all that goes on on the pitch, but somewhere I feel that the wrong signals are being sent to the players. Sort it please, David Platt.

4. I've never played professional football - and it's not looking likely now - but I have worked in teams. I've seen and made mistakes. I've had bad days at the office, and I've seen other people have them. And I've always been grateful that when something does go wrong, I haven't got the fans booing me off at 5.30! That's why I haven't said that Forest were rubbish tonight, because they weren't. Mistakes will always happen, and even on the football pitch they're not unhealthy if they're put to good effect. But - and I think it's a big "but" - I do wonder what sort of effect a poor disciplinary record has on the rest of the players, and especially if it sets a bad example to the younger players. Another one for the "to do" list, David Platt.

Having said all of which, Watford lost. The beneficiaries of the evening were West Brom and Preston. Sooner or later, somebody is going to get fed up with the "After you", "No please, you first" approach to the play-off places and put together five wins on the trot. Whoever does that will get the last place or places. I'd love it to be Forest, but not on tonight's showing.

© Nottingham Forest 2001



Copyright © 2000 Nottingham Forest F.C.