13th Sept
Ewood Park


Mr T.Jones

Goal One
Lester 35 mins

Sheffield Weds
Roche   Pressman
Louis-Jean     Stockdale
Edwards Haslam
Doig   Walker
Rogers   Westwood
Vaughan Quinn
Johnson Hamshaw
Bart-Williams O'Donnell
Prutton Booth
Harewood Humphreys
Lester di Piedi
Substitutes     Substitutes
Collis   Crane
Freedman Sibon
John De Bilde
Brennan Stringer
Blake Geary

Report by Becky Gamester

As the dots gradually grew into small clumps of supporters around the home seating area at Hillsbrough, you could tell that Nottingham Forest was not the only club with problems. Cries from the fanzine touts offered their latest publication for a mere 1, pleading “Go on, put a smile on your face – I know it’s not easy…”. Perhaps, just perhaps the relegated side’s misfortune could work for us. And it did.

It took 10 minutes for a dangerous attack from either side, when David Prutton sent a great low cross from the right – it was to be his first of many – only for Boro loan man Robbie Stockdale to clear as the ball fizzed dangerously across the 6-yard box. Wednesday hit back when diving-queen Di Piedi, a new Italian teenager apparently, couldn’t connect with a free header before dancing-queen David Prutton pranced his way past three defenders, before his 20-yard shot fell inches wide. Andy Johnson then joined the party when he also saw a long-range shot narrowly miss the target and then Forest finally broke the deadlock. A great Alan Rogers ball sent through the nippy Jack Lester, who had been causing some problem for the Wednesday defence all night, before the Sheffield-born striker fooled former Forest star Des Walker and rifled a superb strike in the helpless Kevin Pressman’s left-hand top corner of the net.

A goal lead, and to be fair we even deserved it. It should have been another before the break when the impressive Christian Edwards saw his powerful header somehow pushed over from point-blank range. Half-time came and in contrast with the content red shirts of Forest, Wednesday were brutally booed and jeered off the pitch. As is often the case with relegated sides, the expectation is so high that nothing other than a win is acceptable. True, the Wednesday back line was abysmal and Forest, whilst not being outstanding, were by far the better-looking side. Even Des Walker did not seem anything like the commanding defender we saw at Forest week in, week out; he seems to have lost his legs and confidence.

The Forest faithful did give him a fond welcome as he arrived to defend the away end in the second half with the legendary chant “You’ll never beat Des Walker”, but to be blatantly honest we had done that far too easily on several occasions in the first period. Wednesday came out with all guns blazing in the second half. In less than two minutes, debutant Barry Roche made a hash of it as he saw the ball comically fall through his legs only for Chris Doig, playing in the left-back slot, to save the day with a clearance. Andy Booth, one of the few of Wednesday’s better players, saw two headers go agonisingly wide and Lester’s header also fell inches wide of the post. Lester again saw another chance go begging as Marlon clipped the ball back to him but his powerful low-shot was well saved.

On the hour Pressman, who seemed to have had a few pies at the break, spilled the ball and after a goal-mouth scramble the ball was eventually cleared. Wednesday rallied in the final twenty minutes but the Forest defence proved strong as we continued to have the better chances. Another great run from Prutton, another powerful shot just wide before Roche had to make his first testing save from a Booth drive. At this point Platty was clearly agitated at the fact that we’d had so many chances as he flung his arms around in the air on several occasions. Yet another great strike from Prutton was deflected before a superb run and strike from Alan Rogers brought a fantastic save from the classic ‘who ate all the pies?’ ‘keeper.

There was still time for arguably Forest’s best chance as they again hit Wednesday on the break, when Marlon was sent through but his first touch was awful from 10 yards out and Pressman was able to make the save. Full time came and relief all around. Although chances were missed, overall the performance was good and we deserved the three points against a poor Wednesday side. Lester and Harewood got better as a striking pair as the game went on and were probably the best partnership I’ve seen so far this campaign. Johnson, Rogers and Bartman all had good games in midfield whilst Doig seemed comfortable in his old left-back spot, Edwards and Vaughan defended solidly and even Louis-Jean had some useful runs and sent in some decent crosses.

However, the man of the match by far was, yep you’ve guessed it, David Prutton as he completed his best match of the season. He showed pace that we haven’t seen for a while, had superb skill on the ball and created chances from nothing. This boy is the business and we must keep hold of him. And Wednesday? Well, welcome to the First Division, boys – you’ll be here for a while yet.

Watching Sheffield Wednesday on the TV last season, I thought of them as a carbon copy of us the season before. On tonight’s evidence, they appear determined to continue the impersonation; if ever a side remind me of us this time last year, it was Wednesday tonight. So it is with no little pleasure that we are able to reflect on a professional and thoroughly deserved win, which was more comfortable than the score-line might suggest.

If people are still doubting that we have made any improvement in the past year, I would offer tonight as evidence. Where Wednesday (and 1999 Forest) lacked confidence, shape and inspiration, the Forest 2000 vintage tonight played like we would wish them to.

OK, so we shouldn’t get carried away - Wednesday were awful for most of the match. But you still have to beat them, and we did so with some decent football and, most encouraging of all, a fully committed performance for the full 90 minutes. There was no hint of the Jekyll & Hyde we-only-play-for-45-minutes stuff that we have seen too often this year.

We were forced into some personnel changes by injury and suspension. Barry Roche came in for his full debut in goal, and Christian Edwards was recalled to first team action for the first time since Spurs in April 99. We changed to a 3-5-2 formation mostly, I suspect, because the players available best fitted into that shape - but also because someone had clearly done their homework on how Wednesday are playing at the moment. I have not seen a side hoof it high up the middle so much since Tranmere last year (at least Tranmere have the excuse of a big centre forward who wins things in the air - The Owls appear to be doing it because they can’t think of anything else to do). After the mess Nathan Blake and Matt Jansen had made of our central defence on Saturday, it made sense against a chiefly aerial threat to reinforce the middle with the returning Tony Vaughan (very sound as usual) and Christian Edwards (superb - man of the match).

Both sides started rather tentatively, but gradually Forest settled down and began to wrest control of the midfield. Johnno is in his element in matches like this (he had a good game), and Prutts was revelling both in playing in a narrower role and in the wide open spaces of Hillsborough’s huge pitch. After a slightly iffy run of games by his high standards, tonight he was right back to his best. All the same, for about 30 minutes - well enough though we were playing - we were not really creating much in the way of chances. Prutts had flashed a pass right along the 6-yard line with no-one on the end of it and had rifled a shot wide from a narrow angle, but we could hardly be said to have been peppering Pressman’s goal. No sooner had I turned to Pod next to me and said “this has a frustrating 0-0 written all over it” than we scored - and what a cracker it was.

ML-J did well to win the ball on the right and moved it to Tank. He fed a lovely curling pass first time to Jack Lester, who received it with his back to goal and Ashley Westwood in close attendance on the edge of the box. Jack turned Westwood, moved the ball along the edge of the D and then let fly with a stunning dipping curling shot over Pressman’s despairing flail into the far corner. Might have taken a deflection to assist the curl, but it was still a classy goal. Yum yum.

After that we relaxed and ran the game pretty comfortably for the rest of the half - Edwards coming very close to doubling our lead with a header from a corner which appeared from our end to be superbly saved by Pressman - the ref gave a goal kick, however, so either it hit the bar or was deflected over by a Forest player.

Wednesday frankly couldn’t have been any worse than the first 45, and sure enough after half time they came at us for ten minutes. Roche (who otherwise made a confident and sound debut) allowed a weak shot to squirm under his body and was relieved to see Doig hooking it clear, but otherwise every Wednesday attack (almost invariably thrown high up the middle) was confidently repelled by the TV/Edwards/Doig axis who were winning everything in the air.

On the counter attack we manufactured several chances. Prutts rammed a left-footed bullet inches wide after a trademark surge (I thought it was in all the way, and so, to judge by his reaction, did Pressman). Tank had a goal-bound shot well saved. Jack latched onto a ball which Marlon had wrestled loose on the edge of the box but was again foiled by the keeper. And the ageless Des Walker (given a louder and more friendly reception by the away fans than by his own supporters) managed to get in the way of dangerous efforts by Johnno and Bart.

OK, OK. Let us get this into perspective. Wednesday were dire for much of the game. Without Walker and Pressman they would have collapsed completely. We OUGHT to be beating teams like this. But whereas last year we were not (Sheff United and Grimsby spring to mind as a couple of games which we ought to have won but contrived to throw away), tonight we got the three points that our performance deserved, and got them pretty comfortably.

Good points: the fact that we had done our homework and acted on it; our ability (at last) to keep it up for 90 minutes; the desire and workrate of the whole team, but especially Jack Lester, Johnno, Prutts and the defence; the number of chances we carved out; the tremendous away support (all the more laudable in view of the petrol crisis); the way a brief outbreak of anti-manager singing was firmly sat upon by most of the fans; the sight of the entire Under-19 squad sitting with the fans and roaring on the boys (we like to see spirit throughout the club); the uncomplicated but exemplary performance of Christian Edwards, who could have been forgiven for thinking that he was totally forgotten, but came back and just got on with it (not certain I’d want to see him against a tricky man running at him, but you can play the opposition which is actually there, and he did it superbly).

Less good points: too many chances went begging; uhhh… that’s it!

On the Supporters’ Club Bus which took us home, we listened to the Sheffield equivalent of the Century 106 phone in. It was faintly eerie, actually, as caller after caller rang in to add their 5-penn’orth about how depressed they were, how nobody cared, how they are a big club etc. If you had inserted the word “Forest” for the word “Wednesday” and pushed the programme back 12 months, it was a carbon copy of Larry’s show this time last year. Things do gradually get better, you see.

When the fixture list came out, I was dreading this game (I watched us get stuffed 4-1 by a Wednesday side which was struggling in the Premiership almost exactly a year ago). Saturday was bad, but tonight was good. The way Fulham are playing at the moment, I would be very happy with a point on Sat - but then we are into Grimsby away and Wolves at home, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t demand 6 points from those 2. We are 7th tonight. A few more performances like this will see us stay there or thereabouts, and for the next month or two that will do very nicely. Despite all the sound and fury from the fans over the Brum and Rovers games, we have made an OK start.

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