Smash & grab! A mugging as complete (and a scoreline that reflected the
game as poorly) as what we did to Brum at New Year.
And it all started so well!
Forest went for the throat right from the kick-off today in a way that
we really haven't seen much at home this season. Jonah was prominent,
winning almost everything in the air in the first 15 minutes (though fading
badly thereafter), and Reid down the left had Jamie Smith trailing in
his wake on more than one occasion. (Smith later scythed Reid's legs from
under him and was rightly booked for it, but it had the desired effect
in that Andy stopped running at him, so I suppose you could put that down
as a successful professional foul).
We should have been 1 up in the second minute - Palace defended way too
far up the pitch, Reidy skinned Smith and put in a beauty of a curling
cross. David Johnson was inches from a dream start in the Garibaldi but
couldn't quite reach it, but JJ had steamed forward to join from midfield
and got there, only to slide in and smack the ball against the bar. For
the next 10 minutes we completely dominated - Johnson looks short of match
fitness but is going to be a right handful when he gets used to us, Jones
was playing excellently as the linkman just behind the front two, and
it looked only a matter of time before a goal. Riccy had rocket of a shot
inadvertently deflected over by Reid's back, Johnson had a fair shout
for a penalty turned down (6 of one and half a dozen of the other?) and
drilled a shot into the side netting. All good stuff.
How many games, however, have we seen when a side dominates for long periods
but comes to rue failure to convert dominant possession into goals? This
was the same. Gradually Palace started to come into it in midfield and
issued a warning with their first attack, when Clinton Morrison was himself
inches from scoring in a carbon copy of JJ's effort in the first minute.
They don't look anything special at the back or in midfield, but in Forsell
and Morrison they have some true class up front.
After 20 minutes they made us pay. We lost the ball in midfield, Morrison
brought it forward and squared the ball to Forssell on the edge of the
box - he still had a bit to do, but sold Edds a ticket out of the ground
with a beautiful drag-back before shooting neatly through Bart's legs
into the corner. 1-0, and a goal out of nothing - though a superb piece
It was at this stage that we really started to miss Prutts, Foy, Benny
and a fit Riccy (amongst others). Scimeca's hamstring only lasted about
half an hour, and the lack of width (Reidy having been cowed by Smith's
hack, Foy being injured and Benny being in the USA) meant that we had
little outlet when we had the ball in midfield. Gareth Williams and JJ
are both promising players, but they (especially JJ) suffer from the defect
of many teenagers in that they are physically lightweight, so gradually
found themselves hustled more and more out of it in midfield; this is
not a criticism, merely a fact of life for a 17-year-old facing the subtleties
of the likes of Jamie Pollock! The service to Stern and Johnson (lively,
dangerous, but starved of the ball) thus became more and more sporadic,
and Palace's hard work in midfield pushed us gradually deeper and deeper.
We were still seeing plenty of the ball, but looking less and less likely
And then, in first half injury time, disaster. Bartman had his poorest
game for months today - he has been looking more and more assured as a
sweeper when we play 3-5-2, but as an out-and-out centre half with 4 at
the back he still has a lot to learn. The mistake which led to the second
(and decisive) goal today, though, was nothing to do with his defensive
qualities - he simply dawdled on the ball too much in midfield and was
dispossessed by Morrison, who had too much pace for the Skipper to get
back to him, so was able to advance into the box and square it to Forssell,
who couldn't miss. One of Bart's many great qualities is that he so rarely
gives the ball away, but today he gave it away more than the rest of the
season put together.
After half time if anything the contrast was even more marked. Forest
poured forward and generated chance after chance - Reid, Jones, Williams
Jenas and Freeman all spurned them, and Stern more than one. Forest had
9 corners before Palace managed their first and had 65% of the possession,
but it was one of those days when we could have played for another hour
and still not put the ball in the net. As the game progressed Johnson
continued to play well, but it was him who was generating the chances
rather than getting on the end of them; he was having to drop deeper and
deeper to get the ball, with only Reid and Williams having the guile to
make much happen in midfield.
Needless to say (it being one of those days when nothing went right for
Forest and everything Palace touched turned to gold) Dougie came on for
Morrison (who threw his toys out of the cot big style at being taken off,
having to be physically restrained by Ray Houghton) and almost immediately
scored. Palace counter attacked down the right, the cross somehow missed
out the entire Forest defence and reached Dougie at the far post. It was
exactly the sort of chance he used to scuff over the bar for us (you know
- open goal 5 yards out; hence his great popularity with so many Forest
fans) but needless to say he buried this one. Forest subsided like a pricked
balloon and continued to make (and squander) chances without ever looking
like scoring. Our match was personified with 3 minutes to go; some good
interplay between Reid and Johnson, the ball switched from left to right
via Williams, Freeman round the back and an inviting cross along the edge
of the 6-yard box. Stern got there and not only missed the goal - he missed
the ball. Whatever happened to the player he was a year ago?
Sigh. Our away form (P13 W7 D2 L4) has been excellent this season (as
good as or better than all the other teams near the top). Probably this
is because we work well when closing down space and hitting teams on the
counter. But our home form (now P15 W7 D2 L6) is comfortably the worst
of the teams at the top, and it's in danger of scuppering the whole season.
We just don't seem to be comfortable pouring forward and attacking, as
the fans of all teams expect at home. We need to sort that out - with
the greatest of respect to Palace (who look better than their league position
suggests), it is the home defeats against teams like them and Huddersfield
which are in danger of costing us.
The answer? Patience from us lot, for a start; the youngsters have done
so well for us that we tend to forget that we are being forced to rely
on a number of very young players at the start of their careers. They
will go on to greater things, and our future is very bright, but it is
not right that we should get annoyed with them for not showing consistency
or some of the more physical aspects of the game yet. We need to take
the long view rather than be tempted to berate them for not yet being
the finished article.
Recovery for a few of our walking wounded, definitely. We lost the game
today (in my view) in midfield, which looked good going forward but unable
to stem the flow when Palace counter-attacked. Jones, Williams and JJ
all did good things today, but almost all of them were in the final third
of the pitch - the grubby business of breaking things up in the middle
was less evident, and Palace made us pay. A 3-man midfield of Prutton,
Scimeca and Williams / Andy Johnson is one thing, especially with Benny
and Foy on either side of them. Today's 3-man midfield of Williams, Jones/Riccy
(and half fit Riccy at that) and JJ was quite another, especially with
Edds playing out of position at right back and Bart having a rare poor
game behind them.
Final food for thought might be provided by the following statistic. In
league and both cups we have played 16 games with 4 at the back this season,
and lost 7 of them. Playing with 3 at the back and wing backs we have
won 10, drawn 2 and lost only 4. In other words, the extra man in midfield
and the use of Bart as a sweeper rather than a straight defender that
3-5-2 gives us suits our current squad best, since we have few if any
really solid fullbacks at the club, but several very sound wingbacks (Francis
Benali, incidentally, had a sound, calm and uncomplicated debut at left
back - he looks an asset).
Patience, my friends. We are all excited with our new signing (and he
looks a good 'un), but the fact remains that today we were still short
of Prutton, Rogers, Scimeca, A Johnson, Doig, Lester, Louis-Jean, Edwards,
Foy, Hjelde and Olsen. What we must certainly NOT do is start to get on
the backs of the desperately inexperienced side we have. The play-offs
are still attainable. We cannot, however, afford any more games when we
squander as many chances as we did today (though continuing to create
as many would be ideal....).
Frustrating, isn't it?
Nottingham Forest 2001