The views in this report by Bridport Red are his own and not necessarily those of Nottingham Forest Football Club
Most of you will remember that last season I frequently had a pop at those fans who choose to boo our players. This afternoon I heard something far worse than that, and it has left me frankly disgusted. 5 minutes to go. Forest 3-0 down. Fulham get a corner. Cue shouting from behind me: "We want 4!"
It is not exactly a state secret that some of our fans don't like the current manager. I happen to disagree with these people, but it is a perfectly reasonable point of view, I guess. However, wanting the team you claim to support to concede more goals is not "support" in any shape or form. Lots of us heard these morons - none of us could pin down exactly where they were sitting. Whoever you are, tear up your season ticket and shove off to Pride Park; we do not want your sort of so-called supporter here.
As if my day had not been ruined enough already!
[At least the journey home was enlivened by encountering the World Pub Crawl Record Holder on the train (no, honest - he's in the Guinness Book and everything, and I have witnesses!). 37000 pubs he's been to, and what an interesting fellow he was (ahem). But even he didn't cheer me up.]
Today's game will, no doubt, not have been seen by the above sort of fan in the same way as it was by me. Nor, I suspect, will the press have bothered to watch the game that much. For those with short attention spans and for the press who want a quick convenient story, then, here is one version of this afternoon's game.
The mighty Fulham strode on towards their inevitable promotion this afternoon, brushing aside drab Nottingham Forest while scarcely breaking sweat. Their slick Gallic passing and class was all too much for the midland side, who were reduced to kicking their way out of trouble. The inevitable goals came from a Louis Saha penalty, a Fernandes solo effort which was a class above anything on offer from the men in red, and a Barry Hayles lob of exquisite timing and execution. Forest were lucky to get nil.
Right. Now can you idiots leave us alone, please? We want to talk about what actually happened, but we wouldn't want you to tax your brains too much.
It is true. The final score was 0-3, and the names of the goalscorers are correct. However, as the Fulham fans whom we talked to in the pub afterwards readily admitted, the score-line flatters Fulham hugely. They probably deserved to win. Let me put it this way: with 15 minutes to go, when we were 1-0 down, I was thinking both that we were by no means out of this and that we deserved a point. Only then did the wheels fall off. For long periods (shhhh - whisper it quietly lest the boo-boys hear you) we actually played pretty well.
Dave Beasant returned from suspension and the injured Chris Doig was replaced by Jim Brennan, but otherwise we remained unchanged from our Hillsborough win on Wednesday. We started off playing 4-4-2, but for the first ten minutes Fulham were all over us (Saha missing a sitter after 5 minutes and getting underneath a close range free header after 8). To shore up our creaking defence, we moved to 3-5-2, with Bart dropping back to sweeper and Rogers, Johnno and Prutts tucking in more narrowly in midfield. This tactical change worked really well - suddenly the Fulham midfield did not have so much space, Saha was unable to get through the centre so easily and there was an extra man to cover the tireless channel running of Hayles. Gradually we forced our way back into the match - the two best chances of the remainder of the half fell to us; a Tank free kick which Taylor flapped at on the way past, but which alas eluded Johnno at the far post as well; and a goal mouth scramble when TV couldn't quite get enough purchase on it to force the ball home.
Fulham continued to play some very neat and careful football and kept possession well, but they were not looking particularly penetrative (and Saha was gradually starting to sulk).
I cannot finish talking about the first half, alas, without mentioning the ref, who was utterly abject - our first of the season who managed to match the depths of Grimsby, Bramall Lane etc last season. Jack Lester was quite rightly cautioned early on for a late tackle on Rufus Brevett, and this seemed to convince the ref that wonderful skillful Fulham were being hacked to death by those nasty rough boys from Nottingham. Fulham's players are not idiots, and they soon cottoned on to what was going on, hurling themselves to the floor in increasingly hysterical ways as they tripped over yet another nasty blade of tough grass, and of course getting a free kick every time. It was by no means a dirty game, and those fouls that did happen were pretty much 50:50 - but not the free kicks. Saha was especially histrionic (and was, indeed, booked for diving in the second half). From the 12th minute to the 29th, we did not get a single free kick - and by that stage the pattern had been set. If I were more of a conspiracy theorist I could make all sorts of unsubstantiated hints about the cost of a Harrods' referee..... but certainly for a long period the ref seemed to be intent on giving Fulham as many free kicks as they required to score - Goldbaek hitting the post from one of them. Rogers was booked for disputing one of these 'fouls', and for the first time ever I found myself condoning Tank's well-known tendency to argue with refs. None the less, we went in at half time at 0-0, having worked our way back into the match nicely.
All the same, if we were to get anything out of the game we definitely needed to score first, and our attackers, though working hard enough, were not really working many clear openings (not for the first or last time this season - it is definitely our weak point). 5 minutes after half time we ought to have gone ahead, though, when Bob-Rosario-lookalike Chris Coleman blatantly and deliberately controlled the ball inside his area with his hand. It was in front of the Trent End, and we all saw it. The Forest players saw it too. Needless to say the ref - a mere 5 yards away - missed it completely. On such incidents games like this turn.
5 minutes later they were ahead - a swift break up the middle, a jink into the box by Saha, a shimmy to invite the rash challenge... duly delivered by Christian Edwards. It was not a malicious assault or anything, but to me it looked a pretty cast-iron foul. Saha smacked the pen into the top coner, and Fulham were away.
Even after that Forest kept plugging away - for long periods the hard work of Prutts, Johnno, Marlon and Jack meant that they seldom had time to dwell in midfield. For all that, however, it has to be said that we seldom looked like scoring. Young Gareth Williams came on and showed some nice touches, some crisp passing and an encouraging appetite for playing football to feet. But the end product was too often snatched and failed to trouble Taylor.
10 minutes to go, then. Ooops - is that the sound of a wheel falling off that I hear?
First Fernandes scored the decisive second goal with the best football of the match - a series of 1-2s on the edge of the box sliced through our defence like the proverbial knife through butter and he rammed it in at Lurch's near post. Heads distinctly went down. Then Beasant, whose distribution had not been entirely convincing all afternoon, had a second Darlingtonesque lapse - another half-hit clearance fell invitingly to an oppostition player 30 yards out. This time he didn't smack it back past him first time, but instead fed Hayles who lobbed the hopelessly out of position keeper with aplomb. Once could be construed as unfortunate, Dave. Twice in consecutive games is not calculated to endear you to your adoring public - sort it!
(Incidentally, apart from Saha's laughable attempt at conning the ref into giving a penalty, which led to his booking, I found the sight of a player of Bjarne Goldbaek's class deliberately trying to get a player sent off in the second half especially unedifying. Rogers had already been booked for dissent, and after one perfectly fair tackle Goldbaek did his Fan Zhiyi "I've just stepped on a land-mine" impression, claiming that Tank had elbowed him in the face. There was CLEARLY no such elbow, and indeed no contact at all. Fulham are an excellent side. Jean Tigana was one of the best players I have ever seen and I am sure will make a great manager for them - but I strongly urge him to talk his players out of cheating, because they are too good to resort to that sort of thing. We were beaten by the better side today, but I was still left with a nasty taste at times).
Listen, don't get me wrong; Fulham deserved to win (just). They are a good side who must be very strong candidates for promotion (absolute stone cold certainties if they can keep that ref for the rest of the season!) There is no way they were three goals better than us, however, and a draw would not have been outrageous. What will be remembered, however, is the fact that we lost 3-0 at home. I predict that the few papers which even mention the match will write a report that looks at the score and assumes that Fulham cruised their way past a poor Forest effort. Not true - I have seen us play worse and win.
None the less, it is getting to the stage where the crowd is so polarised about what should be done that people are only seeing what they want to see - I heard several arguments today about whether Johnson and Rogers, in particular, were playing well. Fair enough - you always get differences of opinion about players - but seldom ones where the two extremes of the argument are "best player on the pitch" and "one-trick pony without a trick". As a consequence, therefore, I am confidently expecting more emails than normal, most of them from people who vehemently disagree with what I saw and reckon we are rubbish. [Great - keep 'em coming!]
To those who are prepared to listen, I advise more patience - if we continue to play with the attitude of today's and Wednesday's games, we will win far more than we lose. The attack is a concern, but we are a better side than last year.
To those who are not prepared to listen and who call for a new (and even less experienced) manager, I say you are entitled to your opinion, however much I might disagree with it. But please let us NEVER again hear Forest fans chanting for Forest to concede more goals. There is absolutely no justification for that, and it seriously disillusioned me to hear it.
As usual, I welcome feedback to [email protected] and the Archive can be found at www.bridportred.co.uk
© Nottingham Forest 2000