The Bridport Red Report
Sigh. Did anyone hear a fat lady doing her voice exercises at Crewe? Anyone
think she's finished her warm-up and is now well into the recital?
Astonishingly, despite the fact that Forest have now lost 5 games in 8,
as I write we are STILL not completely out of it - the Baggies are 2 down
at half time at Wolves (and lost 3-1), which means they are making
every bit as much of a cock-up of their run in as we are! So, bizarrely,
we still have a chance of the play-offs. To do that, though, we'll need
to string together a bit of a run in our final 8 games. Hmmm. Anyone confident?
To be honest, yesterday's game had a faint air of resignation about it
even from the start. After all, on the face of it this was a game between
the team in second place in the League, who needed the points because
3rd and 4th have been breathing down their necks recently, and the team
in 7th who needed the points because they can't afford to falter any more.
You'd expect a big crowd, lots of atmosphere, fire & brimstone and two
teams going at one another hammer and tongs, eh?
Nope. The crowd was respectable enough - 22,000-odd - but Bolton brought
dismally few fans for a team supposedly on the verge of the Premiership,
and our lot have never exactly been deafening at home at the best of times.
We did eventually all spring to life for a few minutes, but when compared
with, say, similar matches against our promotion rivals in the Campbell
/ van Donkey run in to promotion, this was strangely subdued. Let's be
charitable and blame the cold - a North wind blowing the sleet straight
into the faces of the Trent End is hardly an incentive to joy and noise.
The first half is easily dealt with - had it been warmer, I reckon a lot
of us would have been asleep! Bolton haven't been in the best of form
lately, and appeared to have come with a relatively cautious approach;
"let's keep it tight for the first half and frustrate Forest, then we
can take a look at it after 45 minutes and see whether we need to step
up a gear". Since Forest have demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt
this season that we are not very good at penetrating teams who aren't
attacking us, the result was stalemate. Neither side was playing hideously
badly, but shots on goal were at a major premium. The only thing that
I remember giving me serious pleasure during the half was a piece of sublime
skill from the Bartman (who, incidentally, was making his 200th start
for Forest - and his 79th consecutive one); advancing through central
midfield onto a scuffed clearance from Hendry, he threw the entire Trotters
defence in the wrong direction with a dummy to shoot that was in fact
an angled reverse ball into DJ's path. Unfortunately the dummy had been
bought by most of Forest's attack as well, so it came to nothing.
After half time, however, things improved markedly. Bolton were considerably
more expansive, presumably sensing 3 points rather than the 1 they initially
came for, and for their part Forest had been galvanised by a half time
talk from the manager. This is not the first time this year that I have
found myself wondering "why on earth can't we play like this before 4
The crowd woke up and Forest, with Riccy, Bart, Stern and Reidy prominent
in the build up, began to make some inroads. Unfortunately, Reid's crossing
was not its usual reliable self - some were excellent, others dire, and
when close to goal the others showed a tendency to over-elaborate just
one pass too many. As a consequence, in our good period for 15 minutes
after the break we only generated a single serious chance, when Prutts
released DJ down the right channel and his dangerous low cross was deflected
by Hendry onto his own post with Stern lurking behind him and Wright beaten.
Gradually as the half wore on, though, Bolton were starting to cause palpitations
down our right. You might find this surprising - I confess that, since
we were playing Andy Gray as a conventional right back in a flat back
4, I don't. I find it hard to understand why we are prepared to put a
midfield player out on loan to Swindon Town one week, yet find him our
best option on the right of defence to face one of the division's more
elusive runners at left wing the next. Though I appreciate that Johnno
was suspended so we had to change the team, since Gareth Williams was
fit again why not leave Riccy at right back and alter as little as poss?
Sorry - I didn't get this one.
Bolton did, though - their default ball was more and more to Riccardo
Gardner on the left, and he started to run at poor Gray. Eventually it
paid off, as Gardner drifted past a Gray too frightened to make the challenge,
shimmied into the box behind Swanny's back and squared the ball to Dean
Holdsworth. Holdsworth buried it from 10 yards for his 200th career goal.
Oops. Now we were forced to attack outright - and, to the players' credit,
they did at least give it a go. Prutts was subdued today - but then how
many times do we need to give ourselves evidence that Prutton is half
the player wide on the right that he is through the centre? We already
know that, yet we continue to play him as a winger in a 4-4-2 and wonder
why he isn't really turning it on. Hmmph. Anyway - Prutts was taken off
to be replaced by David Freeman, who himself lasted a mere 8 minutes before
hobbling off painfully to be replaced by Jonah (still, you will note,
no need for Williams' ability to pass the ball).
We pushed forward. DJ found himself 1-on-1 with Tommy Wright but scuffed
his shot. TV blasted a similarly gilt-edged chance over the bar from 6
yards after a free kick. Reidy worked their right back hard and flashed
a couple across the face of goal. Bartman, so often our saviour from set
pieces this year, found that his range had deserted him as he lifted a
couple of free kicks over the bar. The ref, who I thought was excellent
over the 90 minutes, turned down a couple of penalty shouts - one when
Hendry crudely shoulder charged DJ off the ball when Johnson managed to
get goal side of him, and the other when the ball hit Warhurst (nowadays
looking more like a faintly lardy Spinal Tap drummer than a clean cut
professional athlete) on the arm as he jumped for a ball in the box. Neither
shout was cast iron by any means - but neither was ridiculous either.
(On the other hand, the Trotters looked to have a pretty reasonable shout
of their own when Benali tackled Nicky Summerbee late on). Finally Charlton
produced a great defensive header under his own cross bar to clear a swinging
free kick that had completely eluded Wright.
So, in short, we huffed and puffed without giving Tommy Wright too many
palpitations. And, of course, we left ourselves more and more open at
the back. So when a very poor cross from Benali was easily cut out by
Hendry with 2 minutes to go, Hendry found himself on the edge of his own
box with only Bartman and Gray between him and goal. Colin Hendry still
has some undoubted strengths even at his advanced age, but surely blistering
pace is not one of them, so it was with increasing doom that we watched
Hendry run 70 yards with the ball at his feet, outpacing the cover as
Bart desperately backed off to try to slow him down. A simple pass into
Gareth Farrelly's path on the edge of the box and it was 0-2.
Never, have I seen the City Ground empty so fast. 22,000 with 2 minutes
to go cannot have been more than 12,000 by the time the full time whistle
went. Even the boos were subdued.
This is not the time for extensive post mortems - the body isn't clinically
dead yet. But our failings are becoming repetitive and predictable, so
I wouldn't say that the prognosis is that glorious. Realistically, our
season is now hanging by the thinnest of thin threads. It could still
be done, but only if we put together a run like October or like the end
of last season - and the erratic performances of late don't convince me
that we have it in us, I'm afraid. Go on boys - prove me wrong!
Nottingham Forest 2001