Bridport Red report
Profuse apologies for lateness for the second week running. This was written
by 8 on Sat evening, but I haven't been able to get it past the outgoing
mail server, despite trying three different computers
Ah well, we were always going to trip up sometime. And, I guess, if you
were a betting man who'd watched Forest play Wimbledon over the years,
you might well have put money on this game as being the banana skin. All
the same, if I had a cat he would undoubtedly have gone into hiding before
I got home tonight - to give the Dons a goal on a plate before half time,
to fight like tigers against a massed defence for the entire second half,
to equalise in injury time....and still to lose. Frustrating is putting
it mildly (and about the only publishable word I can think of).
I will lay my cards on the table - I have never enjoyed watching Wimbledon.
I have nothing but admiration for what they have achieved over the past
20 years, and I respect them as a team, and I enjoy their hard-won reputation
as the greatest of all party poopers. But as a spectacle for someone who
loves football? Put this correspondent firmly in the Gary Lineker camp;
"the best way to watch the Dons is on Ceefax". And, despite relegation
and losing several of their Premiership standard players (Sullivan, Earle,
Hartson, Thatcher etc), one thing is for sure - they haven't changed a
bit. Well organised, robust, resilient, dominant in the air, intensely
physical (not dirty or constantly fouling, but always just the tiniest
bit on the right side of the law). And, in my experience, Forest have
never coped with that style at all well. It is worth bearing in mind that
we play a team with a similar style (though much less talent ) next week,
so we'd better work out a game plan before then!
Today? The first half was shocking. Wimbledon were playing the pressing
physical game well whenever we had the ball, and keeping it with ease
when they had it, yet without really showing any great threat to our goal.
Forest, on the other hand, were not playing with enough pace or bustle,
and were playing far too many balls in the air up the middle, where they
were gobbled up by the Dons' defence. Robbie and Jack were being constantly
manhandled and muscled out of the game (and the Ref didn't get around
to booking anyone for holding until the 85th minute, so there was little
incentive for the Dons' defence to stop doing it), and yet again at home
the midfield was not quite doing the business.
And then, to make matters worse, we handed them one of the softest goals
you'll ever see - a true nightmare moment. Prutts had the ball on the
left and passed infield to Bart. The pass was woefully short with Euell
bearing down on Bart, but not so short that the skipper didn't have time
to sort it out, even if only by smacking it into Row Z. Instead he tried
to control it, failed, slipped... and Euell was clear without a Forest
player within 15 yards of him. Jason Euell is a class act (I thought he
was outstanding throughout the match today) and he doesn't miss those.
1-0 - complete gift. Bart should never have accepted that player of the
month award before hand - it's always the kiss of death! (Let's face it,
he doesn't exactly cock things up very often - but this was a howler and
Half time, and most of us wondering when exactly (or indeed whether) Forest
were going to wake up and play some football.
Platty had obviously pointed out a few things at half time in no uncertain
terms, because for most of the second half we tore into them. It took
a wee while for us to get going, but gradually Ben Olsen (still impressive)
and Prutts began to run at them down the wings, and the balls over the
top were into the channels rather than straight onto the heads of the
Dons' centre halves. Most important of all, Johnno and Riccy at last began
to wrestle some control in midfield, especially after Platty decided to
add some guile to the brawn by replacing Jonesey with Gareth Williams.
The longer the half went on, the harder we pressed, eventually attacking
in wave after wave. Wimbledon, it has to be said, defended superbly, albeit
with increasing desperation towards the end. Euell is a master at holding
the ball up, so they eventually ended up with 9 men in their box whenever
we had the ball, but were still able to get the ball away to relieve the
pressure, provided they could get the ball to Euell.
Chances? Riccy was denied from long range by a superb low save, Christian
Edwards had a close range header well saved low down, and the keeper got
lucky with a Robbie Blake drive from the edge of the box which he only
half parried, but which bounced over him and wide rather than over him
into the net as it might have done. The closest we came, however, was
when Marlon spun the defender inside the 6-yard box, beat the keeper and
shot. To my eyes and to those of the entire Trent End the ball was clearly
kept out by the defender's hands, but whoever it was had the presence
of mind suddenly to remember that he'd make his "Wot me, Guv?" act more
convincing if he acted like it had hit him in the stomach. The ref, needless
to say, bought it, just as he had appeared to turn down a pretty good
pen shout when Blake was unceremoniously hauled down in the box in the
first half. Marlon was furious - and was booked for protesting (silly
With that chance I thought it had all gone - we were going to lose 0-1
after giving them a free goal and battering against a brick wall for 45
minutes. But no. Long after the 4th official had put up his 4 minutes
board, Gareth Williams won the ball in midfield, jinked his way through
the crowded centre field and released Keith Foy up the left. One touch,
a beauty of a curling cross to the near post, and there was Tony Vaughan
(in attack???) hurling himself full length at the ball to head in. Bedlam
- we'd equalised in injury time and were going away with a hard-earned
but thoroughly deserved point.
Uhhh. No. They went straight up the other end and won only their second
corner of the second half. This is Wimbledon, after all - set piece kings.
A high cross, a rush of players, a glancing header, and a bulging net.
Just about time to kick off, and the ref blew for the end to a stunned
silence and a few choice words.
Frankly, this was a complete smash and grab. The Dons did virtually nothing
after half time except hang on with increasing desperation, yet with the
only serious attack that they mounted after 4 o'clock they nicked the
points. Fair play to them - they did defend excellently. Not pretty, but
As for Forest, frustrating though this was, it probably makes up for winning
when playing badly at Stockport, or making such a bad start against Preston
but still winning. It isn't the end of the world. BUT - we need to learn
how to put teams away at home. Personally I would give Williams a start
or two in the next home games - Jones is doing well but does not have
Williams' subtlety to unlock defences. Similarly, now that Robbie has
gone, we will need to utilise Olsen's trickery out wide more to get behind
defences if we are to score enough goals. On the other hand, whereas last
season I would have been seriously concerned that our squad is too thin
(with Blake and Rogers now out of the picture and Johnno needing an op
on his damaged knee), we now at least do have some options. Colin Calderwood
could come back into the defence, allowing Bart to move back forward (we
miss him in midfield in my opinion). Or the impressive Foy could replace
Tank directly, allowing Ben to play on the right and Prutts to play in
his natural position in the middle. Or Gareth Williams could be given
a proper run to show us what he can do (and he has shown several flashes
of true class so far). Or we might get our first glimpses of the talent
of Andy Reid at first team level. Or a combination of all of those - we
are OK for squad members of sufficient quality.
The only niggle at the back of my mind (and no doubt everyone's) is up
front. It is a huge shame, though entirely understandable in today's pre
court case economic strait jacket, that we haven't been able to sign Robbie
permanently (and thanks, Mr Blake for your excellent efforts over the
past month or two). Jack has developed a good understanding with him and
has blossomed as a result (not today, mind you - Jack was truly muscled
out of today's match). It remains to be seen whether Stern can recapture
the really dangerous form of his first few weeks at the club - for all
our sakes let's hope so, because otherwise a huge burden falls on Jack
and Marlon alone. Only time will tell.
Today, no doubt like everyone else, I came away massively frustrated -
we didn't deserve to lose (probably didn't deserve to win either, but
2-1 was a travesty). For all that, we needn't be downcast. We played very
well in the second half, and occasionally every team gets a game like
that. We simply need to win next week against Tranmere (if anything, and
even more physical side) and comfort ourselves that our current form remains
second only to Blackburn.
Nottingham Forest 2000