21st April
Selhurst Park


Mr C. Wilkes

Goal One
Nielson 48 mins
Goal Two
Cooper 68 mins
Goal Three
John 75 mins

Beasant   Davis
Gray     Cunningham
Hjelde   Kimble
Doig Holloway
Edds Ardley
Scimeca Euell
A.Johnson Cooper
Bart-Williams Anderson
Prutton Roberts
John Williams
D.Johnson Neilson
Substitutes     Substitutes
Roche   Heald
Vaughan Hughes
Harewood Ainsworth
Jones Gray
Edwards Hawkins

The Bridport Red Report:

Ah well. Get out the maps and start planning your trips to The New Den (oh joy! the chance to be chased by neaderthals half way round Bermondsey again) and Reading. This time, though mathematically we could still do it, realistically other results would have to be outrageously in our favour. Ain't gonna happen.

Not that we didn't give it a go - over the 90 minutes today we were well worthy of a point, and possibly more. For the final 15 minutes we had the Dons playing for time and kicking it anywhere. Their keeper played very well. We even had a more than respectable shout for a penalty turned down in the final 5 minutes. But in the end, today probably matched our season - we shot ourselves in the foot at a crucial time, couldn't quite take our chances, and - in short - were pretty good but not quite good enough.

Same side as for Monday - the only doubt being whether Mrs Jonah might go into labour today, so JJ travelled as cover for the bench.

Forest started much the stronger of the two sides, and put the Dons under pressure straight from the off. As with much of the good stuff we did going forward today, most things seemed to revolve around Stern - Man of the Match again, and very close to his best. First he extracted a smart save from the excellent Davis. Then he laid the ball back into Ricci's path, and his goalbound drive was well saved low down to the keeper's left. Then a DJ long throw reached Stern on the 6-yard line, he killed it on his thigh, spun brilliantly and whacked it with his left foot - Davis somehow kept it out; a brilliant save. Finally the ball managed to reach Bart free on the left, and his cross-shot somehow eluded both DJ and Stern, when the merest touch would have seen a goal.

So a good start, with Forest able to do something they have not always excelled at this season, namely attack people with purpose over a long period.

Gradually, however, the Dons started to play. Much of this was in the air and, though it is tempting to assume that this is the cliched Wimbledon Route 1 game, I have seen enough of them playing some decent stuff this season to reckon that they were playing that way more because of the pitch, which is truly dreadful. Not surprising, given the weather and the fact that it is played on twice as much as everyone else's, but hardly a surface on which to pass, dribble and move.

Only once did they really trouble Beas in the first half - a fierce volley from Anderson being expertly dealt with by the Old Man. The closest they came to scoring was with no Dons player within 10 yards of the ball - Cooper put in a cross from the left which was well ahead of any of their forwards. Chris Doig had no way of knowing that, however, and since he clearly got no shout either from Edds behind him or Beas in goal, he felt he had to play the ball - and he missed an own goal by inches. Not Doig's fault - but some near suicidal lack of communication in our back 5 which, alas, was a taste of things to come.

At half time, then, honours were even. The Dons had come back into it, but we had made more chances, and the feeling was that either side could go on and nick it.

Ricci, who'd been playing pretty well - his best game for several weeks (which is not, I'm afraid, saying that much) - must have taken a knock, because he didn't reappear after the break. The prospective Dad replaced him.

Unfortunately, from this point on things started to go pear-shaped. Within 2 minutes of the restart Forest had conceded a truly soft goal - a curling ball from deep on the right somehow seemed to elude everyone as they stood and watched. Cooper couldn't believe his luck, controlled it and beat Beas. From our angle it looked as though it might just have been going wide, but Neilsen followed in to make sure. Who knows what on earth went wrong here - but it looked like poor communication again, with the finger probably pointed at Doig (who today looked like a rookie with 20 games under his belt - which he is - rather than the solid citizen he has been since his return from injury).

Forest and the excellent travelling support both collapsed like a pricked balloon, and it took 15 or 20 minutes for the momentum to re-establish itself. [Incidentally, speaking of support, I know Wimbledon have proverbially low crowds, but surely 10,000 (of which only about half are home fans) is shamefully low for a match of this importance.]

By the time we did get our act together again, we were 2 down, and again the defending left a tad to be desired - Cooper appearing to have what felt like about a week to steady himself before curling a good shot into the far corner. Great finish, but since this was well inside our own box, who was closing him down or getting a block in?

So at 25 past 4 our season looked as dead as a dodo. Platty decided that we might just as well lose by 4 as subside gently into the night, so took off Eddsy, went to 3-5-2, put on Marlon and told them to attack. To be fair to Forest, they went for it with some conviction. Prutts, whose running game had been largely negated by the cabbage patch of a pitch, was now at left wing back, and he started to make inroads. Likewise Marlon, his usual bag of 100% effort, no little skill and in-your-face attitude, was giving Kimble a torrid time on our right, ably supported by Andy Gray (who played well once again). Even Jonah, the butt of so much criticism from the fans this season for his lack of pace and apparent inability to trap a bag of cement, was in his element, putting himself about, winning ball in the air and creating space for others.

Indeed, it was a combination of Marlon, Gray and Jonah who really gave us hope with 12 minutes to go. Marlon won a free kick on the right by sheer persistence. The resultant free kick was half cleared, retrieved by DJ, crossed by Gray and superbly held up by Jones. Stern arrived, Jones released it into his path and the ball whistled past Davis from 15 yards. Good goal - too late?

Unfortunately it proved to be just not enough - despite the fact that we pressed and pressed. DJ had a couple of shots well saved, Stern fired narrowly wide, and Marlon made himself some space but could get enough pace into the shot. Then Marlon dug out a bit more space and Gray planted a cross onto Stern's head - his bullet header missed the post by a whisker.

With time running out, the final twist - Stern wriggled free inside the box yet again, and was clearly and blatantly pulled back just as he pulled the trigger. The Forest fans and all of the players were convinced it was a pen, but alas the ref was not. I'll tell you what - you can conduct a little experiment; run with a ball at your feet, draw your right foot back to shoot, and then see how much of an acrobat you have to be to fall over backwards despite your forward momentum. Hard, isn't it? Not, obviously, if you have someone behind you pulling your shoulder, but Mr Ref says that didn't happen. Either Stern is an Olympic standard gymnast, or he was fouled. You decide!

Finally, just to taunt us with memories of Preston, in the dying seconds DJ plonked a cross onto Hjelde's head... but lighting didn't strike twice and he put it over the bar.

There you go, then. Decent performance - probably marginally the better side over 90 minutes. But two lapses at the back, one of them hideous, and we give ourselves a mountain to climb which proves just too high to scale in the time available.

Where do we go from here? That is undoubtedly a discussion for another day. There is no doubt that we have the makings of a pretty good side here - in particular, you can really see the combination of a fit Stern and a settled DJ causing some serious mayhem in this division if we can only get the pair of them through pre-season training without any injuries this time round. Equally, there are a couple of areas where we could do with some serious strengthening.

The question, of course, is whether we will have to sell players in order to finance our wage bill - and if so (which seems likely), how many and who? Some we could live without. Some we would be very sorry to see go, but might be forced to send on their way with our blessings. Some - one in particular - we should do everything in our power to hang onto, since the entire team revolves around them (eh, Skipper?).

But that is all in the future. The summer, with all its speculation about comings and goings, who we can afford, who we can't, how much Player X is worth and so on, suddenly seems all too close.

Because today the season finally ended.

© Nottingham Forest 2001


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