21st Oct
The City Ground


Mr A Leake

Goal One
Hyde 9 mins
Goal Two
Hyde 28 mins

Beasant   Chamberlain
Scimeca Cox
Edwards Robinson
Doig Page
Foy   Palmer
Olsen Hyde
Johnson Noel-Williams
Bart-Williams Smith
Rogers Helguson
Blake Ward
Lester Nielson
Substitutes     Substitutes
Roche   Smart
Harewood Day
Jones Wooter
Louis-Jean Easton
Prutton Foley
Report by Bridport Red..unedited


Oh dear. Will the real Nottingham Forest please stand up?

Chalk & Cheese, Jekyll & Hyde - however you want to phrase it, there appear to be 2 Forests at the moment.

On the one hand there is the confident, resilient, passing team who are lethal on the counter-attack, show constant movement off the ball and want the ball all the time. They have made such an impressive start away from home; P 7 W 4 D 2 L 1, scoring lots of goals (OK, maybe conceding a few too many as well), looking good and appearing to be worthy play-off contenders or better. Watching these guys, as I observed after the epic game at Palace a month ago, can be the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

On the other hand there is the powder-puff home version who treat the ball as though it's a hand grenade, wave opposing forwards through their defence without so much as an impertinent question - let alone anything resembling a tackle - panic, let their heads drop and generally tax the patience of their supporters to the limit. P 5 W 1 D 1 L 3 - far from the play-offs, this version looks like Division 2 fodder; watching these guys is like volunteering for a root canal with no anaesthetic.

No prizes for guessing which version we saw today.

The first 5 minutes were good - twice we threaded our way through their defence (Robbie once and Jack once), twice we turned defenders inside out, twice Alec Chamberlain saved well at the near post. "Ooh good", I think to myself; "we seem to have brought our away form back to Nottingham at last".

Unfortunately the 85 minutes that followed were the worst we have played this season. Watford had done their homework, did a couple of things which completely nullified our strengths, played well within themselves and always gave the impression that, if it had really mattered, they were capable of stepping up a gear or two and taking us to the cleaners. Comfortable 2-0 win away from home, no sweat - "Can we play you every week?".

Depressing. Yes, there are a couple of thousand of us who manage to follow Forest around the country, and we can tell the rest of you until we're blue in the face that we really have been playing well away (honest - we have). On the other hand, that leaves around 16000 other Forest fans who have only seen us at home this year, when we have rustled up the grand total of 2 goals in 5 games (and one of those from the Nordic goal-machine that is Jon Olav Hjelde) and been played off the park in three of them. Understandably, this majority of Forest fans is becoming increasingly hard to convince that we are going anywhere but backwards. I have been swift to criticise the home support in the past, but today I thought they were surprisingly patient; the boos at the end were inevitable and deserved after an abject performance. Even more worrying was the apathetic and resigned silence which enveloped the ground once the Hornets had scored. No-one believed were going to come back from 2-0 down, so no-one sang (and, for that matter, almost no-one in a red shirt played).

Home truths time - and if I seem to be venting my wrath too strongly for one performance, it is because I saw with my own eyes only a week ago how they are capable of playing 300% better, and I am fed up with asking myself why they aren't doing it. So one or two will get both barrels.

To varying degrees I exempt the following players from the worst excesses of my annoyed and depressed criticism:

- Beas. Kicking still suspect, but left so hideously exposed for both goals that he had absolutely no chance.

- Chris Doig. Injured early on (ankle?) and carried off on a stretcher. Get well soon, Chris, cos we need you (likewise Colin Calderwood). And why, since I gather he was fit, was Tony Vaughan not even on the bench????

- Keith Foy. Still looking the part at left back. He doesn't do the Psycho crunching tackle thing that much, but what he does instead is to stay on his feet and shepherd the attacker away from danger, which is just as good. Confident on the ball. In the second half regularly shouted in frustration at Tank ahead of him (join the rest of us, Keith).

- ML-J. Came on when Doig was hurt, with Riccy moving to the middle and Mattieu taking over at right back. Was our best player by a mile, and made a couple of last-ditch goal-saving tackles when the rest of the defence was nowhere to be seen.

- Ben Olsen. He will clearly need a few weeks to get the pace of English football, but he showed some good skill and the ability to take people on - a touch of the Carlos Merinos, in fact. In due course he will be an asset, and today was his debut after all.

- Prutts (almost playing in defence by the end), Jack and especially Robbie Blake also did just about OK - in the case of the forwards it is hardly fair to criticise when they saw the ball so fleetingly. We could have had Rivaldo and Batistuta up front today, but since no-one seems capable of getting the ball to them they'd have been wasting their time.

Who does that leave, then? Bartman, Johnno, Tank, Riccy, Christian Edwards. The centre of the defence, the guts of the midfield. Players who between them have cost us around 10 million or so. 400 Forest appearances between them. Internationals at various levels, every one of them. Today about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

After the initial 5-minute flurry, Watford got hold of the ball and took total command of the midfield. They did to us, in fact, exactly what we have been doing to other teams away from home; denied us space, made us rush, and compressed the game by defending almost on the half way line. As I say, Graham Taylor had done his homework on us, and it showed. They have some good players and are well-organised - and today that was easily enough.

You can almost hear the team talk: "Right, lads. Chris Bart-Williams is the man who makes them tick. Alan Neilsen, I want you to dog his every move, get amongst him, rile him up, stop him playing. All of you - Edwards is exceptional in the air. Don't play the ball at him high up cos he'll gobble it up with ease. Play it to the chest of Gifton, get Edwards turning, run at him on the floor and watch his legs turn to jelly. Neil Cox - I want you to stick to Rogers. Whatever you do, don't let him run at you. Let him get the ball when he is stationary, cos his only trick is his pace; he couldn't beat an egg from a standing start. If he does get to run at you, just show him the inside and push him onto his right foot; he shoots with his left foot like a kicking mule, but more like Julian Clary with his right."

Bright boys, these Watford lads - they stuck to those instructions to the letter. As a result we couldn't play - Johnno was in headless chicken mode anyway, so any movement ahead of Bart was purely coincidental. Tank disappeared somewhere into Cox's pocket all afternoon. Christian couldn't win things in the air cos there wasn't much to win - for the first time this season he was seriously exposed on the deck.

Which just leaves Riccy. Sigh. I like Riccy - many people have conveniently forgotten that for the first third of last season he was our best player. But today he had an absolute STINKER - especially for the second and decisive goal, which he handed to them on a plate with a card and complimentary flowers. (Not only that, but he did his best to repeat the dose a few minutes later - but this time ML-J and Foy dug him out of the hole).

Some brief bits of narrative.

Goal number one. They get down the left, our defence retreats with the forward line, the winger cuts it back to the edge of the box. Though the defence has covered back, the midfield has not. There is thus a gaping hole you could drive a bus through, into which Micah Hyde advances completely on his own. 1-0. Poor defending, to say the least.

Goal number two. Riccy has the ball at the back and is under no pressure at all (for once). He advances with it into midfield and passes it straight to a Watford player. Two passes and some more backing off by our defence later, the ball arrives at Hyde's feet in acres of space and whistles past Beasant. We have gone rather beyond poor defending into the realms of Derby County by this stage - the game is over as a contest.

Did we have any shots on goal? Not after the first 5 minutes, no (sorry - one Foy free kick well saved). Did Johnno shoot into the Trent End upper tier? Yes. Was our sole decent bit of incisive football in the second half a swift counter-attack which Tank blasted wide? Yes. Was there a deathly silence round the ground for the final half hour? You bet. Did Watford break sweat? Not really - they didn't need to. Does Robert Page look like Dr Evil? Of course he does.

[I should also reserve a few choice words for the ref. I hasten to add that his ineptitude had absolutely no bearing on the result - but he was still an early warm-up for this year's Panto; the players of both sides appeared to have no idea what he was going to do next. Two incidents will suffice. Firstly, how come when Neilsen made absolutely no attempt to get the ball and flattened Rogers on the edge of the box there was a free kick but no card, yet 30 seconds later, when Prutts went for AND GOT the ball, but a bit high, out flashes the yellow? Sure, both were free kicks, but either both were yellows or neither. Where's the consistency?


Ball out for throw. ML-J throws it in, but there are 2 balls on the pitch. Lino waves flag for retake.

Lino: "Throw to Forest".
Ref: "So that's a free kick to Watford..."
Lino: "No - Forest throw".
Ref: "Let me see - Forest are the team in yellow, aren't they? Free kick to them, then..."
Lino: "NO! Forest throw"
Ref: "Sorry - I misunderstood you. Right, you Forest lot; back 10 yards cos this is a Watford ball."
Lino: "Uhhhhhh.... am I somehow not making myself clear? Forest throw!"
Ref: "Are you sure? I don't think you can be LBW if the ball pitches outside leg stump. Free kick to Watford!"
Lino (by this time doing his nut as 2 minutes have passed and the ref is the only man in the ground who cannot understand his simple English): "THROW IN TO FOREST!!!!!!!!!!!"
Ref: "Perhaps we should consider a bounce ball. Or maybe a short corner."

That, plus Ebby proposing and being accepted on the pitch at half time, was the only thing which made me smile all day.]

Listen, most of you guys are regular readers. You know I am essentially an optimist. I hate slagging them off. I like all of these players - honestly, I really do. Johnno and Tank have been excellent for the past 3 or 4 games away. Edwards has been a revelation. Riccy looks good playing almost anywhere except centre half. Bart was my player of the year last season and is the player I'd build the team around - this was his first poor game for ages.

But today they were awful. You cannot expect to get anywhere when the entire spine of your team goes AWOL for 80 minutes of the same match. You cannot give two soft goals to a team of Watford's class and expect to get anything out of the game. We are capable of SO much more - we have actually been playing SO much better than that away. So why are we so terrible at home? Surely a team which is well enough organised to defend well and counter-attack with pace and skill when away ought to be able to play a bit of football at home? Apparently not. If that is how we are going to play, I'd rather see a midfield of David Prutton, Gareth Williams, Eugene Bopp and Andy Reid - at least that way when it looked like men against boys out there we'd have the excuse that our lot actually ARE boys, as opposed to just playing like them. Today we had no excuse whatsoever.

We have to nip this in the bud NOW. 5 of our next 7 games are at home, and I reckon we have to expect to win all of them if we are to get our campaign back on track.

So, all you senior pros, let's be seeing you. Stand up and be counted. SORT IT OUT.
© Nottingham Forest 2000



Copyright © 2000 Nottingham Forest F.C.