What was it I said last week? "I am not going to blame the players"?
Can I make a couple of exceptions please?
Frankly, I travelled to the architectural and tropical paradise that is the Hawthorns pretty much expecting to lose today - I even predicted the correct scoreline over lunch. They have been in an excellent run of form for a good while now, especially at home, whereas we have had our well documented injury snags and a distinct slump in form during December. So I wasn't exactly brimming with confidence as I crawled through the fog and the traffic towards West Bromwich.
Unfortunately, it appears, neither were the players. It may be entirely illogical of me to say that I was expecting to lose but the players shouldn't have been, but I'm gonna say it anyway. I got the distinct impression today that the team went out there expecting to struggle, trying to battle for a point - and when the Baggies scored a brilliant goal in less than 10 minutes, we were rather scratching around for a Plan B. (Plan B was then well and truly scuppered by one of our own players, but we'll come to that...)
Platty had hoped to be able to boost things a bit with the return of Johnno, Gaz Williams and TV, but Johnson pulled up in training on Friday. Vaughan returned to the defence, enabling us to revert to the 3-5-2 which has been so successful in recent weeks. The midfield thus featured 4 teenagers and Olsen, making Prutts the most experienced in there by far; Benny, Gazza, Edds and Foy have made fewer than 25 starts between them (yes, I know Benny is an international; I am talking in Forest terms here, since a foggy cold day in West Bromwich has about as much in common with Miami as Marco Pascolo did with the words "decent goalkeeper"). The surprise of the team selection was the dropping of Reid to the bench and the selection of Marlon and Jones up front; Reid is the only one of those three forwards who has done anything revolutionary like actually score this season, but presumably Platty reckoned that we were going to need some physical presence up there. Jones and Marlon do at least have physical presence. Nothing else, I grant you.
And for a few minutes at the start we looked to be doing OK - the Baggies were attacking, but at least we looked convincing on the counter and I thought to myself that we might even be in for an entertaining afternoon.
That particular delusion lasted for all of 9 minutes, which is when Jason Roberts (dangerous all afternoon) picked up the ball just outside the box, swivelled and fired a stunning shot into the far top corner, leaving Lurch no chance. A great goal - maybe the defence stood off his for a fraction too long, but you probably don't expect a player to turn and do that from that range, and they'd have been trying to avoid diving in and selling themselves.
Anyway, that was Plan A well and truly out of the window.
For the rest of the half the Baggies played well enough without seriously threatening our goal (I actually thought they played better at our place in August, but then they needed to on that occasion), and we showed the odd spark of defiance from the excellent Prutton but totally and utterly lacked anything resembling a goal threat. Sorry, that's not quite fair - Gary Jones had a shot well saved by Jensen after about 25 minutes. The only other thing of note was TV being stupidly booked for kicking the ball away after the whistle had gone. You might have thought that a man who'd just come back from suspension would have calmed .... no, what am I saying?... this is TV; of course he hasn't calmed down. And we'll come back to this as well....
I was there with my brother today, and we were just saying to ourselves that Forest had played some distinctly ordinary stuff for 45 minutes, but it wouldn't be the end of the world to go in to half time at 1-0.... when it was 2-0 with a truly bizarre goal. A Baggies attack down the right ended with a decent enough cross, but it evaded everyone and came to Benny's feet beyond the far post. Benny was about on the sideline of the 6-yard box and, unsure whether the Baggies player behind him was a threat or not (he was in fact miles away), he decided to hook it to safety for a corner. Unfortunately he mistimed the swing of his boot catastrophically - bad enough that he completely miscued, but not so bad that he missed the ball completely; it looped perfectly off his heel beyond the wrong-footed and incredulous Beasant into the far corner. Fans of every other club will see this o.g. on the box and roar with laughter - I know I do when I see comedy own goals from around the country. But when it happens to your own team it is less funny - and poor old Benny looked distraught as we trooped off at half time.
I suspect that Platty gave them a right ear-bashing at the break - we were giving the ball away too much, the Baggies had a stranglehold on midfield etc etc. Gareth Williams looks very promising when we are going forward, but he is not yet ready to grab a midfield by the scruff of the neck from experienced players like Richard Sneekes - it will come, but we need to be patient with the lad. Eddsy much the same - he played better today, including one sensational block tackle on the edge of the box, but for much of the time he looks what he is; a teenager playing his first three or four games for the club. Peripheral.
Anyway, Platty took those two off at half time, replacing them with Andy Gray and Reidy and moving to 4-3-3 as at Rangers (Gray, Edwards, Vaughan and Foy across the back, Jones, Bart & Prutts in midfield, Olsen, Marlon and Reid up front). Good aggressive idea, and the only way we had even the slightest change of getting back into the match.
To be honest, our chances were slim even then, but 2 minutes after half time they disappeared altogether in one of the most brainless pieces of play I have seen in years. Forest took a long time to come out after the break, presumably because the manager was exhorting the players to focus on the new system and find a way back. I expect Platty was truly delighted, therefore, when all his planning was totally blown out of the water within 90 seconds by Tony Vaughan.
Less than a minute after kick off, TV hauled Sneekes down. The ref called him over and lectured him - presumably something along the lines of "Look, Tony - I don't want to send you off, but if you do anything like that again I will have no choice. Sort your life out!". We heaved a sigh of relief and thought we'd got away with it. From the resulting free kick, less than 15 seconds later, Vaughan hammers his way into Lee Hughes, and off he goes. As I say - totally brainless. Vaughan has started 16 games for us this season amd now been booked 12 times - far far too much. Prutts is also getting booked too much (he was again today), but his are all for committed tackles which are slightly mistimed - too many of TV's yellow cards are for dissent, kicking the ball away etc. We were up against it already today, but after Vaughan's idiocy we had no chance - he let down 13 other players in red, his manager and a couple of thousand travelling fans. Unsurprisingly Platty was incandescent afterwards, fining Vaughan the maximum permissable.
Ten minutes later we were three down - Edwards did his best to stop Hughes on the right of the box, tackling him twice, but eventually Hughes got his cross in to the far post... where Vaughan should have been to mark Roberts. Since Vaughan was already in the shower, Roberts scored without difficulty.
After that the Baggies switched off, passing the ball around our ten men without difficulty but not really having to get out of first gear (in truth they were rarely out of second gear even when we had 11 men). Forest, in particular Bart and the outstanding Prutton (the best midfield player on the pitch today), never stopped trying, but that's about all you can say; Bart had been forced to drop back into defence and Reidy onto the wing. Stern came on and showed us that his touch is still excellent and that he can shoot, but equally that his movement seems to have disappeared since his injury.
Marlon, on the other hand, has movement in abundance - and virtually nothing else. I thought he was simply abject today - on his heels on the rare occasions a through ball was played for him (usually by Reid or Prutts), too slow off the mark except for his usual crowd-pleasing party-piece of chasing goalkeepers, lethargic as ever in the air and blessed with an unerring ability to pass when he should shoot and shoot (into Row Z, of course) when he should pass. Desperate. Injuries or no injuries, I would drop him to the bench immediately - 15 minutes of running at a tiring defence is about all he is good for. That would leave us with Stern and Reid up front for Crewe and Norwich. Stern might not be playing well at the moment, but at least he has shown us he as talent in the past and he has scored goals at an International level - maybe a run in the team would sort him out. Reidy, on the other hand, has scored 2 goals in 5 starts - a strike rate Marlon can only dream of (8 goals in 44 starts plus 38 sub appearances, since you ask). However popular he might be with the fans for his headless chicken act, Marlon, in my humble opinion, simply ain't going to make it at this level - not least because however badly he plays, he seems to come off the pitch at the end thinking he has had a decent game.
Amazingly, after our hideous injury-led recent run, we remain 7th and in striking distance of the play-offs. There are a number of worries - Vaughan will now be suspended again, leaving us threadbare at the back again (gee, thanks, Tony), so we must hope that Doig, Calderwood or Hjelde can make some progress. We severely miss Riccy and Johnno in midfield (and I never thought I'd find myself saying that!) and especially Jack up front. But the court case is getting ever closer, we remain in touch because others are in as poor a run of form as we are, and the season is by no means over. In our current form I wouldn't hold my breath for 3 points at St Andrews, certainly... but we must beat Crewe and Norwich.
Finally, a word for the fans, who were brilliant today - keeping up the singing all the way through and not getting on the backs of the young players or of the manager. Marlon and TV got it in the neck, but they deserved it and are experienced enough to know better.
I am now missing a couple of games - my next game will be the Wolves Cup match. So a Happy Christmas to all, and by the time I come back I want to see at least another 6 points in the bank.
And let's hope Father Christmas brings a brain for Tony Vaughan and Marlon Harewood (even one between them would be an improvement on what we have now). The combination of a defender who shoots himself (and the team) in the foot with an attacker who couldn't shoot himself in the foot if you gave him a special pair of boots with a built-in gun is not doing Forest any favours at the moment!
© Nottingham Forest 2000