Report by Bridport Red
So much for that early-season optimism. I missed the Darlo and Norwich games, so I walked into the City Ground today with my glass till very much half full. OK, so we weren't brilliant in the first half against WBA, but in the second 45 we were excellent. "We haven't lost to Brum home or away in 11 games", I says to myself - so let's get 3 points today and go to Palace on a high.
Since Palace was the scene of last season's lowest point for me, we can lay that ghost, and we're off and running... Ah well, it was a nice dream - instead the step forward that WBA represented has today been followed by 3 steps back. For the first 45 minutes today, Forest were, quite simply, abject; it is a very long time since I have seen such a one-sided half where the AWAY team is so easily running the show. The only recent performance that was comparable was, ironically, away at Palace last year - and at the time I described that as the worst performance of the entire 90s. There were long, long periods when we simply couldn't get hold of the ball. When we did have it there was virtually no movement, so we'd give it away again. We were playing far too narrow (the fact that we are playing with two converted 'wingers' out of position finally coming home to roost?) and the Blues were getting round the back of our defence - especially around the sides.
The crowd rapidly (and understandably) began to dismay and we got to half time wreathed in gloom. By half time we were already 2 down, and it could have been worse. Connor got round the back of Brennan and Marcello was allowed too much space in the box as early as the tenth minute - but the ball came back off the post and we heaved a sigh of relief. Ten minutes later we once again backed off the Brum midfield too far, and Marcello fired in a superb dipping shot from 30 yards. No blame to Beas - it was a stunning shot - but who was closing him down? For the rest of the half we simply got no better - Johnno came on to inject a bit of urgency to proceedings (though we took off the better of our two fullbacks), but Brum remained almost contemptuously in control and it was simply a matter of whether we could scrape our way to half time still in touch. Just as I nipped off for an early half time pee, the combined roar from the Bridgford End and boos from everywhere else told me that we had failed. I cannot say more about the second goal other than the fact that it was a header and that my companions were unimpressed with the defending again.
Platty must have really torn into them at half time - and he also changed the system. When Johnno had come on for ML-J, Riccy moved to right back. At half time, we changed to 3-5-2; Vaughan and Doig on either side of Bart as sweeper, Riccy and Tank as the two wing-backs, Johnson, Prutts and Jones in midfield and Blake and Marlon up front. For a while it did the trick. We poured into them from the kick off, and at last started to put them under pressure and hustle their defence into error. Better still, when Jones was climbed all over just outside the box after 55 minutes, Bart rifled a superb free kick over the wall into the top corner and suddenly it was game on. Admittedly, Marcelo should have made it 3-1 almost immediately - instead he appeared to prefer to trip over the ball. But at least we were at the races and looked well capable of grabbing an unlikely point - or even three. Unfortunately, we muffed our best line; Robbie Blake chased a ball into the corner and put an incisive ball into Tank's path. He squared it to the onrushing Prutts - and alas he crashed it over the bar from 6 yards.
From that moment on Brum gradually pulled back the initiative, with Martin O'Connor typically combative and especially effective in the middle. They carved out a couple more decent chances, and Lurch kept us in the hunt with a couple of good saves. Birmingham never re-established the total control of the first half, but still there were too many periods where we seemed incapable of getting the ball. As is usually the case, we did have one chance - Prutts firing a low shot from the edge of the box after a corner which looked in all the way until Ian Bennett produced a fine save to push it round the post. But don't let me mislead you into thinking that we deserved a point; we didn't. Birmingham were clearly the better side pretty much throughout and, welcome though a snatched point would have been, as a reflection of the game it would have been a travesty; Ndlovu and Adebola each missed relatively easy chances at the end. Put it this way - we could have had 2 or 3; they could have had 6 or 7.
I am not going to run through all the players one by one - at one end of the scale Prutts had his first real stinker for us (but he won't do that often and we know it doesn't make him a bad player), and Riccy and Jim Brennan looked under confident and tentative. At the other end of the scale Robbie Blake showed some nice touches and looked a good player with absolutely zero service, and Bart continued his run of being our best player by a mile. But as a team performance this was not even remotely close to one that is going to make a serious run for promotion. OK, OK. Early days. We can still win at Palace in Monday and be said to have made an OK start. But not if we play like we did today, or anything like it.
Today was simply not good enough. We might be prepared to overlook such a game if it is a single isolated blip. But if it becomes a habit........
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