There are times (about 3:45 last Saturday afternoon springs to mind as an example) when I wonder why I bother to travel all these miles and expend all this nervous energy supporting Forest. There are others (like today) when it is simply the most fun you can have with your clothes on.
This was an amazing football match that had simply everything - pace, good football, mistakes, controversy, a comedy own goal, a finish that had 18,000 baying fans on the edge of their seats... and a denouement straight out of Roy of the Rovers. I don't know what happened within the confines of the Forest dressing room after the nightmare of Saturday's Brum game, but whatever it was we need a bit more of it! Platty dropped Riccy Scimeca and Jim Brennan, and demoted Robbie Blake and Gary Jones to the bench. Tank dropped back to left back for the first time in ages, Johnno and Jack were restored to the side and Platt himself made a surprise start on the left of midfield. You remember all those things which were so painfully missing from the first half on Saturday? You know - a clear shape and system, passion, closing down, pace, accuracy of passing and above all movement off the ball? Well I am delighted to tell you that they were all back today in abundance.
We got in more incisive tackles in the first 3 minutes at Selhurst Park today than we mustered in 45 minutes a mere 48 hours ago. Forest started off with some real bite. With Platt a revelation on the left and Johnno having his best game in months, we really got amongst them. Jack ought to have put us ahead after only 5 minutes, when Stern John's through ball put him one on one with Taylor. It was a good save, but he still ought to have scored. None the less, Lester was making a right nuisance of himself to the ponderous Palace defence (surely it is time Neil Ruddock retired to run a chippy or something?) - I just wish he could sharpen up his finishing. 5 minutes after Jack's miss we took the lead. Simple really. Clumsy foul on Platt about 30 yards out. Bart whipped in a free kick to the far post where Johnno buried the header. Woeful defending, but why should we care about that?
The rest of the half was dreamland. We totally dominated, the sun came out, and our midfield (especially the manager and Bartman) played some of the best football we have seen in ages. A second goal seemed only a matter of time, and when it came the Forest fans almost took the roof off. Long throw from Tank on the left, header down from Stern, and there was Platt swivelling to hammer an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. In the couple of days since the Brum nightmare I have seen quite a few messages on the internet (understandable, but way over the top) questioning everything from David Platt's birth to his "right" to manage Forest - many of them have mentioned that he is not committed to the club. Well if anyone seriously doubts that he is committed to Forest, they should have seen his face when he scored today! (Indeed, he was punching the air so much that, when he ran to the touchline to be submerged under a pile of fans, he came very close to becoming the second Forest manager of recent years to punch a fan!)
A few minutes later it got even better. An exquisitely weighted pass from Platt curled into Jack's path wide on the right, he took it on and crossed.... and Mullins smacked it into his own net past a startled Taylor. Stern was doing his best to get into the box, but he was the only Forest player there and had two defenders between him and the ball; there was absolutely no need for Mullins to do anything. Like we cared, of course! Half time - 3-0 up away from home. Blimey! When could we last say that? Needless to say the second half was a different story.
It was obvious that Palace would come out with all guns blazing, and my neighbour said to me at half time that all we needed to do to kill the game was keep a clean sheet for a further 20 minutes. We didn't. It wasn't that we capitulated a la Brum (or indeed a la Palace last year) - but our pace definitely dropped and, to be fair, Palace played pretty well in the second half. 5 minutes into the half Stern gave the ball away on the half way line and the ball was crossed. Everyone missed it and it arrived at Tank's feet. He made a total Horlicks of the clearance, succeeding only in placing the ball at Tommy Black's feet 25 yards out. Black's finish was as excellent as Tank's clearance had been woeful. Game on again.
For the next 25 minutes or so we were under pressure, but the increasingly impressive Chris Doig/TV combination at the back kept us safe enough. Eventually Platty tired and was taken off - to a standing ovation from the Forest fans, which must have been about the last thing he would have got from us a couple of days ago! The last ten minutes, however, were among the most exciting I have ever seen at a football match.
First Fan Zhi finally beat Lurch with a bullet header from a corner to bring it back to 3-2 and get the Forest fans chewing their nails. Then Palace won a whole string of corners, interspersed with the odd breakaway attack from us. Lurch pulled out a brilliant low save from another Zhi close-range header... and at the other end Jack ought to have scored (again) when put through by some clever trickery from Robbie Blake. The minutes ticked away, we were hanging on, there were some increasingly eccentric refereeing decisions.... And then all Hell broke loose.
Two minutes to go, diagonal ball into Fan Zhi's path. He races towards the box, Lurch comes out to meet him, the ball breaks loose, and Fan Zhi goes down as though he's been shot. As I say, all Hell broke loose, so I will give you my impressions as they occurred at the time and then try to back them up with some hindsight. My immediate impression was that Fan Zhi was about to be booked for diving; the ref waved play on despite the howls from the Palace crowd. Then the Palace players drew the ref's attention to the fact that the linesman was flagging away like it was going out of fashion. "I don't believe he's going to give that as a foul", thinks I. But he did - and despite the fact that (foul or no foul) it was a good 2 yards outside the box, he also gave a penalty. Fan Zhi, meanwhile, took 5 seconds to appeal for this pen, and then realised it would add some convincing detail to this so-called foul if he remembered suddenly to be injured. Beasant and TV took great exception to a) the dive and b) the hugely delayed "injury", and both stood over him pointing their fingers and, no doubt, giving him a few choice Cantonese words about cheating.
A 15-man shoving match broke out, during which assorted handbags were wielded, Fan Zhi's excruciatingly painful injury miraculously disappeared and he leapt to his feet... and clearly punched Johnno (who had just thrown the ball at him). If the FA decide to look at video evidence, I reckon two or three players from each side should be worried! Needless to say the ref was so busy sending off the incredulous and fuming Beasant that he totally failed to see this punch, and we descended into farce. (I have since seen brief highlights of this episode on Sky, and I reckon my initial impressions were pretty much right - probably not a foul, DEFINITELY not a penalty).
Don't go away - we're not finished yet! On come Barry Roche for Jack Lester. A swift calming word for the debutant from the captain (nice one, Bart). The ref, reasonably calm by now, twice warns Tommy Black about encroaching into the box as Jason Gray lines up the kick. Gray takes it, Roche guesses right and nearly gets there, but it is in the net. Delirium from the Palace fans, who take a while to notice that the ref is telling Gray to take it again as three Palace players had, despite the clear warnings, encroached. So Gray takes it again, goes the other way... and Roche saves it. An explosion of noise from the Forest fans and what must surely be the quickest elevation to hero status in the history of the club; 18-year-old makes his debut for final two minutes of game and saves a penalty with his first touch of the ball! A couple of observations.
First I would like you all to reflect on how the Forest crowd would react to being 3-0 down at home at half time. The odd boo perhaps? Stony and sullen silence throughout the second half? Well the excellent Palace fans roared their team on in no uncertain manner, the team responded and tore into us, and they nearly snatched a point. A lesson there, methinks (not that I expect some at the City Ground to listen). Second. The man of the match today by a mile was David Platt - his accuracy of passing, his workrate, his immaculate weight of passing and his ability to keep the ball were all a joy to watch. If he is capable of that level of performance, he should pick himself in every squad.
GOD that was fun!
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