This is getting to be something of a scratched record (younger readers,
ask yer Dad what a record was). How many more times are we to come away
from a game this season talking about how we shot ourselves in the foot?
Ah well - at least it can only be twice more at the City Ground; we only
have two home games left. They are both against sides who are well below
us in the table, so'd you'd kind of expect 6 points. Don't hold your breath,
though - just think about Wednesday, Huddersfield & Palace at home. To
that list of poor performances where we contrived to blow a chance of
three supposedly easy points, you can now add today.
Rangers, for an hour, were arguably the poorest side to visit the CG this
season (especially at the back, where they looked very shaky indeed).
We scored early and made a good half dozen other decent chances. But we
know the script by now - we failed to put a poor team away when they were
there for the taking, so gradually in the final 20 minutes the opposition
realised that a game which ought to have been all over was in fact still
only 1-0. They spotted their chance, started to play, came back at us,
scored with 5 minutes to go and then twice came within inches of nicking
all 3 points.
Sure, in almost any season you get games like this - where you make more
than enough chances to cruise the game, yet somehow fail to take them
and thus toss away points. All teams do it, and all fans accept the odd
blip. But for our long suffering home fans, this can no longer be described
as the odd blip; it is now a habit which is going to cost us very dear
indeed. If you doubt me, take a look at the table and add a couple more
points from today and say 7 from the 3 games I mention above (and let's
face it - it isn't only those 3). Oooh look! We're firmly in the play-offs,
But the reality is, as we know all too well, rather different.
I don't know what the problem is, but problem there most certainly is
- we simply cannot put away teams who are at our mercy. Give us a hard
game like Blackburn at home, Birmingham away or Fulham away and the team
fight like tigers, attack the opposition and make us proud. But put some
sacrificial lambs in front of us and our resolve seems to turn to custard.
The game. Stern arrived back late from international duty, so we gave
Marlon another chance up front. Andy Johnson was suspended for his stupid
Wolves red card, which meant a welcome return in midfield for Gareth Williams.
The sun was out and it was positively warm at the CG for the first time
in about 6 months.
The first few minutes were even enough in midfield, but Forest looked
by far the more likely team going forward; Prutts had already had a dangerous
break just about snuffed out by some desperate defending when we took
the lead. Bart brought the ball out from the back and squared it to Benali,
who curled a long ball into the inside left channel. Rangers' ponderous
defence had stepped up for offside, Marlon clearly wasn't, and he took
the ball into the box before slipping it past the keeper into the far
corner. Nicely taken, Marlon - and his celebration showed that he was
as relieved finally to get on the scoresheet this season as we were to
see it. (Marlon played pretty well all round today, in fact - certainly
while DJ was on the pitch).
Great. 1-0 up, only 12 minutes gone, and the other lot look decidedly
shaky at the back. 3 points, surely. After all, we have only once failed
to win a game where we scored first this season - and that we drew. For
the rest of the half, without playing especially well, it certainly looked
that way. DJ played a delicate 1-2 with Marlon on the left and had his
goalbound shot charged down, Prutts failed by inches to get on the end
of a Riccy header, and Marlon tried to repeat the dose when put through
by Williams - this time reverting to the man we know and love by shooting
when he should have passed. Then DJ had a long range shot well saved low
down at the far post.
Immediately before half time the ref (who til then had looked perfectly
OK if slow) decided it was time he got on with his happy afternoon's impersonation
of an inept traffic warden. Incidentally, I know I can't talk, but isn't
Mr Law a tad too fond of the pies to be a serious referee? He certainly
has a figure that suggests that he might enjoy the odd pint of mild and
packet of crisps at half time. The Rodney Trotter lookalike Peter Crouch,
who legitimately made a nuisance of himself all afternoon as a footballer,
decided that he wanted to do a bit of clog dancing on a red shirt as well.
I don't know what Benali did to rile him - whatever it was it was sufficient
to earn Franky a booking - but that is no excuse for stamping, as Crouch
clearly did. The lino saw it and flagged, 22,000 fans saw it and assumed
Crouch was heading for an early bath. Not our pieman - he wheezed up to
Crouch and totally bottled it. As far as I am aware there is no rule that
says that if you book one player you can only book the other, but clearly
Mr Law reckons so. I have been critical enough of the likes of Tony Vaughan
in these reports for kicking Bankole at Gresty Road - he was idiotic and
was rightly sent off. But it must be pretty galling for him to sit in
the stand and see another player get away scot free with an identical
At half time, then, you felt that a step up in tempo and a bit more running
at them rather than trying to pass over them would do the trick, and we
could easily go on to win about 3-0. For about 15 minutes that looked
a fair assessment - the midfield (Prutton especially) finally began to
run at them, and Marlon's workrate and DJ's ability to hold the ball up
and turn looked likely to produce the second (and surely killer) goal
at any moment.
5 incidents stand out. Firstly the Rangers keeper seemed to be seized
by the same lethargy as the rest of his defence, seeming to take an age
to put his boot through a ball safely at his feet with Marlon bearing
down. Eventually he did get around to kicking it and it duly struck Marlon,
but luckily for Rangers it spun wide. Secondly Prutts ran free to the
left of the box and put across a perfect low cross with his left foot.
Marlon and DJ somehow contrived both to miss it with the goal gaping.
Thirdly Riccy and Marlon did some good work wide on the right, and DJ
was denied by a wonderfully timed tackle by someone or other (sorry -
I don't know all the Rangers players, and if they keep playing like this
I won't need to, cos they'll be off to Meadow Lane next year).
Then DJ again got free, powered his way into the box around (?) Reddy
and was flattened as he shaped to score. Old Lardy-Boy the Ref, trundling
along 30 yards behind the play, somehow came to the conclusion that centre
forwards are prone to falling over unaided when they are drawing back
their stronger foot to score, so obviously it wasn't a penalty. Yeah,
right! Sure, plenty of players dive, but they usually only do it when
they reckon it will gain them something that they wouldn't otherwise get.
DJ looked hot favourite to bang it in, he had only the keeper to beat
- why on earth would he want to dive?
Finally DJ again (my man of the match today) got himself free down the
left at pace and fired a wicked cross virtually along the goal line. Riccy
had managed to keep up and all of A Block rose to acclaim a certain goal
- which never came because Riccy's outstretched foot never made contact.
At the time I turned to my brother and said "if we are not careful we
are really going to rue these spurned chances". As punditry goes, it is
hardly in the Alan Hansen class (more the BFR speciality of stating the
bleedin' obvious), but of course I was right. The turning point came after
about an hour when Ian Holloway made two changes and went from an oh-so-shaky
4-4-2 to 3-5-2. This is what Rangers usually play by the look of it, because
suddenly they looked far more secure at the back. Not only that, but our
midfield seemed to disappear completely - time and time again Rangers
were first to the loose ball, so time and time again we lost possession.
(Where have we heard this before?)
Suddenly it was a different game. For over an hour the guys in the hoops
had looked a classic relegation team; no confidence, iffy defence, no
penetration up front, just waiting for the second goal to put them out
of their misery. However, since we had proved too inept to score it, a
simple change of tactics transformed them, because we didn't appear able
to cope with it... and in that increasingly familiar way at home this
year, the home crowd began to stir uneasily in their seats. Darlington
began to expose Andy Gray's lack of pace on our right, Rodders kept on
winning the headers... oh Lord - here we go!
Yep. 5 minutes to go, break down their left, too much time to cross, and
then too much space for Stuart Wardley. Bang, in off the post. 1-1.
OK, so they've equalised. Still 5 minutes to go, eh? We can pour forward
and still win it, can't we? Uhhhh, well no, actually - frankly we don't
look that interested. Besides, we're too busy giving Lurch the chance
to shine by letting Kiwomya have a free header 6 yards out, aren't we?
And then holding our breath as Kiwomya shoots inches wide in injury time.
And then blocking our ears as we troop off to the season's first (that
I have heard) chorus of "What a load of rubbish".
Yes, we should have had a penalty. Yes, Peter Crouch should have been
heading back to Shepherd's Bush in his Reliant Robin before half time.
But the fact remains that we only have ourselves to blame for dropping
two points today - we made enough chances to win the game at a canter,
but instead ended up scraping even one point by hanging on at the end.
Simple, innit? We are not good enough against teams who don't come and
attack us. Counter attacking we look useful at times. Ask us to give a
well merited stuffing to a poor side with a defence made up of Mannini
clones, however? Sorry - no can do. Who knows where the problem lies?
In the players' heads would seem a good place to start, though.
Of course, this being Forest, they'll probably go and win at Vicarage
Road on Tuesday and we'll get all hopeful again. As for me - well I have
made my opinions pretty clear over the past few weeks, despite the fact
that our rivals are proving almost as inept as we are at making a push
for the play-offs (Preston also blew it at home today). Normally in football
the head uses a rational view to dampen the heart's optimism. With Forest
at the moment it's the other way round; a look at the table and my head
says "It's still on!". But week after week I come away from a game and
my heart tells me that we'll still be in Division 1 next August.
Oh, and by the way Platty - I usually admire your honesty in after match
press conferences; when we play badly you almost always say so (you should
give a few lessons to that whining bloke at Old Trafford). Not today,
I'm afraid. Jack and Tank have not played for about 4 months, and yes,
we have missed them. Using that as an excuse for not winning today, though?
Sorry - you'll have to do better than that!
Nottingham Forest 2001