Rogers 57 mins
Bonalair 67 mins
Freedman 87 mins
|Rogers||Van Der Laan|
© Nottingham Forest 1999
Apart from 1:00pm kick offs for Sky on Sundays I hate Friday night games intensely. It is an unnatural time to watch a football match. Tonight was no exception and the atrocious weather didn’t help at all. The rain never stopped the whole match and it was obvious that mistakes were going to be made. Crossley never tried to catch a ball all night, with the ball handling like a slippery fish.
Dave Bassett brought his Barnsley team to the City Ground needing a win to take them to the top of the table, but they never showed anything that has changed my mind that this league is for the taking. After saying that, the first half showed that unless we start to play with determination for the full 90 mins we will become also rans in the promotion stakes. The first half was diabolical for both sides.
Forest could have gone in at half time with 2 or 3 goals if the chances had been put away. My new moaning “mate” who has become a permanent fixture sitting next to me, had a field day.
The second half as is becoming the pattern, changed completely. Young Carlos Merino on for the injured Petrachi, and David Prutton both look talented players, with a lot to offer and with Chris Doig coming on for Hjelde at the start of the second half we are beginning to see the success of the club’s youth policy.
We now have a two week break which should help the injury problems and maybe we will start to prove that we are the best team in this league. I just want to shut up the moaner next to me and enjoy my Bovril!
A report by Bridport Red:
Now that's better! Let's face it, this game had the makings of more fuel for the doom-mongers - Larry Lloyd was especially cheerful as I drove into Bridgford, calling for the return of Stan the Man "because Forest have no exciting players", saying that we have been lack-lustre at best all season, and generally sharpening his daggers for David Platt's back.
Barnsley are the division's top scorers (albeit the top conceders as well) and had the double incentive of going top if they won at the City Ground and allowing Harry Bassett to thumb his nose at the Trent End. And there was the now habitual quota of encouraging boos as the teams sloshed their way off the pitch in the teeming rain at half time with the game at 0-0.
So it is very nice to be able to report a convincing victory, a good performance, a clean sheet and (to be fair to him) the sound of Larry thoroughly eating his words after the game. Chet, Louis-Jean and Metrecano kept up our dreadful luck on the treatment table by failing fitness tests, so we went into this game with yet another changed team which looked thin (or at least inexperienced) in midfield and potentially ponderous at the back. By the time 10 minutes had passed, Luca Petrachi had pulled up chasing a Prutton ball down the right and been substituted, holding his right hamstring and looking understandably fed up. When, 5 minutes later, Riccy Scimeca had prolonged treatment on the pitch after a full-blooded challenge, I was starting to wonder whether the new City Ground pitch has been laid on an ancient Indian burial ground and angered the spirits. But at least Riccy managed to play on (and went on to have yet another excellent game), so maybe (PLEASE) our luck with injuries has changed.
The first half was not that great a spectacle - the viewers on Sky must have been riveted. The pitch was very slippery (it was throwing it down with rain), players were falling a lot and passes were skipping off the wet surface. Probably at least partly as a consequence, both sides were finding it hard to string much together in midfield, and any longer through balls were skidding through to the keepers at such pace that Linford Christie wouldn't have caught them. Dougie hit the bar with a header from a Rogers corner, Mannini perhaps should have done more than fire over the bar after a storming run up the right and a neat exchange of passes with Prutton, and a fiercely-struck Rogers free-kick from the edge of the box was deflected narrowly wide.
At half time, however, Platty did his increasingly familiar transformation of the team from Jekyll to Hyde. Jon Olav Hjelde (with yet another injury for us) was replaced by Chris Doig and, much more importantly, Carlos Merino was moved from Luca's position on the wing (where he had been peripheral if neat) to a position "in the hole" behind the two strikers. All of a sudden we started to attack with real conviction. Prutton (impressive yet again) and Merino (outstanding - Man of the Match - on his league debut) were running at the increasingly terrified Barnsley defence with a will. Merino dragged a shot narrowly wide after one such run and there were three or four attacks which looked promising but never quite developed once they got near the box.
For all that, Barnsley ought to have scored first. Hignett missed a total sitter when clean through - not even forcing a save - and Norman produced an outstanding save (not his last) from van der Laan. But then, after an hour, we scored. Tank took the ball from a Barnsley corner and set off on one of his runs. He went past two players as though they weren't there and, just as I was opening my mouth to scream at him to pass, he shot from just outside the box. I'd like to report that it screamed into the top corner like a bullet, but (if Alan Rogers will forgive me) it looked like a mishit effort to me which skipped along the ground, somehow evaded the keeper's unconvincing dive and wormed its way into the bottom corner. They all count, Tank (and it WAS a great run!) Could we put them away, I wondered? Too right! Five minutes later we scored an absolute beauty - an early contender for goal of the season.
Prutton, Scimeca & Quashie played some lovely close passing just inside the Forest half and then Prutton sent Merino free to run up the inside left channel. Some good refereeing here, because Carlos was fouled at least twice and almost lost his footing, but the ref allowed advantage as he had by now reached the edge of the box. He looked up and curled an inch-perfect cross to Bonalair on the right. I have until now always considered that Thierry's left leg is purely for standing on, but he wound himself up and crashed a totally unstoppable volley with his left foot into the far corner. Game over.
Still time for Norman to produce another outstanding save from Hignett, for Shipperley to come on to a predictably scornful reception (top marks to A Block for the "Score in a brothel, you couldn't score in a brothel" song), and for Bonalair to be booked and a Barnsley player (not sure who) to be lucky to stay on after a clash off the ball in the final minute. Tank curled in the resultant free kick so that it landed on the 6 yard line in front of goal - Dougie rammed it in on the volley.
The lads were cheered off. So, a good effort all round. Norman played a blinder. Moreno Mannini showed glimpses of why the manager rated him so highly in Italy - great reader of the game and sure and unruffled in the tackle, if still a bit vulnerable to raw pace. Riccy was immense - after getting a player of the month award before kick off he just carried on where he had left off. Nigel Quashie did not have one of his best games (though he has been playing well for most of the season) still good at the hard graft in the middle, but for some reason whenever he had time his passing seemed to desert him. And the boys up front worked hard - a relatively quiet game from Wrighty and a goal from Dougie (though the anti-Freedman Group on my left - hi Carl - were as usual so intent on bad-mouthing everything Dougie did that they even tried to claim that Rogers' free kick went straight in).
My only slight concern tonight was the fact that, secure though they looked for the most part, the defence was caught square rather too often and didn't have the pace to recover once the ball was past them. For my second game in a row (I missed Bolton), however, I am left raving about the performance of our youngsters. Chris Doig hasn't put a foot wrong since he came into the side. David Prutton had a quiet first half, but in the second once again showed vision, pace, powerful running and some nice touches. And Carlos Merino was outstanding, being prepared to run at defenders on a tricky surface, not being afraid to shoot and at last accomplishing what we seem to have been missing for a while, namely creating space and opportunity for the boys up front.
If I were to be picky, I might say that occasionally he hung on to the ball too long when he should have passed (and I suspect Wrighty might gently tell him the same thing), but for a teenager making his league debut this was a blistering performance. It is very nice to know that these guys who are coming through are as good as their results last year led us to hope - and we know that there are more to come in due course. We shouldn't overbear them with expectation too soon - they are still young and will not be brilliant every week (very few players of that age are).
But the manager is no fool, and no doubt he will continue to develop them slowly and protect them as they mature, especially once our injury list improves sufficiently to allow him to. But if you squinted into the rain and the floodlights tonight you could see the beginnings of the great Forest team of the next decade.
Can't wait to see it once it is on full bloom.
P.S. My spell-checker seems intent on changing "Shipperley" to read "Shirley". Do you think Bill Gates is a secret Forest fan?