Cresswell 45 mins
Booth 60 mins
Sonner 71 mins
Rudi 82 mins
Fredman 84 mins
© Nottingham Forest 1999
Forest (4-5-1-1) Crossley: Metrecano, Mannini, Chettle: Bonalair (Louis-Jean 75), Quashie (Harewood 55), Scimeca, Prutton, Rogers: Merino: Freedman. Subs not used: Beasant, Doig, Allou.
I reckon I have written enough reports by now for most of you to have worked out my style; I am essentially positive, I don't believe in slagging the players off and I think we are heading in the right direction. Well sorry, boys & girls, but the very best I can say tonight is that this was not good. I missed Ipswich, so there might have been competition there, but I reckon this was our worst performance of the season by some way, and I have just driven home worried for the first time since Platty took over. We are going pretty well at home, but away from Nottingham things are just not clicking.
The frustrating thing is that after 44 minutes of this game I was pretty confident that we were going to win. The first half was quiet (and that is putting it mildly!), but we looked the better side by some way, we were playing neat and patient football albeit without enough penetration, Wednesday were looking more and more jittery and the crowd were just starting to get on their backs. I was just about to nip off in injury time for my half time cup of tea when Bonalair gave away a free kick near the half way line. Surely no great danger.... ooops. Defence gone to sleep, long ball to the far post, Booth rises above Metrecano and heads it back across, Cresswell unchallenged, goal. Chet, Norman and others left mouthing friendly comments to one another as the half time whistle goes, and you can fair see the confidence flooding back into the Wednesday players.
OK, so I still reckon at that point that we are the better side - we'll come out and take the game to them, equalise early to take away their new-found confidence, the crowd will be on their backs again and all will be well. Uhhh, no. They come out for the second half all fired up, we start giving the ball away in midfield, Alexandersson waltzes around 4 tackles on our left, crosses to Booth, 2-0. Game over - from that moment on it was simply a matter of how many they would score. Ten minutes later (with Wednesday now pinging the ball around like they are Real Madrid) Sonner scores a fantastic volley from well outside the box that no keeper would have saved. Norman then brilliantly saves a Booth header which looked a certain goal. Not long after that even Petter Rudi gets in on the act and fires one into the bottom corner to make it 4. Dougie scores a neatly-taken goal in the last few minutes to trigger a few ironic songs from the large Forest support, and then we all go home fed up.
So what went wrong? Well in the first half we had exactly the same problems that we have suffered from for well over a month now - though we were playing some nice enough football in midfield, the final penetrative ball was generally absent, so we weren't making chances. We created several doses of defensive panic from set pieces, and Atherton was not enjoying seeing Tank run at him, but at the end of the day Srnicek didn't have a really serious save to make. The closest we came to scoring was a David Prutton volley following a corner, which was cut out by a typically effortless block from Des Walker (the old man has still got it big style). We didn't exactly dominate possession, but equally we looked well in control - though Norman had to pull off an excellent double save on a Wednesday break away.
Not brilliant from Forest, but more than effective and promising the ability to up a gear and go on to win. But then we gave away a soft goal in injury time and the whole game changed. For 30 minutes after half time we were pretty dire. We could get the ball but we didn't seem to be able to keep it, our midfield was being sliced through almost at will, our confidence drained completely away and it was all hands to the pumps in defence. By the time we suddenly began to play again with 15 minutes to go the game was long over and it was far too late.
After last week's early season review I got a number of emails asking how I could possibly give Chet or Bonalair 7/10. My own feeling is that just because players haven't always done well in the past, it doesn't mean that we can't applaud them for playing well when they do - and Chet and Bonalair have both done well when I've seen them this season. Well not tonight - too much giving the ball away, not enough won in the air or in the tackle, too easily by-passed or out-muscled. Toto and Moreno showed some classy touches, but they too struggled intermittently in the air against Booth and Cresswell, and eventually succumbed to our widespread second half disease of giving it away in dangerous places. I am extremely reluctant to criticise the two teenagers, because I don't think it is fair to expect them to play excellently every week... but Carlos was rather anonymous in the first half (playing in the hole he looked great against Barnsley, but tonight it looked the wrong role for him, and he still shows a tendency to dribble with his head down) and Prutton was caught in possession too much - but having said that the little good stuff we did manage to produce after half time largely come from these two. I thought Quashie was playing his usual role pretty well, so was surprised when he was taken off (but Riccy was playing the same role tonight and we needed to attack, so maybe that was it). Dougie worked hard, but looked isolated for much of the game and got no change out of Dessie.
Marlon came on after it was all over and made some decent runs off the ball but didn't see much of it at his own feet. The only players I would completely exempt from criticism would be Scimeca (though I still say we need him in defence rather than midfield), Rogers (some great runs but no-one on the end of the cross) and Norman - and you can't win too many games when only 3 guys are playing at their best. OK. Some perspective. Despite tonight I still think we are going in the right direction. The same arguments about missing midfield players apply now as they have for all of the past 5 or 6 weeks - Prutton and Merino's good performances in the past couple of games might have disguised the fact, but we all know we are missing Bart, Johnno and Luca. We also all know that we need at least one more striker.
However, I am becoming concerned about our away form - Ipswich, Bolton and Wednesday have beaten us fair & square, Man City did the same for 45 mins, we were lucky to get a point at Swindon and we lost away to Stags. By my reckoning that means we have only played well twice away from home - at WBA and Bristol. We don't seem to have the confidence to attack teams away from Nottingham with the same conviction that we generally have at home.... and there is a danger that it could become self-perpetuating; lack of confidence = dodgy away form = further lack of confidence and so on. Wednesday tonight gave a great demonstration of what a bit of confidence can do - they have some good players who appeared to be getting worse and worse as things didn't go right for them, but then tore us apart as soon as they started to believe in themselves. We went the other way - our players looked good at first but then went backwards when the game was there for the taking; and we are now reaching the stage where our form away from home must be making the players wonder.
We REALLY don't want to see the team develop a mental block away from the City Ground. Patience, I guess. But tonight was VERY frustrating (especially with Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea etc going out - we could have done well in this cup). And we will need to play a good deal better at Bramall Lane at the weekend.