The words "chalk" and "cheese" spring to mind. After a dismal 4
or 5 weeks when we have all become increasingly concerned, depressed
and (in many cases) vocally abusive of Forest's abject performances
against Tranmere, Huddersfield, Palace, Norwich, Barnsley and Ipswich,
it is with great relief that tonight I can safely write that we
played very well and were unlucky not to take all three points.
The demolitions of Walsall and Barnsley at home both seem an absolute
age ago, and even in those two games we played well only for one
half, rather than the whole 90 minutes. Tonight, therefore, is a
strong candidate for our best 90-minute performance of the season.
It lacked only a goal or two to give us the three points we thoroughly
deserved. But we will come to that. What exactly have we been complaining
about? Well... lack of movement, lack of desire, no closing down
the opposition, hoofing the ball aimlessly upfield rather than passing
it on the floor, no shape, three or four tactical changes in the
space of a single game, no ability to keep the ball in midfield
and no attacking with any pace anywhere on the field. Is that enough
to be going on with?
NONE of those were there tonight, and it was very good to see. Long
overdue, but let's not carp, eh? Movement? When a Forest player
had the ball his team-mates were moving into space - Andy Gray,
Jim Brennan, Bartman and especially the outstanding David Prutton
(man of the match by a country mile) in particular. Desire and closing
down? I haven't seen us tackle or press the ball in midfield like
this for weeks. Hoofing? Not a bit of it - Bart (and even Quashie
in the second half) sprayed some tremendous passes to the wings,
and Prutton ran at the defence and made Chris Coleman (no donkey)
look frightened to death whenever he got the ball. Better still,
the ball was passed out of defence and there was actually someone
there to pick it up and do something constructive with it - instead
of it coming straight back as it has been since about September.
Shape and tactics? We kept our shape pretty well, everybody seemed
to know what was going on, we had a game plan and we stuck to it.
Attacking with pace? You betya. So.
We have all been swift enough to slag the boys off recently (and
one managerial boy in particular). Credit them tonight for doing
what we expect them to do. I actually enjoyed watching Forest for
the first time in ages. Now all we need to do is to keep it up.
And score, of course - that would be nice too. The first half was
fairly even, with Fulham looking intermittently dangerous on the
break but Forest having the better possession and the greater threat.
After 5 minutes Jim Brennan showed some imagination from a free
kick (and when could we last say that of a Forest player at a set
piece?) and threaded a subtle low ball to the near post when everyone
was expecting a high cross. Dougie got on the end of it and Maik
Taylor saved well at the near post. There followed a number of half
chances (Dougie drove narrowly wide and lobbed onto the top of the
net, Prutton drove just over, Bart had a goal-bound thunderbolt
inadvertently blocked by Stern's back and Riccy Scimeca put a rasping
volley inches over from a corner). But when all is said and done
only one of these forced Taylor to make a save.
At our end Lurch was a virtual spectator as Hjelde, Riccy and Dawson
coped calmly with Horsefield and Peschisolido. [Credit, incidentally,
to Kevin Dawson, the 18-year-old making his debut tonight in place
of the flu-ridden Chris Doig. He is quite small, but has an excellent
spring so he won a lot in the air. He tackles well, can pass and
does not panic. He even had the confidence to shoot from distance
at one point. All in all an assured and highly promising debut from
yet another in the increasingly lengthy line of Paul Hart's youngsters
- it is meant as a compliment to Dawson rather than a comment on
Doigie that we hardly noticed Chris' absence. Now I understand why
Platty is not concerned at letting Chettle go - if Doig and Dawson
are our future defenders, we simply don't need the likes of Chet
for much longer.]
My concern at the break was that we had played well without any
real reward, and on past evidence I was afraid that we would degenerate
in the second half - or that Fulham would take contol. Not a bit
of it - if anything we played better in the second half, with even
Nigel Quashie (a man who gives every appearance of having zero confidence
at the moment) perking up and playing some decent passes (that didn't
go backwards!). Dougie again shot narrowly wide, Quashie missed
the post by about a foot from 20 yards and Prutton hit an absolute
screamer over the top after running fifty yards up the middle and
then repeated the dose by shooting into Taylor's midriff.
The closest we came to scoring, however, came (of course) from Stern
John. Firstly, after a lovely move down the right involving Andy
Gray, Prutton and Dougie, Stern beat Taylor all ends up with his
right foot from 15 yards and watched the ball rebound off the right-hand
post. Then (after Harewood replaced the frustrating Freedman), Brennan
set Marlon free on the left, he skinned the full back, went to the
bye-line and cut it back to somewhere near the penalty spot. Stern
used his left foot this time and hit a rocket against the bar which
bounced down onto the line and away. The entire goal shook - indeed
for a split second I thought it was in because the net moved. The
bar is still probably shaking now. But it didn't go in.
I have now seen Stern play four games. He scored one and made another
against Pompey, hit the bar against Palace, the post against Ipswich
and both the bar and the post tonight. I think we can safely say
the man can play - I just hope his luck improves! Inevitably Fulham
broke away right at the end and Peschisolido hit a thumping drive
very close to Lurch's left-hand post. But it really would have been
a total travesty if they had scored and nicked the points after
Forest's display. I was actually pretty disappointed with Fulham,
who came here with a big reputation (not to mention a lot more points
than us). They were neat enough, especially at the back, but Lee
Clark (an excellent player normally) was thoroughly outplayed in
midfield and Horsefield, Peschisolido and Hayles didn't force Lurch
into a single save. No, we weren't perfect.
Dougie had another of those games when he did some excellent things
but also some hideous ones. Quashie looks so short of confidence
that he will not play anything other than the safest pass (and thus
the least imaginative) - though he played much better in the second
half. And of course we did not score and only got one point. But
in comparison with the dross we have seen over the past month and
more, this was excellent. The defence looked solid (I watched Horsefield
make Sol Campbell and Chris Perry look like donkeys on the box the
other night, but tonight he did nothing much except foul Riccy about
20 times. England forward? Not even close on that performance.)
The midfield was unrecognisable from the Keystone Cops shambles
at Palace (you could spot that because they didn't crash into one
another even once!). Andy Gray looked the part tonight, and I hope
he gets an extended run in the team. He plays more a straight winger
than anyone else, hugging the touchline and running at people. But
he also did some sound work in defence, which is a side to his game
I have not seen before. Jim Brennan on the left is looking a bigger
and bigger bargain by the game. Bart looked a different player -
effort and passing, both AWOL for a few weeks, seem to have returned.
The star, though, was Prutton - he was absolutely superb tonight.
His best game yet; tackling, movement, running at pace at defenders,
accurate passing over almost any range and some thunderous shooting.
It is easy to forget that he is still only 18 and has played fewer
than 20 games for the first team, because tonight he was in the
young Lee Bowyer or Roy Keane class - a mouth watering prospect
for a couple of years' time (and he has just signed a new four-year
There were two interesting things in the Post today. One was an
excellent piece comparing our position, our record after 20 games
and the reaction of the fans now to the same things after 4 months
of the Clough reign. Virtually identical, in case you didn't read
it - even the booing and the open wondering whether this arrogant
new manager was going to be any good. Platty almost certainly won't
be another Clough (who could be?), but it does show that a bit of
perspective about our position might be in order.
The second piece was a short interview with our illustrious new
club Captain (and best player this season, in my view, though Prutton
is coming up on the rails). Riccy didn't say much, other than to
say that we need continuity, a settled system and a settled team,
and that the results would come once we got those things. I think
Platt has now decided what our best team is. He seems happy to pick
it, injuries permitting - I wouldn't expect any changes for the
Crewe game other than maybe the return from suspension of Johnno
for Nigel Q and Doigie back in for Dawson if fit.
AT LAST tonight we saw what they are capable of. Now let's stick
to it and concentrate on playing like that every week, because if
we do we will climb the table with ease.