Mr Lee Cable
Freedman 44 mins
Smith 56 mins
Smith 58 mins
© Nottingham Forest 1999
The report that follows has to have a health warning, as being the "Official" site we are not supposed to make (to many) disparaging remarks about officials in charge. However sitting their today as a paying fan I can honestly say I that the following report is the truth and nothing but the truth.
A View by Bridport Red
I am not one of those fans who likes to blame every defeat on the referee. Generally, in fact, I don't particularly enjoy slagging them off. Yes, I was rude about the ref who missed the blantant offside for WBA's equaliser against us, but equally I praised the ref for the Bristol away game for being unobtrusive, letting the game flow and having a sense of humour. It does not give me any pleasure whatsoever, therefore, to tell you that today I witnessed the most abject, spineless, inconsistent and inept display of refereeing I have seen in over 30 years of watching football. Not biased, not "a homer" (though I think the crowd reaction was having some influence by the end) - just hopeless. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised; the ref and linesman started the game as they clearly meant to continue. For the first 5 minutes Forest were under a lot of pressure from a string of corners - Norman producing an excellent save from a Devlin drive and Toto Metrecano heading the ball off the line.
The fact that all this pressure stemmed from a "corner" that Toto clearly played off the forward right in front of the linesman, and that the header which was cleared off the line was from an offside position, merely served to warn the Forest fans that we did not have necessarily the best officials in the world for this game. Nor was it only us - the Blades' fans were berating these guys throughout for their interpretation of the offside law. A fine effort from any official, to get BOTH sets of fans screaming at you within 10 minutes. Still, having survived that early pressure, Forest started to play pretty well - in fact this was probably our best away performance of the season (until first half injury time, anyway.... read on if you haven't already heard why).
For the first time this season we played 4-4-2 (I'm not sure whether this was a purely tactical decision after the collapse of our 3-5-2 on Wednesday, or whether it was forced upon us by our continued injury crisis). I know that many fans think 4-4-2 is the ONLY formation worth playing and are very critical of 3-5-2 - I am not one of them, but I will freely admit that we looked better than for some time today with 4 at the back. Toto and Riccy were commanding throughout - both had exceptional games, with Riccy not missing a single header and Toto looking less exposed for pace in this system. Further forward there was some very promising movement in the midfield, with all four of the midfield players roaming all across the pitch looking for space and runs - Quashie and Prutton were nominally the two wide men, but were just as likely to pop up in the centre. Further ahead still, Wrighty and Dougie were showing well and working hard (I thought today was Dougie's best performance of the season for all round effort, movement and penetration).
We made several chances - Wright hammered a drive against the bar after 10 minutes, the rebound bouncing so high that Tracey in the Blades' goal had time to recover to save Dougie's follow-up header. Then Platt went very close with a sort of slow motion diving header (if that makes any sense); the ball was bouncing around after a corner, and the dive was an attempt both to impart some power and to direct it over Tracey into the corner - it went narrowly wide of the far post. United were counter-attacking, but without presenting any great threat. But from one of these attacks, just before half time, we moved the ball swiftly up-field to Wright, who played a fabulous volleyed ball right across the pitch to Quashie on the left. Nigel steadied himself and delivered a fine cross (not his first of the game, either) to the far post, where Dougie headed it firmly home.
So. One minute to half time, Forest 1-0 up and playing well. Sound. But then Mr Lee Cable of Woking proceeds to wreck the game. In first half injury time we're pressing the ball in United's penalty area. Paul Devlin is shielding the ball, Quashie thunders in with a tackle. Bear in mind that I was 100 yards away, but I have to say that my immediate reaction was "Ooops - bit naughty; that'll be a booking for Nigel". Devlin, however, obviously thought a bit more than that, because he jumped up, ran twenty yards after the retreating Quashie and lamped him one. Bedlam ensued for a few seconds, and I thought "booking for Nigel, off for Devlin". The ref only books Devlin - "Oh, so he's going to be lenient - fair enough", thinks I. Then he sends Quashie off. I have already said that I was a long way from the tackle. It is entirely possible, therefore, that it was worse than it looked from our end (or that Nigel spoke out of turn or retaliated to Devlin's punch, or whatever). So it might well be that Quashie deserved an early bath.
So be it. But how many times have we heard the likes of Alan Hanson on Match of the Day say "It's simple; you raise your hands to another player, you're off"? There were 4 realistic options available to Mr Cable; he could have sent them both off (no complaints): he could have booked Quashie and sent off Devlin (my immediate reaction): he could have booked them both (lenient but even handed): or he could have done what he did, which was the only possible combination that would have been completely wrong - send off the tackler, but only book the puncher. Almost inevitably, the sending off completely changed the game; in one moment we went from quietly in command of the game to up against it - we never looked like holding out for a 1-0. Platty decided to resist the temptation to take off a striker and reinforce the midfield, which was a gamble but a positive one. But it failed, I guess, because throughout the second half we were outnumbered and outplayed in midfield, with our three running round like lunatics trying to stem the tide of four, five or six people running at them. Norman pulled off a couple of brilliant saves, but the equaliser was only a matter of time - and in fact they scored twice in two minutes.
Both good goals, both by Smith - one a low drive from the edge of the box following a corner, the other a fine volley across Norman from the left edge of the box. We were left chasing shadows for much of the time, though we did have some good counter-attacks, one in particular bringing a good save out of Tracey from a Bonalair drive from 35 yards. For the final 10 minutes, indeed, we were the stronger side, with United resorting to running the ball into the corners in attack and hoofing it anywhere in defence. But they held out easily enough in the end. And, of course, with our midfield and wide defence being at full stretch defending United's good movement of the ball to exploit the extra man, inevitably there were some ill-timed tackles.
From both sides, not just Forest. But by this time the crowd had their blood up and Mr Cable had totally lost control of the game - every Forest foul, whether innocuous, clumsy or a bad one (and there were examples of all three) was greeted by howls of outrage as though our players had started using a machine gun to defend with. I lost count of our bookings - but Rogers, Bonalair, Louis-Jean and Wright were certainly amongst them, with probably a few I have forgotten. And then, just to put the cherry in the icing on the cake, in the last minute Platt was sent off. His tackle was late, sure, but I was very surprised to see him go since several worse fouls had gone unpunished before that (notably from our two full backs). I am not even sure that Platt had been booked (i.e. it was a straight red). Crazy.
OK, so you can be critical of Forest (as Platt was in his post-match interview - yet another honest and unwhining performance) for losing their cool and their discipline. We shouldn't have done that. But, though I don't approve of the players losing their rag, the amount of steam I had coming from my ears by the end as a mere fan makes me understand how they must have felt. Bad tackles were going unpunished (by both sides, remember), yet some that were no more than clumsy produced an instant yellow card; blatant retaliation (no, let's not beat about the bush here - a punch) went unpunished, yet two Forest players were sent off for poor tackles. With consistent interpretation of the rules like that, how can any footballer possibly know where he stands? And, amidst all this mayhem at the battle of Bramall Lane (as it must sound by now to those who didn't see it), how many Sheffield United players were booked? One. I have never seen Forest finish with 9 men before. I have also never driven away from a ground so intensely frustrated with the ref.
We played well - as I said, probably the best I have seen us away from home this year. Scimeca, Metrecano and Freedman especially so (Riccy my man of the match by a short head from the other two). No-one played badly. I am totally convinced that if we had kept 11 men we would have got a point, and very probably three. But thanks to a dreadful ref we got nothing; the dismissal of Quashie completely changed the game. As a consequence, driving home listening to Larry, I had my humour improved still further by callers telling all of Nottingham that Platt's no good, we are going down to Division 2, we were better off under Atkinson (yes, even that one - I wasn't dreaming it!). All rubbish, of course, but games like this don't help the cause of convincing the moaners otherwise, because in a few days' time all that will remain will be a defeat - no-one will recall the manner of it. I sincerely hope never to see Mr Lee Cable referee another match. I wouldn't even wish him on Derby...