18th December
City Ground


Mr J.Jones

Goal One
Stern John 74 min

Beasant     Kearton
Scimeca     D.Wright
Hjelde   S.Wright
Doig     Macauley
Gray     Bignot
Prutton     Sorvel
Bart-Williams     Lunt
Quashie   Street
Brennan     Little
John   Tait
Freedman Cramb
Substitutes     Substitutes
Crossley   Unsworth
Merino   Smith
Harewood   Ince
Allou     Foran
Johnson   Liddle

© Nottingham Forest 1999
Chris Bart-Williams
David Prutton
Andy Gray
Dave Beasant

As I was walking into the ground today my brother said to me "All we need today is a win - it doesn't matter if it's a dodgy 1-0 when the ball goes in off the ref's ****. Three points and nothing else will do." Well it didn't (quite) come to that, but three points we got.... and after the encouragment of the performance on Wednesday against Fulham, we managed to keep going a lot of the positive things which marked such a change in that game.

Like? Still passing the ball on the floor, still pressing the ball further up the pitch (though not as well as we did on Weds), still using the ball much better out of defence (with Lurch's distribution particularly good today), still managing to hold on to the ball in midfield, and still attacking with pace down the wings. In truth we didn't play quite as well today as at the Fulham game - or at least we did, but only in patches - but we were still much the better side and thoroughly deserved to win. For a long time, though, we wondered whether it was going to be a similar story: Forest attacking and having the lion's share of the ball, Stern John hitting the woodwork (yes, he did that yet again!), Forest being much the better side but not being able to put the ball in the net.

We started out well. Andy Gray (my man of the match today) made a lot of space on the right, and from a succession of dangerous crosses first Dougie turned one narrowly wide, then he stepped over one for Stern to swivel and fire against the far post, and finally one got to the far post where Jim Brennan went for power rather than accuracy, thus endangering nothing but a sign high up in the Bridgford Upper Tier. Crewe were like they always are under Dario Gradi - a good footballing side, passing it well in midfield (though, frankly, without much penetration in the final third). After half time they came into it a bit more for a few minutes, with Colin Cramb managing to get free at the far post only to miss woefully.

Though we were still doing some good things in midfield, the game was gradually decending into 0-0 stalemate as Crewe put two people to mark both Brennan and Gray and quickly funnelled 9 men behind the ball when we attacked through the centre. To his credit, Platty recognised that we needed something to shake up the game and inject some pace, so he took off Quashie (OK, but still underconfident and prone to selling Bart short in midfield) and Freedman (neat enough and working hard, but not really gelling with Stern yet) and replaced them with the less subtle but more troublesome Harewood and Johnson.

Johnno in particular made an immediate difference, giving Crewe absolutely no time to settle on anything and giving his best display of box-to-box running so far this season. Unsurprisingly, he looks much fitter than a month ago and played very well today - welcome back, Johnno. However, the goal had nothing to do with him when it finally came. Lurch came a long way out of his box to meet an overhit pass from the Crewe midfield, played a good ball wide to the left into Jim Brennan's path, and he curled a low cross to the penalty spot. Stern controlled it with one foot, jinked himself half a yard of space and rammed it into the far corner with his other foot. Cue pandemonium from the crowd and vast sighs of relief all round. We almost scored twice more - both from Marlon, seeing both sides to his game in the space of five minutes. First he simply refused to give up on a fifty-fifty ball, managed to win it, gave it to Gray and got on the end of his cross, only for the ball to hit the far post - excellent play all round. Then he ran onto a perfectly-weighted ball from Prutton and showed his too-familiar failings in a one-on-one, pulling the ball well wide when he should have scored. Overall, though, Marlon did well - defenders look as though they don't like playing against him, which will do me!

So, a decent (and absolutely essential) win, which actually doesn't move us anywhere in the table because of other results, but moves us within one point of Palace, Crewe, West Brom and Grimsby and gives us a better cushion below. The main point, however, is less the points (though obviously they matter) than the fact that we are showing distinct signs of gelling as a team, of settling into some sort of rhythm, of getting some confidence and of starting to play a consistent pattern - all of which can only be a good thing for the rest of the season.

Individually, today, I thought Hjelde, Doig, Riccy, Brennan, Stern and Bartman all played very well - I am not sure what has been done or said to Bart, but he looks a completely different player all of a sudden (and long may it continue). Lurch has improved matters by the simple expedient of commanding his box, talking to his defence and being prepared to throw the ball to Gray and Brennan (as opposed to the routine hoof up the middle every time). Prutton is rapidly moving towards booking himself the Player of the Season trophy, and Andy Gray looks as though his confidence has returned to Leeds levels of a couple of seasons ago, and looks a hell of a player as a result. Quashie is a worry - he undoubtedly has talent, but is simply not doing very much creative at the moment (nothing new).Where early in the season he was playing a good destructive/anchor role and allowing the others to work around him, now he isn't even doing that - his short passing too often put Bart or Prutton under pressure today. He is still very young and can still develop, but myself I'd give him a run in the reserves to rediscover some form.

I must also mention the crowd - I meant to on Weds but forgot. Much better noise, a mere smattering of boos at half time, real signs of getting behind the team as the team start to respond (it doesn't really matter which comes first). Shame about the stream of negativity on Larry's show, of course - I listened to two callers drone on about how it is all dross and then another two whinging that Platt had the temerity to clap the Crewe fans at the end (the words "so" and "what" spring to mind)... and then I turned off. If we can't be positive about them all when the team has made such strides in the past ten days, then we might as well all go home.

All in all, though, we are heading in the right direction once again. Still a way to go, but there are real signs of continuity, pattern, and a TEAM. We simply need to sustain something like this, and the spectre of relegation will rapidly diminish as we climb the table. The next test... can we do it away from home????


Copyright © 2001 Nottingham Forest F.C.