||Jones, L (59)|
© Nottingham Forest 2000
Last weeks splendid report [by Bridport Red] of a poor game against Portsmouth started by exploring the metaphorical aptness of the phrase "to get off at Fratton"; today's report is brought to you by the metaphor "a curate's egg".
Both teams lined up in a 4-4-2 formation and the match kicked off in glorious sunshine without a breath of wind and in a somewhat underpopulated City Ground, which did however benefit from the presence of Nick Parker who asked me to mention him in this match report. There was some discussion before the match about David Platt's meagre options in the centre of defence, and the newly signed Colin Calderwood was partnered by David Prutton who was returning to the side after suspension. This partnership was perhaps recommended by Prutton's tenacity and competitiveness; it would also allow Bart-Williams, today's Captain, to play in the centre of midfield, where he has shown good form recently.
Forest started quite well, showing none of the complacency that had been evident in the Swindon match, and Freedman and Lester were looking eager up front - chasing and harrying the Tranmere defence. After two minutes, Freedman was brought down on the edge of the Tranmere area but the referee turned down his appeals for a penalty/free kick [delete as appropriate]. Shortly afterwards Lester had another shout for a penalty turned down the referee, who was reasonably close, suggesting that he had seen Lester pulling the defender's shirt.
At this stage early in the match Forest looked a different side to the disinterested and complacent team we had seen early on against Swindon. Brennan created another chance on six minutes, cleverly laying the ball off to Freedman just inside the penalty area, but the resultant shot was straight at Murphy in the Tranmere goal. The play at this early stage was predominantly in the Tranmere half and Forest created quite a few chances including a very well executed turn from Freedman who hooked the ball over his shoulder and unfortunately also the cross bar. Immediately after this, Lester also did well, taking the ball with his back to goal and turning only to shoot narrowly past the post. Bizarrely the referee gave a corner, which Tranmere were forced to clear behind for another. On twelve minutes an anonymous Tranmere player tried his luck with an Alan Rogers patented cross/shot and Beasant took the ball just under the cross bar. This was followed by another Forest break, which unfortunately saw Chris Bart-Williams shoot over the bar from distance.
It may appear that I have dealt with the first fifteen minutes in excessive detail, but I was hoping to justify my earlier use of the curate's egg. After this period had elapsed, I made a note "Forest had best of first quarter hour - not a single song from Forest fans".
On sixteen minutes a strange thing happened; an invisible malevolent entity visited each Forest player on the pitch and removed their backbones and their brains.
The first to manifest this were Alan Rogers and Chris Bart-Williams; Bartman played the ball right to Rogers feet in the middle of the pitch forcing him to stand still waiting for the ball in the middle of converging Tranmere players. The ball made its way deep into the Forest half and Brennan cleared straight to a Tranmere player, Beasant was forced into a save but was left stranded on the edge of the six yard area as Prutton hooked the ball clear over his shoulder. There was booing from some of the home fans.
This scare had obviously badly rattled the, makeshift and newly forged, partnership at the back and Dave Beasant. Soon afterwards, Tranmere won a free kick which was taken quickly forcing Beasant to turn the ball over. From the subsequent corner Beasant managed to take the ball but dropped it at his feet and was fortunate that no Tranmere player was close enough to poke it home. The recriminations continued amongst the defence and the abandonment of professionalism from the Forest players saw a free kick wasted due to Quashie and Bart-Williams getting in each other's way. My notes suggest that on twenty-five minutes there was "loads of booing". By this stage Tranmere were completely dominating an abject Forest side and the lack of pressure from any Forest players allowed Tranmere time to place their passes and start to play football. A long throw from the devoid-of-Challinor Tranmere forced Dave Beasant to turn another ball over for a corner, which he took cleanly.
The bickering amongst the Forest players had worked its way forward and the midfield were showing their aggression to each other rather than the Tranmere team strolling through them with impunity - and the ball too.
I normally would profess to have little enthusiasm for the writing of match reports; I find that making the notes demanded by my imperfect memory means that I miss chunks of the game and that one's enjoyment and immersion in the game is compromised. Today, in this period of the first half, I didn't mind - a bloke in front was reading the label on his bottle of Coke.
After another good save from Beasant, this time low down, Chris Bart-Williams went back into defence and Prutton came forward to play on the right of midfield with Quashie coming inside. As Calderwood and Prutton had failed to look steady together this was probably the right thing to do - Bart-Williams' tremendous display at Molyneux showing that he has the ability to steady the ship at times of crisis. Two minutes later Tranmere scored. Allison capitalising on confusion between Beasant and his defenders and heading into the net from ten yards out. There was some more booing.
In fifteen minutes Forest had gone from dominating the game, and creating enough chances and pressure to keep Tranmere pinned back, to showing a complete lack of professionalism, resilience and worst of all - any sign that it mattered to them. Just before half-time Rogers got onto the end of a superb long pass from Chris Bart-Williams and crossed well into the box just behind Dougie Freedman who fell over. Immediately afterwards Rogers had a shot well saved by Murphy, mercifully the referee blew his whistle and Forest were booed off the pitch.
Had I had the opportunity, at half time I would have asked each of the players how much money they had been paid this week and whether they felt they had earned it.
It may smack of complacency for me to suggest that the result in the second half was less important than the way in which the players applied themselves, but that was the way I felt. I felt we had played badly enough in the first half to have fully earned nothing, but that any signs from the players that they actually were bothered about wining a match or even showing some signs of commitment would provide me with some small comfort to take home with me.
And. they did it. Early on a free kick eighteen yards out on the touchline saw Bart-Williams force Tranmere to hurriedly clear the ball. Dougie Freedman cut the ball back across the box well but unfortunately it was a little behind Lester and the chance was wasted. We forced two corners in quick succession and the home support started to make some supportive noise for the first time in the match.
Tranmere showed they were still dangerous as Kelly cut the ball back from the touchline onto the head of Allison and fortunately straight to Dave Beasant. The ball was given to Brennan who ran from his own half, beating four or five Tranmere players, all the way over the touchline in front of the Trent End. The resultant goal kick forced Louis-Jean to head clear, the ball fell for Mahon and fortunately his powerful shot went just past the far post.
The Forest midfield had regained their competitiveness and aggression and Andy Johnson, in particular was looking as if he was keen to make amends for the first half display. Nigel Quashie was showing his characteristic aggression and equally characteristic tendency to dive in two-footed in front of the referee and was booked after 15 minutes of the second half. Forest were creating chances at this time and Lester failed to get his head on the end of an excellent Prutton cross which nevertheless panicked Tranmere enough to punt it into touch behind.
Perhaps mindful of Quashie's recent yellow card, David Platt substituted him and brought on . Ian Woan, to possibly disproportionately enthusiastic applause. Shortly afterwards Freedman appeared to be pushed off the ball in the Tranmere area but the referee, who was close by, gave him nothing.
Tranmere made their first substitution after twenty minutes of the second half and 14,000 Forest fans and hopefully the referee and his officials, checked to see that they had taken a player off before bring the new man on. Forest were once again looking the better side and Ian Woan played a fantastic fifty yard pass to Prutton who attempted to set up Lester in the box. Prutton's tenacity was rewarded when he won a corner after a good run up he right wing but despite Tranmere's difficulty in clearing the ball, no scoring chance resulted.
Jack Lester was replaced by Marlon Harewood and he immediately showed enough persistence to force a corner. Ian Woan took the corner short and it appeared to have been wasted but Rogers collected the ball twenty-five yards out in front of the Main Stand. He crossed it back into the box and amidst some confusion Marlon headed the ball firmly home. This period of Forest pressure continued for another five minutes or so and Marlon's doggedness was a welcome contrast to the laissez-faire policy adopted by Forest in the greater part of the first half. The game then entered a bit of a scrappy phase with Tranmere starting to look a little dangerous again. Kelly won a corner playing the ball firmly against Calderwood's backside after deftly sending Louis-Jean the wrong way to give himself some space.
As the game entered its closing phase and some of the aggression and urgency had disappeared from the Forest midfield, a bloke behind shouted out rather aptly "we're supposed to be the spectators - not you".
Eventually after much Tranmere timewasting, which is perhaps a testament to the re-emergence of the professionalism and competitiveness of the Forest side in the second half, the referee blew the whistle.
I would like to continue the tradition of looking for the metaphorical half-full glass in today's performance; however, I think that to do justice to the appalling last thirty minutes of the first half it would be inappropriate to find a half full glass - the best I can do is say that the glass is still in one piece. just.