Nottingham Forest 1999
the temporary absence of the City Ground Today (watch this space
for its return soon - Trent End Tricky and others are putting
together a consortium to carry on Sid's excellent work), I am
sending today's report to the Webmaster at Forest for further
distribution if he thinks it appropriate. First things first.
The Great Man returned today with an assortment of junior male
Cloughs, including Nigel. The crowd was up as a result, though
only to 20,600, which I think is surprisingly small but gather
is roughly what the club were expecting (I was also surprised
at how few Wolves fans there were today).
BC unveiled the bust of himself (in a pose where he is yelling,
of course) in reception before the game and at half time was
presented to the crowd on the pitch. Needless to say he was
given a great reception (including by the Wolves fans, who joined
in the standing ovation) amd one or two old songs were dusted
off and given a lusty airing. He looks much fitter than when
he retired, frankly, if hobbling a little from recent knee operations.
Great to see him at the City Ground again, and I hope we will
see him a few more times yet. Cloughie, you are a genius - thanks.
On to the game. Bare facts: 1-1 draw. Wolves scored first, with
more than a suspicion of offside as a quick free kick was taken,
Akinbiyi shot, Norman saved well but the rebound was easily
put away by (I think) Darren Bazeley.
The Forest defence clearly thought Akinbiyi was offside (I'd
have to see it again to be sure), but at the end of the day
the linesman didn't and yet again we had conceded a controversial
but softish goal. [As an aside, there was yet more inconsistent
refereeing today - how on earth do the players know where they
stand? Rogers was chopped down early on and (surprise surprise)
lost his rag and pushed his attacker in the chest - the Wolves
man was booked for the dreadful tackle and Tank for the retaliation.
Fair enough bookings, you might think - so why on earth wasn't
Keith Curle booked near the end when he felt the need to rush
in and push around Marlon. Curle didn't even have the excuse
that he himself had been fouled, but he still had a happy few
seconds of retaliation. Was he booked? Was he heck!] Still,
we had plenty of time to recover from the goal, I thought. Hmm.
The rest of the first half was patchy at best, with Forest mostly
on the attack but lacking any great conviction - the closest
we came to scoring was two headers narrowly wide, one from Wrighty
and one from Hjelde (on for the injured Burns after 20 minutes
or so). But on the whole the game was rather tentative and lacking
in pace - Wolves were happy with a lead away from home and were
in no hurry, and we seemed to be struggling to inject any urgency.
However, the half time cheering for Cloughie had scarcely had
time to die down when we were level.
A Wolves attack broke down and the ball was moved swiftly (at
last) into space on the left. Tank took it on at full pelt,
cut in and delivered a fabulous delicately chipped cross to
the far post, where Bernard Allou led the queue of Forest players
and headed it firmly into the bottom corner. Cue trademark somersaults
and happy assumptions that we were about to go on to win. But
we didn't - in fact we didn't often even look likely to. Wolves
kept the ball well without threatening massively. Forest got
more frustrated but had reverted to their first half pace. Wright
and Rogers both went close with delicate long-range chips and
Allou volleyed narrowly wide from another Rogers cross, but
on the whole we were playing patient football in defensive midfield
with no end product. Then Wrighty was booked for needlessly
kicking the ball away in frustration at the collapse of another
attack... and later scythed somebody down late and was deservedly
sent off for the second yellow card. He ought to know better
- neither offence was particularly heinous in itself, but on
neither occasion could he complain about the booking. Great
player, but prone to the odd moment of lunacy - but then that
is hardly news, is it? At least he didn't trash the ref's room
this time - at least I hope not!
After he went off Wolves attacked more and more, and we looked
like the away team holding on and trying to counter-attack.
Marlon put himself about and looked sharp. Norman made a couple
of excellent saves... and so it finished 1-1. Were we rubbish?
Well not as such... not really. "But we failed to create more
than a handful of half-chances against an average side - how
can he possibly say we were not rubbish?" Well, think about
it player by player - Riccy played well yet again, both in defence
and when he moved up into midfield after Burns' departure. Mattieu
played well defensively, Salvatore was his usual calm dependable
self, Nigel had his third consecutive good game in the league,
Tank had his best game of the season (finally using his pace
to attack on a reasonably regular basis) and Hjelde (whom I
have been vociferous in criticising in the past) had a terrific
game as sub - he kept Akinbiyi very quiet and looked a class
act for the first time since Highbury over a year ago; my Man
of the Match. Chet was OK - not his best game, but not his worst.
Burns was good til he went off. Alloooooooooou scored and looked
intermittently dangerous on the right. And the two strikers
looked starved of service. Dougie might be said not to have
had his most stellar game - nothing much was working for him
today - but he was hardly awful (despite what the loud man on
my left seem to think).
No-one was fantastic - but no-one came close to a stinker either.
"So... uhhh... no-one was crap, but we were decidedly average
as team. That doesn't make sense..." So what the hell is the
problem? We keep on playing OK - sometimes more than OK - against
teams who are tidy but nothing special and coming away with
a point (WBA, QPR, Swindon) or a narrow defeat (Man City and
lucky not to at Swindon). Only Walsall have we managed to put
away in a convincing manner - and even that only after an iffy
45 minutes. To my mind the problem is simply the midfield. We
have no-one who is able to take the game by the scruff of the
neck and make things happen (Roy Keane etc), or who is able
to do something out of the ordinary in attack (Lars Bohinen
etc) to put Dougie and/or Wrighty in to score the goals. Quashie
is playing well, but he is essentially a John McGovern figure;
closing down, working hard, playing short passes and doing the
simple things (this is not a criticism - every team needs one
and he is starting to play consistently well). Burns is promising,
but I suspect might be too similar to Quashie - though today
he made one good driving run towards the box and was promptly
hacked down (which is when he was injured). Riccy Scimeca has
been consistently excellent for us so far this season, but in
my view is a very good defender who can do a job in midfield
- not a player who can unlock a defence with that killer pass.
Rogers and Allou are wide players, but we don't have the tallest
strikers in the league to get on the end of high crosses and
anyway we seem to want to play it through the middle if possible.
All of these guys are good players, and none of them is playing
dreadfully. But in the absence of Luca, Bartman, Johnno, Platty
himself and even the missing Woan, all we have in (central)
midfield are hard-working but essentially defensive players
(Riccy and Tank, for instance, are both good players, but in
the end they are successfully converted defenders, not creative
Result? When we clear it out of defence we tend to have virtually
no-one up to play it to, so it comes straight back (see first
45 mins vs Man City and all of last season for further details).
When we do keep it we tend to play it sideways looking for an
opening (fine as far as it goes) but have no-one to play that
defence-splitting ball at the end of it all. So the crowd get
frustrated, the attack gets frustrated, and sometimes we simply
end up playing it high through the middle for our two small
attackers to contest with a couple of Standard Div 1 Vast Uncompromising
Centre Halves (see Swindon for further details). Platty said
when he took over that we looked more than a bit on the thin
side on squad numbers, and he was right. Since then, like every
team, we have had injuries - but ours have all come in midfield,
and in attacking midfield at that. You can see what he is trying
to achieve; measured patient passing football on the floor (which
Mr Clough would approve of). But without the creative / attacking
man to unlock it, what we have at the moment is a team who play
neat patterns in front of the defence for 30 seconds and then
watch it break down. Not enough - it would be like Cloughie's
greatest team without O'Neill, Gemmill and Robbo; solid, but
you wouldn't bet on McGovern, O'Hare and Bowyer to unpick a
defence very often.
So what do we do? Do we wait for Bartman (creative if inconsistent
passer), Luca (genuinely two-footed wide player able to skin
players on a regular enough basis) and Johnno (powerful forward
runner) to be fit to play with Nigel Q? - which I think would
be a midfield that will create more than enough space for Dougie,
Marlon, Wrighty and whoever to exploit. But that team might
not be available for a couple of months... so in the meantime
do we carry on as we are and hope that we can cobble together
enough points to be in touch once our first choices are fit?
At the moment we are still only 6 points behind the leaders,
which is nothing in the big scheme of things, but.... Or do
we sign another player (Mark Draper has been mentioned in the
press - but can we afford his wages and would he drop down a
Division?) to do that Nigel Clough / Lars Bohinen role? Do we
have the dosh to do that AND sign another striker (which we
need)? It isn't fair to expect the up-and-coming young players
like John Burns and Carlos Merino to outplay the likes of (say)
Frandsen and Sellars at Bolton next week - but until we find
some creativity in midfield we look likely to struggle to break
teams down. I haven't seen any teams to frighten us yet (and
I include Ipswich and Man City in that - good teams, but probably
not as good as their fans think they are)... but equally I hardly
think the rest of the division are quaking in their boots at
the thought of meeting us.
I don't have the answers. But I do have every faith in David
Platt. Personally I think the last thing we fans should be doing
is booing, but quite a few did today - that must really have
helped, boys & girls; thanks. In the end (and this might not
be a satisfactory answer for many fans, who want instant success
and have assumed it will be happen despite the mess we were
in only 2 months ago), I think we should listen to... who else?...
Brian Clough. Century 106 were playing an interview with the
great man as I drove away from Nottingham, and I quote: "What
every manager needs when he starts off is time. I hope young
Platt is given time, because he has a big job on. I hope the
people of Nottingham give him time." Cloughie, I couldn't have
put it better myself.