Forest (4-4-2): Crossley: Mannini (Gray 75), Scimeca (c),
Hjelde, Brennan: Prutton, Bart-Williams Quashie 82), Johnson,
Rogers: Beck, Merino (Freeman 68). Subs not used: Beasant,
Louis-Jean. Gordon Bennett.
To anyone who has been reading my reports on a regular basis
- especially those for away matches - this is going to sound
like a scratched record. Not a great performance from Forest
- but not dreadful either. Pretty even game... then the whole
thing changed by YET ANOTHER dodgy piece of refereeing. WBA,
Barnsley, Sheffield United and now Tranmere.
Surely we are going to get a decent ref soon (but don't hold
your breath...) This genius referee is Mr Tony Bates. The
programme alleges that he is a production manager, but I am
convinced that he is a traffic warden in normal life; I half
expected to leave the ground at the end to find he'd nipped
out at half time to give me a ticket. Picky about things that
don't matter - booking Beck for shooting after being given
offside, recalling dozens of free kicks to be taken in the
proper place (usually about two yards from where the kick
was taken), that sort of thing. The game never flowing, no
advantage played, always stopping for needless free kicks.
But at the same time he allowed the endless bumping and grinding
of a VERY physical Tranmere side to go unchecked. (They were
not outright dirty, but really close to the wind almost all
of the time both in attack and defence).
In the end he came VERY close to losing control of the game
completely, and he changed the match from a hard-fought and
close contest into a farce by sending off Andy Johnson. Why?
Start of the second half, the ball in the Rovers half wide
on their left. Johnno comes sliding in with a thunderous tackle,
wins the ball and carries on playing. Tranmere don't like
the tackle, the crowd bay and all their players except the
keeper pile into Johnno and start pushing and shoving. Result,
a straight red for Johnno, and yellows for Bart and Tank for
complaining. No Tranmere player was injured or even pretended
to be, and Johnno won the ball. The mass melee involves all
their players... yet ours is the one sent off and not one
of theirs is even booked. Sound familiar to the Sheff United
game? Well it was, only this tackle was not as bad as either
Platt's or Quashie's at Bramall Lane. I thought it was a good
tackle - I was clapping and saying "Well in, Johnno!" when
the whistle went. At the VERY worst it was worthy of a booking.
But it totally changed the nature of the match from one where
Forest were fighting hard to get back in from 1-0 down to
one where Tranmere started passing for the first time in the
game, pulled around our ten men and scored twice more. It
is possible that we might have lost anyway. 3-0, however,
was a travesty of a result. Yet of course that is the one
that the fans will remember (and doubtless complain about)
and which will appear in tomorrow's papers. There was a revealing
incident just after the Tank booking (i.e. a few minutes after
Johnno had been sent off). The ref approached Riccy, the captain,
and clearly told him to calm down his players. Riccy's expressive
shrug and smile, saying (but using no words and thus not getting
booked) "Well what do you expect after a rubbish decision
like that, ref?" was all that needed to be said.
So what of the rest of the game? We had started by dropping
Chet after his Sunday nightmare, welcoming back Riccy, playing
Moreno Mannini at right back and David Prutton on the right
wing, and replacing the injured Dougie with Carlos Merino.
We started brightly enough, with Carlos running at the defence
a fair amount, Beck playing much as on Sunday (i.e. good in
the air and with his back to goal, less convincing when in
the box). At the other end our defence was coping well enough
with an exclusively aerial attack, and the first half ended
in stalemate with neither keeper having had to make a single
It is a very long time since I have seen a team quite so obviously
have only one idea, as Tranmere seemed to: ball with goalie?
Hoof it high for Wayne Allison! Ball in defence? Hoof it long
for Wayne Allison! Ball in midfield? Hoof it high for Wayne
Allison! Throw in? Give it to Dave Challinor so he can use
his massively long throw onto Wayne Allison's head. If the
poor bloke ever gets injured they won't know what to do -
I am not joking; it was their only tactic for the entire first
So at half time my brother and I reckoned that it was a tight
game, but our defence was coping and there was no reason we
shouldn't score (especially since Tranmere were relying on
a well-oiled but not completely convincing offside trap to
keep us out). Instead, five minutes after half time they scored.
See if you can guess... free kick on the left, high ball,
headed in by... no, not Wayne Allison, actually, but Clinton
Hill. Three minutes later and Johnno was off. Game over. They
stopped playing hoofball and began actually to pass, we attacked
intermittently, but there was only one winner. We tried playing
David Freeman for Merino. They scored again (an Allison header,
of course). We took Mannini off, played three at the back,
moved Prutton infield, sent on Andy Gray and attacked. They
broke away and scored again, this time David Kelly taking
the ball round Norm and thus setting a Tranmere record by
not scoring from a high hoof onto Wayne Allison's head.
We played much better than the Huddersfield debacle (which
wouldn't be hard, I admit). Defensively we played quite well
But yet again we lost. The concern it that this horrible run
must be starting to get to the players - if it has no effect
on morale I will be amazed. So. Defence - OK. Mannini's best
game, out of position. Riccy his usual self. Hjelde strong,
especially in the air. Brennan sound - the odd slip on a slippery
surface (including for the final goal), but almost always
recovered well to win the ball back. Norm couldn't be faulted
for the goals and produced three excellent saves to keep the
score realistic. The advent of Stern John and the return of
Dougie for the Pompey game ought to make our attack a lot
stronger. [Honourable mention, incidentally, to David Freeman.
Looks a better long term bet than Marlon, in my view - good
movement and unlucky not to score twice in the second half,
producing two good saves from an attempted lob and a close-range
effort from a rare Tank cross. He is not suited to a high
ball game, but that is not what we want to see anyway, and
as a footballer he shows promise.]
The problem area, for me, is the midfield. I had hoped that
the return of Bart and Johnno would sort the centre of midfield,
but it hasn't. We are getting outfought and (more worryingly)
outpassed in midfield too often for comfort. We lack the Bohinen/Nigel
Clough killer through ball. Bart is playing too deep and doing
well enough at stopping things, but not making things happen.
Johnno much the same. Prutton is a fine player but no winger.
Tank thus becomes our only outlet, and that is not enough.
It's a worry, eh? I remain confident for the long run, but
am concerned about morale and the midfield. We'll get there.
And we won't go down. Ahem. Even if only for the reason that
there are several teams a lot worse than we are. With our
current form, that is just as well!