The City Ground
Mr T. Jones
© Nottingham Forest 2000
Funny game, this one. You can safely ignore about 70 minutes of it, which was a fairly typical end-of-season game between two sides with little to play for, in dreadful conditions. The rest was pretty eventful.
The entire nature of the game was badly affected by the weather, because after five minutes of pretty even play on a wet pitch the heavens completely opened. I don't think I have ever seen rain like it in this country; totally sheeting down, so hard that it was visibly bouncing off the ground. In the space of ten minutes the pitch became a swamp, especially at the Bridgford End, which Forest were attacking. It was impossible to run with the ball at your feet, because it kept stopping and making players trip or miss it completely. It was impossible to pass along the ground because it rarely reached its target even a short distance away. Several of the players changed their studs without noticeable effect. Johnno got the right idea by playing his passes in the air, but it was a total lottery whether the ball would stop on bouncing or skid off at high speed, so we didn't get much further. Unsurprisingly, the quality of the football from both sides became dire, and I reckon we were within minutes of the game being abandoned as dangerous had the rain kept up - it was becoming increasingly difficult to control tackles. But the weather relented, gradually easing off after about 15 minutes of this flood. The only incident of great note in the first half was also pretty directly attributable to the weather.
A Blades clearance on the right stopped dead in the water, and as another defender went to ram it up field he was met with a crunching block tackle from Johnno which made the ball cannon into the area into Jack's path. He tried to take it round Tracey, the ball stopped, Tracey couldn't stop himself in the bog and slid gently into Jack's legs. Penalty. Only a yellow card, which I think was a fair decision because there was absolutely nothing Tracey could have done to stop himself in the conditions - it would have been very harsh indeed to send him off (shame that this was about the last decent decision the ref made all afternoon, but that's another story). "Bart'll miss this", said the Lady on my right. And he did, doing his best to dig the ball out of the paddling pool around the spot and impart some pace into it, but succeeding only in lifting it into Tracey's midriff as he went the right way. So.
First half a total farce which must have been close to being stopped altogether. The ground staff did an amazing job with their forks at half time, and by the time the teams re-emerged the sun was out, so the second half ought to have been better to watch as conditions now made it possible to pass the ball and even run with it in many places. Whether because both sides had mentally conditioned themselves to playing hit and hope for the forwards, or for some other reason I couldn't fathom, little changed. It was a very poor game with neither side seeming anxious to take it by the scruff of the neck. To be fair, Forest's main weapons - the pace of Marlon, Jack and Tank - were largely neutralised by the pitch (though Jack played pretty well, I thought), and the Blades' - D'Jaffo's power up front - entirely neutralised by the outstanding Terry. So we watched 30 minutes of increasingly dull stalemate.
Just as I was thinking about whether I could face reading the adverts on the Clough stand for the fifth time, suddenly the game sprang to life in the final ten minutes. Johnno and Marlon had departed by then, with Prutts moving his industry into the middle, Andy Gray coming onto the wing and Stern coming on up front. We all know Stern is nothing like fully fit yet, but today he showed several flashes of the dangerous player that he was when he arrived here and generally looked much the sharpest we have seen him since his injury. Firstly he received a through ball from Bartman with his back to goal on the edge of the box. He spun and his shot was blocked, spinning high into the air. As it landed the onrushing Gray volleyed it like a rocket onto the post - unlucky. But it did at least serve to wake us all up - and the players responded by attacking for the final few minutes in a way that begged the obvious questions about why it had taken so long. 8 minutes to go, and episode 67 in the seemingly unending series of dreadful pieces of refereeing / linesmanship that we have suffered this year (come to think of it, there must be something about refs, Forest and Sheff Utd, when I think back to the fiasco at Bramall Lane). Tank moved up the left and fed the ball in to Stern on the left edge of the box. He turned and set off on a sideways run across the edge of the D before hammering the ball into the far corner. 30 seconds of celebrations later he saw the linesman's flag. I was not even close to being in line with this one, but even I can assure you that Stern had about 4 defenders between him and the goal, so obviously it wasn't him. OK, so it must have been someone else - but it was far from obvious (to put it mildly) quite who else had interfered with that stunning strike.
To cut a long story short - and to add to the frustration - Century 106 reported after the game that the ref had said it had been Jack who was offside.... but after he and the lino watched the replay they admitted that Jack had been nothing of the sort. In other words that he had disallowed a perfectly legal (and very good) goal. Even after that there was still time for Tracey to pull off an excellent save in pushing a fierce Stern header over, and for the Blades fans to think that they had scored (despite the obvious whistle and the fact that the Forest defence stopped). And then we all roundly booed the ref off and went home. Frankly, for much of this game it was hard to see how anyone could play football in the conditions. When the weather did improve it took ages for the standard of play (by either side) to catch up. We were the better side (I cannot think of a single Lurch save of any note), missed a penalty, had a perfectly good goal ruled out.... Frustrating.
On the other hand, for lengthy periods all 22 players were apparently half-asleep and the match was poor for about 80% of the time. And we ought to have won but didn't. This 4-match unbeaten run is our best of the season, the defence is much more secure (even allowing for the fact that John Terry is, alas, not ours), and there are many signs of progress. What we have to learn to do now is play like that for an entire game rather than 10 minutes (which is pretty much what I said after Charlton too).
David Platt took a side-swipe at the match officials after a controversial decision denied Nottingham Forest three points. Substitute Stern John thought he had earned Forest victory over Sheffield United at The City Ground when he fired home five minutes from time. His effort was, however, disallowed for off-side and Forest had to settle for a point from a goalless draw. Platt said: "It's disappointing that we've had a perfectly good goal disallowed and the manner in which it was disallowed makes it worse. "The linesman gave Jack Lester off-side because he thought was interfering with play - i.e. being in the line of vision of the goalkeeper. How he could he see that from his position. "What makes it worse is that the video shows that Jack isn't anywhere near the goalkeeper's line of vision and he's not even off-side! "The directive is that they should give the forward the benefit of the doubt and that hasn't been applied. That inconsistency is disappointing." Forest remain unbeaten in four games as they head into their Easter Monday date with Fulham at Craven Cottage. And Platt added: "The manner in which we claimed the point is pleasing because we deserved to win the game, even though I don't think we played particularly well."