The City ground


Mr S. Bennett


Beasant     Adamson
Louis-Jean     Van Blerk
Hjelde     Carbon
Scimeca     Quinn
Brennan     Sneekes
Bonalair   Hughes
Prutton   Potter
Bart-Williams   Gabbidon
Gray   Burgess
John Chambers
Freedman   Townsend
Substitutes     Substitutes
Crossley     Morris
Harewood Evans
Williams     Angel
Petrachi   Raven
Dawson     Oliver

© Nottingham Forest 2000
Stern John Bartman
Stern injures the goalkeeper Bart-Williams

The bare facts, for anyone who hasn't heard, are that we drew 0-0 with the Baggies in a poor game. The closest we came to scoring was a Bart drive that was well saved early in the second half. Stern nearly scored twice, once in each half - with his head on both occasions. He was at full stretch in the dive to meet Luca Petrachi's cross for the second one, but probably should have done better for the first. Dougie got a couple of headers on target. And that is about it at their end - the rest of our attacking petered out depressingly in the final third. mostly because the midfield players could not feed the strikers well enough.
Their young keeper, Chris Adamson, gave every appearance of being a bit nervous and potentially dodgy. We simply didn't give him enough work for us to find out. At our own end, though we defended well enough in general, only two outstanding Beasant saves from Lee Hughes prevented this being an even worse day. The confident Hughes of last year would have buried them both, so we should be thankful for small mercies and for the excellent form of our Museum-piece goalkeeper.

But the fact remains that the last two league games (forget Chelsea - fun but irrelevant) have been against two poor sides who are down near the bottom with us. My train of thought over that period has gone something like this: "We need to win both, or at least to get four points.... OK I'll settle for 3 points after the ref debacle at Grimsby, but definitely no less. Oh. We have only got one. Hmmph. Not good enough". And it is NOT good enough - the combination of our own form (especially our DREADFUL away form) and a couple of wins from the teams below us has dragged us right back in to the mire.

For those with no access to a table this morning, reading from the bottom we have Swindon on 18 points (surely doomed), Pompey on 24, Port Vale on 27, Walsall and Crewe on 28 and WBA and ourselves on 29. Then there is a gap of four points to Grimsby (33), Sheff Utd (34) and Palace (35). All have played 28 games except Vale who have a game in hand. In two consecutive games against fellow-strugglers we have missed the chance to keep that gap in the table below us, and been left facing an out-and-out relegation battle for the rest of this season. We still have to play Walsall, Pompey and Crewe away, and Swindon, Palace, Sheff United and Port Vale at home. So we OUGHT to be all right.

All I can say is that I hope we don't play like yesterday in those games.... I have spent the entire season saying that I don't think we will go down, and 9 days ago I was completely confident of that. Now I still think on balance that we won't, but I am a great deal less certain than I was - in the past 6 years I have seen too many examples of how Forest react to a scrap at the bottom to be entirely confident that we will fight the way we should. Suddenly we are into a right old relegation punch-up, and it remains to be seen whether we have the players for a scrap. This was avoidable, especially given the improvement in our performance in recent weeks. But we haven't avoided it, and we must now all roll up our sleeves and make bloomin' sure that it doesn't get any worse. Improvement in recent weeks? Yes, sure - but not yesterday.

Yesterday was a step backwards. Not, thank Heaven, all the way back to the dark days of the Palace, Huddersfield and Ipswich debacles (if it had been that much of a regression we would have lost), but none the less a retreat from the way our form has been of late. We defended well enough (and, as I have said, Lurch was outstanding), and there were patches, especially in the first half, where we played some slick passing football in the middle of the field. Bart-Williams was probably the best player on the pitch. But WBA understandably appeared to come for a point (plus anything they might get on the break as a bonus), so whenever we attacked they were very efficient at funnelling 9 men back into their own box behind the ball. And we simply did not have the wit to break them down.

Time after time someone or other would produce a promising run from midfield (Riccy, Prutton, Gray, Bart, Brennan, Luca - sharp when he came on - and Bonalair were all guilty of this at some stage or other) only for the final ball to be poor. Either sideways straight into the path of a defender, mistimed so the chance had gone or overhit so the keeper could sweep it up unchallenged. Sure, we missed Rogers (absent suspended after accruing 5 yellow cards). But why exactly was it necessary for the suspension of one player to result in the moving of THREE in the midfield? Rogers out, Bonalair in on left - simple. Apparently not! Rogers out, move Gray to the left, Prutton to the right and put Bonalair in the middle, thus playing at least two players away from the position where they are best. I look at our squad on paper and still think we have the players.

We have a much stronger squad than last year, for instance (IMHO). But the team at the moment is somehow contriving to be less than the sum of its parts. Solid well-organised teams are the sum of their parts. Good teams are more than the sum of their parts. Why is our squad not gelling - or at least only gelling intermittently? Listen, those who are far away and haven't seen Forest for a while, don't despair. Even allowing for yesterday's set-back, we have still made progress. It may well be that the extra space given us by a team who comes to attack (as no doubt the next three opponents will do) will work in our favour. But it is impossible to deny that yesterday's performance was a disturbingly familiar one - struggle to break down defensive opponents, with the result that we failed to win (and the result was a fair reflection of the game - no complaints there) a game that we ought to have won at a canter.

Several people have accused me of hiding behind attacks on the refs when we lose in recent weeks (though the vast majority have written to agree with me). It has to be said that yesterday's ref was well down to recent standards. Which is a polite way of saying appalling. Obsessed with trivialities like inch-perfect throw-in positions and reluctant to play advantage (at one stage Lee Hughes was understandably miffed at being pulled back for a free kick to WBA when he was clean through), yet at the same time missing much more serious fouls and booking people for stupid reasons. Stern (going for a ball that the keeper had dropped, which sounds legit to me), Prutton (block tackle) and Marlon (throwing the ball at Carbon on the ground - even Carbon was asking the ref not to be so stupid) were all booked, and none of them deserved it. The elbow in Stern's face, however? A mere booking. I could go on - and almost 20,000 people from both sides of the midlands agreed yesterday that Mr Bennett should stick to being a traffic warden, or whatever, so it isn't just me (before the emails start). But I can't muster up my usual enthusiasm for ref-bashing because, very poor though he was, the ref didn't change the result (I suppose we should be grateful for that given recent events). ....Which was a 0-0 draw in game we are capable of winning with ease.

It is high time we started to turn our capacity to play good football into results - because if we don't, there is a serious danger that sides better equipped than we are to scrap for every inch of turf will overtake us and book us a few visits to Meadow Lane (and worse) next year. Sort it out, boys!


Copyright © 2001 Nottingham Forest F.C.