Selhurst Park


Mr P.Reger

Goal 1
McKenzie 32 mins
Goal 2
Svennson 72 mins

Crystal Palace
Crossley     Digby
Scimeca     Mullins
Hjelde     Zhiyi
Rogers     Linighan
Bart-Williams McKenzie
Beck   Rodger
Stern John     Phelan
Substitutes     Substitutes
Beasant     Woozley

© Nottingham Forest 1999

Bridport Red has always been very positive in his reports, and I have never tried to censor him at all. He sent in this report asking me whether or not we should send it out? He has taken a lot of flack for his optimism over the last few weeks, and to write this report he has had to dig deep into his loyalty bucket. I know that the people he was with today were Red through and through, and were as objective as he would always be. You do not travel the miles that Bridport does without having a passion for the Club, but this report is from the heart.

Report by Bridport Red
Regular readers will know by now that I am essentially an optimist. Indeed, I have received a few emails saying I have been way too kind to the team this season - but then these reports have never pretended to be anything more or less than the opinion of one fan. All the same, I am a "glass half full" kind of bloke. Well today the glass was half full for about 10 minutes. Then the bottom fell out of it and I was struggling to identify anything in it at all. Same team as Wednesday, bar Gray in on the wing and Prutton moved to right back. Similar performance? Not even close. But it all started so well. I raved about the fantastic debut of Stern John against Pompey, and after 5 minutes of today's game he received the ball with his back to goal, took it down on his chest, spun Andy Linighan with ease and thundered a left foot screamer against the bar from fully thirty yards. Digby got nowhere near it.

We all settled back and thought this was going to be fun. Instead it was a nightmare. Palace took 25 minutes to score, but frankly it had been coming for a while. Firstly Leon McKenzie blazed over from 4 yards with Norm in No-Man's Land. Then Norm flapped at a cross and Jon Hjelde saved his bacon with a brilliant block. Then David Prutton cleared the ball off the line. Finally yet another cross from the right exposed Norm's Dracula qualities, Bart blocked the first effort, Norm saved well at the near post and the ball broke lose to McKenzie in a position so close that even he couldn't miss. 1-0. Sigh. Immediately before half time we suddenly woke up and created two chances - both the result of Beck's hard work in winning the ball in midfield. From the first Brennan passed infield to Stern on the edge of the box, he skinned the defender and got to the by-line, Beck and Bart both had goal-bound efforts cleared off the line and finally Andy Gray put it wide. To be fair to Gray it was on his wrong foot and he was under severe pressure from Linighan, but he still might have done better. A minute later Beck won the ball again, Rogers got free on the left and Stern headed narrowly over.

Half time. Not happy. Platty obviously agreed with our half-time Bovril verdict, namely that we were being overrun in midfield, because he took off Gray, replaced him with Doig and played 3-5-2, presumably to get more bodies into midfield. It didn't make a blind bit of difference - all that happened was that we had three players giving the ball away in the centre, rather than two. Sureenough, after an hour Bart played a pass woefully short to Johnno, it was intercepted and played out to Terry Phelan (yes - THE Terry Phelan; I thought he had retired years ago) on the left and from his cross Doig was caught ball watching and Matt Svensson left Norman with no chance. 2-0, game over.

Game over because we never really looked like scoring. Stern was living off scraps and getting zero service - even so he did manufacture a couple of half chances all by himself, including our first sighting of the so-called "Stern Turn" that Columbus fans used to go on about; it looks suspiciously like the Cruyff turn to me, but it still left Linighan tackling thin air while Stern fired narrowly wide behind him. Our best chance fell to Beck - Tank finally got free on the left and crossed to the near post. Beck was unmarked, tried to volley it and missed the ball completely. It about summed up our afternoon. There was no excuse today. No poor referee, no dubious penalties, no offside goals, no dodgy sendings off to change the game.

We were just comprehensively outplayed in midfield. Not good enough. No fire, no guts, no glory (ah, the old ones are the good ones, eh?) Although this report is all me, today's match was a bit of a gathering of the Forest internet clan. Half a dozen of the Talkback regulars foregathered for a few pre-match refreshments and went to the game together. Between us we can muster WELL over a century of watching Forest and, without wishing to put words into other people's mouths, post-match conversation suggests they would all agree with what follows.

Bearing in mind that we are not the sort of fans who have been booing, calling for Platty's head or generally being mardy, it might give you a clue about how much our spineless performance today annoyed a lot of long-suffering die-hard supporters. I have been positive about them for weeks - now it is time, as my late dear father would have put it, to tap a few people on the collar-bone.

Don't blame the defence. Riccy (yet again) and Hjelde played well. Jim Brennan got forward less than we have sometimes seen, but that was largely because he had his hands full at the back (and what else do we pay a full back for if not defending?). Prutton, playing in what feels like about hisfifth different position for us, once again did not let us down. Chris Doig was at fault for the second goal, but young players do make mistakes and he saved us twice after some dreadful Norm kicks straight to the opposition. I have increasing doubts about Norm as a long term prospect - every time they had a corner or wide free kick today my heart sank. But you can't blame Norm for any of our goals conceded this year that I can think of (maybe number three vs Huddersfield), and he is easily good enough for this division.

The attack? Stern struggled manfully and, as I have said, created chances virtually on his own (just as well, because he wasn't getting chances from any other source). Beck had easily his least effective game for us and missed a sitter, but he was at least running his heart out and trying to get into positions - it is not his fault if the ball never arrived. No, in my view it is the midfield - especially the central midfield - that is failing us badly. We all know Tank is a fine player - but occasionally (like any player) he has games when nothing works for him and the ball seems to bounce off at the crucial moment - he had one of those games today. Fair enough.
At least we know he doesn't play like that very often. In my opinion, when a manager takes over a recently relegated team, he is perfectly entitled to think that at least SOME of the players he inherits are going to be able to do a job for him in the lower division. Tank is. Hjelde is (against many expectations). Dougie is (though some would disagree). Uhhhh.... the rest? We could play Viv Anderson, Des Walker, Kenny Burns and Stuart Pearce at their respective peaks in our defence, but still get nowhere at the moment. Why? Because whenever the ball is played out of defence it comes straight back. Keep that up for 90 minutes and sooner or later the other lot are going to score.

The midfield - no, let's not beat about the bush here; Johnson and Bart-Williams - seem incapable of hanging onto the ball for more than about two seconds and are consistently either passing to the opposition or selling their colleagues hideously short so the ball is easily intercepted. These guys aren't rookies - one is an international, the other has more talent than almost anyone else at the club, and between them they have almost 200 appearances for Forest. So what on earth is wrong with them? Why (with the greatest respect to Tranmere and Palace) are we getting consistently and comprehensively outplayed in the centre (even overrun) by essentially journeyman midfields? OK, Johnno's game is based largely on movement and energy and he missed pre-season with a serious injury - maybe he will improve with time (after all, he is about to have a three-match holiday to concentrate on his fitness). But even so. And what about Bart?When did we last see him split a defence? He may not be blessed with massive pace, but neither was Nigel Clough, and we all know what a player he was Bart can pass with the best of them - it is high time he started to do so. Why is it that two of our best chances were created when the centre forward dropped back into midfield to win the ball? What were the midfield players doing? It tells you something when easily our most - arguably our ONLY - consistent midfield player this season has been an 18-year-old playing his first few games for the first team.

I know he is a very talented 18-year-old, but surely our other more experienced midfielders ought to be capable of matching his commitment and range of passing. They certainly (and this is what seriously riles most fans) ought to be able to give the impression that they care as much as he does - who were the two guys clapping their hands and shouting at the team today? The Captain and David Prutton. It ought to tell you even more when I say that today I found myself thinking we could use Gemmill - and I wasn't even fussed which one! Even Scottie could pass to a red shirt (sometimes). As for his Dad... I wish I could tell you what the answer is. We could do worse (especially in Johnson's suspension period) than give Prutton, Quashie and Gareth Williams a run in the middle - they could hardly do any worse than those two today. Or, for that matter, for the manager to dig out his boots himself. I hasten to add that I emphatically do NOT think the answer is to change the manager.

Platty has done a lot of good stuff - not least the signings of Scimeca, Matrecano, Brennan, Petrachi and John. (But how long, if we keep playing like this, before even these guys get dragged down to the lowest common denominator?) If there is a criticism of Platt, it might be of his powers of motivation - but some of the players seem to be wound up enough; why not all? (Indeed at Sheffield and Tranmere you could say some of them were too wound up). I don't know any of the players personally - I have no idea whether they would benefit from one of Mr Clough's nettle runs, an arm round their shoulders or (it being the Season of Goodwill soon) some sort of rectal Christmas tree fitting. I do know that I and thousands like me are pretty fed up with paying shed-loads of money and driving hundreds of miles to watch our midfield capitulate away from home every other week.

I stayed last night with a mate who is a Fulham fan, and he was bemoaning the fact that they are drawing too many away games. I should perhaps point out to him that our away record is now Played 11, Won 1, Drawn 2 (and one of those entirely thanks to Norm), lost 8 - the worst in the division. I am annoyed with them tonight. It seems so spineless - as though they don't care. I am sure that isn't true, but a small tip; don't annoy your customers, boys! It is time for a few of our senior pros to stand up and be counted. Yes, that means you.



Copyright © 2001 Nottingham Forest F.C.