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Lancashire Red: Brave Decisions

29 December 2012

Crikey – what a week!

There can be nothing so divisive as such an ironic sacking on Boxing Day to upstage even The Filth’s 4-3 win over Newcastle. Why so ironic? Let’s see then: 2008 Colin Calderwood is sacked after a 4-2 Boxing Day defeat at home to Doncaster, managed by a certain Mr O’Driscoll who this week steered us to a memorable 4-2 win over Dirty Leeds?  That one we had seen coming for a while, ever since that home defeat by 10-man Norwich in which we played a lone striker. Now some similarities begin to appear. SOD’s strategies with formations have attracted similar criticism in recent weeks following a decline in performances – and results – when expectations were somewhat to the contrary given the bright start to the season. So, was Watford the final straw, or had the seeds been sown earlier? Who knows? Even allowing for the aim of greater transparency from our new owners, we may not know the full facts.  What we do know now however, is that ruthlessness has become part of the game. There was a hint of it at the start with the swift removal of Cotter-Nil, and so it has prevailed. After all, when was the last time a manager was sacked right out of the blue, within hours of such a fantastic win? I suspect fans of Huddersfield Town may well be able to answer that, as would indeed Chelsea, though in the latter case it is a well-known fact their chief benefactor hires and fires on a whim, faster than Lord Sugar on The Apprentice.

Whilst on that subject, a moment to reflect on SOD’s achievements during his short tenure, of which several deserve mention. Boxing Day’s win– the first home win over Dirty Leeds for 16 years;  great win at Barnsley – the first for 12 years; an opening day win for the first time in six; beating Cardiff to prove we can beat good sides; the acquisition of a proven goal-scorer in Billy Sharp (now delivering the goods with panache – please let’s hope this episode hasn’t jeopardised our chances of a permanent deal) and best of all (for me personally) our first win at Molineux for 32 years – an irony in itself if SOD soon finds himself replacing Stale Solbakken at the club he grew up supporting.

And yes, on the flip side, the things that ultimately cost him: the 4-1 home defeat by Millwall; negative tactics which cost us against Hull; the defeats at Ipswich and Watford which just shouldn’t have happened (especially since we WON both these fixtures last season!).

Arguably there are a few other games which should have been won rather than drawn, though in most cases there were more positives than negatives. Who’d have predicted such a good start to the season when a couple of weeks earlier we had barely a team to cobble together? It’s just too bad that instead of building on this we showed our vulnerability, especially against the more physical sides, by adapting our play and formations to suit them rather than dictate the game on our terms.

Nevertheless, I would still want to thank SOD for the high’s he brought us during his short tenure and wish him the very best wherever he goes (I know my Wolves-supporting ex-school pal wouldn’t mind him replacing Solbakken, though I hope that happens after they have visited City Ground in March). In a strange way his tenure was reminiscent of the early days under Paul Hart in that he had got the boys playing decent football again right from the off, and after 20-odd games it was not yet clear in which direction the season was going.

So what now?  The owners have spoken. Like us fans, owners want results so they have acted – no more time for transition, or sentiment. For them, and Alex McLeish, the test starts now, with no time for honeymoon periods.  If McLeish really is to make his mark quickly, then he could do a lot worse than eradicate the last of the McLaren legacy by dispensing with Messrs Kelly and Hasselbaink and bring in a choice backroom team geared to addressing our key failing over the last 18 months: getting the ball into the net far more frequently by playing football ON THE FLOOR.

Given the circumstances of SOD’s departure, it’s easy to cast our minds back to the aftermath of Billy Davies’ exit, in particular the mindset of some of the players and the effect it had on performances. On today’s evidence that hopefully won’t be a problem, partly since the key culprits have moved on.  What is of more immediate concern however is the issue of contracts, and who comes/goes/stays.

Needless to say we all have our own lists of musts and wants, and would prefer to see the squad added to rather than being dismantled and rebuilt. That would mean new deals for Camp, Dex and Radi as a matter of priority, and that any stalling over this in recent weeks can be quickly resolved. Defence remains a problem area, and whether Ayala goes or stays, resources need to be bolstered to provide competition for places. At first glance our defence record does not look too bad, but of course that’s only OK if we’re scoring plenty of goals at the other end, which clearly isn’t the case. But for the first time in ten years we have a proven goalscorer delivering the goods regularly, albeit on loan. As long as Southampton make no move to recall Billy Sharp, a more obvious reason to sign him now there will never be. You only had to listen to Radio Nottingham post-match to hear what the fans all think about that, bar none.

One more thought. It’s funny how the SOD detractors have all gone quiet. Happy now? The owners have made their bed and are prepared to lie in it – I just hope those who were calling for his head just a week ago won’t ever have cause to regret what has happened.

The Boxing Day win will hopefully teach me to consider damage limitation more carefully in future. Ever mindful that early kick-offs, especially televised and especially against Dirty Leeds seldom make for a happy matchday experience I opted for the comfort option of watching the game in the pub. It was good to be back at my normal view point today. 

Fixture
FLC, Saturday 29 December 2012, 1500hrs
Nottingham Forest 2 - 2 Crystal Palace
Venue
The City Ground
Weather/Conditions

A brave decision by the ref to allow this game to proceed given the heavy rain which fell immediately following the go-ahead, though in fairness improved slightly as kick-off approached. The groundsmen had done an excellent job, with lingering surface water just at the corner areas at either end of the Main Stand.
Away fans
Close to 2000 Palace fans gambled with the weather to make for a reasonably lively Bridgford Lower, though they looked suitably crestfallen at the end however.
Timekeeping
Kick-off about two minutes late, meaning that with the stoppage time added this game only finished on the stroke of 5 O’clock.
The Match
But the perseverance paid off. Fans could already be seen starting for the exits as the board went up to signal us five minutes from an undeserved defeat. Still we pressed, and when Dan Harding after one of his trademark forays down the left sent the ball in towards Blackstock, suddenly there was an opening as he headed on towards Sharp who advanced before firing goalwards. His initial effort was blocked and bounced back off Speroni’s left hand post, but Billy was still following up. Everything then went seemingly in slow motion as the ball spun agonisingly in the goalmouth before Billy arrived to poke it home from a couple of feet.  The roof nearly came off as we erupted into delighted (not to mention relieved!) celebration whilst Billy leapt for joy in front of a delighted Trent End. Just a couple of anxious minutes left to sit out before FT and McLeish’s first test was successfully completed.
Palace of course had other ideas and took advantage of more slack Forest defending when Bolasie managed to intercept a pass deep in Forest’s half before crossing to Murray (him again!) whose looping header floated past Camp’s ill-timed dive and into the bottom corner.  It was against the run of play, but at 81 minutes well past that point we’d be likely to stage an effective fightback. Radi and Cohen had already been replaced by McGugan and Lansbury respectively (Cohen had, as ever worked his socks off but then faded badly) and in a final throw of the dice Cox came on for Guedioura with five to go as we went three up front.
Of course everyone was hoping for a repeat salvo like we enjoyed on Boxing Day, though in reality this was developing into a very open game with little to separate the two sides. Both Sharp and Cohen went close again and for a while it looked as though if there were to be a winner it would most likely be Forest.
But as with Wednesday it may have taken us a while to get into our stride, and eventually we started to put some neat moves together, looking stronger as HT approached. Billy Sharp came closest after a superb Radi pass was headed against the upright and we were finally rewarded on the stroke of HT when a sideways pass from Cohen (congratulations on your good news, by the way!) found Reidy who unleashed an absolute screamer from 25 yards which Speroni never looked like stopping as it flew into the far corner.
Apart from the bright start in which we looked lively for five minutes, the opening period very similar to Boxing Day. Falling behind to an eleventh minute goal ensured we had an uphill struggle which this time last year would have been enough to send us into here-we-go-again mode before succumbing to predictable defeat. Not any more. Certainly the way in which we conceded was cause for concern when Dean Moxey (never a popular fellow given his erstwhile D3rby connection and with it two red card offences in the same season) showed up our defensive frailties with a deep cross from the left, and with no-one defending the far post there could only be one outcome, and a sprawling Glenn Murray was there to say thank you-very-much for his 21st of the season from just three yards out.
Highlights
Reidy’s leveller on the stroke of half time undoubtedly the most spectacular, though the never-say-die spirit was justly rewarded with Billy’s equaliser, and his celebration demonstrated just how much this meant to him.
Lowlights
Woeful defending to concede two really soft goals – the far post area will be a suitable case for treatment under the new McLeish regime. Collins was completely outmanoeuvred to allow Murray an easy job of scrambling the ball home from three yards.
Hero
Once again Reidy was the engine and the glue to hold it all together, although contributions from Guedioura and Radi were significant.
Zero
You couldn’t really single anyone out today – a good team effort.
Referee
Mark Haywood – Mindful of the playing conditions there was always going to be allowances made, and on the whole he did an excellent job.
Entertainment Value7/10 – Home games against Palace rarely disappoint, even if not uppermost on peoples’ minds when the fixture list comes out, and with promotion aspirations of their own, it was fair to assume they would give us a good game today which they certainly did – all the more laudable given the playing conditions.
Promotion Rating2 – At this halfway stage of the season the automatic promotion places look in danger of slipping their moorings without us, though it is encouraging to learn of popular opinion among punditry that Forest look destined to at least be among the playoff contenders come May.
Misc

Reassuring to hear an accurate take on the game in a post-match interview by AM on Radio Nottingham. Having watched from the stands he will have had a good idea on what needs work. Also reassuring the welcome he got from the fans today which was duly acknowledged.

With long-awaited wins at home to Leeds and away to Wolves, suddenly other long-awaited things are starting to happen. As the last 10 miles of my journey to Nottingham look set for big changes soon, any bets on what will happen first: Forest promoted or completion of the dualling of the A453?

Since it’s that time of the season (and a Happy New Year to everyone, by the way) a list of New Year wishes to ponder – be interesting to see how many (if any) of these come to fruition in 2013.

1: We break our playoff hoodoo and beat Leicester to set up a thrilling final, and in a season of ending long winless sequences against certain teams, we end that 35-year one against Hull.

(People might ask why not against D3rby? Let’s be realistic here – can you see D3rby making the playoffs?)

2: Speaking of D3rby – what goes around comes around as we send them crashing to a heavy defeat in January thanks to a game-changing refereeing decision that sees Richard Keogh sent off for diving.

3: M*n Unit3d (hereafter referred to as The Filth) have their excessive debts investigated and have 10 points deducted as a result.

4: A new statue is mysteriously erected next to the one of That Monument (AKA Fergie) outside Old T. It is of a referee brandishing a red card for excessive gesticulating for Fergie Time.

5: The BBC faces censure for blatant bias towards The Filth during Final Score and MOTD, and is required to give only minimal Filth match coverage at the end of the programme. Robbie Savage is sacked from the Final Score team, and a new format for MOTD is established.

6: The Forest matchday programme reverts to ‘standard’ size (can’t stand the current unwieldy 45rpm shape).

7: Plans for a new Main Stand are agreed.

8: Southampton stay up and Billy Sharp secures a permanent switch to Forest.

9: Blackstock, Majewski and Camp get new contracts.

10: Season ticket prices are held for a second year running.

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