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Lancashire Red: Charlie Who???

8 December 2012

Ahhh! That was deeply satisfying. Having said last week a win over The Dingles was long overdue, I’d overlooked the fact it was in fact only April last year when we beat them 2-0 in a game I failed to make having been stuck in horrendous gridlock trying to avoid something even worse on the M6.  It still meant it was a good while since I’d last seen us beat them though, and there was the painful memory of at least two horror shows to ease, not to mention regain gloating rights over several work colleagues since our base office is less than five miles from Turf Moor.

Today might easily have been billed as the clash of two prolific strikers: our own Billy Sharp, just getting into his stride and now scoring at regular intervals; and Dingles’ one basket to put all your eggs in by building the team around one striker: Charlie Austin. Given Forest’s general tendency to concede goals to visiting key marksmen (Billy Sharp will know all about that, I’m sure) it seemed a fairly reasonable assumption that today may be another case on point (it was certainly the case last season with their Jay Rodriguez). By 5pm, I think the general words on everyone’s lips were along the lines of Charlie…who? 

FLC, Saturday 8th December 2012, 1500hrs
Nottingham Forest 2 – 0 Burnley
The City Ground

Cold and bright – similar to last week when the low sun made it tricky to defend the Bridgford End first half – probably the main reason why Burnley chose to attack it first having won the toss.
Away fans
Had they all gone home shortly after kick-off? Whilst it is true they didn’t have much to get excited about all afternoon, unless you were in A Block or directly opposite you’d have struggled to hear a peep from them. Still, I expect they will probably have enjoyed better quality pies here than the disgusting white hot cardboard ones they get at their place.
Normal service is resumed with the teams emerging from the tunnel at 1459 for the usual pre-match formalities , then changing ends meaning kick-off was some 3 minutes late. Normal question prompted then: why?
The Match
Sean Dyche predictably responded to this setback by throwing on Vokes to join Austin up front, but apart from one close range header sent wide it made little difference, instead leaving them more exposed elsewhere, and ten minutes later we killed the game off.  A superb move engineered by Reidy again from the left sent Billy on a run in which he had to evade his marker before latching on to Reidy’s pass. With only Grant to beat (albeit from an angle) Billy showed his professionalism by slotting it coolly into the far corner to spark wild celebrations from all parts of the ground apart from the travelling fans right in front of him who started shuffling towards the exits – presumably fed up with the chants from the home fans up to their right (most of whom evidently well familiar with the ordeal of visiting Burnley). Game over. Dingles smashed. Yes!!
Although SOD’s programme notes predictably defended his strategy for the Hull game, it was no surprise to see Blackstock partner Sharp up front. It was to be an hour before we saw the fruits of their work, but don’t go away thinking this was the Hull game (first half) all over again. Forest played some nice stuff with much more movement and passing on the floor, combined with punishing The Dingles’ sloppiness with the ball. Reidy was his usual self at the centre of things, but Hutton proved particularly effective on the right going forward, and although Harding seems to have copped a fair bit of flak lately, it cannot be denied he can threaten down the left, especially if he gets a cross in. Lansbury also did his bit, but it was less than a minute after he had been replaced by Cohen that the deadlock was finally broken.  Crosses had been hard to come by, but Reidy then sent one in from the left, giving Blackstock his first opportunity of the afternoon to avoid being climbed all over, and the resultant header looped beautifully over Grant and into the net.
Burnley started marginally the brighter as we were clearly engaged in a plan to keep Charlie Austin as far away from the ball as possible, which was almost blown apart in the first five minutes when he was able to go one-on-one with Camp having been gifted the ball by a mistimed Ward header. When Austin’s shot caused those seated in the Bridgford Upper to duck, it was easy then to remember it was something like six games since he’d last netted, and apart from one other close-range attempt in the second half he posed little threat all afternoon, relying on an in-yer-face presence in front of goal was about as effective as he got, which is only half the story, because in terms of service he was getting about as much as those campers on ‘I’m a Celeb’ were getting meals following a Helen Flanagan Bush tucker trial. No punches pulled here – The Dingles were easily the poorest side to visit Trentside this season.  The only question of course was which version of Forest would turn up to try and dispose of them.
Some neat passing football and much improved over recent performances; Billy’s superb goal taken with aplomb; a clean sheet to deny the Championship’s leading marksman and banish the so-called Kids for a Quid curse. Good to see Radi back, albeit on the bench. Likewise Ayala who’s also been missed.
Some iffy defending very early on almost let Austin in which might have put a very different complexion on the game, which in the past has cost us dear. The Christmas shopping season in full swing inevitably saw attendance drop below 20000 and the atmosphere was a little flat for long periods.
Reidy, as ever being at the centre of things – how this guy works his socks off! Hutton provided the channels, Ward and Collins took care to render Austin Powerless (most of the time at least!) and the two strikers did what they are on the pitch to do! Credit also to Camp – those who consider him disinterested in the Forest cause may want to think again after the save which preserved our lead taken only a couple of minutes before. And in any case, who better is there to replace him?
McGugan had the ideal opportunity to stake his claim for a regular starting berth once again. At times he was wasteful, lazy and his body language suggested an expectation of the ball to just come to him instead of actually working to win it. Some might say in defence he isn’t match fit and needs games, but compare him to Moussi who replaced Gillett midway through the 2nd half – a real presence and had clearly worked on his passing which for so long had been his Achilles Heel. More than that he worked to win the ball as well as doing something constructive with it.
Mark Heywood – Another one-eyed performance with plenty of decisions going Burnley’s way. Also showed his jobsworth/traffic warden tendencies with a ridiculously petty booking for Sharp when his momentum caused him to kick the ball away rather harder than necessary, whilst Lee Grant went unpunished doing a passable impression of last week’s Hull keeper Stockdale with all that time-wasting (though conceding a goal soon cured that).
Entertainment Value6.5/10 – a vast improvement on last week’s cure for insomnia, with some decent passing football. Not perfect by a long chalk, but there was much less negative backwards/sideways stuff – at least until the game was safe.
Promotion Rating2: Whilst the Championship remains as tight as ever, other results (with no fewer than four 2-2 draws) have helped bring us back to a point off the top six (albeit in 9th place) and the win will boost confidence as we enter a tricky festive period with three of the next four against teams above us. Year-on-year a point behind 2010-11, and four behind 2009-10. It’ll need six consecutive wins now to stay on track – by which time we may yet be challenging for the top two. No pressure, then!
A safe and Happy Christmas to all.
Lancashire Red coverage resumes with the game against Palace (the dreaded Christmas Hangover fixture), which hopefully will bring a season of extended optimism.
Opinion will no doubt continue to be divided on how we’ve fared so far this season.  Inconsistent may well be uppermost in people’s minds, but compared with this time last year we’re worlds ahead.
I guess we can take consolation from Ipswich recording their third consecutive win since beating us, with The Lions being well and truly tamed today.

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