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Lancashire Red: Where've The Goals Gone?

20 April 2013

Sigh. It’s the same old story, albeit one that a month ago we didn’t imagine was likely to haunt us again any time soon. So please excuse me if this report has an air of resignation about it.

After the midweek defeat to a desperately poor Boro side (adding insult to the controversy experienced at Cardiff last Saturday), is there anyone still yet to hear the fat lady’s warm-up routine prior to launching into the full performance? That may well sound defeatist whilst it’s still mathematically possible to return to the top six, but today was by far the most winnable of Billy’s three-game season as he so put it in today’s programme. It needed to happen and it didn’t. We needed Bolton and Brighton both not to win and they did. This week’s edition of Strange But True has to be the inclusion of Michael Carrick in the PFA Player of the Year shortlist (no, I don't get that one either), so on that basis anything’s still possible. But in the cold light of day, it’s going to take one or two minor miracles for us to make it now, and on current form that just aint gonna happen.

We’ve been here before, of course. A few weeks ago I drew parallels with several ends to season where promotion or Play-off places were at stake. Out of those, only two look likely: the 2000-01 campaign where we fell away with three games to go with defeats to Wimbledon and Gillingham to set the stage for a tame draw at Tranmere with all hope gone; then five years later having turned round our first season in League One with a similar winning run like we’ve enjoyed recently enough to get us into the top six, only for us to lose at Hartlepool and draw at Bradford, so narrowly missing out right at the end.   Somewhere in between rather tells the story of how this season looks set to end, at least from a statistical perspective. That doesn’t tell quite the whole story as you’d need to be a real cynic to deny the overall quality of football for large parts of this season has been streets ahead of the two seasons mentioned above, and where we are is not for want of trying. The real shame of course is that pretty football alone is no guarantee of getting you where you want to be, as we are now finding out to our cost.

It’s clear enough how much the other clubs currently in the mix want to be involved in the final reckoning. The players now have to ask themselves just how much they want this, and if so then prove it to the fans next week at The Den and here at City Ground the week after. 

Fixture
FLC, Saturday 20th April 2013, KO 1500hrs
Nottingham Forest 0 – 0 Barnsley
Venue
The City Ground
Weather/Conditions

Warm in bright sunshine – pitch looking good.
Away fans
About 1000 packed in the corner – not a bad turnout for a team on the verge of relegation, though hardly the most vocal.
Timekeeping
Here’s one for Fawaz Al Hasawi’s Question Time (as documented in today’s programme). At 3 o’clock the teams weren’t even out on the pitch, let alone kicking off (eventually happened about five minutes late). The big question of course, is WHY?
The Match
And that was pretty much it. Close, but no cigar, and only our fourth 0-0 of the season, but of course that was little consolation, and even one or two boos could be heard at the final whistle, which I found hard to understand. Plenty of opinions voiced today, and even some of BD’s strategies called into question in some quarters (should he have brought anyone else in on loan?), though I do wonder what they’d rather have had instead. A return to how we looked December-January, perhaps? No, thought not.
And still we pressed. There was of course that niggly feeling they might just nick one on the break, rather like Blackpool did here a couple of weeks ago, but the sight of dear old Marlon [Harewood] firing well wide from 18 yards (i.e. aiming nearer to the corner flag than the near post) was reassurance of positively the most comical kind.
In the end it was impossible to count the number of chances we had as we laid siege on Steele’s goal, especially after half time. It was as exciting to watch as it was frustrating as you sensed it was one of those days the ball just wasn’t going to go in. There was clear frustration being vented in the stands as the fans grew restless; a guy in the row behind clearly having a difference of opinion with his neighbour – good job this wasn’t Millwall, what with last week’s shenanigans ahead of our visit to The Den next week! And yet he had a point as McGugan and (especially) Collins were the targets of his wrath. The frustration was compounded further by reports of goal updates on games elsewhere as scores once again conspired against us – a stark contrast between goal-drought City Ground and The Amex where it was literally raining goals.
By this time the plan had already gone awry, having lost Hutchinson just after 20 minutes, and Greg Halford took over at right back having been displaced by Collins. There was little doubt Forest were by far the better side with the lion’s share of chances (Reid, Lansbury and Sharp all going close), but as ever the Bridgford goal did a more than passable impression of a brick wall, the only threats at the other end aided by the occasional shirt-pulling by Jason Scotland who demonstrated he clearly isn’t anything like the player he used to be.
No doubt about the fans’ expectations today. The scoring needed to be opened early on for a change. The first time Barnsley ‘keeper Luke Steele was even tested was beyond the 35th minute (albeit with an excellent Billy Sharp header) which pretty much tells you how this game was destined to go. Another chance a couple of minutes later with a low powerful shot from Guedioura and this was about a close as we got to scoring before the break.
Highlights
No shortage of chances created in second half, with some excellent build-up play from midfield. I guess we have to be thankful for our first clean sheet in eight games too, it was almost a novelty not having to chase the game! A warm welcome for Marlon Harewood when he came on with 13 to go, despite his less than successful loan spell with us last season.
Lowlights

Our third game without scoring, and so much for mocking Palace with the ‘nil’ tag a couple of weeks ago! What has gone wrong? Is it a confidence thing? Some very sloppy passing at times which almost let Barnsley in. Set pieces continue to be a weakness with some very poor deliveries (Reid especially).
Hero
Cohen’s sterling work down the left was the nearest we came to unlocking their defence from a wide position. Billy Sharp was much improved today with some excellent moves from a deep position and was unfortunate to be denied by the woodwork on more than one occasion. Guedioura equally unfortunate not to be rewarded for some long-range efforts which were fired low for a change.
Zero
McGugan was wasteful with the ball when he came on when there red shirts in better positions - the game-changing substitution was anything but today. Collins continues to be the weak link at the back, and it was only the hard work by Ward and Darlow that spared his blushes.
Referee
Andy Haines – some decisions annoyed the home fans, though I guess this is pretty much par for the course with us. I guess he’d need to perform a lot worse before he’s asked to referee the FA Cup final like last week’s inept Andre Marriner has!
Entertainment Value6/10 – First half hour a little on the scrappy side, but improved as Forest created chances. Frustrating, though not the worst goalless draw I’ve seen by a long chalk.
Promotion Rating3 – The Leicester game takes place on my birthday, though I think a present in the form of a Play-off berth is looking a pretty big ask now. It’s going to need a positive result at Millwall and things elsewhere to go in our favour next week for at least something to be riding on our date with the Foxes.
Misc
Nothing less than 6 from 6 to stand any chance. A win at Millwall and it may, just may, still be game on.
Forest: D4 L2 – Have paid price for untimely loss of form. Whilst congratulating Cardiff on being promoted as Champions (and how many of their fans wondered if ever they’d see the day given how close they’ve come in recent years?) it doesn’t look good on us when you consider how they’ve been held in three of their last four games by The Tykes, Addicks and Dingles. The exception? Ouch!
3 points from 6 probably enough to put us out of the running.
Leicester: W1 D3 L2 – Returning to form, will be hard to beat on May 4th.
4 points from 6, depending on Cardiff’s champion’s party mood, will probably rule us out.
Bolton: W4 L2 – Looking strong, though enjoying easier run-in.
Palace: D2 L4 – Stopped the rot today, but still in danger of sliding out. Predict 5 points from 9 (have a game in hand).
With our reversal of fortune and transition from unstoppable (6 straight wins) to unable to score (and now 6 games without a win), how does our form since the International break compare with those around us?

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