There were plenty of positive signs well before kick-off. I got my lucky parking place (something only achieved on a handful of occasions each season), the new away shirts were flying off the shelves in the club shop as I duly subscribed to one complete with Cohen’s name and number on the back, and best of all my two friends and erstwhile neighbours to my left in the Trent End – and not seen here for more than two years – had made a last-minute decision to attend today’s game. In rather stark contrast to my flawed choices of away games attended in previous seasons, theirs were generally well considered, usually returning home having seen an excellent Forest win, so maybe they had borne that in mind when considering attending today’s game. It was like old times, so much so that the nightmare of the McLaren era two years (from which they’d stayed firmly away) ago didn’t warrant a single mention.
Such was the confidence all around, the inclusion of Greg Halford in the starting line-up as a centre forward barely raised an eyebrow given his scintillating display against Wolves last season. This move being on the back of the nearest we’ve come to an injury crisis in that department with Henderson joining Cox and Blackstock on the sidelines, with BD choosing to keep Derbyshire and Miller on the bench. The only other change saw Mackie replace Paterson, allowing Radi to play in the hole immediately behind. It was a masterstroke, paying dividends almost immediately.
FLC, Saturday 17th August 2013, KO 1500hrs|
Nottingham Forest v Bolton Wanderers
|Venue||The City Ground|
Overcast, occasional rain
About 1200, and without doubt early front runners for Most Dormant Visiting Fans of the season award, and after today’s game it wasn’t difficult to see why.
A punctual kick-off – things must be looking up!
So, job done as far as winning the game, the only other challenge was keeping Bolton out for a third consecutive clean sheet, and in truth that was never in much doubt with Medo being about the only Bolton player to get a shot in on target late on, which Darlow could have caught with his eyes shut.|
It was undoubtedly one of those games you wished could have gone one for a week. Forest were cruising and yet never really had to engage top gear, you felt. Bolton, by contrast were truly awful – the worst I’d ever seen them play since they failed to turn up at the Old Wembley in the playoff final of 1999. That’s not to take anything away from Forest who exposed the gaps to devastating effect, passing the ball around that had the fans positively moaning with delight. Cohen had Chung-Yong Lee in his pocket all afternoon, and the only time he climbed out was to earn himself a yellow card for a foul on Lichaj. Bogdan may have had little chance with the strikes by Mackie, Reid and Lansbury today, but even so he was more Eddie The Eagle today compared with Gordon Banks as he appeared to be when they came here in February.
Not surprisingly, this was an ideal time for some changes, with deserved standing ovations from a delighted City Ground crowd as Mackie, Halford and Lansbury took their leave at various intervals. Derbyshire and Miller were warmly welcomed (as well they might, given their positive contribution to the campaign so far) and what better time for the introduction of Djamal Abdoun with six minutes remaining? Initially a little nervous but soon made a couple of useful passes down the left hand side.
The weather may have looked highly iffy, but where Forest were concerned, the sun was out, the deckchairs were up and the cigars were lit. Moments later it could have been four when Lichaj’s attempt from a tight angle just to the right of the box flashed across goal and just wide of the post.
Bolton made changes, with Freedman throwing on Beckford and Odelusi, but this amounted to little more than damage limitation, and seven minutes later came the coup de grace. Forest were already spraying passes around to the undiluted delight of the fans, and when Halford sent in a low cross from the right (not dissimilar to Radi’s for the second goal) there was Lansbury on the far post with a diving header to knock the ball home.
By this time however, the killer goal had already been delivered some three minutes earlier. Once again Mackie was involved, as indeed was Radi who sent a low cross in from the right. Reidy had plenty of space and duly whacked the ball from just inside the box. Bogdan, it must be remembered had a stormer of a game here back in February, but against Reidy’s strike he stood no chance whatsoever.
Reid continued to be the focus of Bolton’s clogging activities, Kamara should have walked for a studs-up challenge, and another incident which should have been enough for Medo to be sent off had Reidy momentarily rattled to an extent he might easily have walked himself, but Guedioura and Cohen had similar treatment either side of half time. This carried on after the break until Pratley (a transfer target of the un-mourned Mr Arthur, of course) was eventually dismissed having felled Cohen badly in midfield (it looked even worse on TV). The ref had allowed advantage to be played, but at the next break in play the second yellow was administered.
The only serious scare we had all afternoon came from a free kick which Wheater got onto the end of and his header crashed against the underside of the crossbar. Looking at the linesman, initial thoughts suggested he was indicating the ball had crossed the line, though he was actually flagging for offside. A shot shortly afterwards by Hall narrowly missed, but in reality Bolton’s crosses were so poor (badly over-hit in most cases) it was rather like watching us on a bad day a couple of seasons ago.
Needn’t have worried. The Trotters reacted as predicted, but became ever more physical as the game progressed. The game was being played at a similar high-tempo to the one played back in February (Billy’s first game in charge) and with the first name going into the book before 20 minutes was up it looked highly possible that this would be Bolton’s second successive visit to City Ground in which they finished with less than eleven players on the pitch (and all this without the sly digs by Kevin Davies following his move to Preston!).
We’d barely taken our seats before Radi had released Mackie down the left and in acres of space slid a low diagonal shot past Bogdan to land in the bottom corner. The familiar burst of The Fratellis quickly confirmed the outcome of the poll on goal celebration music I’d been unable to participate in due to my internet crashing. Blimey! Was this a taste of what was to come? It looked like my friends in BC Lower had chosen the right game to come to after being away so long. My only concern was being able to keep up the momentum which we ultimately failed to do against Leicester in May, and The Trotters today might want to remind us of that since the lapse on our part cost them their place in the playoffs.
|Highlights||The whole game was an absolute joy to watch, from scoring with our very first attack. All three goals were a master class in finishing and the confidence that exuded from every player in a red shirt was plain to see. Another clean sheet to leave us as the only side not to concede a goal so far, and top of the league of course!|
None really, I’m happy to say, though the prospect of some longer journeys to/from the ground beckon with heavy roadworks on the A453 gathering pace.
Having dubbed Halford as our secret weapon last week, today he really came into his own with devastating effect and did everything except score himself. Hobbs and Wilson looked so assured at the back it enabled Cohen and Lichaj to go forward at will. It would be great to give Darlow the plaudits for a clean sheet, but ultimately he didn’t have a single serious save to make all afternoon. Guedioura tackled and headed well (though still gave the ball away far too much). Radi worked his magic for the first two goals and Reidy and Lansbury demonstrating the art of exquisite finishing.
A most unhappy return to City Ground for Dougie Freedman, who perhaps needs to stop worrying about spending money and sort his team’s discipline out instead.
Mark Haywood – must have thought he was doing the game a favour by erring on the side of leniency first half, but it all backfired horribly just before half time having failed to send Medo off and giving Reidy a yellow card, drawing howls of abuse from the stands. Redeemed himself in the second half with the second yellow for Pratley, though the game was arguably over as a contest by then.
8.5/10 – there’s not a lot this game didn’t have. One of the most enjoyable games this year.
5 = Relegation fodder
4 = Flirting with danger
3 = Mid-table
2 = Playoffs
1 = Automatic
|1 – We may be only three games in, but as the only side with a 100% record and no goals conceded this represents our best start at this level since the 1997-98 promotion campaign. Every realist knows it won’t be as plain sailing as today was, and there will undoubtedly be a few winnable games we fail in, so let’s savour today’s win and hope the current feel-good factor continues for a good while longer.|
Today’s BBC was true to form – for them it was only about sucking up to one team (see previous paragraph) with such predictable top priority for MOTD, in other words More Of The Same.
The national media-bashing will continue: last weekend’s disgracefully one-sided commentary and analysis of the Community Shield on ITV had all Wigan’s armchair fans reaching for the mute button. Monday’s Daily Mail was little better, spouting no less than five pages of drivel about the winners, with mention of Wigan so scant you wondered if there were two teams actually playing. Worse still it gave the match more than double the page space it afforded the entire Football League, including the results. To any Wigan fan who might be reading this, I really felt for you last Sunday, but enjoy the sympathy while you can. It’ll be business as usual on August 31st!
For me the fun wasn’t over at FT as my diverted journey home saw me chasing disgruntled Trotters fans all the way back to the Reebok and beyond (interspersed with the occasional clenched fist salutes of delighted Reds going in a similar direction), and then becoming persona non grata at a birthday party in Bolton later on with more Trotters fans lamenting their team’s abysmal performance. My boss couldn’t make it today, but no doubt he’ll give me a tough time on Monday, despite his relief at not travelling to see it.
Today’s win completed a hat-trick of broken sequences in our journey back towards The Promised Land. Following the first clean sheet against Huddersfield and the win at Ewood Park, today was our first win against The Trotters, home or away. I can’t yet think of one to break for when we play Udinese, given our somewhat mixed record at Vicarage Road, but I’m sure the TV pundits will have one up their sleeves. Meanwhile I’ll have one ready for the trip to the DW the following week. See you there!