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Pantomime Characteristics

29 December 2013

Ahh, that’s more like it! My disappointment at not attending the Boxing Day win over QPR (though I did get to watch it on iPad) was more than offset by today seeing the far more important achievement of seeing back-to-back wins for the first time since August (can’t believe it’s been that long, but there you go). It meant I was going to miss a large family trip to the pantomime, though I was anticipating plenty of pantomime characteristics in today’s game. Certainly the peak of pantomime season, though on a bad day it’s more like a Christmas hangover fixture and potentially one of my least favourite of the season. Looking back, this was one of the most enjoyable encounters I’ve seen in a while, not to mention the first win I’ve attended since D3rby three months ago.

Not that the whole pantomime stuff has been confined to what we saw today. In a Christmas where Vincent Tan trying to out-Venky Blackburn Rovers looks about as sensible a policy as that of Gatwick Airport’s customer care over Christmas? And yes, I know things didn’t look too good here this time last year, though common sense ultimately won the day with the restoration to the throne of King Billy. Not that everyone appears satisfied when things don’t go to plan, and let’s hope our bad luck on the injury front is behind us now. All the same, those same doom-mongers calling for Billy’s head as if he’d assumed the guise of the wicked ogre have yet to come up with whom they’d rather have instead, just as they expect certain strikers to simply walk away from a promotion rival doing just as well as us if not better and don a red shirt for the remainder of the campaign. Yes, I await news just like the next fan of a new striker being brought in to give us that strength in depth to see us through, and with the state of this club a world away from what it was two years ago I have every faith it will happen.

Especially after the great show today.

The Championship, Sunday 29th December, 2013, KO: 1500hrs
Nottingham Forest 2 – 1 Leeds United
The City Ground

Clear and bright, getting colder
Away fans

Just short of 2000 crammed into the dark corner, and at times they made some noise, but that was nothing like as dramatic as the way they were ultimately silenced.
A couple of minutes late, though this included changing ends with Leeds winning the toss and deciding to attack the Bridgford End first half. Even this paled into insignificance though with an injury to Paddy Kenny in the first minute, holding up play for a further three minutes.
The Match
And that was about it. McCormack came off, and with it any further threat from the visitors. A travesty had been averted, the villains had been banished, and we all lived happily ever after, at least until full time.
Seven minutes to go, and failure to kill the game off once again was about to bite us in the backside once more. Only, we’d reckoned without what would happen next. Right from the restart the ball was fed first to Chalobah before Derbs took it forward a couple of yards before unleashing a peach of a shot which sailed into the top corner. A sure contender for goal of the season doesn’t even come close. For style, for audacity and above all, timing. I confess I was still texting home our lead being lost when I looked up to see the ball hit the back of the net. Even the wind which had picked up outside by now was going to have no chance in blowing the roof off compared to the explosion of noise from 25,000 delighted Forest fans. What a response! Needless to say there were plenty of questions for TBNTM, mainly asking what might change the taste of those words he was now about to eat!
A minute later Leeds were level in somewhat bizarre if not fortuitous circumstances.  Darlow was beaten for the first time all afternoon by a cross-cum-shot by Byram, though Lascelles was covering and we heaved a sigh of relief as he scooped it off the line, though relief turned to horror as his clearance struck Darlow’s backside and rebounded right into the path of Ross McCormack (just had to be him!) and from five yards out with the Championship’s leading scorer, well you just don’t ever miss those!
Surprisingly there were no changes at HT, though Kenny must have been relieved at having his owns fans behind him after the break, especially after they appeared to wake up a little, causing a few shouts of ‘HE’S BEHIND YOU!’ whenever we appeared to dither in possession. Although Leeds did appear to venture forward, it was Forest who were still very much in control, though that nagging feeling of defending such a slender lead wouldn’t go away. Abdoun continued to provide our main threat down the left whilst Lansbury also went close. Leeds meanwhile occasionally took play up to our end, though Lascelles and Hobbs kept Smith and McCormack well and truly at arm’s length, and although Leeds were enjoying much more possession, Darlow didn’t have a single serious save to make for at least 20 minutes following the break. Even so, the clock wasn’t really ticking down fast enough, and with just over 20 to go came a surprise change with Abdoun making way for Derbyshire. TBNTM never shut up (most of it unsuitable for family viewing) and you’d have thought it was suddenly Billy’s turn to play the villain with such a change. Even so, it certainly raised an eyebrow or two. Radi was warmly applauded as he made way for Chalobah as we tried to make the game safe. Leeds’ only attempt of note came from Aryibi from a central position 20 yards out, which never even reached the corner flag – I suspect even widow Twankey could have done better! At the other end concern for three consecutive passes by Reid going astray were quickly forgotten when he tried a long range shot which Kenny never got a whiff of, being saved only by his left-hand post.
The other villain was an old thorn in the side from years past. Michael Brown probably likes to think of himself as something of a playmaker. I prefer to think of him as something of a past-it playboy of the northern world, and memories of the damage he did to our play-off hopes a decade ago, not to mention unedifying gamesmanship, did not go unnoticed by the radio commentary team, especially with the clashes he had with Reid today. It was for his second dirty challenge that he was rightly booked, much to the delight of 25,000 home fans (yes, the good guys always win in pantos eventually!). Of course it would have been better if Brown had walked, but Leeds were then punished in a much better way a moment later when Reid’s inch-perfect free kick found Halford on the far post who rose unchallenged to head home. No prizes for guessing Lost That Lovin Feeling was the audience sing-a-long song. It was nothing more than we deserved and Forest went on to complete the first half with some aplomb, reducing Leeds to chasing shadows. If we’d added a second or third in that ensuing 20-minute period you could safely say we’d ripped them to pieces, and we certainly went close during that time, most notably Radi slotting an excellent shot from 20 yards which Kenny only just got to. Abdoun continued his excellent form of late while Mackie threatened down the right. All in all it was a solid team performance from every red shirt, even if I could get no endorsement from the radio commentary since my radio had packed up shortly after we took the lead.
Of course no pantomime is complete without at least one villain, and Leeds duly provided two courtesy of the former Blades-Warnock contingent. The first, Paddy Kenny would have drawn some sympathy for an injury in the first minute following a clash with the advancing Halford, especially since he lay on the ground for at least three minutes afterwards. But of course like the Boy Who Cried Wolf too many times in the past with his time-wasting tactics, this left the home fans distinctly unimpressed, and proceeded to mock his inability to be anything like as effective thereafter, requiring the assistance of his defenders to take goal kicks.
Forest appeared to carry on right where they left off on Boxing Day with assured and confident passing of the ball. This was something we’ve got quite used to by now, the question being whether the dominance could be turned into the goals we so desperately needed? There was only one change to the line-up and the omission of Vaughan was as surprising as the return of Radi was welcome, so in the process removing something of a Cinderella status.
Derbyshire’s stunning winner will take some beating, not least for the timing of it. Halford’s opener was just reward for some excellent play. Back-to-back wins to cement 5th place and conclude the month unbeaten. I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve attended a win against this lot (the 4-2 win last season I saw on TV so that doesn’t count).

Darlow will be disappointed at missing out on a 5th consecutive clean sheet, though going some 400+ minutes without conceding is some achievement (and he won’t concede many like he did today in an entire career!). It’s too bad both our East Midlands rivals also had to win today, putting them 1st and 2nd in the table, though popular opinion suggests we’ll have something to say about that if our recent improvement in form continues.

I’m tempted to say everyone did their bit today, such was the way we controlled the game. Halford can continue in his role as unlikely striker as much as he likes, and Derbs might just have silenced one or two sceptics with that stunning winner, just as Abdoun has finally convinced me he can do something useful with the ball. Makeshift Captain Marvel Reid – give that man a contract!

Certainly no-one in a red shirt. I guess that only leaves Michael Brown who surely cannot relish visiting City ground any longer!
RefereeJ Linington – Can’t say I’ve seen him before, but on the whole did a good job, most notably with the timely booking of Michael Brown. The same can’t be said of his assistant Astley who appeared to make several errors.
Entertainment Value
8/10 – excellent passing football finally getting the reward it deserves.

5 = Relegation fodder
4 = Flirting with danger
3 = Mid-table
2 = Playoffs
1 = Automatic
Promotion Rating
2 – and a very good one too. Amazing the difference back-to-back wins make, and to the extent even the national media are now sitting up and taking notice. We’re half-way through and currently just a point short of the same stage four years ago when we were in second place. Time will tell what the second half brings – let’s hope Billy’s transfer talks with Fawaz more than compensate for the disappointment of four years ago. That said, who’d bet against us meeting either (or ultimately both) our local rivals in the playoffs? 

What a year! What a transformation in just about EVERY aspect of this club of ours. I can’t remember previously signing off a calendar year through these reports on as high a note as this. A Happy New Year to everyone. Keep the faith and let’s hope the feel-good factor prevails.

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