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Lancashire Red Experience: Birmingham

2 February 2013

Think it’s time for one of these: HEALTH WARNING TIME!

(As ever, the views expressed in these reports are of a humble fan, and categorically do not represent those of the club)

I need hardly start this week’s report by saying this last week won’t exactly go down as the finest in the history of our once-great club.

Where do I start? My disappointment at having to attend an Elf & Safety course last Saturday instead of the Watford game was ultimately tempered as details trickled through of yet another horror show – the third inside a month that this time I’d thankfully been spared from. Not that it was going to make me feel any better as it completed the latest link of a nine-match sequence to confirm what we all knew – how consistently inconsistent we’ve become, with a run of WDLWDLWDL (not including the Oldham debacle of course).

As for the transfer day deadline and the Boyd fiasco, well words fail me. One lesson our new owners are going to have to learn very quickly is how to stop machine-gunning ourselves in the foot with an almost insatiable desire for the club to court bad publicity to the same extent as clubs like The Filth (you all know who I mean by now) milk the media (especially the BBC) for all it’s worth. If there’s a wrong note to be sung, you can almost guarantee Nottingham Forest will be at the front of the queue to sing it and we’re sick of it. The fans who called for O’Driscoll’s head have gone as quiet as those who performed the happy despatch in one of the most bizarrely timed moves of all time. All the early season optimism has evaporated as the decline in our season gathers momentum.

Which brings us to today – my first visit to St Andrews for eleven years, and that during a season which also began full of hope and ended in chaos (Hart’s first season in charge in case you were wondering), hitherto a lucky venue for yours truly having never seen us lose here (the two fine wins I witnessed were ironically during the Platt era). And here’s how that little statistic was finally (and embarrassingly) consigned to history.

FLC, Saturday 2nd February 2013, 1500
Birmingham City 2 – 1 Nottingham Forest
St Andrews
Clear, bright, cold, getting colder. Playing surface looked poor.
Away fan experience
No longer against a backdrop of god-forsaken urban decay (going back to the pre-Forest fan days when I used to live in Brum), plenty of retail outlets within walking distance of the ground. Visitors’ car park (if you’re there early enough) costs a whopping £7 now – and that for the privilege of being held back afterwards until the coaches have left. Still probably the safest place, mind. Inside the ground, despite the words ‘do not stand’ on tickets the usual persistent standing and zero action by toothless stewards ensured we watched the entire match on our feet. Close by were a vocal chorus who alternated between taunting the home fans to our right with some entertaining banter and the usual we-hate-D3rby rubbish which has about as much relevance at an away match as a drought alert in a monsoon. Oh, and somewhere in our midst the phantom farter was plying their trade with the occasional silent-but-deadly emission. Pooaargh!
The away end concourse – almost brand new when I last visited – looks decidedly run down and gloomy now despite the whitewashed walls. Decent enough food menu, not sampled, though beer rather gassy and predictably pricey.
A decent enough publication with some interesting stuff on Forest, past and present, together with a long tally of results from every Blues v Reds game since 1946. Plenty of other historical stuff elsewhere, presented in retro-70’s style, covering all sorts of insignificant games. These Blues like to reminisce!
The Match
Being seated so low down I was hoping to see plenty of the ball played to feet, and though it was difficult to see just how much space we had when in possession, again exposed when we failed to deal with som t
A well-known phrase comes to mind: if it ain’t broke… So why McLeish had to make four changes to the side which performed well on Saturday, well I just didn’t get that one. Only one of those was justified with Ayala coming in for Ward whose loan spell had ended.
We were never going to pull two back in seven days, never mind ten minutes, though we had reckoned without penalties – the irony of that 14-month wait for one now totally insignificant as we were awarded an unlikely one in the second minute of time added on when Sharp was felled on the edge of the box, and after a lengthy wait he duly dispatched the spot kick past Butland to give us an unlikely consolation goal before the final whistle allowed us to melt away in a disgruntled state back to the cars and coaches. The Brum fans to our right gleefully offered chants of ‘sacked in the morning’ directed at Big Eck to crown an unhappy return to his former club. Time will only tell how prophetic those chants turn out to be.
The killer blow came with ten minutes to go when Redmond set off on a run down the left which floored our defenders (again!) and before he’d even had the chance to cross to Burke it was already a done deal where the ball was destined for. Burke duly obliged and turned the knife in our already gaping wound by slamming the ball emphatically past Darlow. Game over.
As expected, Brum started the second half tails-up as we struggled to continue in the same creative mode as we had in the opening period, and the longer we toiled the less we looked like scoring. Passes started going astray and it looked all too predictable as we lacked pace and movement. Even the introduction of Radi (his new deal signed one of the few things to make us smile this week) failed to give us the cohesion we needed. Most worrying of all was the frequency at which Brum caught us on the break, and had King (predictably on the receiving end of systematic abuse from the travelling fans) and Thomas not squandered golden opportunities when one-on-one with Darlow we might have been at least four or five down. Not that anything should be taken away from Darlow who rose to the challenge each time, and was warmly applauded by the travelling fans – something I hope won’t have gone unnoticed by newly arrived Al-Rashidi on the bench.
Just like that dismal period twelve months ago after a dominant but unproductive first half we were made to pay right on the stroke of HT when Burke decided to give us a taste of what could have been the finishing prowess in a red shirt by finding himself in acres of space on the edge of the box (where was the defending …….. skipper?) before unleashing a curling shot which slammed the crossbar hard first before bouncing down behind the goal line. Totally against the run of play, but we had only ourselves the blame.
Forest clearly the better side during the first half, but the same old story of being unable to put chances away, with attempts by Sharp and Reid all going begging. Brum were allowing us enough time on the ball but every time we ventured forward we were pushed wide all too easily and with our unending tendency to treat the opposition box like a minefield, Blues’ Stoke-bound ‘keeper Jack (when is a Blue not a Blue?) Butland will have had few easier opening periods this season. Whilst it’s true we had many more shots on target than they did, we lacked punch. Elsewhere, crosses from forays down the left were easily plucked out of the air by Butland. Nothing new there, which begged the question what Henderson was doing, since he was seldom within close enough proximity to Sharp to adequately support him. Brum were making plenty of mistakes in all areas, yet we were unable to punish them.
Having the better of the play in the first half is about the only positive I can draw from this game – that and chatting to Johnno at HT as he was sat in the row in front of me.
Poor finishing, woeful defending, lack of movement, too much negative back-and-sideways passing – all the usual suspects were there today, and all the usual warnings gone unheeded. Brum were a very poor side to get beaten by today – yet in the end they did it easily. We were that bad in the second half.
Despite questioning the inclusion of Moussi in the starting line-up, he did quite well with some crucial tackles and (unusually for him) some useful passes, apart from being dispossessed in a vulnerable spot at one point; Another brave performance from Darlow – despite the poor defending going on in front of him.
Henderson went missing or dropped far too deep, so denied Sharp the necessary support up front, but worst of all was Collins’ lack of presence as a defender and leader – something he’s been given the benefit of the doubt, until now. When you compare him to the likes of Paul McKenna, that’s when you really remember what we’ve lost, but Collins did himself no favours today with some aimless heading of the ball and allowing himself to be dispossessed almost as badly as Gillett was at Prideless Park a fortnight ago. As for that second goal – well let’s just say it’s a good job Alan Hansen wasn’t watching!
Darren Deadman – not this fan’s favourite from history, but did a decent enough job today.
Entertainment Value4/10 – mainly on account of the number of chances wasted.
Promotion Rating
4 – In terms of promotion our season is over – let’s be realistic. Yes, we know it’s still mathematically possible, but I think the Play-off boat has all but slipped its moorings without us now and failure to win games like this we can forget it. This kind of form will see us firmly in the lower reaches of the table.
I don’t know what the answer is. McLeish today had a golden opportunity to remind the Blues’ fans of what they lost. Instead we get Chris Burke popping up to remind us of what we could have had, and how the Blues’ fans lapped it up. Listening to the phone-in on radio WM afterwards was painful enough as it was crystal clear the joke was firmly on us. Forest fans won’t tolerate much more than that. As yet another season drifts towards abject failure it’s time to take stock and really sort the wheat from the chaff. If McLeish is here to stay he will have to put last week’s debacle behind him and get on with it (for the sake of the fans, if nothing else), clear out the dead wood and maybe appoint a new first team coach whilst he’s about it (sorry, RK but it hasn’t been the best of football since you’ve been here!). If however, he’s just going to sit and lick his wounds then maybe Fawaz & co should just put him out of his misery, chalk it up as one of those things and move on. And yes, I’m firmly in the corner suggesting that the club could do a lot worse than calling on a certain out-of-work Scotsman who has unfinished business here.
We seemed to have turned the clock back to 2001. Two seasons (Platt’s second and Hart’s first) which began hopefully then crumbled into disappointment as the wheels came off, resulting in the former just missing out on the play-offs through regular failure to win distinctly winnable games (and like this season conceding five goals to Watford without reply), and the latter seeing the goals dry up to leave us hanging on for dear life come Easter (though in mitigation matters off the pitch at that time were in a parlous state). Somewhere at the mid-point of all that is how this season seems to be shaping up. Who’s to blame? We can point to the owners for some rash decisions (though I won’t be lamenting the departure of Mark Arthur as the one common factor in 14 years of failure) but if they have half a brain even they can see the name VENKY’S looming large – a tag they surely wouldn’t want to be saddled with in a million years; or McLeish being the latest incumbent to lose the dressing room, even if he was facing an uphill struggle before he even started. In that case the players need to take a long hard look in the mirror, because if this lackadaisical attitude isn’t nipped in the bud now then next season is unlikely to be any better than this one.

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