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Club News

Lancashire Red: Homecoming

16 February 2013

In a season in which we have been firmly locked on course in the direction of nowhere for around two months, it could be hard to imagine a game this late in the season to draw a crowd – never mind the anticipation which comes with it – of the scale seen today. It will also come as no surprise that the mood expressed in this report will contrast sharply with my last one at St Andrews two weeks ago (and although I don’t claim to get many things right, how prophetic were those words at the end of that report?).

That day was surreal in that we were witnessing a dead man walking (and I’m not talking about Darren Deadman who ironically was the ref that day!), and defeat in his old stomping ground a mere post-script to what had gone on a couple of days earlier.  It was for me a failed attempt to satisfy my withdrawal symptoms having missed the Watford game a week earlier (just as well, as it turned out) and prior to today I had this year to date attended more away games than at home, and having watched the Peterborough game from downstairs in The Pitch Diner it was good to restore some kind of normality today, surrounded by the usual suspects with that eagerly awaited banter.

Two weeks ago that feeling of despair was once again all too prevalent.  Compare that with today, and the events leading up to it, with the removal of the last flies in the ointment from BD’s previous tenure. What then seemed a pipe dream (despite that well publicised statement about unfinished business) was now happening for real.  A massive, massive wrong has been put right, and the board, despite some eyebrow-raising decisions lately, must be congratulated. BD’s grand entrance today, both in person and via the big screen was a truly awe inspiring moment.  Emotional even, this homecoming was almost right up there with Jenny Agutter’s heart-wrenching DADDY, OH MY DADDY! moment in The Railway Children. Goodness knows how it will feel if/when he gets us back to the Promised Land.

But that is the whole point. No-one since June 2011 has come even close to matching what BD achieved here before. The sceptics who feel his return is a retrograde step surely cannot argue with what he achieved before, or indeed again, or the pain of failure over the last 18 months. Today, whilst far from the finished article, reminded us emphatically of what we’ve missed. And just like being denied the win today, it shouldn’t be forgotten how it didn’t initially happen back then either. But when it did……… well, the rest we know, and why shouldn’t it happen again? 

FLC, Saturday 16th Feb 2013, KO 1500hrs
Nottingham Forest 1 – 1 Bolton Wanderers
The City Ground

Clear, bright
Away fans
About 2000 of them, which would have included my boss had it not been for a prior engagement.
Despite the special build-up to this game, kick-off was punctual.
The Match
Still we pressed, with Guedioura, Radi, and Reidy all having attempts, and the reintroduction of McGugan one of the final gestures of BD’s first game back at the helm, though sadly there was to be no repeat of the wonder goal scored by Lewis during our last visit to The Reebok, and 1-1 was how it finished.
That ought to have been the start of Forest proceeding to kill the game off, and for a while we stepped up a gear, though mistakes were beginning to creep in as we gave the ball away a few too many times, and it took a brilliant stop from Darlow to deny Kevin Davies after Cohen’s disastrous back-pass. And in one other rare slack moment we were eventually made to pay when Ngog was given acres of space down the right before planting a low cross for Craig Davies (the second of three Davies’s to feature for the visitors) who calmly slotted the ball past Darlow. Still totally against the run of play, and a more ill-deserved goal you’ll struggle to see all season, but I guess that’s football.
The deadlock was eventually broken on the hour mark after another brilliant link-up between Lansbury and Reidy who finally beat Bogdan from the edge of a crowded box with a cracking volley into the bottom corner. The first goal of the BD regime and not surprisingly the roof nearly came off – and not before time!
The pattern of the game changed around ten minutes before the break when Bolton decided to stop playing football and instead start clattering people in red shirts, so no surprises when the next player I mention happens to answer to the name of Kevin Davies who picked up where he left off in our game at The Reebok back in August, showing his Grame Souness tutelage with some pretty sly digs and at times downright dirty stuff. Sharp also got a right clattering from Bogdan after one goal attempt, and for a while it seemed this would be Bolton’s only way of stopping us.
Hard to imagine this was only 6 days into the new regime, but the vital ingredients we’ve been missing were back with a vengeance: pace, movement, crisp passing and above all sustained attacking football. Bolton looked shell-shocked from an early stage as we created chance after chance with Reidy and Lansbury running the show, terrorising the Trotters’ defence. What was refreshing to see was two out of every three attempts on goal on target and we really ought to have been at least two or three up by HT, and would have been had Adam Bogdan not kept turning into Peter Shilton or Gordon Banks every three minutes (although several other attempts seemed to be fired straight at him).
It felt almost as if BD had never been away, and how it contrasted with the languid, laborious dirge we’d been getting all too used to. Out of the starting blocks like Usain Bolt and we barely let up all afternoon.
The build-up to kick-off alone was eagerly anticipated, with the two big screens used to play Billy’s rousing speech. Most of the game with sustained attacking football by Forest was a joy to watch (reflected by the fans’ repeated ‘Billy, give us a wave’ chants throughout the afternoon), and Reidy’s goal, when it came, was the very least Forest deserved. Darlow’s save to deny Kevin Davies drew rapturous applause from the home fans, albeit it was a save he shouldn’t have had to make.
Still one or two lapses that need working on. Cohen’s mistake – similar to the one by Gillett at D3rby will be one he hopefully won’t be in a hurry to repeat. Another act of petulance earned Halford a yellow card, something that won’t go down well with the new manager, which Greg’s going to have to sort.
The afternoon undoubtedly belonged to BD and the way he has galvanised his players in such a short space of time. With key players in Radi, Blackstock and Cohen still here and proving their worth he knows he has the foundations on which to build, but he must be doubly delighted in Reidy who today proved more than ever that he is the glue holding it all together, and his well-taken goal must surely underline that. Good performances also by Jara, Lansbury and Darlow.
Probably the ref – see below.
How Kevin Davies was still on the field by HT was beyond me, but then it was Keith Stroud refereeing today, and has a long reputation for antagonising Forest fans with some bizarre decisions (including being overruled by one of his assistants in favour of a Forest corner). Made up for it partially later on with Alonso’s dismissal, but still let them get away with too much.
Entertainment Value7.5/10 – with more goals this might have been the game with everything, but with plenty of attacking football today was way more entertaining than most games we’ve seen this season.
Promotion RatingStill probably only a 3 at this stage, and more points dropped will make it harder to reach the playoffs as games begin to run out, but the more optimistic of us only need to remind ourselves of the seven-win sequence under Frank Barlow which nearly got us there after the Megson nightmare, or of Crystal Palace a year before that with their incredible journey from the bottom three at Christmas to promotion via the playoffs five months later. Still plenty of precedents to feed off, even now.
But for their ‘keeper, this would’ve been the massive win to kick-start our season. That said, still plenty of room for improvement in the finishing department. Blackstock had the pace Sharp was distinctly short of, and BD must find a way of playing to Sharp’s strengths, of which he has plenty. Whether he figures in BD’s longer term plans is anyone’s guess at this stage, though a goal-poacher of his calibre is something we’ve missed for too long to overlook.  Even less clear is how McGugan fits into the plan being out of contract soon, and the old chestnut of a Left Back appears to have made an early comeback with an out-of-position Cohen favoured over Dan Harding. Interesting decision to drop Collins, though hardly a surprise given some awful performances lately. If all this is BD making his mark, then the future will be looking up very soon.

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