Without wanting to put the kiss of death on anything, it is interesting to look at how certain campaigns at this stage of proceedings laid the foundations for their respective grand finales, not to mention the varying outcomes.
2000-01 – Inconsistent form and with injuries having cost us, prospects alternated between wins scraped against Blackburn and Grimsby then shooting ourselves in the foot at Molineux to bring abject despair. Despite hovering on the cusp of the playoff race, the season ended in disappointment after defeats by Wimbledon and Gillingham.
2002-03 – Looking a fairly safe bet to make the playoffs, barring the odd slip-up along the way, though of course we were already established in a top-six position by March.
2005-06 – Arguably (so far at least) a bigger turnaround to our season’s fortunes when Charlie and Frank had started the great Forest revival following The Ginger One’s departure. Here, we were in the middle of an amazing run of several straight wins – ignited by that 7-1 demolition of Swindon. We reached top six by Easter before running out of steam and finished 7th.
2007-08 – Inconsistency threatened to derail even our playoff hopes (not to mention Calderwood’s tenure), epitomised by that abject defeat at Doncaster before travelling to in-form Carlisle to spark an amazing (albeit late) turnaround, with an unbeaten run culminating in that fabulous finale against Yeovil on May 3rd.
In a rather roundabout way, I’m probably suggesting there are a lot of precedents involving this club alone which have given – and can still give – hope for May, not just for the playoffs, but maybe something even better? I could hardly dare mention that back in 2008 after that win at Carlisle, yet look what happened five weeks later! Even so, what seemed unlikely at the end of January has now got us wondering if certain diary dates post May 4th might need checking?
Today, rather like the last four games played, was another of those tricky but winnable games, and necessary to win as harder fixtures loom. Wolves of course had an incentive of a different nature, and will have been buoyed up by their midweek win at Millwall, their first under the latest incumbent of their own managerial merry-go-round, Dean Saunders.
FLC – Saturday 9th March 2013, KO 1500|
Nottingham Forest 3 – 1 Wolves
|Venue||The City Ground|
Steady drizzle, though playing surface held up well despite looking decidedly worn.
|Away fans||Just over 2000, doing the typical away fan thing, on their feet throughout. Vocal at first, looking decidedly despondent later on.|
Kick-off a minute late due to the change of ends and Wolves needing to go into a second pre-match huddle.
No matter. It was Lewis who was able to administer the coup de grace as FT approached. Jara Reyes made a jinking run deep into the box and might well have had a pop at goal himself given enough space. As he was about to be tackled however Lewis, following up from the left intercepted by unleashing a superb first-time shot which crashed off the bar and in. Game, set and match. A couple of minutes of keep-ball later and we were celebrating a fifth straight win, something not achieved for at least three years here, and a first double against Wolves for at least a good thirty-odd years. My old school pal who had generously hosted a memorable day at Molineux back in November had been unable to make it today, though given what we saw today it was probably just as well, and his text message suggested relegation for Wolves seemed ever more likely now.|
Ten minutes later came the incident that undoubtedly killed what remained of the game as a contest. In yet another master stroke, BD had, instead of bringing on Billy Sharp as expected, decided to throw on Greg Halford for his first taste of action having completed a two-match ban, no doubt to the consternation of his former fans in the Bridgford Lower. This feeling was no doubt intensified by the unlikely sight of him bearing down on Ikeme’s goal having run with the ball for some 50 yards following a cleared corner. With only Stephen Ward to beat he calmly poked the ball beyond him before being blatantly body-checked to earn a free kick well into McGugan territory (and not a bad effort either) with Ward having been dismissed as last man. Once again you had to feel sorry for Cox who had kept right up with Halford and may well have been the beneficiary had play continued.
It had been coming, you had to admit, but before anyone had time to ponder our lost lead we were back in front with another stunning shot by Lansbury who’d obviously caught Wolves in that state of post-goal euphoria. From a similar distance to his first goal, he rifled past Ikeme who never looked like stopping it. Only once afterwards did Wolves look like getting back into the game seven minutes later when a cross from Doherty came skidding across the face of Darlow’s goal to be met by…….nobody, thank goodness! In fairness it was the type of chance we’ve missed often enough in the past.
Five minutes later it was apparent that Dex was unable to continue, and BD, somewhat wisely threw on Lewis to spare Billy Sharp (recovering from a chest infection) for later in the game if necessary, leaving Cox up front and pushing Radi forward in support. This worked fine, albeit the game continued without the same intensity of the opening half-hour. Wolves pressed forward occasionally without creating much, and the closest they came to scoring was from a Sako free kick which crashed off the underside of the crossbar. Initial reports hinted Darlow may have diverted it though watching the replay later suggested otherwise. HT, and afterwards, apart from Lewis missing an apparent sitter from a couple of yards out following an excellent Reid cross, Wolves began to play with a little more purpose and were eventually rewarded with an equaliser on 65 minutes from a looping header by Doherty from a Sako corner. At first it looked like Darlow had managed to get a hand out to put it over, but when the net bulged outwards instead of in, there was that split second’s stunned silence before it registered with the Bridgford Lower before they duly launched into celebration.
Despite Wolves’ slightly brighter start, Forest took little time in taking control of proceedings with some excellent passing football. Cox’s disallowed goal for offside following a superb run by Reidy proved merely a stay of execution for Wolves, and twenty minutes later Forest’s persistence paid off. Good build-up play involving Radi, Cox and Guedioura (how Wolves must be missing him!) eventually set Lansbury up just outside a crowded box. A well-hit shot fired low to Ikeme’s right, it was rather like Lewis’s goal on Tuesday only without the deflection and with Ikeme beaten, the celebrations from the Trent End were in full flow before the ball had crossed the line.
|Highlights||Lansbury’s second undoubtedly the defining moment of the game (though his opener wasn’t bad either!) and Lewis grabbing his second in as many games continues to repay the faith BD has kept in him. The changes made for a hat-trick of masterstrokes, even if the first one (Lewis on for Dex) was somewhat forced. A fifth straight win coupled with results elsewhere going strongly our way – including D3rby losing having led initially – enabling us to pounce on a top six spot. September seems such a long time ago! Happy girlfriend’s family with Wigan pulling off a shock win at Everton. Happy days!|
Wolves’ equaliser was a decidedly soft one to concede, though thankfully we tightened up when defending subsequent corner kicks. Dex’s early substitution was obviously not part of the plan, though ultimately a master-class in BD’s tactics.
|Hero||At long last we’ve been able to enjoy Lansbury take centre stage after a series of scintillating performances, and deservedly so with two well-taken goals today; The Mousse back to his best with some superb work in midfield after coming on for Radi; Halford’s versatility to take his old club by surprise; Collins looks resurgent with some committed work, though I’m sure that getting injured (and having to have his head bandaged early on) wasn’t part of the original plan!|
Michael Naylor – looked like he was wearing a Wolves shirt for the first hour as most decisions went firmly in favour of the visitors, though full credit for not bottling it with Ward’s Red Card right in front of the Wolves fans.
|Entertainment Value||7/10 – the first half-hour was as good as anything we’ve seen of late, though became scrappier until Wolves equalised and we wrested control of the game shortly afterwards. Good stuff today.|
|Promotion Rating||2 – Better results elsewhere you couldn’t wish for, with Forest being the only side in the top eight to win today (just as well, since we can’t rely on other sides slipping up every week). The two sides to keep a watch for: Leicester, whose faltering form could make them our next target, and Bolton whose run-in appears easier than everyone else could well see them in the final reckoning. Food for thought as our remaining fixtures become increasingly tricky.|
Lancashire Red coverage resumes during Easter weekend for the critical clash with Brighton and hopefully the disposal of The Dingles two days later.|
In one of the parallels mentioned at the top of this report I jinxed a winning run by attending a game at Hartlepool which we lost and which all but ended our playoff hopes. Thanks to economy measures becoming necessary following a rather expensive car repair bill, you will be pleased to know I won’t be jinxing our trip to Hull next week. Win that game and our points tally to date will equal that at the same point two seasons ago when a poor run of results preceded an impressive final push to secure a top six finish.