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Lancashire Red: Foxed at the Wrong Time

4 May 2013

Sometimes you get that feeling that some things are just not meant to be? That could be an apt take on Forest and the play-offs as we reflect on how the season has ended. There will be further analysis to come once Lancashire can stop crying in his beer and get an end-of-season report cobbled together for your delectation.

That probably sounds a lot worse than it really was. Win, lose or draw, I think everyone was hoping for a contest today that would prove to be a fitting finale to easily the biggest rollercoaster season we’ve had since being in the Prem, and I doubt anyone could argue about what we got. Today was also my birthday (cue greetings of May the 4th be with you!) so a win would have been the perfect present, especially if it was enough to extend our season by at least another week.

Of course the very fact we had something to play for today was reason enough to be satisfied. I had enjoyed locking horns with my boss (season ticket holder at Bolton) the day before as he gleefully pointed out, in his words, ‘we win and that’s you stuffed’. I pointed out we had an insurance policy of Palace being beaten by Peterborough – a result I considered more likely than Blackpool doing us a favour given Bolton’s dazzling home form of late.

So, the stage was set. What we got in the end was almost the opposite of what we expected, and in the grand scheme of things today’s result may well have been an indication of how we might have fared had we made it through to face Watford next Thursday night, which, given our record against The Hornets this season doesn’t bear thinking about. Defending leaves much food for thought and something which will be uppermost in BD’s plans during the summer months. Still, as one of my neighbours wistfully pointed out afterwards, at least today’s result had saved many of us around a hundred quid or so for more play-off heartache, and given the distances travelled just to attend home games, I had to agree. All the same, it doesn't stop you thinking what might have been. Never mind, August's a new season! 

FLC, Saturday 4th May 2013, KO 1245hrs
Nottingham Forest  -  Leicester City
The City Ground

Changeable, heavy shower giving way to sunny spells.
Away fans
You had to hand it to them: all 2000 wearing matching t-shirts to create a sea of blue in the Bridgford Lower. An inspired move by whoever set this one up which doubtless had a positive effect on their players trying to cope with the cauldron-like City Ground atmosphere.
A minute late, so not bad by our standards.
The Match
This wasn’t quite the end, as we threw all bar the kitchen sink back at Schmeichel, going close several times in the closing stages, but it was not to be, and with no changes to the score at The Reebok, our first home league defeat to The Foxes for 40 years had meant they’d snatched the last play-off berth from under our noses.
Which made it all the harder to take as exactly the opposite happened, just as we entered stoppage time. We lost possession after a pass went astray deep into Leicester’s half, and suddenly we were exposed. With Leicester pressing forward 4 on 1 it only took a couple of precision passes between Knockeart and Wood to set up one of the easiest goals they will have scored this season. Collins never looked like stopping it with Darlow already beaten, and the roar from the blue tee-shirted 2000 could only spell one thing.
The next 40 minutes proceeded to be as exciting as anything we’ve seen this season as the game continued in end-to-end mode, and with Forest playing considerably better now. Harding was doing well to help create overlaps despite having to switch to the right after Halford had to come off midway through the first half, Reidy, Radi and Lansbury combined well to set up Cox who very nearly capitalised on a rare Schmeichel error, and Radi again went agonisingly close when he glanced a Reid cross narrowly wide. At the other end Ward had to blast a really dangerous ball over his own crossbar, and Leicester continued to threaten on the break. But the game remained evenly poised as both sides sought to take their season into extra time as scorelines in Bolton and South London stagnated. Changes were made (it was ‘Lewis’ time once again, with Sharp joining the action shortly after). One goal was likely to settle it, and for long periods it looked like it just might be Forest that would get it.
We didn’t have to wait long. Radi was bundled over by Big Wes just five minutes in, and after a slight delay to the resultant free kick in which Reidy (backed by a noisy Trent End) protested at the Foxes defenders encroaching, an exquisite ball was whipped in and met by Elliott Ward at the far post. 2-2 and it was well and truly game on, albeit the league positions right back to how the day began: Palace, about to go behind again in 5th, Bolton level with Blackpool in 6th, Forest in 7th on GD, and City back into 8th, having been up to 6th at HT.
So, HT and Forest in 8th place, having been up to 6th from the 3rd to 42nd minute, and judging by events elsewhere, there was plenty of prospect for more musical chairs in the great play-off chase over the next 45.
For the rest of the half, despite some stirring end-to-end football we were rocking as The Foxes looked dangerous with every attack and counter-attack (the Nugent-Dyer combination especially), and but for some excellent stops by Darlow we might well have been three or four down by the time City did eventually take the lead, three minutes before half time. Again it was from the left, in the form of a Knockeart cross which sailed high across the six-yard box, and we watched in horror as Andy King moved in to meet it, and with Darlow already committed, you knew where the ball was destined well before King had even made contact. Stunned silence apart from the delighted Bridgford Lower, with advantage firmly with The Foxes. Credit to Forest with a quick response as Ward and Lansbury both went very close in some frantic goalmouth action. Elsewhere, the earlier good news had now disappeared as Bolton, despite going two down had drawn level, and Peterborough’s early advantage at Selhurst Park had been cancelled out, and we all took turns in relaying these snippets of news to those sat around us before the HT scores appeared on the big corner screens.
Not, however before we’d received good news elsewhere, which filtered through the stands rather like a vocal version of a Mexican Wave as we learned of Blackpool taking the lead at The Reebok. This was dreamland, but the feeling was short-lived when Leicester, who had stepped up a gear and began to look dangerous, especially down the left, won a corner which was taken short and a quick one-two let Matty James weave into the box from the left in plenty of space before firing home. It may have taken a massive deflection, but this was disastrous defending by Forest, and rather told the story of the latter stages of our season.
Needless to say this set us off into wild celebrations – all the more significant as Forest early goals seem to have come like the proverbial buses all of a sudden. For the next ten minutes we dominated and in front of a buoyant crowd were nearly two up before the pattern of the game started to swing in Leicester’s favour.
With so much riding on this one, it could have either been a stodgy defensive display with both sides playing it tight, or a full-tilt open game played at high tempo. We got the latter which barely let up during the entire ninety. Forest made an excellent start with a Reidy cross falling deep into the Foxes’ box, and despite being surrounded by defenders, Cox managed to swivel round and lash the ball past Schmeichel to score his first goal since November – of course nothing about whom that was actually against? Let’s hope we don’t have to wait for our next date with The Foxes before Cox nets again!
A fantastic start, with Cox finally finding the net after a long wait; lots of creative play throughout the game; the carnival atmosphere contributed to proceedings as expected. Credit to the home fans who warmly applauded the Leicester players at the end of a hard-fought and entertaining contest.

The Leicester bench invading the pitch following Knockeart’s winner, which caused things to kick off with some fans behind the dugout. Forest guilty of some woeful defending which ultimately proved our undoing, and will doubtless be lesson number one to be learned from this season.
But for Darlow’s heroics we might easily have been trailing 5-1 at HT – he was magnificent. Reid was back to his best with some pin-point deliveries from set pieces and elsewhere.
You couldn’t level this at anyone on the pitch today. Instead the BBC (TV and website) deserve to be slammed for their indifferent attitude towards the entertainment value of this game, especially given what was at stake. This was a great advertisement for Championship football.  Or maybe they don’t like Midland derbies…?
Mike Dean – Played advantage wherever possible, and applied bookings where appropriate, though caused controversy when waving away what looked a genuine penalty appeal when Lewis was felled in the box.
Entertainment Value8/10 – Without doubt one of the most entertaining games seen here in a long time – the combination of a local derby and the possibility of a play-off berth in which all kinds of permutations were possible, and the game truly lived up to expectation in front of a sell-out crowd.
Promotion Rating3 is how it finished, just missing out on a 2-rating (play-offs).
Thought it was a pity that some sections of the home crowd chose to boo Big Wes whenever he had the ball, given his popularity during his time with us (especially since similar treatment was more justifiably meted out to Luke Chambers a couple of months ago). That said, there were rousing chants of ‘you’ll never beat…’ in the way we used to as he moved towards the tunnel after the home fans had warmly applauded his team.

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