But the reality, as we know is quite different. Four points from nine which, while most will agree is less than we deserved, and clinging on to 6th place and in danger of sliding further, we are where we are. Various factors have conspired against us, it is true. The question is where do we go from here?
First things first. Without doubt our promotion campaign has suffered a hammer blow with Chris Cohen ruled out for the rest of the season – his loss cannot be overstated, especially since this will be the second long-term absence he’ll have suffered in three years. If there can be any positives drawn from this latest setback it’d have to be the extent to which the club and (especially) fans have voiced their support which not only endorses Chris’s popularity as a top guy as well as a true servant for his club – not to mention an inspirational leader the likes not seen since Paul McKenna – but significantly it highlights more than ever the sustained feeling of unity within the club, something not felt for a very long time, which can only be good in the long term. When was the last time you saw sponsors’ adverts (not to mention interviews with visiting players) in the matchday programme offering support to a player wishing him a speedy recovery? I therefore echo what others have already said and wish Chris all the very best for a successful recovery and hope he will be back with us as soon as possible.
A huge loss indeed. We are however fortunate that we currently have not one but two inspirational players in the first team squad. Something to give us some hope tonight was the appearance of Andy Reid on the bench to reassure us that the injury sustained whilst on international duty was not as bad as first feared (some good news at last!). I can’t help wondering how different the result would have been had he been on the pitch from the start.
The Championship, Friday 29th November 2013; kick-off 1945hrs|
Nottingham Forest 2 – 3 Reading
|Venue||The City Ground|
Cool and dry
Just short of 900 of them and were vocal just when you expected them to be – too bad we couldn’t carry on and deny them something to smile about towards the end.
Three minutes would appear to be the best margin to adjust the dressing room clocks by, since yet again we were that late getting under way tonight. The question still stands: WHY?
Stunned silence save for the 900 tucked away in the corner. Billy reacted by throwing on Matt Derbyshire to replace Harding, whilst Reading countered by teasing us with the introduction of Billy Sharp who not surprisingly was given a warm welcome by the home fans, just like Chris Gunter was warmly applauded a minute later going in the opposite direction on the back of a red card for a second bookable. The rest of the game was a stop-start affair with free kicks and yellow cards aplenty as we tried unsuccessfully to restore parity. All the same, the remaining Royal ex-Reds were applauded off at FT as they acknowledged the Trent End (don’t know the guy behind me what his problem was as we left, but his rants suggested he didn’t like McCleary very much).|
For the next 15 minutes or so the game ticked over with the balance of play still marginally in our favour, but with red shirts committed further forward we were caught on a rare break by Reading and a cross from the right found Obita in acres of space near the far post and with only Darlow to beat he made no mistake. Another of those sucker punches!
It was on the hour mark that the perseverance paid off. A move involving Reid and Cox saw the ball laid off for Hendo who took sure aim before slotting home the equaliser. Game on!
Suddenly we were a different side, and for the next 20 or so minutes we were as good as the opening half hour had been bad, and for the first time all evening we began to put together some good passing football, so good that for long periods you’d never have thought it was us chasing the game. The fans became more animated and began to get behind the boys who went close several times.
HT, and for the first time this season you wondered how many teacups might be getting smashed across the dressing room floor. Words would have been followed by action, manifested by the double substitution of a lacklustre Radi and Paterson with Reidy and Hendo.
It was a mistake by a Reading defender that let us back into the game about five minutes before HT, though in fairness we had started to wake up a few minutes earlier. Jamie Mackie was about the most effective player in a red shirt once we’d started to show more control in possession, and it was his cross from the right that found Cox in the right position (i.e. for once not offside) to slide the ball home for his third goal in as many games, though it has to be said it would have been his second of the night had he not done a passable impersonation of a spectator five minutes earlier in a virtual carbon copy of the move. Well received though the goal was, celebrations were somewhat muted (and what on earth is that unrecognisable celebration music you can barely hear? Bring back the Fratellis please!
This continued for well over half an hour, during which time the City Ground faithful grew increasingly restless. It was already frustrating enough that most of us present had not seen a win since beating our neighbours back in September, but what we were watching was like turning the clock back two years (ironic in a way since the home fixture against Reading was one of the few we won during the Cotterill era).
If we carried on playing like we were this could turn into a rout. In stark contrast to Reading’s slick passing we were cumbersome, tentative, easily knocked off the ball, unable to control it and no forward ball of 20 yards or more was pitched at a height of less than 30,000 feet, giving Air Traffic Control at East Midlands Airport a right royal headache (Lichaj particularly guilty).
Five minutes later we were two down. A Guthrie cross from the right swings in and an unmarked Gorkss dives in to head home. It was all far too easy, and I wondered whether the curse of a difficult journey to the game was striking home yet again (at great expense I travelled by train and was still in Sheffield at the time I was due to arrive in Nottingham) and the last time I could remember going two down so early in a game was ten years ago against newly-promoted Cardiff when a certain Robbie Earnshaw stole the show with an early strike.
Of the three ex-Reds to feature today it was Garath McCleary who was first to make his mark when he advanced at pace into the box like a knife through butter and leaving Dan Harding gasping at air. A deft pass to Pogrebnyak and from six yards there really was only one place the ball was destined for. The game was barely seven minutes old, and we’d hardly had a touch of the ball. Bang!
I think it’s fair to say the first half-hour is not going to go down as our finest….well, half hour. Reading came flying out of the blocks with some slick, fast-paced, in-yer-face passing football, whilst we appeared totally bamboozled and left chasing shadows, exercising almost zero ball control at the slightest whiff of possession which usually lasted about as long as the proverbial fool and his money.
|Highlights||The first 20 minutes after HT showed the tactical change had paid off handsomely. A nice touch by Mackie and Cox as our first goal was celebrated with a number 8 shirt held aloft in true ‘this one’s for you, Chris’ fashion. Henderson’s leveller really led us into thinking we could go on and win this.|
A 5th booking for Lascelles means he’ll miss Tuesday’s trip to Millwall so stretching our makeshift defensive resources still further.
The first 30 minutes was far and away the worst we’ve seen of Forest this season, with zero control or creativity. As for defending, words failed me. Coming back from two goals down is all very well, but why make a rod for your own back in the first place?
Mackie was a constant threat going forward. Reid was influential immediately after coming on.
Dan Harding’s performance as a defender showed just why we’re missing Cohen and the need to bolster that department has never been greater. That said, Harding still proves he can threaten going forward and certainly did so tonight. I’m a big Radi fan, but tonight he was poor, as was Paterson. Little wonder Billy pulled them off at HT.
|Referee||Stuart Attwell – another ref with something of a reputation of the wrong sort to precede him. Tonight he did reasonably OK, and for all his decisions that went against us (not that there were many) he was welcome relief compared to last week’s offering.|
7.5/10 – For the neutral this had pretty much close to everything. But for the first 20 minutes this might have rated even higher.
5 = Relegation fodder
4 = Flirting with danger
3 = Mid-table
2 = Playoffs
1 = Automatic
|3 – I doubt many of us would have fancied our chances of winning after 15 minutes tonight. It looked for a while we might yet be proved wrong, though the mental strength to turn an impressive comeback from dead and buried status into a win (which we know has shown in the not-too-distant past) has yet to shine through, and even if Saturday’s results prove kind to us, as things currently stand that may well spell the end of our season as serious promotion contenders. On a scale of one to ten on how much we miss Cohen, I’d say about twelve.|
|Some observations on the programme: strange that it should take almost two months for some match highlights to appear – the visit to Charlton was over eight weeks ago. We’ll no doubt look forward to reading news of Cohen’s progress in the coming months. And a wish ahead of next season that the programme can revert to standard shape as the current 45rpm size is so unwieldy; it doesn’t go into bags or pockets well and flops around all over the place. Whoever changed it please can they change it back!|