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Lancashire Red: A Different Corner

8 April 2014

A ray of hope, a stay of execution, or prolonging the inevitable? I suspect most of us are probably inclined towards the latter as the winless run continues into its 12th game. It’s still enormously frustrating to see what looked such a promising season at one stage only to degenerate into agonising anti-climax the way it has. And yet a corner may have been turned tonight, albeit in somewhat unlikely circumstances. The game tonight might easily be one to define our season: yet another draw though counterbalanced by an impressive display of character by at least nine men on the field.

The omens weren’t too good, mind. Another mid-week game in which I had to make a considerable diversion from the normal route due to traffic snarl-ups at Warrington and Stoke, not to mention the closure of Wilford Lane, and usually when that happens we seem to lose – especially during the run of poor form we find ourselves in.

That said, I’m still contemplating what totally whacky celebration to make if we make the playoffs AND still get promoted. It ain’t over till it’s over, and tonight was a good illustration of that.

The Championship, Tuesday 8th April 2014, Kick-off 1945hrs
Nottingham Forest 3 – 3 Sheffield Wednesday
The City Ground

Dry and threatening to feel spring-like, though in reality quite cold. The wind had dropped causing a nasty outbreak of midges on the terrace at The Riverbank pub during pre-match drinks.
Away fans

As you would normally expect when The Owls come to visit: a large turnout and vocal for long periods.
Amazingly another punctual start, even with the change of ends after Wednesday won the toss!
The Match
That ought to have been it, but this was easily the most pivotal moment of the entire game, and something that ought to give Mr Collins much food for thought. Forest started to play really well, despite Wednesday falling back to defend in numbers. Osborn replaced a tiring Lansbury with seven to go and five minutes later the efforts of the ten men bore fruit. A free kick 25 yards out towards the left side of the box I must admit didn’t give me much cause for optimism given our chief free kick takers were still languishing in the treatment room. But I’d reckoned without a side of Pato I hadn’t seen before. There was quite a bit of jostling leading up to the kick, but eventually the ball was whipped in and curled beautifully to leave Kirkland rooted to the spot. No reason not to celebrate this one. Our night was saved. It might have ended even better had a jinking run a couple of minutes later produced an accurate shot, but at least tonight’s performance seemed to turn a corner and prove we can still score goals, and the journey home wasn’t as long as originally feared (though that still reckoned without a 20-minute delay for those unfortunate enough to go through Clifton).
Three minutes later those feelings were even more justified when we went down to ten men after Captain Collins (already booked of course) saw fit to mount a rash challenge in an area of little danger. This wasn’t even clumsy, it was just a hideous piece of clogging from the school of dirty football, and even though our friend the ref had wound us up good and proper for most of the evening with some downright ineptitude, he had little choice over this one. Yellow, then red and a few jeers from disgruntled fans as he disappeared at breakneck speed down the tunnel.
On current form that looked like the moment the season was dead in the water, and for the next 15 minutes we looked more like a side heading straight for relegation as the wheels fell off big style, with an almost catastrophic breakdown in communication involving Darlow and Jara which was intercepted by Helan who spared our blushes with a wild shot over the bar, but it could so easily have been another goal, enough to send thousands of home fans scurrying towards the exits. Brazil made changes, the most telling being the introduction of Tudgay for the first time all season, particularly when he got his name on the scoresheet 15 minutes later courtesy of a well-worked cross from Mackie. I have to admit I was still sulking from going two down and like may around me didn’t even get up to celebrate the goal as this seemed like one of those late consolations we got in every play-off defeat here. Text messages to various friends all had a similar theme as I bemoaned the end of our season – well it’s a good as, isn’t it?
Whoa, not so fast! In one of those typical football clichés we then fell for the one which says you’re never more vulnerable than when you’ve just scored. A corner quickly conceded was sent in by Maguire which Darlow looked to have covered, only to be apparently impeded by Buxton who knocked it in from close range. It left a rather sour taste as the players trooped off a minute later for HT, Darlow and Mackie protesting vociferously to the ref whose handling of the game had been questionable to say the least. My worry here was Mackie taking the protests too far and earning a second yellow in the process and that really would have been game over. As it was he emerged for the second half so at least we had a chance, but by the hour mark Wednesday got a third through some woeful defending of a short corner which was fed out to an unmarked Mattock just outside the box. His shot was low and hard and completely away from a crowded box, but more significantly beyond Darlow’s reach into the bottom corner.
As has been the trend of late we created little, although movement was better than it had been against Millwall. Also true to recent form it was Pato who was finding the space and three minutes before HT he managed to plant an inch-perfect cross from the left which tonight’s star-billing (Mackie) headed home from six yards.
Whatever plan there may have been came unstuck in the 20th minute when Collins’ ill-timed lunging tackle brought Maguire down to concede a penalty which Darlow almost got to, but seeing that first goal go in just brought the fans to that familiar feeling of deja-vu.  Other signs it wasn’t going to be our night came in the form of yet another early booking for Lansbury (we’re really glad to have you back, Henri, but you really need to make a conscious effort on the discipline front) followed by bookings for Lascelles and Mackie, the latter having to cope with a series of irritating challenges from Owls defenders throughout the first half. They got theirs later on in the opening period, though there were signs this could turn into a bad-tempered affair.
Bizarrely it was the sending off that galvanised us in a manner rarely seen all season. Pato’s stunning free kick was reward for the effort put in during the last ten minutes.

At 3-1 down we really looked a dead and buried error-ridden rabble. Some terrible defending and the same old problems of not getting men forward on the break. Sounds like a delicate balancing act, but we’ve managed it before so why can’t we do it now. Brian Laws’ analysis on Radio Nottingham was spot on: we’ve simply forgotten how to control, let alone win games.

Mackie’s all-round contribution and doggedness producing a goal and an assist was in stark contrast to the disinterested player we saw on Saturday, though Pato’s efforts to do similar cannot be underestimated.

Collins should hang his head in shame. Most of the season I’ve given him the benefit of the doubt to the extent of acknowledging one or two command performances. Tonight was a throwback to the more familiar version and worse, and that cynical lunge to earn a second yellow ought to be the final act that sends him packing. It rather says it all that we played better going down to ten men than with him on the field. Thank goodness we won’t be seeing him at Loftus Road on Saturday. And the error-prone Jara may well be thinking of Brazil – too bad it appears to be the country in two months’ time rather than the one who answers to the name of Gary.
RefereeScott Duncan – Chants of ‘You’re not fit to referee’ from angry home fans told its own story plagued with one-eyed stuff, bizarre decisions, failure to award a nail-on penalty to Forest and distributing cards like confetti.
Entertainment Value
8/10 – despite not achieving the ideal result, this game had pretty much everything incident-wise. Only the quality of the football could have been better.

5 = Relegation fodder
4 = Flirting with danger
3 = Mid-table
2 = Playoffs
1 = Automatic
Promotion Rating
3 – I’m firmly of the belief we’ve blown it despite the paradox of dropping three places in the table (cue hearts sink as Brighton, Bournemouth and Ipswich all win) yet moving a point closer to 6th place than we were after Saturday thanks to Reading losing. Of course I’d love to be proved wrong, though momentum isn’t with us the way it is with, say Bournemouth who look set to be the season’s surprise package.

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