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Lancashire Red: What the Run-in Holds…

11 January 2014

What a week it’s been!  I can’t remember the last time we were mentioned in the national sports pages every day of the week, even if by yesterday it was purely in terms of West Ham and their on-going woes, to which I will return in just a minute. The TV cameras, for so long something of a curse as far as results are concerned now seem to showcase some of the most dazzling football seen in a long time on Trentside, and last Sunday more than showed us in a good light to the passing neutral, as well as prompting favourable comments from friends and colleagues (crowned of course by the excellent news of Reidy putting pen to paper over a new contact). Maybe my staying away had something to do with the magnificent win, although of course I now wish I’d been there instead of staying at home and watching it on TV, boxing up stuff ahead of an impending house-move. So much for my bemoaning us always seeming to get West Ham in the cup! Never one of my favourite Prem outfits, I did however have a certain amount of sympathy for their 3000 fans who travelled (and paid) to see such unmitigated dross, not least because so many of us have been there too – anyone who travelled to watch that FA Cup horror show at Chester eight years ago will know exactly what I mean.

And that’s the whole point. Unlike their fans I had absolutely zero sympathy for Big Sam and the huge gamble he took by fielding a ‘reserve’ side against us to save his star flops for the midweek cup tie against City. PAH! First team or reserves, they’re a Premiership club for goodness sake! Talk about putting all your rotten eggs in one basket! Will he survive? In one respect I hope he doesn’t, not least because we know what it was like when we the fans had had enough of watching weeks of abject rubbish. On the other hand reports of noises being made about them planning a swoop for King Billy in the event of them dispensing with Big Sam are bound to ruffle more than a few feathers, especially if certain key players follow to send us back to square one, wrecking the stability that finally seems to have returned to City Ground and potentially opening up old wounds once more (two-word message to West Ham: HANDS OFF!).

And if anyone doubts that last sentence, you should have seen the adulation King Billy received from the travelling support at The Reebok today, both before and after the match.

Fixture
FLC, Saturday 11th January 2014, KO 1500hrs
Bolton Wanderers 1 – 1 Nottingham Forest
Venue

The Reebok Stadium
Weather/Conditions
Dry, becoming colder
Away fan experience
Despite being one of the more ‘plastic’ environments, i.e. stadium adjacent to huge retail park with lots of eateries and fast food but no pubs for away fans in immediate vicinity (let alone its proximity to more hostile outposts such as Dingletown), Bolton, or more accurately Horwich (or even Middlebrook) has to rank as one of the friendliest venues in the Lancashire neighbourhood where even the police take time out for a bit of banter with the away fans. Inside the stadium there’s plenty of the usual banter with the natives (your ground’s too big for you, etc.), all on our feet of course. I’d forgotten just how good the acoustics are in this enclosed arena, though with being confined to the lower tier it’s easy for the away fans to be out-sung on the rare occasions the home fans find their singing voices.
Facilities
I’ve tended to knock this venue in the past which in retrospect might seem a little harsh, and it’s pretty clean after all. Plenty of hot food on offer, although the beer was a little on the gassy side.
Programme
One of the smallest publications around (convenient for coat pockets) and in a size I wish we adopted at City Ground. That said, the content was pretty average, with the introductions and comments so bog-standard and predictable you’d think they were copy-pasted from one game to the next. Up-to-date information on Forest, including mention of Reid’s new contract.
The Match
Predictably this woke the home fans and the stage was set for an engaging finale, which was easily the most exciting period of the game, and with end-to-end football being played either side could have won it, although it was us who came closest when a well-taken shot by Hendo (on for Gonzo) struck the upright, then the follow-up by Reid which looked a cert was blocked by Lonergan and the chance was gone. Great move, though.
It was all going much better for us, but then we suffered a significant setback when Hobbs limped off injured, and whilst it was good to see a returning Collins, you really felt this was not a good time, and I suspect few of us expected to see Collins ready to play with the kind of form he was enjoying before his injury. Inevitably the change unsettled us at the back, and with 15 minutes to go Bolton equalised through, it has to be said, a well-worked free kick. Moritz (on for Beckford) sent a long ball in from the left, Mills got the touch to divert it in the only direction to evade Darlow all afternoon – across goal and into the bottom corner.
Fortunately Billy had spotted it too, and at HT pulled Abdoun off and replaced him with Cox. Suddenly we were a different prospect, almost immediately starting to play like we did on Sunday – complete with dividends. A pin-point pass from Halford released Pato in acres of space and he wasted no time in recreating one of his fine finishes from last week by sliding the ball deftly past Lonergan and right in front of about 2000 delighted travelling fans. Pato’s first league goal for us, and hopefully the first of many! We nearly made it two shortly afterwards from a corner, and would have done had Lascelles connected with it better. I thought our crosses were much better today – lower and with pace, they stood a far greater chance of someone getting on the end of them. Something to note for the run-in I shouldn’t wonder.
Not that it was one-way traffic, far from. One or two excellent moves created saw a Lascelles header denied by Lonergan and Halford made his presence felt at times, but the link-up with Abdoun just wasn’t happening. We were giving the ball away far too much (though for once The Moose wasn’t to blame) and it was all rather disjointed.
From a Forest perspective it was a little bit like After the Lord Mayor’s Show following last Sunday’s romp in the cup, and it was back to the usual staple diet of little time afforded on the ball. Of more concern today was our tendency to be knocked off the ball all too easily, whilst not faring quite so well when trying to reverse the situation, resulting in being penalised quite frequently, not to mention several delays for players to receive treatment for knocks. The first half ebbed and flowed, but relative to Sunday this was quite a poor period of football with The Trotters having the better of the play without creating very much, although Darlow was once again in top form to deny a curling shot from Mark Davies in one of his few creative moments. Slightly reminiscent of Swansea’s Leon Britton in stature, albeit far dirtier and ten times more annoying. Bolton’s other threat (if you can call it that) came in the form of David Ngog, Jermaine Beckford (until he got injured) and Neil Danns – the latter not much more popular than Davies due to his Leicester tenure, but thankfully his shooting was mostly about as accurate as that 20-yard attempt by Leeds United’s Aryibi two weeks ago which never even reached the corner flag.
Highlights
Bringing on Cox after HT breathed life into our attack; Pato’s well-taken goal to break the deadlock and spark the game into life; some well-worked moves despite being denied the space.
Lowlights
Injury to Hobbs was arguably the turning point in this game, although we had looked a little vulnerable at the back earlier on. Too many bookings again – those guilty need to watch this for fear it might cost us later on. We had a tendency to be knocked off the ball far too easily today, made worse by too many fouls to win it back.
Hero
Once again Darlow was immense, paying back in spades the faith and support shown by the fans since his full debut a year ago to the day. Pato continues to emerge as a player to watch in the future.
Zero
Gonzo was poor and lacked control on the ball. Harding also struggled, showing exactly why we missed Lichaj today.
Entertainment Value4/10: A poor first half followed by an increasingly frantic but more entertaining second half.
Promotion Rating
2: I’d endorse Billy’s verdict of today’s result a ‘good point,’ (have we ever won at The Reebok?) though with D3rby the only team above us not to win means we’re further away from 2nd place than ever. With 11 draws so far that makes us the Championship’s specialists. The promotion boat is still docked, but replicating recent home form with three games in rapid succession coming up will be vital if we are to stand any chance in being on that boat as the run-in nears its conclusion.  Still need that striker.



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