Yep, we lost again. A dismal hat-trick has been achieved. Two weeks ago the unbeaten run ended at Bramall Lane, last week our unbeaten league run ended at Turf Moor and today our unbeaten home run disappeared in smoke as Fortress City Ground was reduced to a lump of jelly. All that before acknowledging Wigan as the only side to do the double over us this season (in the league at least).
And as if to add insult to injury (boy is that the defining word right now) I had three Latics fans as passengers today: my girlfriend, her brother-in-law and his brother who really scented blood with the combination of Forest’s deepening injury crisis and Uwe Rosler’s dramatic transformation of a Wigan side almost irreparably damaged by the villainous Owen Coyle, now intent on crashing the play-offs at just the right time along with a better than average chance of retaining the FA Cup. The only shred of optimism I could take going into this game was which Wigan would turn up: did their priorities lie with promotion or cup?
Unfortunately for us it was definitely the former, and with devastating results. The greater part of me will still say we’ve been hideously unlucky with injuries this season, and will ultimately be the defining point of this campaign. That said, not all those who’ve stepped in have made the grade, instead merely underlining who it is we really miss. Reid, Lansbury, Cohen, Vaughan, Hobbs, Wilson and Lichaj all fully fit would have had us easily pushing The Dingles out of the automatic spots. It is debatable whether Henderson or Moussi would also have the same influence, though they too have made their mark on occasions. But that’s almost an entire first choice starting line-up we’re missing, and at this stage of the season it hurts like hell.
The Championship, Saturday 1st March 2014, Kick-off 1500hrs|
Nottingham Forest 1 – 4 Wigan Athletic
|Venue||The City Ground|
Dry and bright, though tendency to go cold when the low sun disappeared behind a cloud.
1500 Latics fans, which included my girlfriend (traitor), her brother-in-law and elder brother stood near the back. Have to say that even allowing for the deathly hush around the ground for long periods, the travelling fans were arguably the most vocal we’ve seen here this season. With their season heading for an exciting climax (on current form at least) you can hardly blame them.
A minute late in starting, though this was due to Wigan winning the toss and electing to attack the Bridgford End first half.
The atmosphere subsided into sullen silence, broken only by some muted booing at HT. We’d suffered a further setback just before when Lichaj, on for his first return from injury limped off to be replaced by Collins. To the Reds’ credit they fought on, and were rewarded with an equaliser 10 minutes after the restart having refused to give up on a lost cause. It began when Beausejour really began to skate on thin ice by hacking down Mackie again. The free kick produced nothing, but kept in play it was worked back until Pato was in a perfect position to lash the ball past Al-Habsi. This at least enabled my girlfriend to pick me out celebrating from the other end of the pitch and for a while at least it was game on, reflected by the mood in the stands, now considerably more upbeat with plenty of singing by the fans. Then disaster struck when Halford’s weak headed clearance fell straight to Waghorn who volleyed it back via the head of Emmerson Boyce and there was only one place it was ever destined for. Hideous, but that was nothing compared to five minutes later when Jara’s awful pass was intercepted by McClean. His shot was blocked, but once again you knew where the ball was going before McArthur had even pulled the trigger. A timely lesson in first-touch football we’ve been woefully lacking of late. In the distance I could just about make out my girlfriend cheering gleefully along with 1500 others, to which I could only respond with a text message to suggest she and her brother in law might like to think about alternative transport home. Forest heads had distinctly dropped by now. We were never going to claw back a two-goal deficit in 15 minutes, and we knew it. There was plenty of stroking the ball across the back which merely stoked up the frustration, and our misery was complete in the last minute of normal time when Wigan got a fourth with a beautiful shot from Gomez 30 yards out which took a wicked swerve in mid-flight before sailing past Darlow. All around, the stands emptied like water from a breached dam which the Latics fans lapped up to the full, and who could blame them. I then had the prospect of ferrying home three triumphant travelling fans who, in fairness were quite magnanimous in their victory, though I did at least (jokingly) try to leave them marooned in Clifton during a necessary fuel/coffee stop en route back to Lancashire.|
By this time of course there’d been a goal. Lucky it may have been, but they all count. Gomez’s shot from a distance ricocheted off Lascelles and Jara, falling kindly to Waghorn (ever a thorn in our side) who was there to say thank you very much from eight yards.
The game had a distinct stop-start feel to begin with and clear chances were few and far between. Radi and Fox were the main creators of anything, but Cox was at best sitting too deep and was never in the box to receive any crosses. Anything that did come his way was either sent wide or into Row Z. For his part Fox at least tried, but needs to be more aware of red shirts around him instead of trying to push through on his own, though in fairness there were several moves today with no-one keeping up with him to pass to, something reminiscent of a couple of seasons ago when this was commonplace. On the other side Mackie battled to create and came off worst in a clash requiring a large bandage to the head in order to continue. The ever-unpopular Beausejour seemed more interested in grabbing red shirts than the ball and was not penalised until the second half.
Unlike the Dingles game this game was at least a contest for an hour or so. We’d been forced into yet more changes with the latest addition to the injury list and other reasons; the loss of Henderson a particular blow since this appeared the ideal game for someone with his physical presence to overcome the shirt-pulling Beausejour et al. Nonetheless there were eyebrows raised at playing Cox as lone striker (Why do we do this at home?) and Halford as centre-back, meaning that with Collins relegated to the bench Gonzo was named captain, though I’d have thought with Greening on for his first start of the season, his experience alone would have made him more suited for this role.
|Highlights||Probably the pre-match pint if I’m honest. At least my guests enjoyed the venue. Pato’s equaliser did at least give us hope during Forest’s best spell of the match.|
Once again we afforded them far too much space and time on the ball and our defending at times was woeful, epitomised by Halford’s weak headed clearance for the Latics’ second goal. Lofted crosses give their keeper an easy job of plucking the ball out of the air when we used to apply them with at least some venom. Why, oh why, with Derbyshire, Abdoun and Djebbour available does Billy insist on starting with a lone (and ineffective) striker who avoids the box as if it’s a minefield? Without Cohen, Lansbury and (especially) Reid we really looked like a team playing with its heart ripped out. Timing of injury announcements just before kick-off is becoming another unwelcome habit with news of Hobbs out for the season – especially after all the kerfuffle in getting him signed. Am beginning to fear for Darlow’s confidence with the setbacks coming thick and fast.
Thank goodness for Pato to at least keep the goals coming, albeit at a trickle. God help us if he too gets injured. Thought Mackie at least showed some fighting spirit despite Beausejour constantly trying to relieve him of his shirt.
Perhaps someone should remind Cox that a goalmouth measures 24’ x 8’ and not the size of the entire Trent End stand.
|Referee||Stuart Attwell – Well known for some howlers in the past, though did OK today, albeit could have been stricter on Wigan’s constant shirt-pulling. Beausejour was far from the only culprit.|
6/10 – My girlfriend loved it. It’s just too bad she was with all the travelling fans who were having an equally fun time.
5 = Relegation fodder
4 = Flirting with danger
3 = Mid-table
2 = Playoffs
1 = Automatic
|3 – Wheels flying off all over the place. So is it all about the injuries, or should we be better than this? Ask any Forest fan and it’ll be different answers every time. All the fighting talk of winning our home games and rolling our sleeves up only goes so far and the debate over whether Billy should be more active in the loan market will only complicate the issue further. As it looks now, with The Foxes and The Dingles both winning I think the Automatic promotion boat is starting to steam out of harbour with us stranded on the quayside. Mathematically it’s still possible to at least stay in contention or at least for a top six place, but on current form we look at best a mid-table side. Those players who’ve awaited their chance to shine have yet to prove themselves and time is running out. It might be just a case now of deciding which was the moment our season ended.|