Monday, 30 December 2013

Nottingham Forest 2 - 1 Leeds United

After four successive clean sheets Nottingham Forest finally conceded a goal. However, and more importantly, they were able to bounce back from letting in a late equaliser to record a hugely significant victory over playoff hopefuls Leeds United at the City Ground.

The Reds made one change from the impressive victory over QPR on Boxing Day, with Radoslaw Majewski replacing David Vaughan in midfield, meaning that Henri Lansbury had to take the more defensive role in the Forest engine room. Simon Cox had recovered well enough from his virus to take a place on the substitute's bench whilst Greg Halford kept his position as the lone striker in Forest's 4-2-3-1 formation.

It was Halford who was involved in the first action of the afternoon as he chased down a short back-pass and clattered into Leeds keeper Paddy Kenny. The referee gave a foul but Halford was entitled to go for the ball. Play continued after a lengthy stoppage for treatment to the portly stopper, but this very much set the tone for a scrappy and niggly start to the game.

Michael Brown clearly retains all the charm he learned at Sheffield United and escaped an early booking for hacking down Andy Reid. He wasn't so lucky a few minutes later though. Another wild lunge at Reid this time resulted in a yellow card and a free kick to Forest mid way in the Leeds half. Reid got up and swung in a super, deep cross which Halford headed home powerfully to give Forest the lead. This advantage was nearly doubled a couple of minutes later when Reid's long-range shot went narrowly over.

Forest were well on top now and the only disappointment in the first half was that the lead wasn't greater. Majewski forced a low save from Kenny before a great run and cross from Djamal Abdoun found Jamie Mackie, but he couldn't guide his low drive on target. So, 1-0 it was at half time then.

The visitors came out stronger in the second half, enjoying more of the ball without ever looking really threatening. The introduction of highly-rated right back Sam Byram gave them more impetus and they started attacking more regularly down that side, but they still didn't force Karl Darlow into any serious action. Then, late on, came the passage of play that eventually settled the game.

Andy Reid strode forward and thumped a glorious long-range shot which cannoned off the post and behind for a goal kick. Leeds attacked again down their right, and a through-ball found Byram in space. His cross was cleared off the line but the ball ricocheted in the area and landed right at the feet of the hitherto ineffective Ross McCormack. The Leeds striker slotted home calmly to give the visitors a goal they barely deserved and it looked like Forest would again be punished for missing chances.

Billy Davies threw on striker Simon Cox but it was another substitute, Matt Derbyshire - who had earlier replaced Abdoun - who was to have the final say. Straight from the restart Henri Lansbury played the ball forward where the third Forest substitute Nate Chalobah helped it on to Derbyshire. The former Olympiakos man took one touch and lashed a stunning shot from outside the box right into the top corner. It was a tremendous strike and gave Kenny no chance at all and, barely more than a minute after surrendering the lead, Forest had it back.

This turn of events seemed to knock the stuffing out of Leeds and they never looked like pulling level again. Forest closed out the game easily to record another three points and cement their place in the playoff positions at the end of 2013.

This was another impressive performance from Forest. Halford reprised his role as striker impressively again. Jamie Mackie never stopped running and harrying and Reid was, as usual, at the heart of everything Forest created. The defence looked solid with Jack Hobbs again outstanding but my Man of the Match was Henri Lansbury. In a fast and frantic game he always seemed to have time on the ball and whilst others would play it quickly and aimlessly he'd control, look up and almost invariably find a red shirt.

The big matches continue for Forest with Reading away next. Whatever the result we'll remain in fifth place; nicely positioned to - hopefully - strengthen the squad in January and start on the final push for the promised land in early 2014.

Happy New Year to you all.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Nottingham Forest 2 - 0 Queen's Park Rangers

Nottingham Forest finally ended their long, long wait for a home victory with a professional and pretty comfortable 2-0 victory over Harry Redknapp's (it's obligatory to call them that) Queen's Park Rangers at the City Ground on Boxing Day. QPR came seeking the victory that would've taken them back to the top of the table but history was not on their side as they'd never won at the City Ground. They never looked like changing that record to be honest.

A virus kept Simon Cox out of the Forest line-up meaning that Greg Halford was, again, deployed as a makeshift striker at the spearhead of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Andy Reid seemed to sit deeper alongside David Vaughan with Djamal Abdoun and Jamie Mackie patrolling the flanks ahead of full backs Eric Lichaj and Gonzalo Jara. With Jara, Halford and Lichaj all playing together I was tempted to start the chant 'We're just a team full of right backs.' I feel it would've been unlikely to catch on though.

The visitors were without suspended (shock horror) Joey Barton and injured former Forest target Charlie Austin. They still had a team packed full of experience though, including ex-Red Jermaine Jenas, and could also call upon a bench including Junior Hoilett, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Yossi Benayoun.

The first quarter of an hour drifted by with honours even before Forest started to get a grip on the game. A great run by Halford saw him through on goal but his low shot was kept out by the outstretched leg of Rangers' keeper Robert Green. Another Halford shot was blazed high over and Henri Lansbury fired just wide after winning the ball well on the edge of the QPR box.

For once this season Forest managed to turn a spell of sustained pressure into a lead. Jamie Mackie's hard work saw him win the ball on the left flank and give it to Abdoun. The bearded Algerian teased the QPR full back before firing in a lovely cross that Halford couldn't - and didn't - miss, and his close-range header gave Green no chance and Forest a deserved lead. This lead stayed comfortably in tact through to half time, though Nico Kranjcar curled an effort narrowly wide of Karl Darlow's left-hand post.

Rangers, presumably on the end of a wobbly-jowled tongue-lashing from Redknapp, came out stronger in the second half but, although they were enjoying more possession they were hardly beating down Darlow's metaphorical door. Indeed the clearer chances fell to Forest as Mackie's cross found Halford unmarked but he could only shoot straight at Green. Shortly afterwards the Rangers keeper dropped a Reid cross which eventually fell to the feet of Jack Hobbs. The defender's goal-bound shot was cleared off the line by former Forest loanee Clint Hill though and the score remained 1-0.

The match was all set up for a tense finish before, with ten minutes of normal time remaining, the pivotal incident occurred. A QPR corner was palmed clear by Darlow and the industrious Abdoun kept the ball in play deep in the Forest half. His long pass up the left touchline was aimed at Halford but his attempted flick never made contact, allowing the ball to find its way to Andy Reid who had a clear run on goal.

On the far side of the field the referee's assistant flagged for offside, much to the disgust of the Forest bench, but referee Keith Stroud overruled him and waved play to go on. Reid slotted calmly past Green with the outside of his foot and, following a discussion between referee and assistant, the goal stood. Having seen replays since the decision definitely looked correct, as Halford didn't touch Abdoun's pass before it reached Reid. I can understand Rangers' annoyance though as I'd have been disappointed if Forest had conceded such a goal.

Forest could've had a third as Reid fired just over from long range. Kranjcar's 25-yarder which went wide was QPR's only other effort of note and the game finished in a richly deserved and long overdue home win for the Reds.

The match sponsors made Andy Reid their Man of the Match and I'd definitely agree as he was excellent. Besides his usual creativity and the goal he worked incredibly hard and threw himself into challenges all night. It was hard to find fault with any Forest players in truth, though more clinical finishing from Halford could've made the margin of victory greater. Special mention also has to go to referee Keith Stroud who was, by some distance, the best officiator we've had at the City Ground all season. I'm not just saying that because of the second goal either - his calm authority kept the game under control at all times.

So, the January Transfer Window is nearly upon us and Forest sit well in contention in fifth place. If, if, if we could just get a prolific goalscorer to put away some of the chances we're creating and also, hopefully, sign David Vaughan at least until the end of the season, then we'd be pretty well placed to have a real go for the rest of the campaign. I really think there's nothing in the league for Forest to be scared of - they just have to believe it too.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Now: That's What I Call a Meal

Since Clare and I got married just over five years ago (at the time of writing), we've made it something of a tradition to go for lunch at Purnell's in Birmingham on the Friday of the week of our anniversary. Due to a scheduling clash this year though, we took the opportunity to make a weekend of it in the second city and enjoy an evening meal there instead. And enjoy it we certainly did.

After a pleasant day of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, gluhwein from the lovely German market and an afternoon nap, we made our way to the Jewellery Quarter where Purnell's is located. Following a helping of tasty olives and a fine glass of rum and gin, we took our seats for the meal.

Head chef and owner Glynn Purnell had (again, at the time of writing) recently launched a new menu, meaning diners were given a choice of two tasting menus: the six-course 'Reminisce' - which includes some of Glynn's classic recipes that had done so well on the Great British Menu, and 'Now' - which boasts twelve courses of more seasonal and contemporary dishes. As we've been lucky enough to have sampled some of the more tried and trusted dishes before we plumped for 'Now.'

There was no amuse bouche this time - boo, but with twelve courses it probably wasn't necessary. Anyway, the opening salvo was a delightfully gooey mix of cep Hollandaise with a runny egg yolk, accompanied by a crisp (yes, just one) and some freeze-dried Savoy cabbage to add texture and flavour. Following this was the unhelpfully named 'Autumn Salad,' which turned out to be an escabeche of beetroot, pickled red cabbage and a lilac-hued globule of cabbage purée. Both opening dishes were good, though the escabeche could have been a little more sour. The cabbage elements were delicious however, as was the creamy cep sauce in dish one.

Up next were two circlets of curry-cured salmon, sharing a plate with a strewing of wasabi crumble and some blobs of cucumber ketchup. The latter was cool, refreshing and surprisingly flavoursome while the salmon was soft and subtly seasoned. The wasabi crumble added a pleasing crunch and just a hint of heat from the Japanese horseradish. Dish four was one of my favourites of the evening; a ragout of pigs head (not as gruesome as it sounds), with crispy pork puffs, onions and a sprinkling of rocket leaves. The pork puffs were fantastic, think of pig flavoured popcorn, and the onions were sweet and crunchy. As for the ragout - tremendous. A warm, rich, hearty stew of slow-braised pork cheeks. It was very rich and salty - slightly too much so for Clare's liking but perfect for a sodium chloride fiend like myself.

The porky pleasantries didn't stay top of the tree for long as the next course was even better. A duo of sweet helpings of Cornish lobster were served up with strands of fennel, a shiny disc of Chorizo mayonnaise and a dusting of paprika honeycomb. This was clever and tasty stuff to be sure. Succulent lobster was beautifully matched with an aniseed tang of the fennel and the sweetness of the honeycomb. The mayonnaise too was excellent, creamy and warming without overpowering the seafood.

The halfway point of this gastronomic expedition was simply called 'Remoulade 2012' and came in three parts. A salt-baked cube of earthy celeriac was followed by a surprising ball of the same vegetable. Surprising because it looked solid, but when popped it in one's mouth it exploded to release a wholegrain mustard sauce. The last element was a shot glass of apple and celery - yes, celery - fizzy drink. Sounds bizarre? It was a little but it was also packed with flavour and cleansed the palate nicely in advance of the second half of the menu.

Dish seven took us back to the sea with a slab of tender and flaky red mullet. Surrounding the fish were smears of parsley purée and rings of pickled shallots whilst a bowl full of stones also held two small potatoes which had been cooked in salted water. The humble potatoes were elevated by the saltiness of their skins and the shallots added some acidity to balance the dish. As with the whole menu, everything was designed to provide a number of taste and texture sensations and it certainly did the trick.

A meat course was next, in the form of some wonderfully pink and squidgy venison. It sat next to a fallen column of salsify and a smooth spread of onion purée. Decorating the plate were two lines of intense liquorice and the dish was finished by a rich source. Liquorice isn't my favourite flavour but it went very nicely indeed with the deer meat. We were approaching the home stretch now.

As many tasting menus do, this one included a crossover dish and this particular example was one of the nicest I've ever had. A golden-brown mini potato waffle was topped with a small and beautifully crafted quenelle of foie gras 'butter.' Sticking out of this was a square of crispy and smoky chicken skin and drizzled over it all was some sweet maple syrup. Clare's not keen on foie gras and her version of the dish had sour cream instead and beetroot rather than bacon and chicken skin. When she saw the gusto with which I devoured mine I think she wished she'd had the same.

The final quarter of the menu comprised three desserts. First up were two apple and pear flavoured lollipops which looked and felt like Mini Milks (but were far tastier then they'd ever been. These nestled in a bowl of nutty crumble which soon became combined with the ice-cream. Our waiter gave us a spoon to 'pick up the deliciousness' as he put it. He wasn't wrong.

At number eleven in the hit parade was the nicest of the dessert triumvirate, 'mint choccy chip.' A bowl of mint essence was coated in liquid nitrogen and billowed forth clouds of minty smoke. Whilst this covered our table in a refreshing fog we enjoyed a chocolate sauce and crunch which was concealing some minty ice cream. Alongside this was a nugget each of chilled, mint infused chocolate which was more Vienetta than Mint Aero. Ending the meal was a rum baba, pineapple purée and frozen passion fruit. The frozen fruit was intensely flavoured and delicious and the baba was warming and sharp with alcohol.

This menu was quite different to our previous visits to Purnell's. The food has always been modern but this time it seemed even more experimental and really challenged the taste buds at every turn. Service was, as always here, exemplary though it was a shame that the immaculately groomed French Adonis of a maitre'd has departed to pastures new. Well, Clare thought so anyway.

We finished off our evening with a stroll round the corner to Glynn Purnell's recently opened bistro and bar: Ginger's. It serves an interesting range of cocktails and some of the dishes on offer make it look worthy of a visit itself. As for the main restaurant, this visit was probably our best so far and we'll certainly be back again next year.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Nottingham Forest 1 - 1 Burnley

Another international break, another poor outcome for Nottingham Forest. This time not in terms of result, which was okay, or performance, which was very good; this time in terms of injuries to big players and the problems that may cause further down the line.

It was still days before the Burnley match when Andy Reid and David Vaughan returned to the club after picking up hamstring injuries - in training, annoyingly - for the Republic of Ireland and Wales respectively. Greg Halford also picked up a training knock and, in the match itself, the Reds lost Eric Lichaj and Chris Cohen. We wait nervously to find out for how long.

Luckily Jack Hobbs recovered from an illness in time to partner Jamaal Lascelles at centre half in time for the match. They'd need to be on their mettle to cope with the Championship's most prolific partnership of Burnley's Danny Ings and Sam Vokes. Or so we thought anyway. Elsewhere in the team, Gonzalo Jara moved into the holding midfield role alongside Henri Lansbury in a 4-2-3-1. The all-Jamie wing combination of Paterson and Mackie ran the flanks, with Radosław Majewski behind the lone striker Simon Cox.

A scrappy start gave way to some good Forest possession, though the hosts didn't create any clear cut chances I can recall. I'll explain why later. Then, against the run of play, the visitors were awarded a penalty when Jara handled a cross from the right. There were a lot of Forest complaints but I felt the referee had to give it. If it had happened at the other end I'd have been screaming for a spot-kick so I wasn't surprised it was given. Karl Darlow dived the right way but Vokes' shot was too well placed. 1-0 to the Clarets.

Whilst I sympathised with that decision, the referee quickly lost control afterwards, booking Lansbury and incurring the wrath of the home fans by seemingly giving us nothing. Even when he did book a Burnley player for a foul he still got it wrong, stopping play immediately instead of giving Forest the advantage for the offence.

Lansbury hit the bar with a great free kick and Forest didn't let their heads drop before, deservedly, they equalised late in the half. Jara's neat touch found Paterson who tricked his way to the byline before floating in a cross which Cox couldn't - and didn't - fail to put away for his second in two games. Just reward for another hard working performance. 1-1 it was at half time then.

The second half started with Nathaniel Chalobah replacing the injured Lichaj. Jara moved to right back with Chalobah taking his midfield berth, and the Chelsea loanee was immediately in action, producing a great block to deny a goalbound Burnley effort. The match ebbed and flowed but Forest looked the better team. I can only recall Darlow making one save while Forest went close with a header from Lascelles and a late scramble which stayed out somehow. I'm still not sure how. The aforementioned Ings and Vokes were both kept very quiet with Burnley's defence far the busier. They were impressive though, hurling themselves in front of a number of Forest efforts. The late introductions of Djamel Abdoun and Darius Henderson couldn't wheedle out a winner and the match finished as a entertaining draw.

For Forest, Jack Hobbs was his usual solid self alongside Lascelles who had, in my opinion, his best game yet for the club. He won everything in the air and helped snuff out the league's top scorer impressively. The sponsors gave him man of the match but I'd have plumped for Jara. The Chilean was solid in midfield before moving to right back at half time and doing equally well. He even had a stint at left back to replace the injured Cohen late on and didn't look out of place there. I really hope he stays with the club longer than his current one year contract.

Further forward Cox and Mackie worked hard again and I was delighted that the former notched another goal. If only Mackie was a touch faster he'd be a real handful. He takes up great positions and never stops running. Raddy had an off day but Paterson looked decent and set the goal up nicely. Chalobah looked awful at first, giving the ball away sloppily a couple of times. He improved though and showed at least some hint of why Chelsea rate him so highly. All in all it was a pleasing performance and a win certainly wouldn't have flattered us.

The reason for my first half lack of concentration was that, instead of being in my usual seat in the Trent End I was enjoying the comfort of the Directors' Box thanks to a fantastic birthday present from my wife. And sitting no more than about four rows in front of us was the Owner and Chairman himself, Fawaz al Hasawi.

I found myself watching his reactions to the game with fascination. He really did kick every ball with the team. I've supported Forest for years but he was out of his seat more than I was! Whatever Forest fans may think of his decisions and certain aspects of the running of the club, nobody can question his passion.

So the day ended with a result which was probably not as good as the performance deserved. Hopefully the cost to the team in terms of injuries won't be too high and they'll be able to build on a strong showing with a positive result against Reading next time out.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Nottingham Forest 0 - 1 Blackpool

There can be few pastimes that subject you to such a gamut of emotions as watching football. When your team is playing well, scoring goals and sweeping opponents aside then there's little that's more satisfying. However, when they're struggling for form, stuttering through matches like a Gareth Gates impersonator and lacking in confidence then watching football can be the very definition of frustration. Nottingham Forest's home defeat to Blackpool was just such an occasion.

I shouldn't be surprised, it was Blackpool after all. They've seemingly had an almost mystical hold over Forest for years. It was the manner of the game though, the lateness of the winning goal and the fact that Blackpool weren't actually that good. All these things conspired to leave me feeling like tearing out the little hair I have left.

Anyway, to the match. Billy Davies sought to shore up the Forest midfield and offer more protection to his defence by pairing new loan signing David Vaughan and Gonzalo Jara as the holding midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Darius Henderson was the loan striker with Henri Lansbury behind him and Djamel Abdoun and Jamie Mackie on the flanks. The back five was the same unit that started against Yeovil.

This formation can look negative but with the right personnel it can also be effective. The holding players should - in theory - take pressure off the defenders as well as starting off attacks, and if the front four are fluid and mobile it also offers a lot of attacking options. This game didn't pan out like that though.

Things started brightly enough. Mackie and Abdoun had decent runs and Vaughan seemed to settle in well, using the ball intelligently and keeping the team moving forward. Forest were playing the ball around nicely until they reached the Blackpool area; then things seemed to break down. A goalmouth scramble resulted in Henderson falling in the penalty area. Despite his protests nothing was given, just as it hadn't been a few minutes earlier when a Blackpool player had been nudged from behind in the Forest area. I actually thought we were lucky to get away without conceding a penalty. That luck didn't hold out long though.

Quite what Abdoun was doing in the left-back position I'm not sure. A more defensive minded player would probably have hoofed the ball clear but his instinct was to bring it down and play out from the back. This cost him dearly however as his mis-control allowed Neal Bishop to nip in and steal the ball. Abdoun pulled him back and referee Michael Naylor had little choice but to award a spot kick and send Abdoun off. The City Ground Penalty Curse seemingly applies to visiting players too though, as the previously clinical Thomas Ince saw his weak effort comfortably saved by Karl Darlow. The resulting scramble was cleared and Forest had survived, but were now a man down.

Understandably Forest offered less going forward while Blackpool had more of the ball but didn't make the extra man count as they might have. A header from a corner flashed wide and another shot was saved and scrambled away but Forest survived reasonably comfortably until half time.

The second half followed much the same course as Blackpool added further credence to the old chestnut about 10 men being harder to break down than 11. Greg Halford replaced the largely ineffective Henderson up front as Forest's attacking opportunities remained sporadic. Indeed his direct run resulted in a half-chance for Jara which the Chilean curled over the bar. The game dawdled along and it seemed that the Reds would hang on for a point. Returning ex-Tricky Tree Nathan Tyson's introduction was met with a mix of halfhearted boos, scattered applause and an overwhelming feeling of 'meh.' But, eventually the inevitable happened, and from the inevitable source.

Four minutes of added time had just been announced when Blackpool attacked again down the right. The ball ping-ponged around the Forest box and, seemingly via an offside attacker, landed at the feet of Stephen Dobbie. The house elf's low finish gave Darlow no chance and stole the points for the visitors. I'm not saying Forest deserved to win but to lose out so late was hard to take, particularly as Blackpool were, well, really not that good. So, there it was, another bag of no points.

Even amongst the disappointment there were still some positives to take from the game. Vaughan slotted in well and played the ball around nicely. Until his sending off Abdoun had looked lively and, apart from some wayward shooting Mackie had a decent game in his usual energetic way. Jara broke up Blackpool's play well but looked a bit lost going forward, but the screen of he and Vaughan meant the back four weren't being run at so often. The returning Lansbury's energy and quality were certainly welcome.

On the downside though, we looked toothless up front. Poor Darius looks bereft of confidence, spurning shooting chances for safe passes and seeing other passing attempts going astray. I can see why Davies put Halford on as substitute today as he offers more physical presence than Simon Cox or Matt Derbyshire, but it's hardly a ringing endorsement of their respective talents. The need to bring in a new forward remains a priority. Andy Reid and Radosław Majewski's quality was missed, but the team's current form even with them in it meant them being left out wasn't a great surprise.

So, a November which always looked difficult got off to the worse possible start with the unbeaten home record going up the Khyber. We need to pick ourselves up as soon as possible or our promotion ambitions will be going the same way.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Nottingham Forest 1 - 1 AFC Bournemouth

The Curse of Kids for a Quid strikes again.

This was definitely a match to be filed in the archives as 'One of Those Games.' I remarked to my wife midway through the second half that it was like watching me play as Nottingham Forest on FIFA 14: pass pass shoot block pass shoot deflection block pass shoot block shoot miss goal kick. I wasn't even disappointed when the equaliser went in as it was so obvious it was going to happen.

Billy Davies, the ink still drying on his extended contract, had certainly picked an attacking side, with the only changes from the 3-1 win at Brighton being Djamel Abdoun and Gonzalo Jara replacing the suspended duo of Nathaniel Chalobah and Eric Lichaj respectively. Kelvin Wilson was fit enough to take a place on the bench following his absence due to a back injury.

When watching the officials warm up I was amused to see that one of them looked slightly overweight, with what hair he had left appearing a silvery-grey colour. I didn't expect him to be the referee! More on him later.

The match kicked off in front of a pretty full City Ground with a very respectable number of Bournemouth fans having made the long journey north. Their team started brightly too, with the striking duo of Lewis Grabban and the wonderfully-named Tokilo Rantie looking dangerous up front. The game's first chance fell to the latter, who latched on to an awful Andy Reid back-pass to race clean through, only to be denied by a brilliant stop by Karl Darlow.

This near miss woke Forest up and Abdoun made some decent runs down the right. One of these ended in a shot which Bournemouth keeper Stephen Henderson could only parry. Simon Cox was entitled to go for the rebound and did so, but caught Henderson in the process. From the way the Bournemouth stopper started thrashing around it was clear he was hurt and after a lengthy stoppage for treatment he was replaced by substitute Ryan Allsop. At the time of me writing this I hadn't read exactly what happened to Henderson. Hopefully he'll make a speedy recovery.

The stoppage, and another one for an injury to one of the referee's assistants, put the dampeners on what had been an exciting start. Things soon pepped up again though as first Simon Cox then Henri Lansbury missed decent chances to give the hosts the lead. Bournemouth continued to look dangerous on the break though and Darlow was forced to parry away another effort from Rantie.

Forest continued to toil away, passing nicely but with no end product and getting caught offside so many times I thought that Dexter Blackstock had snuck on when nobody was looking. But eventually the breakthrough came. Another shot was blocked before the ball fell to Lansbury and his long-range curling effort was beautifully struck, giving substitute keeper Allsop no chance. The Reds were then forced into their own change with the injured Danny Collins being replaced by Wilson. Bournemouth top-scorer Grabban hit the woodwork with a low shot during the seven minutes of first half stoppage time and Forest managed to get to the break with their slender lead intact.

Bournemouth were once again faster out of the blocks following the break but Forest started to gain control. The second goal just wouldn't come though. Chances were created but either blocked or squandered, with Darius Henderson (clearly not a good day for Hendersons) being the worst culprit. A fresh-air shot from a Cox pass was followed by an almost comical miss of an open goal after he'd stumbled past the visitors' goalie. Poor Darius wasn't having his best game.

The almost inevitable refereeing inconsistency was starting to frustrate too, with what looked like a brilliant challenge by Jara being punished, and what seemed like a blatant push on Abdoun being ignored. Darlow being booked for timewasting seemed harsh too. Biased? Me? Never. Forest did have the ball in the net for a second time as a Reid corner was headed in by someone. The goal was ruled out though, presumably for some pushing.

Unease abounded round the stands and it came as no great surprise when, just after five minutes of second half stoppage time was announced, Bournemouth drew level. Mark Pugh's low drive came after a spell of sustained pressure and, once again, the failure to kill off a game had cost Forest dear. Unsurprisingly Bournemouth slowed things down after equalising and the referee further frustrated the home fans by seemingly doing nothing about it, and the final whistle was met with a chorus of boos that were part anger, part disappointment.

Once again Jack Hobbs was outstanding. Strong and solid he also times his tackles incredibly well. A proper centre-half. Abdoun looked lively all game too. Lansbury took his goal brilliantly but an off day by our strikers arguably cost us the win. As against Charlton, a second goal would probably have secured the points. I mean no disrespect to Bournemouth when I say that. A one goal lead was always going to be tenuous - and so it proved - but I genuinely think a second goal would have been too much for the visitors to come back from.

We'll play worse than this and win for sure, and we'll probably play better and lose. But we're still at the right end of the table and there's still a long, long time to go.

Monday, 7 October 2013

The Season So Far - Part 1

The latest international break is upon us. For a few days at least, instead of wondering what Forest will do we can all worry about whether England will qualify for the World Cup or not. So, this seems like a good time to post a recap of the Reds' season so far.

Following another summer of squad rebuilding and an unbeaten pre-season, Forest went into their 2013/2014 Sky Bet Championship campaign full of expectation. As always, the Championship looked to be an open league. QPR appeared the stand-out contenders but, them aside, there were a number of teams that looked well equipped to challenge at the top end of the table. Having made nine signings during the close season, as well as trying unsuccessfully for up to four more on Deadline Day, Forest were certainly one of them.

The first four games did nothing to dampen those expectations. If anything they were increased as Forest kicked off with a hard-fought 1-0 win at home to Huddersfield, a professional away victory by the same score over Blackburn Rovers and a 3-0 home trouncing of Bolton Wanderers. And even though the Reds' 100% record was ended with a 1-1 draw at Watford the signs of encouragement were there for all to see, as Forest dominated a team who had easily beaten them twice last season and were expected to be challenging again this year. On their own patch too. Impressive stuff.

The Championship has a habit of kicking you in the nuts teeth though and Forest's next match brought their first defeat of the season, a 2-1 reverse at FA Cup holders and newly relegated Wigan Athletic. Then followed a remarkable run of three matches which provided 13 goals and 5 more points. Barnsley pegged Forest back twice at the City Ground before finally being vanquished 3-2, Middlesbrough took a two goal lead and looked to be on track to end Forest's unbeaten home run, only for the Reds to fight back for a 2-2 draw, and Doncaster twice led Forest at the Keepmoat before a late goal secured another 2-2 stalemate. Then came Derby Day.

In glorious sunshine by the banks of the Trent, Forest recorded their first win in five over local rivals Derby County, with a Jack Hobbs goal earning the spoils. A 1-1 draw at struggling Charlton brought things down to earth again before an excellent 3-1 win away at Brighton left Forest 4th in the table with only one defeat so far and 22 points already amassed.

Those are the cold, hard facts, but let's look a bit deeper.

Forest's season so far feels, to me anyway, very much like the close-season did beforehand. We've accomplished a huge amount but it seems like we could have done more. During the summer we signed (or re-signed for the pedants among you) nine players. These weren't just squad fillers either. Three top-class defenders in the form of Kelvin Wilson, Jack Hobbs and Eric Lichaj were recruited. Much needed width was added to the squad with Jamie Paterson and Djamel Abdoun joining up. Add to that the re-signings of Darius Henderson and Gonzalo Jara, and the acquisitions of Dorus de Vries and Jamie Mackie, and there's no doubt that Forest did impressive business.

For all that though, there still appeared to be gaps in the squad, most notably up front. Despite Forest having a number of strikers on their books, none of them seemed to be the mythical '20 goals a season' man that teams going for promotion often contain. Drawn-out attempts to sign Rafik Djebbour and Charlie Austin ultimately proved fruitless whilst the pursuit of Bakary Sako from Wolves still rumbles on. In fairness though, Forest have netted in every match this season so the lack of a dead-eye finisher isn't holding us back too much. Or is it?

It could be argued that missed chances against Watford and a missed penalty against Middlesbrough have cost us four points - points that could be crucial at the end of the season. We also had chances to go 2-0 up against Charlton which could well have killed the game off, but failing to take them meant settling for a draw once again. All this leads back to my original point: 22 points and 4th place after 11 games is a great start, but with a bit more cutting edge up front it could have been even better.

Having said that, looking at last season helps put this campaign in perspective and shows just what a good start we have made. After 11 games last season we were on a respectable 17 points, so we're 5 ahead of that. But when you look at the comparative results against the same teams from last season things look even better. With a bit of jiggery-pokery around the promoted and relegated teams, we're currently 12 points better off than we were in the same matches last season. Now THAT'S impressive.

So, there's no doubt that Forest go into this international break in fine fettle. With the memory of a great win still fresh in the minds, a bit of time for injuries to heal and fitness to be regained and - possibly - the opportunity to add another player or two to the squad, the season is shaping up very nicely indeed. I'll probably do another one of these recaps just after Christmas. If we're still around the same league position then January and the season beyond could be the most exciting we've had at the club for a number of years.

Wouldn't it be nice if, come June 2014, we could be cheering England on at the World Cup safe in the knowledge that Nottingham Forest were getting ready for their first season in the top-flight in a very long time? You bet it would.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Nottingham Forest 1 - 0 Derby County

The wait was over. The arguments about ticket allocations had run their course. In glorious sunshine, the latest instalment of the East Midlands Derby kicked off to a thunderous rendition of 'Mull of Kintyre.' After all the hype, was there any chance the game could actually live up to it? Of course not.

Local derbies are never the prettiest affairs, often resulting in overuse of the Big Book of Football Clichés. Form goes out of the window. You have to win the right to play. And so on. This one was no different. Pitting a good home record against an equally impressive away one, somebody's form was likely to go out of the window. Luckily, this time it wasn't ours.

I have to admit though that upon first seeing Forest's starting line-up I wasn't confident. Collins and Moussi? Thinking about it now I guess it made sense, having players who are natural to their positions rather than 'square pegs in round holes.' At the time though it felt like a risky team to have picked.

The first few minutes of the game were nip and tuck, with no real fluidity from either side. Then, Andy Reid threaded a lovely pass through to Radoslaw Majeski whose rasping effort forced the excellent Lee Grant to tip wide. Shortly afterwards Guy Moussi gave the ball away, and was then substituted due to injury, with Dan Harding coming on at left back and Chris Cohen moving into midfield. I remarked at the time that it might be a blessing in disguise. It didn't quite pan out like that though.

For, after the substitution, Derby dominated possession. They did so, however, without ever looking really threatening. Craig Bryson (I think) sent a long-range effort just wide, Jonny Russell failed to connect with a header from a decent cross and Will Hughes fell over a lot, but it was never really seat-of-the-pants stuff for the Forest defence. I vaguely remember an excellent sliding tackle from the colossal Jack Hobbs though.

About five minutes before half time, Henri Lansbury won the ball just outside the Forest penalty area and galloped forward. Following a couple of blocked Jamie Mackie efforts the ball broke to Eric Lichaj who saw a curling drive deflected just over. From the resultant corner, Reid's flat, pacey delivery picked out Jack Hobbs far better than any of Derby's defenders managed, and he emphatically nodded Forest into the lead. Delirium ensued and almost intensified before the break as Reid skinned Derby right-back Adam Smith and crossed for Mackie to shoot. Grant was quickly off his line to block though and the half finished 1-0, a scoreline that was a bit harsh on the visitors.

The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, but with Derby chasing the game it allowed Forest to create more. Another brilliant Reid cross was surprisingly headed wide by Darius Henderson - it seemed the kind of chance that the Forest frontman should have gobbled up. Derby continued to huff and puff but the Forest house never looked in danger of being blown down.

Djamel Abdoun replaced Majewski and immediately gave away a free kick just outside the area after upending a Derby attacker. Hughes' resultant shot was easily grasped by Karl Darlow. I think that was the longest that Hughes managed to stay upright all afternoon.

The next action of note saw Cohen gain possession in the Forest half and run right at the Derby defence, forcing Gollum Richard Keogh to bring him down in the penalty box. Despite Keogh's protestations, which may or may not have included him calling inept referee Simon Hooper a 'tricksy little Hobbit,' a penalty was awarded and Keogh was sent off for his second bookable offence. (The first having been a dangerous bite on Samwise Gamgee foul on Majewski).

Up stepped Big Darius to take the spot kick but his low effort was brilliantly saved by Grant. It wasn't a bad penalty in fairness and one has to applaud the goalkeeper. This turn of events was always likely to spur Derby on and indeed it did, but again the expected siege never really materialised. Derby substitute Conor Sammon's weak effort which was easily saved by Darlow was the closest they came; whilst the once-again-excellent Reid could've capped a great display late on when his shot was repelled by Grant. There would be no further scoring however and, following an inordinately long five minutes of stoppage time, the whistle was blown and the day was won.

Special mention has to go to Collins and Hobbs. Despite my misgivings, the former had an excellent game whilst Hobbs was quite simply imperious, winning everything in the air, almost everything on the ground and, of course, popping up with the goal. Once again I was impressed by Abdoun. In a match that was never made for him he didn't get much chance going forward, but he never shirked his defensive duties and made a couple of decent tackles and clearances.

This wasn't a dominant or free-flowing Forest performance but, this time, it didn't need to be. The result was what we all wanted and that's what we got. And so, to Charlton.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Nottingham Forest 2 - 2 Middlesbrough

Nottingham Forest came from two goals down against Middlesbrough to preserve their unbeaten record at the City Ground, but it was the performance of referee Phil Dowd that somewhat overshadowed an entertaining night's football.

Dowd awarded one penalty and brandished one red card but probably should have done both again, as well as making a string of decisions that incensed the home fans. Blame cannot be laid solely at his door though - his linesmen helped him achieve his level of incompetence with a similarly inept display.

Forest made one change from Saturday's win against Barnsley with Djamel Abdoun getting his first league start at the expense of Guy Moussi, though the 18 man squad remained the same. The visitors included a number of players with various tenuous Forest connections: summer target Grant Leadbitter lined up in midfield alongside Albert Adomah, who had been linked with Forest some years ago. George Friend at left back - in my opinion Boro's best player on the night - had also been linked with Forest a couple of seasons ago, whilst winger Mustapha Carayol - also rumoured to be interesting Forest this summer - was on the bench.

Middlesbrough started brightly and had the better of the early play before Kelvin Wilson was forced off with a back injury. Greg Halford took his place at centre-half but the defence had looked shaky even before that, possibly due to the midfield containing all creative players but no destroyers.

It was Halford that dived into a challenge and allowed Adomah to skip past him and set up Kei Kamara for Boro's first goal. From my position in the Trent End I wasn't able to see if Forest's claims for a penalty seconds before were justified or not: with Jonathan Woodgate suspected of handling the ball at the other end.

There was no doubt about the penalty Forest were awarded however, as Rhys Williams clumsily felled Radoslaw Majewski in the 18 yard box. Reid stepped up to take the spot kick - I was surprised Simon Cox didn't claim it - but Boro goalkeeper Jason Steele defied Forest's number 11 with a great save low to his left. Another brouhaha erupted after this - again I couldn't see why - as Dowd seemed already to have lost control. In the end though Forest went in at the break a goal down.

The Reds started the second half better but were stunned when a quick counter-attack saw Leadbitter feed Friend down the left hand side, and the left-back's unstoppable effort flew past Karl Darlow to give Middlesbrough a two goal lead. At the time they probably deserved it. Their defence was closing down quickly, blocking shots and crosses and denying our creative players time and space; while our back four was doing the opposite, repeatedly allowing their forwards to run at them, possibly due to the lack of protection from midfield.

This second goal forced Billy Davies into quickly and riskily using his last two substitutes, bringing on Darius Henderson and Matt Derbyshire to replace Majewski and Cox. Still, fortune favours the brave and it was Derbyshire who brought Forest back into the game, firmly heading home Reid's centre via a deflection off the post.

Poor refereeing does not favour the brave however. Minutes after Derbyshire's goal, a ricochet fell to Henderson in the penalty area and he appeared to skip past Steele before stumbling with the goal at his mercy. I have to admit that at the time I couldn't tell whether Steele had made contact or not. It seems unlikely that Henderson would have dived with an open goal ahead of him though. Dowd wasn't well placed being slightly behind the play, but his linesman should've been able to advise him. In any event, rather than granting Forest a second penalty and red-carding Steele, Dowd booked Henderson for simulation and gave Boro the free kick.

This injustice seemed to spur Forest on and Middlesbrough's previously solid defence crumbled under the constant pressure. A deep cross into the box wasn't cleared and fell to Eric Lichaj, who drove low across the area for Henderson to crash home the leveller. Thankfully he kept his shirt firmly on this time.

Forest applied more pressure but couldn't find a winner, and there was still time for Dowd to have the last word, sending off Middlesbrough substitute Emmanuel Ledesma for a crude challenge from behind on Henri Lansbury. It was a bad challenge but I don't even think Dowd got that right - a yellow card would probably have sufficed.

The draw was probably a fair result. Boro looked very good for periods of the match but couldn't withstand the late Forest onslaught. As for the Reds: this game highlighted the need for balance in the midfield. With nobody to break up Boro's attacks they were able to run at our back four far too often. The early loss of Wilson and a rare off day for Andy Reid didn't help matters. I'd like to see Gonzalo Jara be given a chance in the defensive midfield role. I'd also like to see Henderson start against Doncaster. His two late goals, link-up play and the mayhem he causes in opposition defences warrants it.

The last word must go to Abdoun though. From the moment an extravagant double-dragback turn left a Boro player in his wake, it was clear that he was up for the game. He proved a constant menace, always wanting the ball and running at defenders. Indeed at times he appeared to be thinking too quickly for his team-mates, with clever flicks and passes going unanticipated by his colleagues. On this showing he could cause havoc for defenders in the Championship.

Davies still has a conundrum to solve in the Forest midfield, and hopefully he'll strike the right balance for the next game at Doncaster away and have the team firing on all cylinders for the small matter of Derby on September 28th.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Nottingham Forest vs. The Press - In Defence of the Club

No Nottingham Forest fan with an internet connection can fail to have seen the current disagreement between the club and certain sections of the press being played out in all its tawdry detail over the last few days.

Forest fans' opinions on this differ wildly; from the 'I only care about results' to the 'This is embarrassing and Jim Price must be burned at the stake.' I intentionally use Price's name in this as the assumption seems to be that he, along with Manager Billy Davies, is behind it all; the premise being that the duo are attempting to isolate any members of the media who reported unfavourably about them during Davies's previous tenure as Manager.

There may be an element of truth in this, but to suggest it's all Price's evil machinations is, in my opinion, foolish. Certainly any decisions will have to be authorised by Forest's Owner and Chairman Fawaz al Hasawi. However, because of Price's association with the collapsed Scottish law firm Ross Harper, he is seen by some as the Devil Incarnate, whose nefarious plotting will drag Forest to the precipice of doom. Again, I believe this is inaccurate.

Let us cast our minds back to January 2013 - arguably the lowest point in Fawaz's ownership so far. Broadly popular Manager Sean O' Driscoll had just been sacked and replaced with, well, the not-quite-so-popular Alex McLeish. Results were inconsistent at best. Then, out of the blue, CEO Mark Arthur, Chief Scout Keith Burt and club Ambassador and former Manager and Chairman Frank Clark were unceremoniously sacked with no official explanation. Finance Director John Pelling followed soon after.

Whilst some fans were happy at Arthur's dismissal as - for them - he had long been a figure of derision, there was general indifference at Burt's sacking and widespread outrage at Clark's. What was going on?

Then the press reports and rumours started. Fawaz didn't know what he was doing. He was ruining this once great club. He was as bad as the Venkys and wanted to pick the team himself. Clark - it was reported - had been banned from attending matches at the City Ground. Disgraceful treatment of one who had given so much to the club.

Certain reporters working for national broadcasting organisations were vocal in their distrust, claiming to have heard all kinds of terrible stories from 'sources' behind the scenes at the club. Yet when asked what these stories were, they could not elaborate. The press, some of whom had been publishing erroneous reports since nearly day one of Fawaz's reign, were having a field day.

It was not long after this that rumours of why the sackings had taken place started to circulate among Forest fans. Rumours that, if ever proved true, would fully vindicate Fawaz's actions. These rumours persist even now. If Forest fans were discussing them then surely the well-connected members of the press must have heard them too? Yet no mention of these rumours was ever made; either officially in the press or unofficially by reporters in a personal capacity. Why was that? Legal reasons perhaps? Quite possibly. In the meantime, Clark had been invited back to attend matches again and, apparently, had received a formal apology. I can't recall that being mentioned in the press.

The re-appointment of Bily Davies, the subsequent upturn in results and performances and the ultimately unsuccessful run at the Playoffs all served to silence the critics for a while. But there was always the feeling that, once results hit a downturn, the knives would be out again.

I'm a Forest fan. I want my club to be talked about in glowing terms all round the country and, I will be honest, this current press empasse makes me uncomfortable. But I'd rather us be praised for our results and performances than anything else. What I'm trying to say is that, while this 'media blackout,' 'selective press exclusion' or whatever you want to call it may seem petty to some, I believe it is not without some justification.

It's not just Billy Davies who was burned by the press before. Fawaz was too and it's understandable that he would at best be wary of them and wish to regain some element of control over what is reported about him and his club. I hope the dispute can be settled amicably but, until such time arises, my support is 100% behind Nottingham Forest Football Club, and all those who are working to make it a success.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Bohemian Rhapsody - Nottingham Forest Style

Hopefully, most Forest fans will be old enough to remember the Queen masterpiece Bohemian Rhapsody. Well, if not, here's a link to it on Youtube for your enjoyment:

Anyway, I was on the train home yesterday and my mind started wandering while listening to the song and thinking of the upcoming season for Forest. Words came into my head...

Please note: This isn't my opinion as a Forest fan. I'm very positive about the season to come. This is just a bit of fun based on my (useless) ability to put daft words to existing songs. So, I give you Bohemian Rhapsody - Nottingham Forest Style:

(Lyrics copyright Roman Filipowicz 2013 - Original lyrics and music copyright Queen 1975)


Is this the real life?
Is it NFFC?
Caught in the Championship
No escape to the Premier League
Open your eyes
Look up at the prize and see
I'm just the Gaffer
You're the rich Kuwaiti
We've seen some targets come, targets go
Fees too high, offers low
Where did all the funds go?
Doesn't really matter to me
To me

Fawaz, just signed McCann
Put the thought inside his head
Now he's joined and he's a Red
Fawaz, the season's just begun
And I hope we don't throw it all away
Fawaz, oooooooooh
We're sponsored by John Pye
If we're not 3-0 up this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on
As if nothing really matters

Too late, the deadline's gone
No players more to sign
We just didn't have the time
Goodbye automatic
Our team's too slow
And we really need a striker who can shoot
Fawaz, oooooooooh (where did all the funds go?)
Sinclair didn't sign
I sometimes wish I'd offered for Robert Hall

(guitar solo)

I see that Adlene Guedioura's got a ban
Bring on Moose, bring on Moose, where'd the rest of our squad go?
Midfield not exciting, centre backs are frightening me!
We've got Darlow (we've got Darlow)
We've got Darlow (we've got Darlow)
We've got Darlow in the goal, magnifico-o-o-o!
I'm just the Gaffer, nobody loves me
(He's just the Gaffer, he talks to Natalie)
(Him and his trusty advisor JP)
Players come, players go, got to let some go
Ish Miller, go! We've got to let you go (let him go)
Ish Miller, we've got to let you go (let him go)
Ish Miller, we've got to let you go (let him go)
Got to let you go (let him go)
Got to let you got to let you go-o-o-o
Go go go go go go go!
Oh Simon Gillett, Simon Gillett, Simon Gillett you can go
Matt Derbyshire! You can leave without a transfer fee, for free, for free!

(guitar solo)

So you think you can leave me no players to sign?
Then the loan window opens and everything's fine?
Oh, Fawaz
Can't do this to me Fawaz
Just gotta get Cole
Just gotta get Cole to come here

(guitar solo)

Ooh yeah, ooh yeah
Nothing really matters, we just lost 5-3
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters, to me

Where did all the funds go?