Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Nottingham Forest 3 - 3 Sheffield Wednesday

With all due respect to Sheffield Wednesday, a home draw against them probably shouldn't feel like a win; and indeed, this one didn't. However, the context of this draw - coming back from two goals down whilst hampered by the single worst refereeing display I've ever seen - made this result feel just a bit sweeter than it really was.

Manager-in-waiting Stuart Pearce was at the City Ground - quietly ensconced in one of the executive boxes - to watch this game and it would have given him a brilliant snapshot of just what to expect from Nottingham Forest as they fluctuated between excellent and excrement. There are certainly positives he could have taken from this match; but it will also have given him a taste of the scale of the job he'll walk into on July 1st.

Forest lined up in a 4-4-2 formation again, with this week's striking partnership consisting of Matt Derbyshire and Darius Henderson. Henri Lansbury made a very, very welcome return in midfield, partnered by on-loan Lee Peltier. Gonzalo Jara and Dan Harding were at full back with Jamaal Lascelles and Danny Collins at centre half as Kelvin Wilson suffered another injury, this time to his hamstring.

The Reds actually started well, with a couple of decent crosses testing Owls' keeper Chris Kirkland before, a quarter of an hour in, the tone of the game was set. From where I was sitting Danny Collins appeared to take the ball with a sliding challenge on Chris Maguire. Referee Scott Duncan thought otherwise though and pointed to the spot and, despite Karl Darlow diving the right way, Maguire himself got up to put the visitors 1-0 up.

This injustice seemed to spur Forest into greater action and tackles were flying in from both sides. I tweeted at the time that I'd be amazed if we finished the game with 11 men, as Lansbury in particular was incredibly fired up. Matters weren't helped when, shortly after Derbyshire had a shot cleared off the line, Forest were denied what might have been a penalty as a cross appeared to be handled in the area.

Eventually the home pressure told as a jinking run and cross from Jamie Paterson was headed home by the late-arriving Jamie Mackie to bring Forest level. The parity was short-lived though. Jara's misplaced pass eventually led to a Wednesday corner which Lewis Buxton turned in. Darlow may have been at fault as he appeared to hesitate, but his protestations after the goal suggested he thought he was impeded. In any event, the goal stood and Forest traipsed off 2-1 down.

Matters got worse early in the second half as a speculative Wednesday shot hit Collins and went out for a corner. The ball was pulled back to Joe Mattock who fired home from outside the box to make the score 3-1. Given the performances of both Forest and the referee at this point in time, it seemed like that was game over. There was certainly no hint of what was yet to come.

Forgotten man Marcus Tudgay and Greg Halford replaced the hapless duo of Henderson and Jara and it was Tudgay who gave the Reds hope. Mackie won the ball in a tackle which - miraculously - the referee didn't punish, and his floated cross was headed powerfully in by the ex-Wednesday loanee to reduce the deficit. This hope appeared to have been snuffed out barely minutes later when Collins received a second yellow card for hacking down Maguire meaning Forest had to see out the game with ten men.

Against all expectations though, this latest setback spurred the Reds on even more and, with time ticking away, Forest were awarded a free kick just outside the Wednesday area. Up stepped Paterson to curl home a wonderful effort and bring Forest back level again. Late pressure brought the unlikely hope of a victory, but Wednesday held out and the game finished 3-3.

The sponsors Man of the Match was Jamie Mackie (though the award was made before Paterson's equalising goal). I'd find it hard to argue with that as his usual effort was, this time, backed up by moments of real quality with his headed finish and cross for Tudgay's goal. Paterson wasn't far behind him with a goal and assist himself.

Lansbury provided his usual drive and showed just how much we've missed him and he was ably assisted by Peltier who put himself around well. Harding and Lascelles weren't too bad and Derbyshire and Tudgay deserved praise for their efforts. Neither has been given much of a look in this season but they both showed a hunger which has been lacking in recent performances.

Henderson did not have a good game and Jara seemed to carry his midfield form with him to right back. His mind already seems on the forthcoming World Cup. Danny Collins also had a poor game. I have some sympathy with him for the penalty decision but his sending off was needless; though, ironically, his two bookings were probably the only things the referee got right. In fact I'm not sure if the boos that rang out as Collins trudged off were aimed at the referee or at Collins. Which brings us to the referee...

To the neutral reader (if there are any of you), it probably seems like sour grapes because the big decisions didn't go Forest's way; but it's not. One can take that if the referee is consistent, but this one wasn't. Fouls given against Forest players were ignored when Wednesday committed them. Leon Best flattened Harding at least three times but wasn't booked at all, whilst one bad challenge by Lascelles earned him a yellow card. Mattock grabbed Mackie's shirt and was rightly booked but only after the referee had failed to play the advantage and a Wednesday challenge which looked very similar to the one they got a penalty for was ignored and signalled as a goal kick!

The worst decision was seconds after Collins had been sent off though. Wednesday defender Jeremy Helan - who had already been booked - blatantly booted the ball away after Forest had been given a free kick. But did the referee send him off too....? Did he buggery. If you're going to apply the letter of the law you have to do it consistently. Scott Duncan did not do this and, if the FA assessors have any sense, it'll be a long time before he's allowed to officiate again.

Anyway, let's try and end on a high note. Yes, this was another game without a win and yes, at times Forest were very poor; but at least they showed some spirit and quality amongst the dross. Stuart Pearce should have found some things to encourage him in this display. If he can instil his determination and passion into this squad and can build and trim it as required, then next season may provide us with a fitting way to celebrate the club's 150th anniversary. If nothing else we'll have a man at the helm who truly loves the club - and that means a lot.

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