Saturday, 31 January 2015

Nottingham Forest 0 - 1 Millwall

It's my own fault I suppose. I should have foreseen it. The portents were there after all. It was, as the build up to Super Sunday proclaims every week ''Written in the Stars." Bogey team, bogey manager, bogey discounted tickets promotion. A Kids for a Quid game against a Millwall team we "should beat," managed by Ian Holloway. A perfect storm of shitness. And the cherry turd on top of the whole faecal cake was that the goal was softer than a piglet eating a marshmallow, and was scored by veteran uber-lummox Ricardo Fuller. Football doesn't get shitter than this.

Where to begin? The team news? Yes, ok then. A sickness bug meant that Gary Gardner had to drop out of the squad this time round, and the game was perhaps too soon for Matt Fryatt to start, though he did take a place on the substitutes' bench. As did Eric Lichaj, meaning that Stephen McLaughlin started at left back with Todd Kane on the right. Millwall named a team of giants, with left back Shaun Williams, centre half Jos Hooiveld and forward Stefan Maierhofer particularly enormous.

It became clear soon after kick-off that we were lining up with Michail Antonio playing up front alongside Britt Assombalonga, and indeed it was Antonio who was to have the first half-chance, as he broke clear down the left, only for his cross to find a Millwall defender. This was to become a recurring theme. A bungled free kick from the visitors gave Antonio another chance, but his low shot hit the leg of Lions' keeper David Forde and ricocheted to safety. After this bright start though, Millwall gained in confidence and started to get a foothold in the game. A few long-range efforts flew wide, before a Mark Beevers header forced an excellent save from Dorus de Vries. The first half ended goalless which was probably a fair scoreline. We weren't playing well but at least we weren't 1-0 down. Or 3-0 down for that matter.

The second half started a bit more brightly but it was hardly batten-down-the-hatches stuff. A Robert Tesche curler from outside the box hit the crossbar, as did an Assombalonga header from an Antonio cross. Henri Lansbury also pinged an effort from range which narrowly missed the top corner and may have hit the crossbar. It looked for all the world like one of those "play until midnight and nobody will score" matches. Or, if anyone was to score it'd be the Reds. Wrrrroooonnnnnngggggg.

An aimless Millwall free kick found the head of McLaughlin, who tried to cushion it back to De Vries but left his header short. In nipped substitute Ricardo Fuller to pilfer the ball ahead of the Forest keeper and roll it into the empty net. Joy for the away fans, and the home crowd all started shouting for booze. Or at least that's what it sounded like. The Reds never looked like netting an equaliser and that was that. The Derby away match was consigned even further to the memory banks.

I can't really single out any Forest players for praise today. Neither can I fathom how a team who played so well in the second half away against Derby could manage to produce such an indifferent display against Millwall. Nobody was obviously dreadful either, though in my opinion it was Michail Antonio's worse game since he joined the club. Almost every cross seemed to hit a defender and his decision making was questionable. It's a bit harsh to single him out however.

Stuart Pearce was a hero as a Nottingham Forest player. I, and I'm sure the massive majority of Forest fans, desperately want him to succeed as a manager, to take us back to the top flight where he used to represent our club with such commitment and vigour. But I don't think he will. And I'm not sure he even can. And that makes me sad.

Is it Pearce's fault that we hit the bar twice? That we gave away such a horrifically bad goal? No, of course not. But our football has been shockingly poor at times. We're on a wretched run and it seems hard to see where the next win will come from, even against poor opposition. And, much as it pains me to say it, the buck for that has to stop with Pearce.

The players are not performing as well as they can - of that there can be no doubt. They've shown us they can play better, but they've not done it anywhere near enough. The number of times they've dominated matches this season is far, far too small. Yes, any team would suffer from losing the likes of Chris Cohen and Andy Reid for the length of time that we have, but it's not like the rest of the squad is full of callow youths. In fact it's ironic that the callowest of our youths - Ben Osborn - has probably been the one bright spark during this current excruciating run. His late, great goal at the iPro looked like it would kickstart our season, but since then we've lapsed back into rubbishness. And if such a dramatic win can't motivate us for the rest of the campaign then I'm not sure what will.

It's not my job to work this out though - it's currently Stuart Pearce's. If the team plays like they did against Millwall however, it might not be for much longer. Pearce being sacked would bring me no joy whatsoever - it would be heartbreaking. But it's getting to the point where it might be for the best.

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