Sunday, 11 January 2015

Nottingham Forest 0 - 2 Sheffield Wednesday

Apparently, one of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. If that's the case, then there are a number of crazy, crazy people in and around the City Ground at the moment.

The fans, for example, have largely been turning up week in, week out, home and away, hoping and praying for an upturn in fortune. In the main they've stuck with the team and manager too, but the pattern and outcome of recent matches has been horribly predictable. The match against Sheffield Wednesday was another example of this. However, it might also have been the match where things do start to change, and not necessarily for the better. Because, the nature of the performance against the Owls has, in my opinion, caused some of the many fans who are staunchly behind Stuart Pearce to finally begin to doubt that he can turn things around. More of that later.

Injuries and suspensions meant that, yet again, Pearce was forced to shuffle his pack. Dorus de Vries kept his place between the sticks behind a back four of Eric Lichaj, Jack Hobbs, Jamaal Lascelles and débutante Chelsea loanee Todd Kane. The out-of-form Danny Fox joined the ill Kelvin Wilson and the injured Michael Mancienne in missing out.

Further injuries, to Matt Fryatt and Dexter Blackstock, caused Pearce to name Britt Assombalonga as a lone striker in front of the five-man midfield of Michail Antonio, Robert Tesche, Ben Osborn, David Vaughan and Chris Burke. Forest's other recent loan signing - midfielder Gary Gardner - took his place on the bench, The visitors lined up with one of the largest - and hairiest - striking partnerships I've ever seen, in the form of Stevie May and Atdhe Nuhui.

The windy conditions made good football difficult, with players from both sides misjudging bounces and high balls. As has been the case recently, Forest kept the ball without really looking threatening. A good Tesche run and pass found Assombalonga but the striker's shot was half-blocked and didn't trouble Owls' keeper Kieran Westwood. An Osborn corner caused a scramble but ultimately led to nothing. Hardly seat-of-the-pants stuff. At the other end both Lascelles and Kane were forced into good tackles to head off dangerous attacks. De Vries, like Westwood, had little to do. In fact the first thing I remember him doing is picking the ball out of the net.

Another Forest corner was cleared by the visitors and Vaughan - who did not have a good game - dived into a tackle and let May get past. The attacker's centre found Nuhui, whose header was blocked, before the ball fell for Kieran Lee to bundle over the line. Coming just before half-time as it did, the goal was a real sickener. And, after Gary Gardner had replaced Chris Burke following the interval, it got worse. Another cross into the Forest area was only half cleared by Lascelles and Chris Maguire beat Lichaj to the loose ball to steer it home to double the visitors' lead.

Far from spurring the home team on, this second goal seemed to further galvanise the visitors. De Vries produced a brilliant double save to deny May and Maguire. Nuhui had a header blocked again and then hit another chance wide. Forest mustered little. A free-kick found the head of Antonio but Westwood tipped over well. Both Antonio and Assombalonga were denied reasonable penalty shouts - the latter's was probably more than reasonable to be honest - but referee Andy D'Urso wasn't interested. A good Osborn run and cross was missed at the far post by Lars Veldwijk, who had replaced the injured Assombalonga. And that was pretty much it. Defeat came with barely a whimper against a team who, with all due respect to them, have had a dreadful record against Forest in recent times.

So, where do we go from here? I'm lucky enough to sit with a bunch of sensible and reasonable fans but the prevalent feeling seems to be 'we love Pearce but it's just not working.' What's worse at the moment is it doesn't look like working. Defeats are easier to stomach if the performances are good, but they're not. The Wednesday match was as bad a showing as I've seen all season, and when you consider the Brentford and Birmingham matches......well, that says it all. Given the absences, you can't really argue with Pearce's team selection against the Owls but, once again, the players just didn't deliver.

There were a couple of bright spots amid the gloom. Jamaal Lascelles had probably his best match of the season. He looks a different player when paired with Jack Hobbs, who got another 90 minutes under his belt. Todd Kane had a solid début and Ben Osborn, after floundering in the first half, looked a lot better when moved out wide in the second. Perhaps he should start there against Derby as Henri Lansbury will be eligible again and Gary Gardner will presumably be pushing for a start.

It's hard to foresee anything but a defeat against Derby County next time out, especially if Assombalonga misses out. Without him in the side it's difficult to see where goals will come from. Fryatt returning would help, but he's hardly been prolific this season. Veldwijk looks out of his depth and, as striking options currently go, that's about our lot. Could the match at the iPro result in another Forest manager losing his job? It's not too hard to imagine.

As I wrote in my piece for the Nottingham Post this week, I really hope that Fawaz al Hasawi doesn't have to sack yet another manager, particularly one idolised by Forest fans as much as Pearce. However, if we fall to yet another defeat then his position would be nigh-on untenable. I totally appreciate what he's done off the field since his return, and I acknowledge that we can't just keep on sacking managers, but how long can we go on for if we keep losing and playing poorly?

In my heart of hearts I desperately want Pearce to turn it round, see out the season and hopefully build from there. But, after the Wednesday match, a small part of me thinks he just can't turn it round and that something needs to change. It'd be devastating for a defeat to Derby to be the reason for Pearce's sacking. That's assuming he's still in charge when we play them. The ball's in Fawaz's court now and only he knows what the following week will bring.

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