Thursday, 19 March 2015

Nottingham Forest 2 - 0 Rotherham United

Thirty five minutes into what was, up to that point, a somewhat turgid encounter, my mind started to wander from the uninspiring fare in front of me to my Half Time Tweet. How would I sum up the match so far? I'd just about settled on "Well, that was 45 minutes (plus 2 minutes stoppage time) of my life I'll never get back," when two great goals in as many minutes had consigned the tweet to remain forever in drafts, and Rotherham United to defeat. How quickly things can change!

One thing that didn't change was Nottingham Forest's starting lineup however. Matt Fryatt's troublesome Achilles wasn't risked, so Dexter Blackstock remained the lone striker ahead of the usual five-man midfield. Eric Lichaj and Michael Mancienne continued as round pegs, er, full backs and, on the bench, new signing Modou Barrow took Lars Veldwijk's substitute berth. Rotherham included ex-Reds Jack Hunt and Matt Derbyshire, the latter of whom was partnered in attack by the lumpen former Derby goal-machine....., hmm, no. Striker? Barely. Former Derby player Conor Sammon. 

The opening exchanges were as pedestrian as a smart, inner-city square surrounded by bars and restaurants. Rotherham kept possession well without testing Karl Darlow, though they did cause some bother down their right flank where Hunt and Sammon were often 2-on-1 against Lichaj, due to Michail Antonio deciding that tracking back was something other people did. Going the other way though, Antonio sent an early shot wide and produced a typically muscular run which ended in him crumpling in a heap in the penalty area. As this was at the other end of the pitch from me I couldn't tell either way, but the Lower Bridgford seemed miffed that a spot kick hadn't been awarded. Another Antonio rampage was halted, this time outside the area, and Henri Lansbury sent the resultant free kick over the bar. It looked as though the first half would end frustratingly goalless, until the two moments that changed and decided the contest. 

I have to admit, I missed seeing the first goal live as I was mid-Twitter rant about the ineptitude of the unlikely-looking referee. Having seen the replays though, I can assure you that Antonio lofted a ball down the left which bounced nicely into Blackstock's path. The rejuvenated striker in turn lobbed a shot over Miller's keeper Adam Collin, whose despairing dive could only tip the ball onto the underside of the crossbar and in. 

One became two barely a minute later when Antonio picked up the ball in his own half, from about the same position where he'd set up Blackstock's goal. This time though he just got his head down and ran, brushing aside three (admittedly unconvincing) challenges and thumping a low drive past the helpless Collin from just outside the box. Had this been a Saturday match it would've been another sure-fire winner of Sky Sports' Goal of the Day, but instead it just made the score 2-0 and Dougie Freedman's half time team talk a far more pleasant experience. 

The second half followed a similar theme to the first, with spells of largely ineffectual Rotherham possession punctuated by somewhat more dangerous looking Forest attacks. The visitors did come closer to scoring than in the first 45 minutes though, with Lee Frecklington hitting the post and Sammon forcing Darlow into a good save. 

At the other end, Forest just couldn't quite extend their lead. Another couple of Antonio runs ended respectively in a blocked shot and a dangerous cross which was whipped off the toes of Chris Burke. I say "runs" but that barely does them justice. You know when Super Mario eats the flower thing that makes him invincible and then just squashes anything in his path? That's the kind of run. 

Anyway, Gary Gardner curled an effort just wide and a long period of passing saw Barrow - who looked quick and lively on his debut - find Burke with a decent cross, only for the Scotsman's shot to be deflected wide. Despite the blond, flowing-locked promptings of Ben Pringle, Rotherham never looked like scoring and, just before full time, Tyler Walker - son of Forest legend Des - made his Reds bow. He only got two touches, but they were good ones, chesting down a high ball before laying it off to a teammate. Full time whistle. Job done. Three more points. 

Forest weren't at their best but did enough to just about keep pace with the top six. The defence was solid enough and Gardner was again impressive in midfield. What a loss he'll be when he presumably returns to Villa Park next season. Blackstock again ran his socks off and was rewarded and, as for Antonio, well...

Imagine a slightly stronger but a bit more clumsy version of Stan Collymore who plays wide midfield and you'll begin to get the picture of what he's like. At times he can look dreadful, conceding possession easily before standing in disgust at his own profligacy. But at other times, as with his goal, he's totally unplayable. His pace and strength must make him a nightmare to defend against. Indeed there's a great picture doing the rounds of him hunched over the ball, surrounded by five Rotherham defenders. Strength of numbers is sometimes the only way to stop him. 

So, next up are the three matches which will probably shape the rest of our season. Norwich may be too far ahead to catch (though a win would put us only seven points behind them with as many matches to play), and a draw at Carrow Road would be a fine result. Then, over Easter, we host Wolves and visit Brentford. The outcomes of these matches could see us firmly in the playoff mix, or wondering why we even thought about reaching them at all. As Dougie said in his post-match interview, there's often one team that comes from nowhere to snatch a top six place. All we can do is keep on winning, and you never know, it just might be us. 

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