Monday, October 19, 2009

We've lost that winning feeling*

Nottm Forest 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

True to form, this one - more's the pity. While we came into the fixture off the back of two disappointing home draws in which we'd hammered at the doors of the opposition defences but only scored once, Forest had been busy emulating our early season form, notching up three consecutive victories.

I think it's fair to say our hosts didn't exactly roll out the red carpet for us - instead it was evident there's very little love lost between the two sets of fans. The game was played out in a particularly spicy atmosphere, several of the chants from the 4000+ away supporters - situated beneath netting designed to catch the phlegm donations of generous home fans above - picking the scab of the Miners' Strike (pun intended).

As hoped, Chris Hughton opted for a two man strikeforce, pairing Homer with Bigger Lad, while Spiderman only made the bench after his long journey back from Uruguay. But Hughton's real headache was in defence, Danny Simpson and Zurab Khizanishvili forming an untested central pair with Steven Taylor joining Fabricio Coloccini on the treatment table.

We started the first half sluggishly, and Steve Harper had already pulled off an excellent early save to his right to repel one header when Dexter Blackstock took time out from his day job as a porn actor to nod another against the upright with Harper stranded.

Our biggest problems were in midfield, where Peter Lovenkrands was ineffective from the start and Danny Guthrie ill-disciplined in maintaining width. Despite the fierce tackling we've come to expect from Alan Smith this season, Guy Moussi and Paul McKenna were controlling the centre of the pitch, their side playing some neat and tidy football. Pacy ex-Liverpool winger Paul Anderson a particular threat, while Nathan Tyson flashed an acrobatic volley inches wide. Jose Enrique went on one superb slaloming run, but our only real opportunity of note came when Homer touched Ryan Taylor's free-kick onto the post, even though it looked easier to score.

And we would have gotten away with that lousy first half performance if it hadn't have been for that pesky Blackstock, stealing in behind an inattentive defence to roll the ball under Harper with just enough pace that Smith couldn't reach it only a few seconds before the referee's whistle brought the half to a close. "1-0 to the famous club", Forest's fans crowed, seemingly oblivious to the last ten years or the fact that big/famous clubs don't feel the need to play moronic music when they score (The Fratellis' 'Chelsea Dagger' in this case).

Hughton evidently knocked a few heads together at the interval because we emerged like a side possessed, suddenly (it seemed) aware of our superior quality and experience. All the same, his opposite number Billy Davies' post-match claim that "[they] showed us what we have to aspire to" was both rather generous to us and worrying for Forest fans - because we never made our dominance count.

Danny Guthrie should have finished off a neat move by hitting the target but instead blazed over, while Bigger Lad was only able to escape the attentions of Wes Morgan on a couple of occasions, neither coming to anything. Enrique continued to carry an offensive threat, but like far too many of his teammates suffered sudden paralysis in the box, hesitated fatally and saw a pair of efforts blocked.

The Spaniard was at the centre of the first of two questionable refereeing decisions, both of which went against us, when barged clumsily off the ball in the box - no penalty forthcoming. And later we thought we'd equalised when Kevin Nolan touched in at the far post, only for the linesman's flag to chalk it off - if he was indeed offside, it was by the slimmest of margins.

Spiderman came on to torment Chris Gunter, cutting inside and firing over the bar from distance twice. At least he had the guts to have a try, which is more than can be said of Homer, who should have given Kelvin Wilson a much tougher game on only the latter's second appearance of the season but who instead endured a miserable evening against his former club. Quite why it took so long for Hughton to decide Nile Ranger would be a better option I have no idea - though in the short time he was given Ranger didn't come much closer to scoring, heading way over from a corner when he should have done better.

A draw would have been a fair result, but it's now three games without a win, and knocked off the top spot on goals scored due to the Baggies' 3-1 victory over Reading earlier in the day. No reason to panic just yet, but the indifferent displays and relative goal drought are certainly cause for concern. With the trip to Glanford Park on Tuesday night, we haven't got to wait long for an opportunity to turn things around again - but Scunthorpe's convincing home win over promotion hopefuls Sheffield Utd suggests we'll need to improve to stand a chance of picking up points.

* For reasons best known to themselves, the two songs Forest run out to are 'Mull Of Kintyre' by Wings - an inspirational song, to be sure, but one that only usually inspires disbelief, disgust and spontaneous vomitation - and 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling'. About as inexplicable and bizarre as the half-time birthday message on the scoreboard for "Amber Mowgli Pants Caradine" - talk about an unfortunate name - and the sheepskin coat that was flung down into our midst towards the end of the second half.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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