I barely know where to start with that game. Thirteen hours from the final whistle, hours that have included sleep, more beer that I should reasonably have had given that I need to go out for a four mile run this morning and attempting to deconstruct our failings with friends, other writers and disappointed small boys and I still don’t really know how we managed to lose it. But lose it we did and we are very much still in a relegation scrap.
Could I weave a narrative around my whole day as I sometimes do (what my friend Ian calls the Brian Johnston approach)? I could, but in that respect it was unspectacular. A good day with friends ruined by ninety minutes of football, as I later posted on my Facebook account. No, we’d better dive in and analyse one of the more frustrating afternoons at what is fast becoming The Theatre of Frustration.
Other games in Chris Hughton’s reign have been games of two halves. This was not. We lost our last home game 3-2 as well but this was no Arsenal either. A muted atmosphere greeted the players and the seats around me that have been empty most of the season were back to being empty again. However we didn’t start by giving our red-clad opposition too much respect. We started in the driving seat. In fact, for the first forty two minutes you could have been forgiven for thinking that we were Arsenal and Forest were, well, us. They may have had a new manager but I can’t remember seeing a less interested team at the Amex ever. We were first to the ball. Every challenge. We were creating chances. They weren’t. We had well over sixty percent possession. We had more shots, more corners, more chutzpah and more desire.
Yet, even then the mistakes had started. March, who was very much part of the audacious yet patient start was fouled in a manner that The Boy always describes as a “dirty hack”, injuring him. No yellow from the ref. Mistake. The injury was bad enough for him to have to come off. We brought on the only-just-fit Lua Lua to play seventy minutes. Mistake. We realised that Forest were not exactly crash hot at defending set pieces, not a mistake at all. We hit a perfect cross to an unmarked player. Not a mistake at all. Except that player was Greer (who had a howler all day long). Mistake. His header from probably no more than four yards out squirted wide when it was easier to score, and scoreboard wise at least the pressure stayed off Forest. Mistake.
Finally even we couldn’t keep missing and from a similar set piece Dunk was credited with finally applying the finish. Three minutes remained to just keep playing the way we were and we’d go in deservedly one up. I looked at Mark and mouthed “we just need not to concede now”. Mistake. The North Stand roared “Dougie, Dougie what’s the score?”. Mistake. Teixeira, who had been excellent up to then overcommitted to winning the ball back near the touchline and gave away a silly free kick. Mistake. The ball in seemed easy to deal with but no one had factored in Stockdale having one of his moments. He rushed out halfway but failed to clear the ball out or retreat, standing alone in no man’s land like an unlucky Tommy who’s misheard his CO. Collins couldn’t believe his luck, the ball DOBBLING in to the net off a post. Mistake.
We had dominated the first half 1-1. It was, in fact, not unlike the Cardiff home game, but, if anything was certain, it was that the second half would be different. So it proved. Forest let us have far less time on the ball, putting in to clear focus that this was not a game of two halves, but of two sets of players, those having a fine afternoon, and those having a nightmare. In the former category were Teixiera (making a nuisance of himself), COG (likewise), Dunk (holding the defence together by himself) and, particularly Ince (rampaging, as per). In the latter were the aforementioned Greer and Stockdale, both full backs and, sadly, Calde (out of position). Not only did Forest find new belief, and more of the ball, they suddenly realised our full backs were about as good at defending as a Frenchman in a nice café. Far down our right Ince found himself covering for an exposed Bruno and having to commit an identical foul to the one that did for March (though this one drew a yellow from a referee who was inconsistent and, yes, prone to mistakes). The free kick was in a dangerous position on the edge of the box, and I think all of us at this point still had Forest’s opener in our minds. However it was still defendable. I still haven’t been able to watch the goal back so I may be unfair here, but basically Lansbury was able to shoot low on the ground and in to the far corner from an angle that was tighter than Paul Barber with a new spreadsheet. Yes it had been tapped to him. Yes it was well driven. But, still, how the hell did he score from there? Did it go through the wall? Was the wall badly positioned? Was Stockdale in the right place? There was at least one mistake there anyway. Now we weren’t drawing undeservedly, we were losing undeservedly and Forest were about to get the bit between their teeth.
Yet, as mistake ridden as we were, luck was also not on our side, Back we came for another charge and a great move produced a clear opening for Teixeira who hit the post, the ball rebounding harmlessly back to Darlow. Back came Forest Chris Burke easing down our left (and how many goals have we conceded from attacks down that side this season? It’s about 735 isn’t it?) and finding an unmarked Osborn to tap in with Greer in the same no man’s land that Stockdale had found earlier. 3-1.
With five minutes left on came Beram Kayal. And here is my last hope of us avoiding relegation. Chris Hughton had been my first hope but he can only work with the tools in his box. In Kayal we may just have a magic spanner. Here’s his game summary:
Came on. Immediately demanded the ball in an intelligent position. First pass went astray and apologies all round. Chased back when he lost it. Controlled spinning ball in the air dead with the top of his foot. Sprayed wonder pass with outside of foot. Scored (3-2). Nearly equalized with final kick of the game. It was quite some five minute cameo but why only five minutes. Delayed too long? Mistake. Or still carrying an injury, making him another Vicente which would be, you guessed it, a mistake.
I would have dearly loved that equalizer to have gone in as three quarters of the crowd seemed to be already in the train queue. Not us though. Afterwards I moaned along with the writers of three other blogs. We stayed for an extra beer to try to get over the frustration of the afternoon (most definitely not a mistake at the time but I bet I’ll consider it so when I’m on my run). On the train home we had a good laugh with some Forest fans who’d been making the most of our hospitality. “Don’t get relegated” said one. “We like coming down here”.
I bet you do lads. I bet you do.