After collecting seven points from a possible nine, Forest shot themselves in the foot with a poor performance against Doncaster. James Bolton reports from the City Ground.
Forest’s preparations were disrupted as Marcus Tudgay, who was due to start the game, and Paul Anderson, who was on the bench, were both injured in the warm-up. Robbie Findley was promoted to the starting line-up and Jonathan Greening and Greg Cunningham took the two vacant places on the bench.
Doncaster started quickly and were the much brighter of the two teams in the opening exchanges. They were playing an almost 4-2-4 formation, and spreading our back four right across the pitch, forcing us to play very deep.
But the first real sight of goal fell to Findley, who collected the ball from Chris Gunter after a strong run into the Rovers’ half. The American worked an opening, but curled his left-foot shot horribly wide.
Dexter Blackstock then found himself in similar space after good work from Guy Moussi, but the striker’s left-foot effort was straight at Doncaster goalkeeper Carl Ikeme. If the shot had been either side, the man on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers would have been struggling.
Garath McCleary then made one of the blistering runs that is fast becoming his trademark, but he couldn’t add to his tally of three goals in his last five games as he fired into the side netting from 25 yards out.
While Forest were limiting Doncaster’s efforts on goal, they were the team on the front foot for large periods of the first half. They were hustling and harrying the Forest players, whose touch and ability to complete simple five- and 10-yard passes was escaping them.
With a minute to go before half time, Doncaster took the lead through Frederic Piquionne, who had only joined on a one-month loan deal that morning. He picked up the ball and wasn’t closed down, allowing him to rifle home a great strike from 25 yards, that appeared to go right through Lee Camp.
At half-time Andy Reid, who surprisingly found himself on the bench, came on to replace Scott Wootton, who had been deployed yet again out of position at right-back.
But much like the game against Middlesbrough recently, two goals either side of half-time threatened to kill the game off. This time El Hadji Diouf got the better of Joel Lynch down the right and held off the challenge of Luke Chambers as his lofted a ball to the back post. Rushing to meet it was young midfielder Kyle Bennett, and he made no mistake volleying in from six yards out.
Bennett almost made it 3-0 moments later when he drove from 25 yards out, but Camp was just able to parry the ball onto the inside of his right-hand post and prevent the goal that would have killed the tie.
Forest fans were becoming increasingly agitated and their frustration grew when George Elokobi pulled up with what looked like a pulled hamstring. He bashed the advertising boards in frustration and had to be replaced by Cunningham.
Forest were unable to work any clear cut openings, with Reid firing over a couple of efforts from distance, and Doncaster effectively nullifying McCleary, who has been the catalyst behind our unbeaten run of three games prior to this one.
Forest did grab one back on 63 minutes. Adlene Guedioura played a brilliant ball inside to Gunter, he cut the ball back for Blackstock who looked to have dwelt on the chance too long, but his right-foot effort deflected into the back of the net for his third goal in as many games.
Despite having reasonably large amounts of the ball for the remaining half an hour, Forest were unable to get anything going after pulling a goal back. It was almost entirely long balls up towards Blackstock and the only attempt it yielded was a fizzing effort from McCleary that was spilled by Ikeme, but the ball was cleared from the feet of Dexter Blackstock.
The result leaves Forest in 21st place and three points clear of the drop zone.
Simply, the performance was not good enough for a game of such importance. I have to criticise Steve Cotterill’s selection because we have seen on numerous occasions that Wootton is not a right-back and Gunter looks unhappy playing at right midfield.
This was the third occasion when Wootton has started at right-back when he has been subbed before the hour, and two of those have been at half-time. It seems strange that Cotterill would frequently complain about “the most unbalanced squad he’s ever come across”, yet when he is not forced to, he plays players out of position.
Sadly, it felt like the momentum gained from the Coventry, Birmingham and Barnsley games was lost, and that’s something we need to address, as we face Millwall on Saturday in another massive home game in the fight for survival.
James runs the View From The Mainstand blog and NFFC Stats on Twitter.