The ‘season from hell’ ends 10 points above the relegation zone as Forest put two past Portsmouth. James Bolton reports from the City Ground.
Before the match got underway, there was some awards to be handed out. Adlene Guedioura’s brilliant strike against Leeds United earned him the Goal of the Season award, while Garath McCleary earned the Player of the Season award, with Joel Lynch coming in second and Chris Gunter in third.
In terms of team selection, Steve Cotterill reverted to the team we saw start against Peterborough, before McCleary picked up his suspension. Dexter Blackstock and Lynch were back in the side after missing out against Hull City.
The first real chance of the game fell to Blackstock, but he couldn’t react quick enough to direct the ball goalwards. Guedioura then tested Jamie Ashdown in the Portsmouth goal, but he held on.
Portsmouth’s Chris Maguire was getting plenty of stick from the Forest fans after going down easily on more than one occasion in the box. Plus he’s on loan from Derby, but Lynch was getting the better of him.
Forest were trying to play some nice football, but the game had a bit of an end of the season feel about it, with passing slightly sloppy and things not quite clicking with the intensity of recent weeks. Meanwhile, Lee Camp struggled to hold onto long range shots from Maguire and David Norris.
The best chance of a pretty dull first-half fell to Gunter. He bombed forward but his curling effort flew over the bar after latching onto Greg Cunningham’s dangerous cut back.
Gunter found himself in an advanced position, robbing the ball from Karim Rekik’s feet and cutting back to Blackstock. But the striker was quickly surrounded and as he dwelt slightly on the ball, he could only poke his effort wide.
Forest broke the deadlock after 70 minutes after their best move of the match. Substitute Paul Anderson laid the ball off to Cunningham down the left flank and his deep cross was knocked back across the box, leaving Blackstock the simple task of tapping home from a yard.
Blackstock then, unbelievably, had three headed chances in the space of a minute to double his and Forest’s tally. For the first he met an Andy Reid cross and forced a great save from Ashdown. The resulting corner fell to Blackstock again; this time he was completely free and again Ashdown produced a good save. The ball was swung back in and as Blackstock peeled off his marker, he didn’t get enough on his header and the score remained 1-0.
Guedioura was then substituted to a standing ovation from all areas of the ground. As he left the field, he shook his teammates’ hands and embraced the backroom staff and players on the bench, indicating what most of us thought – that he will probably return to Wolves next season.
On the pitch, a Maguire corner-kick looked like it was heading straight in, but Camp just recovered to parry the ball onto the bar and despite Pompey protests, no goal was given.
Blackstock did make all three points secure with 89 minutes on the clock. It was Reid who delivered another enticing cross, this time from a corner, and Blackstock was able to convert his header to make sure this abysmal season ended on a small high.
I was so pleased for Blackstock. Today was his eighth goal in his last 14 appearances, which included three braces. Understandably, it took him a handful of games to get back into the swing of things, but he really recaptured his form during the run-in and flourished after fighting back terrifically from injury.
After the game, the players took to the field for a renamed ‘lap of appreciation’ (because they don’t deserve a lap of honour) with their children. The victory meant the reception was fairly warm, but unlike the last two seasons, we have no play-off campaign to look forward to and a summer of uncertainty.
Steve McClaren’s staff (Hasselbaink, Baron, Kelly and his pet clipboard) didn’t take part in the lap, which suggests their days are numbered at the club and they are quite detached from both Cotterill and O’Driscoll.
I couldn’t help but think about what lies ahead for our players. Of the 16 included in the match day squad today, nine of them are either on loan or out of contract in the summer. Plus, there are several more players who may attract interest.
My gut instinct tells me that McCleary won’t sign on. His Player of the Year award will attract more interest and I think he’ll have his head turned by Premier League interest, which I suppose is understandable.
There is so much uncertainty hanging over the club at the moment: ownership, playing staff, backroom staff and, in some quarters, the manager, that only time will tell. Fortunately, while we didn’t sign out in style, we did end a forgettable season with a win, but over summer, the real work will begin.
One final point, I’d like to commend the Portsmouth fans. They made the long journey, dressed up, sang all day, cheered when we scored and stayed long after the final whistle. They certainly did their club proud today, so hats off to them.