Nottingham Forest beat Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 as Billy Davies’ side won three games back-to-back for the first time this season. Football365’s deputy editor Nick Miller offers a fan’s eye view from Hillsborough.
Going to Hillsborough as an away fan is always a slightly surreal experience. The visitors’ end may be called the West Stand these days, but as you walk down Leppings Lane to reach the ground, you’re acutely aware that you aren’t so much going to a football ground, more visiting a shrine, a site of a tragedy almost 24 years ago. It’s doubly strange since the stand really isn’t that different to how it was in 1989, just with seats installed downstairs.
I have absolutely no idea how a Liverpool fan would ever go there, if even I, after several visits since that day, still get chills.
The one thing that isn’t eerie about Hillsborough is how it seems to be built for keeping an atmosphere in. Big yet with a vaguely claustrophobic feeling that very much lends itself to noise, about 3,000 Forest fans were in raucous, cult-like form, bowing down to dual masters Davies (more on that later) and Majewski. The atmosphere rather noisily answered the question my mother posed of why I was spending money going to the game when it was on TV – while I don’t quite concur with the chap on the tram who sang ‘IF YOU WATCHED IT ON THE TELLY YOU’RE A C**T’, nothing beats being there.
I am not quite as in thrall to ‘Billy #unfinishedbusiness Davies’ as many around me in Sheffield, the wee man’s return has at least made it exciting to be a Forest fan, after the shrugging ambivalence that being managed by Alex McLeish gave. For spells of the first-half against Sheffield Wednesday, Forest played some of their best football in recent years, with Andy Reid, Henri Lansbury and of course Radi Majewski, currently in one of those glorious ‘zones’ where he’s absolutely convinced that everything he tries will work, exchanging the neatest of passes to pull the home defence hither and thither.
Majewski’s goal was a culmination of 20-odd minutes of domination, Forest jealously keeping the ball like it was their toy and for anyone else to have it just wasn’t fair. From Reid’s nutmeg to Simon Cox’s double-shimmy and pass to Majewski’s casual finish, it was an enormously satisfying strike. Often in those periods of dominance, it’s easy to simply keep hold of the ball and forget to score, increasing frustration that the opposition can take advantage of.
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Indeed, there were spells where Forest seemed to over-elaborate, playing one pass too many, or trying something just a little too clever when the simple thing was best. There’s a fine line between confidence and over-confidence, and Forest sometimes stepped across that line.
Still, if any of the players needed taking down a peg, the second-half would no doubt have gone some way to managing that. One of the infuriating things about Davies that I’d forgotten about is his tendency to revert to deep, deep defensive tactics very early in games. So after barely being troubled by an in-form but limited Wednesday side, for the final 15 minutes or so Forest camped on the edge of our own penalty area, with Dexter Blackstock filling in as a third centre-back. The unkind might muse that, on current form he’s more use at that end of the pitch than the other, and did put in a vital block as the final whistle neared, but it was enough to test the nerves of even the strongest constitution.
The second-half also displayed many of the characteristics that mean, while I love how he makes Forest play at times and our results speak for themselves, I’m not able to like Davies. The self-conscious wave to the visiting fans almost before the ‘Billy, give us a wave’ chant went up, the niggling, cynical fouls, the time-wasting – none of it is pleasant. And let’s not even start with how the staff cull, in particular the removals of John Pemberton and Fraser Nicholson, have been handled. Of course one can’t complain too much, because it’s currently working, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I won’t, and you can’t make me.
The other vaguely uncomfortable thing about Billy’s return is the reverence much of the crowd have for him. Being in the middle of that support blurs the lines between a football match and a rally of some sort, followers of a messiah rather than a very good manager. I wouldn’t mind the ‘We’ve got our Billy back’ chants if they didn’t make him sound like a cross between a child’s mislaid teddy bear and Jesus.
And in any case, my problem with his reappointment was never about the football, more that we were only asking for trouble in pairing Davies and Fawaz Al Hasawi, two men who very much like to be in control. The problems will come in six months’ time, not now.
Still, after the ennui of McLeish, it’s nice to be stirred by Forest again. Majewski has of course been revitalised, Davies has realised that Reid hasn’t been a winger for some time and isn’t pretending he is one anymore, and he has discovered a ferocious work rate to go with the gorgeous passing of Lansbury. Gonzalo Jara dealt with Wednesday’s only real threat in Michail Antonio very well, Chris Cohen is doing what Chris Cohen does (specifically ‘being f**king brilliant wherever he plays and in whatever he does’) and even the centre of defence looked a little more secure; Jamaal Lascelles coming on after Danny Collins’ head injury. Now all Davies needs to do is get the strikers scoring again – forwards have found the net only twice since the turn of the year; one a Billy Sharp penalty, the other Darius Henderson’s nod in for the sixth against Huddersfield.
The Cult Of Billy is strong, but as long as it keeps Forest winning games, I won’t complain too loudly.
You can follow Nick on Twitter: @NickMillerF365
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