A 0-1 win against Millwall leaves Nottingham Forest outside the play-off places on goal difference alone, setting up a dramatic end to the season. Martin Tuttlebee offers a fan’s eye view from the New Den.
“Why would you want to go there?”
It’s the standard response from people at the office when they ask what I’m up to at the weekend. It’s fair to say Millwall isn’t high on a lot of football fans’ dream away days, something which the recent scuffles at Wembley have only served to reaffirm.
To be honest, this is my third visit to The New Den and I’ve never had any real problems – a bit of panto gesturing and that’s about it.
Still, upon arriving at London Bridge before noon, fuzzy-headed from the previous night, seeing the line of riot vans already in situ reminds you to take a little more care than one normally would.
London Bridge is the unofficial away fans’ area, its streets are just starting to fill with a gaggle of map-toting tourists and historically-dressed flyer touters trying to gather them onto guided bus tours and local museums. A confused American tourist waves his map at me: “Where’s London Bridge?” tapping at the image on his map. That, I inform him is the more picturesque Tower Bridge, about 10 minutes walk away. “So many damn bridges!” he replies, and toddles off, oversized camera swinging from his neck.
Bypassing the dawdling throngs, I make my way into the All Bar One and decide to get one up on my incoming hangover with a pint of fizzy lager.
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Some of my group turn up there after, a mixture of southern and London-based fans like myself, together with folks who’ve made their way down on the 08.30 from Nottingham. I’m eager to go anywhere without the tourists and so some bright spark leads us to an underground ‘German Bierkeller’. The mood is pretty relaxed but in general slightly apathetic to the league situation.
Of course, we all want to make the play-offs but at the same time we’re all still weary from our previous play-off adventures and the recent results have certainly dissipated some of the bravado we exuded after the run of six. Still after a few hours of liquid mood enhancers, served in two-pint steins, we set off feeling a lot more positive.
The New Den is a ground without signature, suffering a little from being between eras. Opened in 1993, it benefits from neither the functionality of a ‘new build’ stadium funded by a drip down of funds from the Prem, nor the old school charm of somewhere similar to our own home. But it’s perfectly functional and the swift right turn out of the station means away fans are directed well away from any confrontation via their own walkway.
The Forest fans are allocated the upper tier of one end behind the stand and it seems a smaller home crowd than my recent memories of the place. Is it because Millwall have little to play for? Are Forest not the draw we maybe used to be? Or are most of them on the run from the Dibble?
Possibly all three.
Billy has made few changes for this one. Greg moves across to right-back following Jara’s season- and possibly Forest career-ending injury. Hutch has returned to the medics also.
Club captain Danny Collins returns to centre-half, a move akin to sealing a leaky pipe with blu-tac. You know it’ll do a job but just hope it won’t come under too much pressure.
Man for every positions, Chris Cohen was out too, so Dan Harding returned to left-back.
Again, we use a diamond midfield with Reidy at the point, Adlene at the base and Lansbury and Radi supplementing from wider.
In a move slightly unbeknown to Forest fans we decided scoring in the first 10 minutes would be a good idea.
It came as simply as can be: a Reid corner was delivered deep and Greg Halford rose near the back to plant a firm header past Forde, the Millwall keeper, after just eight minutes.
Given our poor goal difference in relation to our rivals, our hopes that this could be the time to push on in this respect were raised.
Sadly much of the first-half there on was a scrappy affair with few chances. Adlene again impressed in his scrapping defensive role but was too often left on his own against a Millwall team set up for such battles and including centre-half/professional gobshite Sean St. Ledger as a spoiler in there.
Aside from a Darlow dropped cross presenting a sniff of a chance, the half drifted along with little attacking inroads from either side and the only point of note being a soft yellow for Ward after a raised foot.
It was about 40 minutes in I noticed that former Forest flag waver Nathan Tyson was playing for the team in blue.
Once I worked out he was wearing 10 rather than 11, I watched him for about five minutes wondering how someone could possibly be inept enough not to make the Derby squad. He didn’t disappoint, a couple of miscontrols and no end product. That said, he’d probably fit in with our current forwards who seem to be struggling to smack a bovine’s backside with a banjo.
The second-half began with much of the same scrappy dross being peddled by both sides.
On 60 minutes Billy decided to introduce McGugan to the action in place of a largely ineffective Radi.
A few minutes later saw the most controversial point of the game so far. Harding had somehow negotiated his way to the front end of the box where he received a bobbling ball and flicked it off to another player.
At this point Millwall right-back Alan Dunne thought he’d launch a sliding tackle connecting with Harding’s standing leg and leaving him crumpled on the floor. Most of us assumed red but the referee decided this was merely a yellow.
He may have taken into account that Dunne is a truly awful player and this level of professional thuggery is probably about as good as he can do.
Millwall have Adam Smith on loan from Tottenham at the moment, who, to my mind, is one of the best attacking right-back prospects in England at the moment. He was shunted into this team at left-back today, much to Forest’s benefit, as Harding had a relatively easy day instead and coped well with the right-sided attack play.
Forest’s only serious attack of note came on 82 minutes when a breakaway found Cox with space and time to shoot against his Republic of Ireland number one. Earlier in the season we’d have seen him tuck this high into the corner but befitting a man clearly low on confidence, he strike was firm but straight down the middle. The stats will tell you that Forest had six shots on target but in reality Forde had no saves of note to make all day.
Similarly young Darlow could have sat smoking a pipe for 90 minutes before being called upon to made a sharp save at his near post in injury time as Millwall pressed.
All in all a very satisfactory result against a team who have always caused us trouble in the past. We’re clearly a side trying to work out how we operate. Billy’s enthusiasm can only go so far and whatever league we find ourselves in next year, some hefty investment is needed. Less loans, more permanents and some injection of pace to provide a plan B is clearly needed.
Though it is important to remember just how far we’ve come considering we could barely field a team a month before the start of the season.
Other www.footballscores.com results give us hope for next week, without things being completely in our own hands, but we’ve operated under similar circumstances before (remember Cheltenham?).
And it’s always the unfancied team that wins the play-offs isn’t it?
Martin is a trustee for the Charity www.w4cr.com
You can follow Martin on Twitter: @MTutts
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