Another 0-0 draw, this time with Birmingham City, sees Nottingham Forest head into Christmas with three clean sheets and an unbeaten record in December — but with firepower still missing. Paul Severn offers a fan’s eye view from St Andrew’s…
Every time I set foot in St Andrew’s, I know two things. Firstly, that it will be a tough, ugly and close encounter. Secondly, that I am unlikely to see the finale I did on my first visit in 1998, when Pierre Van Hooijdonk conjured up two superb late strikes to snatch an unlikely late victory.
I took my seat on the front row of an impressive Forest following; a subterranean view, slightly below ground level. The early stages were obscured by a club official attempting to deliver Christmas cards. Unfortunately I saw more close-up action that I anticipated in the first-half with Karl Darlow forced into three superb saves. Most of the danger was coming down the Birmingham right-wing from old nemesis Chris Burke. I hate criticising Dan Harding because he’s a whole-hearted professional, but against a direct, quick and skilful opponent, he is badly out of his depth. Harding was predictably withdrawn at half-time after being booked for hacking down Burke. Nikola Zigic showed again that no matter how tall you are, you can’t necessarily head a ball.
Second-half, things started to change. Substitute Eric Lichaj had a superb half at left-back, totally nullifying Burke, with a number of fine interceptions. Jack Hobbs and Jamaal Lascelles were superb, on a ground where many others have failed to handle City’s brute force. Forest won a number of free-kicks (one of which from Andy Reid almost hit me in the face) and had a Greg Halford header cleared off the line as the volume rose in the away end. The game ebbed and flowed even after the sending off of Darius Henderson, which on second viewing was a yellow card and no more. In the end though, Forest’s attack was hard-working, but toothless – but I think we knew that already.
The Forest crowd’s reaction at the end was muted, which was perhaps more to do with recent home results than this performance against a team on a decent run. I checked Twitter and the feeling was that the performance was akin to Wimbledon crica-1988. I felt we tried to pass and keep the ball when it was safe to do so, and in fact we had 58% of the ball. It is easy to call to the restoration of flair players after a 0-0, but when out of form, they can become too easy to play against as we saw against Yeovil and Reading. Anyone expecting to attend St Andrew’s and see Radi Majewski and Jamie Paterson stroking the ball around haven’t been to many away games at Birmingham. It was the usual dogfight, and Forest stood up to the test and competed fairly well.
The bad reaction to the performance was predictable, but in isolation it is a decent result. Forest are in a very different place than 1998, when we had true world-class quality to win games like this. Even that game was a real grind until Van Hooijdonk intervened. The Championship remains very tough with three new teams entering each season with parachute payments. Yes, Forest did spend in the summer, but the reason we haven’t ‘progressed’ is partly due to the fact that any improvements have been wiped out by the loss of Kelvin Wilson and Chris Cohen to injury. Other experienced players such as Reid, Henderson, Danny Collins and David Vaughan have also been missing. After the loss of Billy Sharp and super-sub Lewis McGugan, we look shorter on goalscorers. It is very easy to blame Billy Davies, but bigger name managers have wasted multiple times that amount on one player – just look the new recruits at White Hart Lane.
Forest fans also need to remember that this is sport and entertainment – nothing more. I fully agree that mistakes have been made on and off the field for several seasons, but it would be a shame if some fans with good intentions started turning against the club and using every poor result, sending off or story in the newspapers to make political points rather than enjoying football. It is important to push for positive change, but not over-react and become overly-cynical and negative. If Fawaz Al Hasawi or Davies were to leave tomorrow, the issues, challenges and frustrations would undoubtedly remain, because that’s the nature of the game at this level. We’ve conclusively seen before that rash change in this kind of situation has disastrous results, so let’s learn from it, even if things aren’t perfect.
Forest are still called Forest and we still play in red. We have kept three clean sheets in a row and have only lost four games in the league all season. Our manager is an odd character who likes to create situations to fight against, but we once had a certain manager who ran onto the pitch and clipped a few fans round the earhole and had a drink problem. Such is football – the club survives. Davies, for all his faults, has had a consistent level of success at Forest and former players speak well of him. Two play-off appearances, one survival and a half-season that restored a lot of hope is a decent record that deserves patience, even if you don’t like him personally. If crisis is one-point off the play-offs with money to spend to add firepower to a solid side – I’ll take that for now and so would many fans of other clubs.
I left St Andrew’s for another season and yet again the match failed to top my first visit – just as I expected. But hopefully one day it will be repeated and that’s why we keep going – so let’s try to be more realistic and enjoy the ride a little bit more along the way.
Follow Paul on Twitter: Follow @paulsevern7
Image: Courtesy of franky242/FreeDigitalPhotos.net