The unbeaten run in the league finally ended as an abject first-half display saw Nottingham Forest undone by a rampant Burnley side, with only a late consolation goal reducing the scoreline to 3-1. Steve Wright offers a fan’s eye view from Turf Moor…
The decision to travel to Turf Moor for what had become a crucial game against fellow promotion challengers Burnley was made almost immediately after our previous visit last Easter, even though at that point we weren’t sure whether we would be playing in the same league such was the confidence instilled by taking 19 points from the previous seven games.
On that occasion Lewis McGugan levelled the scores with a penalty in the final minute of the game but it was the appeal of the old-fashioned ground, with its four individual stands and central location — and the pleasures of the Bridge Inn, its welcoming locals and fine array of real ales — that had us keen to make a swift return. With Forest allocated a whole stand behind one of the goals it also suits our large and vocal away following, making for an excellent atmosphere.
Even the drive from Nottinghamshire is a pleasure. I have a soft spot for the Calder Valley, which bristles with subversive creativity, and the dramatic geography as you wind through Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden is a beautiful distraction from the pressures of a promotion-seeking campaign in the Championship.
On arrival in Burnley our hosts whisked us back out of town to the Crooked Billet pub in nearby Worsthorne. The Billet is a freehouse, and Burnley’s CAMRA Pub of the Year 2013, serving an excellent range of ales including those from the nearby Worsthorne Brewery, from whom Billet Gold is a tasty session beer. They also provide impressive value with their match-day offer of pie, mushy peas and a taxi to the ground for £4 – no wonder landlords Alison Leigh and Paul Miller have turned the pub’s fortunes around since buying it from Punch Taverns.
An away trip to Burnley has a lot going for it and if you haven’t made the trip before I do recommend it, but onto the game itself.
So we arrived at the turnstiles in good spirits and with plans to re-group with our Burnley supporting friends after the game for further drinks and a curry, what could possibly go wrong? Well, still in the queue to get into Turf Moor we learnt that Andy Reid would be missing due to injury and immediately alarm bells began to ring. Reid has been fundamental to everything good that Forest have produced this season and to see such a crucial player added to an already long (and influential) injury list was a hammer blow.
When the game kicked off that concern turned to shock as Forest were ripped apart by Burnley in the worst 45-minute performance that I can currently bring to mind. The team was devoid of any leadership, they were beaten to every ball by keener opposition men and seemed more intent on shouting abuse at colleagues than standing up and taking responsibility.
You could argue that Burnley’s first goal should not have been allowed to squirm under his body by Karl Darlow, and that their third took a fortunate deflection to loop over the ‘keeper, but the reality is that Forest were lucky to go into the break only three goals down as wave upon wave of attacks rained down on them and the defence looked scared to make a challenge.
The second-half was mercifully better than the first. Forest at least showed some intent and were unlucky on a couple of occasions not to score, Heaton making a fantastic save to tip onto his bar and Mee heading off his own line, but Burnley too continued to create chances despite sitting deeper than they had earlier in the game.
Once the initial energy had petered out, however, it became clear that changes were necessary and was surprising that they didn’t come until the 75th minute when Greening and Cox replaced Moussi and Djebbour. With the game entering its final stages good work from Paterson released Cox, who was tripped in the area, and Abdoun stepped up to take the resultant penalty. Heaton saved his first effort but Abdoun was sharp enough to follow up and head home the rebound claiming a consolation; but, as Billy Davies stated after the match, Forest’s second-half performance though better was both too little and too late.
There are a few things that I would say in conclusion. It was a dreadful performance on the day and that should not be shied away from but it should not be something to get too worked up about either. There tends to be an over-reaction to most things at Forest at the moment and any calls for the manager to be sacked because of a poor game at Burnley are frankly ludicrous.
It should also be noted that we have a large number of key players missing at the moment. The midfield trio of Vaughan, Lansbury and Reid completely changes the way the team plays and all three of them are outstanding players for this division, yet none of them were available on Saturday. The defensive partnership of Hobbs and Lascelles has also been impressive so to lose Hobbs has further unsettled the team.
Having said that, despite those injuries we were still able to field a side containing international players and big money signings, a team much stronger than most clubs would be able to manage in similar circumstances. Talking afterwards to Burnley fans they believe that Kightly is their highest earner for whom they are contributing £10k a week to Stoke. I don’t know the details of contracts at Forest but I wonder how many of the (second string) squad we took to Burnley are on less than that.
These two things combine to suggest that overall we are doing okay, not exceptionally well but not badly either, so let’s all calm down.
I think that it is well known that I am not a fan of the manager, nor do I agree with the strategy of the owner; I believe that both take a short-term approach that is incredibly bad value for money and creates long-term problems. Despite that I acknowledge that the manager has a track record of being competitive at this level and that the owner has spent a lot of money backing up his stated ambitions and giving us a reasonable chance of success.
In short, we are neither a shining beacon of a football club nor an unholy mess.
As Billy Davies might say “we are what we are” and as fans we should get behind the team for the remaining games of the season, see where that takes us and then each of us decide whether what we are is something we want to be a part of or not. But most of all, let’s get some perspective.
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