A first-half goal from Henri Lansbury kept Nottingham Forest at the top of the Championship as they beat Sheffield Wednesday 1-0. Arsher Ali offers a fan’s eye view from Hillsborough…
I love the smell of napalm in the morning.
If I’d have told you that Stuart Pearce decided to don a green military uniform and chomp on a cigar as he prowled the touchline yesterday, you’d have believed me. Such was the attritional, combative and sheer bloody-minded nature of the brave victory yesterday on the field of Hillsborough.
He didn’t though. He wore his suit. And those tan shoes, again.
Hell, I love Pearce so much that, for a second, I almost bought some tan shoes of my own to go with my suit for the day. But I had time enough to think it through. Only ‘he’ can pull those off…
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I won’t tell you anything you don’t know already. You saw it yourself on a shiny screen somewhere, in your favourite chair, excited at the chance to make a half-time brew while the adverts shouted stuff on mute.
You saw the goal. You saw that Sheffield Wednesday, when they got the ball down on the deck, look an improved side from last year.
You saw Michail Antonio, sensitive chap that he is, let the occasion get the better of his nerves a bit. You saw Chris Burke do an amazing Platoon impression as he went down on his knees, totally untouched, to the ire of the South Yorkshire fans.
You got the general ill-tempered vibe as the hosts were riled and distracted, all too easily by Forest. And you saw, yet again, that we can win without being at our best.
Michael Mancienne continues to show what an absolute bargain of signing he is, dripping class all over the field like a fast melting ice-lolly in the hands of a running child on a hot day, helping to lock out a dangerous and strong Wednesday front-line.
His positional intelligence, turn of pace and timing in the tackle evoke memories of a certain Mr Desmond Sinclair Walker, and both sets of fans yesterday are well-versed enough to make such lofty a judgement.
A word too on Britt Assombalonga. I know it’s been hinted at in post-match interviews, but you really have to see him play in the flesh this season, if you can, so as to appreciate just what we’ve acquired for all that money.
To the ‘Joe Bloggs’ casual fan, you might not see his name on the scoresheet and think he’s not done his job, but you’d only be 10% right. What Assombalonga contributes to this new-look team, needs to be seen with your own blinkers.
I would even go as far as to say, his qualities have helped to completely transform and reinvigorate this team. Not only do we actually press the ball (a foreign concept for the last 15 years in NG2), but we do it from the front! Go and have a lie down, if you need to, after hearing that.
I know a lot of people in football were questioning Pearce’s tactical nous, either openly or secretly. Certainly, a lot of people I spoke to would give me that slightly askance look and say things to the effect of ‘Good luck with that.’ Or ‘Christ, you’ll be playing for a lot of draws then, England-style.’
To those people? I blow a raspberry and stick two fingers firmly towards the sky.
Pearce might never be an Arrigo Sacchi or Marcelo Bielsa for Jonathan Wilson to opine about. But stick them in the Championship and see how far they’d swim. No, the Neil Warnocks, the Nigel Adkins and the Nigel Pearsons of the world rule this pool. And they’re hardly revolutionaries, are they? But all of them had enough about them to help get their teams promoted.
This league, barring Swansea’s recent travails, has never been about tactical flair – it’s straight up warfare. It’s unforgiving. Unrelenting. It’s beautifully brutal. It’s like ballet but in St Ann’s.
No matter how much you dress it up, it’s mostly about who can outlast who on a Tuesday night at St Andrews in January in front of a handful of home fans in the driving rain; resolve and motivation leaking away from a bunch of ne’er-do-wells and talented young men with too much too soon.
And what type of a manager do you need to help get you something out of disillusioning game like that? To firmly remind a player of the responsibility that comes with that badge he kisses so perfunctorily?
Exactly the type of manager we have at the helm today. An icon. An inspiring leader. A passionate motivator. A ball-breaker.
So keep your Mourinhos, your Rodgers and your Van Gaals. They play with rich men’s toys. We play in relative dirt. And ‘Psycho’ is our leader.