A miserable 3-0 loss away at Middlesbrough saw Nottingham Forest’s season reach a new low. Paul Severn offers a fan’s eye view from the Riverside Stadium…


The question I’m asking, is not whether this was my worst ever away day, but by what margin was it the worst.

A long journey up north, bitterly cold, lost 3-0 and almost never got home in epic four-hour blizzard journey. The things we do for Nottingham Forest. And at the moment, it’s tough to understand why we go to these lengths.

Middlesbrough are on an upward curve. Their team looked excellent on paper. Grant Leadbitter, George Friend and Albert Adomah were all former transfer targets. We know all about Patrick Bamford.

Stuart Pearce elected to keep the 3-5-2 formation for a second match running. Middlesbrough were roared on by a huge and boisterous crowd and started quickly. But Forest did weather the storm and Michail Antonio could have headed us in front. Despite this, Karl Darlow was still our best player with a string of excellent saves.

At half-time Pearce made two big calls, firstly to axe the formation and secondly to take off Britt Assomobalonga. The striker is clearly frustrated and, once, inexcusably strolled back after giving the ball away cheaply. However, I expected the woefully out-of-form Chris Burke to make way instead. Every time Pearce rests Assombalonga, questions are asked, as the team has so few goals amongst the other players.

For me, the 3-5-2 formation doesn’t work with our personnel. It forces our best player Antonio into his own half to cover Danny Fox. On the right, Jack Hunt carried no attacking threat against Leeds and Burke was defensively exposed against Boro. However, the worst issue is our most natural defender, Michael Mancienne is forced into midfield. He doesn’t like the ball to feet and gets booked every time he players there (he was sent off in midfield in a League Cup game).

However, on this occasion, the flat back four didn’t work either. Friend rose unchallenged to head the home side in front. Forest rallied a little with Robert Tesche and Fox going close, but the game was up when Kelvin Wilson stupidly picked up a second yellow. It kind of summed up his season as he’d been playing reasonably well beforehand. Rampant Boro took full advantage and ran out 3-0 winners as Forest folded with goals from Jell Vossen and a Leadbitter penalty. Again, we got absolutely nothing from the referee, but can’t complain as we were second to too many balls and repeatedly made poor decisions on the break.

Forest’s season has reached a new low. Poor performances are now the norm and Pearce is chopping and changing – which happens when players are not performing. Nobody knows what the future will bring. All we know is that there is a pattern this season of managers in their second or third year seeing their team blossom after sticking with a mid-table manager. The focus now is not on promotion, but on improvement and team-building – which can only be done with wins and the return of key players.

Being constructive, I’d like to see one thing. Fans really appreciate the free away coaches and signings from Fawaz Al Hasawi. But a message explaining the strategy would help. If he is planning to stick with Pearce through this rut and implement a long-term plan like other clubs at the top of the table, it would be good to say so rather than remain silent. It would reduce the pressure on everyone. At the moment, we are not enjoying either the football or the possibility of seeing one of the greatest ever Forest players fail as manager. Like all decent managers before him, Pearce does need time, but he is intelligent and honest enough to know he needs to improve rapidly.

As the Forest fans melted away, our nightmare was not yet over. Driving rain turned into snow as we approached Nottinghamshire, developing into dire blizzard conditions. Cars were left abandoned on the roadside and our coach was hot and stuffy as it crawled towards the City Ground. One fan attempted to raise spirits by singing guttural, out-of-tune hits from the likes of Oasis, Peter Gabriel and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the worst entertainment served up on the day.

I hope everyone got home safely. The journey is a reminder for the players of the lengths that supporters go to follow their club and their duty to perform better.

Before the game we had a walk to see a statue of Brian Clough in nearby Albert Park, close to where he grew up and started his incredible story. If Clough was still around today, he would be hurting to see what is happening to his old skipper.

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