A disappointing 1-0 loss to Rochdale AFC in the third round of the FA Cup meant Nottingham Forest began 2015 as they ended 2014. Ben Belfield offers a fan’s eye view from the Spotland Stadium…
If recent defeats are Forest hitting rock bottom, then I can’t begin to think where this one ranks?
On the back of a dire Christmas run, I went into this game feeling it had become a ‘must win’. Our pre-game run of two wins in 17 games saw most tip us to be the ‘magic of the cup’ upset – and so it proved.
Pearce opted for a 4-4-2 formation and, on paper, a strong selection with each position filled with either a first choice and/or experienced player – Veldwijk being the exception to this.
Jack Hobbs’ return was a surprise when announced on Friday evening, and I felt he was going to break down within 20 minutes, as it looks as if he has been rushed back again through sheer desperation. If Hobbs has been close to full fitness, would we honestly have not put him on the bench in recent weeks when our first XI lacks leadership or basic defensive awareness?
Forest started brightly and quickly faded. Unlike against Birmingham, our good start only lasted for 10 minutes, not 30.
After initial early pressure on Rochdale, our first real chance came in the shape of a penalty shout.
Chris Burke gathered the ball in his own half, sprinted towards the Rochdale goal and cut inside the 18-yard box where he was clumsily tripped up. Most thought it was a penalty but a free-kick was given right on the line.
Having seen replays since, I think it was outside the box not helped by Burke’s theatrics.
David Vaughan whipped in the resulting free-kick and, like all our free-kicks, it came to nothing.
Within a minute of the penalty shout, Forest’s gifted Rochdale with a penalty of their own.
Michail Antonio was the guilty party having taken a bad touch to put the ball in our penalty area. His second touch was a foul on Rochdale’s Joel Rafferty.
Peter Vincenti stepped up and sent de Vries the wrong way to put Rochdale 1-0 up.
Like in recent weeks, the charitable Forest defence then opened its flood gates for the rest of the first-half.
Notable chances were:
- Peter Vincenti volleying over a sitter shortly after the penalty.
- Hobbs played a ball short to de Vries, which Matt Done of Rochdale seized on. De Vries managed to get a fingertip on it as far as Jamie Allen who was intercepted in the nick of time by Danny Fox.
- David Vaughan playing another backpass to de Vries, which was pressured again by Matt Done. De Vries’ attempted clearance saw him boot the ball at the backside of Done, whose block saw the ball just loop over the crossbar.
It was desperately poor, and Forest were again booed off at half-time.
Forest started the second-half well and had their best chance to equalise early on.
A Rochdale mishap, gave Britt Assombalonga a clear run at the Rochdale goal. He beat everyone for pace, but didn’t beat the goalkeeper with his finish. Maybe he had too long to think about it, but for a record £5.5m signing bought in to score goals, he should’ve buried it.
Forest later switched to a 4-3-3 with Antonio pushing up to go on the left, Veldwijk staying central and Assombalonga moving to the right. Like most of these formations we have shifted to when chasing games in recent weeks, it looked like we hadn’t even worked on it in training.
Balls were pumped from the back to the forwards, who would head it backwards to a gap when our midfield simply wasn’t there. All Rochdale had to do was sit in the space to win possession back; it really was that simple.
We kept mounting the pressure but all we had to show for our efforts was corner kicks – which like free-kicks have been largely ineffective this season.
Something needed to change, and with Paterson and Osborn on the bench, an injection of energy could swing this back in our favour.
Instead, Pearce took off Danny Fox and replaced him with Stephen McLaughlin, who took his place at left-back.
Considering Fox didn’t have a bad game at all, he was jeered off again by the growing anti-Fox bandwagon. I’m far from his biggest fan but when he’s done better than most of the other 10 players on the pitch, it was senseless to jeer him off. That said, McLaughlin had a super game at LB.
Forest persisted but couldn’t break through and Paterson came on for Burke to make a four-minute cameo at the end. As usual, the right sub was introduced far too late.
Veldwijk had a header tipped over in the in the dying seconds but even if we had been playing now, we wouldn’t have scored – in fact I bet Pearce still wouldn’t have used his final substitute.
At full-time, only a couple of players came over to thanks the fans – an insult.
The lack of interest saw the travelling 2,700 fans greet them with the chant of ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’.
This is almost parallel to when Pearce was Manchester City manager in 2007 and they were knocked out of the cup by Blackburn.
I’m all for stability, especially with a man who cares about the club, but things need to turnaround fast.
The appointment of an experienced coach would be a sensible route to explore – it did turn our season around under Steve Cotterill when he brought Sean O’Driscoll in. Guidance for Pearce and new ideas on the training pitch are needed, especially when issues that have been obvious since September have still not being addressed.
Fans continue to sing Stuart Pearce’s name but unfortunately patience is wearing thin for some – and if the fans are getting fed up then surely Fawaz is.
Today, I think everything hinges on the outcome at the iPro in two weeks’ time. Humiliation again there could signal the end for Pearce.