Losing 1-0 to a Millwall side that hadn’t won since October means Nottingham Forest’s season is sinking fast. Greg Hall offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground…
Let’s start with the positives. At 4.32pm it was a truly stunning sunset over the City of Nottingham from my vantage point in the Upper Clough. On a very cold and crisp winter’s day, the dropping sun peeking below the clouds made one feel alive and full of joy at the wonders of this fine earth. Then you tipped your head down and saw what was unfurling on the pitch.
Another positive, unlike the Millwall song; I neither don’t not like them nor care that they don’t care. For me Millwall is and always will be Danny Baker. I like Danny Baker. A lot. Follow him on Twitter and you’ll never feel adverse to Millwall. So at least he will be happier today, and he’s been through a lot and makes me laugh. I can’t begrudge Danny that!
Final positive — always has to be in threes — it was my first match with my youngest for a while and he enjoyed a cheeseburger and a daddy day so, as hard as the lads in red tried, they couldn’t take that way from us. Try as they did.
So to the match. Well the first-half was shocking.
And the second-half? See first-half review.
Ok, I’m being a little facetious but such is my mood. There were a few decent points which I can succinctly state. Kevin Wilson looked assured and Tesche’s drive at the bar looked in all the way. The first 10 minutes of the second-half when Forest (and whisper this) played to feet, upped the tempo, and played down the wings, gave us our best and only spell in the game. We also probably had the clearer cut of the chances too — of the few there were — including Assombalonga’s header onto the bar. But truth be told, unlike how Pearce saw it, I thought Millwall in the main played the better, neater football when it was on display and, from where I was sitting, were denied a cast-iron penalty on 53 minutes in front on the Trent End.
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I’ve not been particularly vocal in any way this year and even less so about the appointment of Pearce. Anyone who follows me on Twitter would no doubt tell you I have little of interest to say as opposed to the likes of the ever-morphing City Ground Camel, or ‘no topic off limits’ Red Tony and the ever-excellent David Marples. I tend to not get driven too much by the hyperbole on either end of the spectrum and enjoy the odd chat with (shhhhhh) Rams fans.
Everything about today felt wrong. Off colour. And I’d been to Rochdale recently. Even us Forest fans couldn’t get the rendition of Mist Rolling In correct after half-time and the Millwall fans rightly mocked us. But that wasn’t our fault. I believe the fans feed from the pitch and there is only so much inspiration you can offer when you’ve not won at home since November. It takes all your effort — solely because Pearce is a legend — to not turn on the team that clearly isn’t functioning as it should.
The standard of football today wasn’t helped by a ref who seemed to blow for every little tumble from a man in yellow… But where was the fight? Where was the up-and-at-them that so clearly existed at Derby, what seems like 47 years ago now? In fact, where’s Pearce’s passion from that day or was that just a momentary slip as he remembered his playing days? God I am crying out for passion! Not passively hurting but a shout from the rafters that this isn’t good enough.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t exactly enamoured with the appointment of Pearce due largely to his past managerial record. Sure, there are caveats and justifications galore for this, be that having no money at City or questionable commitment from players at Under-21 but my main concern was rather his manner. Sure, he was always open and honest and never ducked a question but it was as if all of those FA coaching badges had coached out the passion and fire that Pearce had as a player.
As someone brought up by a dad who had talked about the football of the 1966-67 side and stuck with Forest down to the depths of then Division Two, before tasting European glories and regular trips to Wembley, I then grew up with a youthful side playing sublime counter-attacking football, regular top three finishes and trips to Wembley. For me, and many others, Pearce was the epitome of this continuity in our history. But as a manager he’s always seemed two-dimensional and… well… passionless. And quick to blame players (sometimes justifiable but where does the root cause lie?).
The argument for stability and working with the media and academy, etc. is a strong one and if I thought we were progressing I’d wholly back that to the hilt and write this season off. But we aren’t. We are going backwards, and fast. That bottom three (don’t be fooled by the league position of 12th) is inching ever closer and no one around us can boast our formbook.
The nail though for me into the proverbial coffin, however, was listening to Pearce on Radio Nottingham in the car on the way back. I got the distinct impression he’d been at a different City Ground to me and absolutely devoid of ideas of what to do about it. Rule one for making progress is identify your strengths and weaknesses; put in practical steps to address those weaknesses; and practise until you get it right. Blaming Britt Assombalonga and Michail Antonio for lack of confidence and poor runs when it was Pearce’s set up of the team, long-ball tactics, and a static midfield sitting too deep and too close to each other, is a worry. Especially as this is following a pattern for how long now?
Like I say, you write off this season if progress is being made but if you aren’t making progress and the steps you have put into place are not working then you review again what is going wrong and put in new steps — that’s basic teaching that my four kids at primary school grasp every day. And I lose a little sympathy too for the stability argument (which means do nothing and bury your head up a camel’s behind) when, due to FFP, it is these players that have to make it work for us. I’m not for one minute saying that we need to remove Pearce per se as there is little doubt that he has pulled the club from a dark, dark place but he needs someone with him who can coach and bounce ideas off a la Clough and Taylor, O’Neill and Robertson, Barry and Paul bloody Chuckle! How much to get Woan to take the step down?
I have probably written this too soon after the event. I’ll calm down as I sink my medicinal red wine. This isn’t me. This isn’t how I normally feel after a football match. I’ve only cried once over football and that was after we lost to Liverpool in the semi-final replay after Hillsborough; not for any noble reason, but I was so angry at John Aldridge ruffling Brian Laws’ hair after his own goal in the most shocking display of unsportsmanship I have ever seen – and after everything that had awfully happened in the match before. I vowed after losing to Sheffield United in the play-offs, as I trudged through the dingiest part of Sheffield after the match, that I wouldn’t let football get me down. I failed in that vow only the very next day but you get my point. Rochdale was one thing — ‘it was only the cup’ — but this is attritional punishment no one deserves.
So, one positive to end on? Well, at the end of the day, at least Danny Baker’s wine tonight will taste all the more sweeter and who could argue with that? Not me, that’s for sure.
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