As the flames begin to flicker on the season, Nottingham Forest are out of the play-off chase and appear to be thinking about the summer after losing 1-0 at home to Huddersfield. Scott Eley offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground…
Holiday. Celebrate. It could be so nice.
Where to start from yesterday’s ‘post-season’ ripper against Huddersfield? Darren Deadman’s precise use of foam spray? Henri sporting short sleeves to showcase his summer look? David Vaughan’s pinpoint accurate set pieces to the invisible man? Eric Lichaj’s ‘lid’ hairstyle?
If Brian was still in charge, Eric may well have spent yesterday at the barber’s as a more constructive use of his Saturday afternoon. ‘Get that haircut, young man.’
The scene was set for an entertaining afternoon. Sunshine, City Ground, Huddersfield, Joel Lynch, and Deadman officiating. If the City Ground pitch could be compared to a holiday destination then you wouldn’t be looking too far from the white sands of the Indian Ocean. Pristine. Credit to the groundsmen at this stage of the season. A platform fit for a king. Maybe that’s part of the problem.
Even Huddersfield decided to take a break from their usual spectator role at the City Ground in recent years. They made the most of their day out, playing free of any pressure in the sunshine on THAT pitch. Their centre-halves didn’t look ruffled for the 90, give or take one or two inconvenient moments. Akin to getting sand in your sandwiches. Huddersfield looked a decent outfit, or at least we allowed them to look like it.
At many points this season, if the players haven’t been serving up much entertainment than we’ve relied on the referee to at least provide some drama, pantomime-style. Not yesterday. With a name better suited to a WWE Wrestler, Darren Deadman, the infamous trigger card waver, was so relaxed it appeared he’d forgotten to pack his cards. Luckily for him, Deadman found a spare yellow in his back pocket that had been through the wash. One yellow card. He didn’t get a lot wrong yesterday and that probably contributed to the subdued atmosphere.
The game was flat. Many appeared to be going through the motions. Huddersfield effectively killed the game and crowd with a well-taken Sean Scannell goal just before half-time. He finished off a sublime pass with ease. A bit too easy for my liking. Wilson, Fox and Darlow all looked and pointed at each other. In fairness, the pass from Butterfield warranted a goal. Great ball but the reaction of our defence was (thinking of holiday superlatives) similar to Tanzanian border control. Casual.
Forest’s biggest threat came from Chris Burke. Potentially benefitting from having Lichaj behind him again, Burke was Forest’s real threat yesterday. That annoying wasp desperate to try your summer cider, Burke buzzed and caused menace without quite having the pace to escape his opposing number. After a good 70 minutes, it was Dougie rather than the opposition that put the glass over his persistence. Moved to the left-hand side, it proved game over for Burke which probably warranted a greater reward.
The highlights? Tyler Walker almost overtook his dad’s Forest tally with a close range effort and Smithies produced a good save from Mancienne’s header. Chris Burke came close with a shot from distance but that was about it.
Ishmael Miller, who came on for a two-minute cameo couldn’t be bothered to fill the role of returning villain. A bad miss from six yards. Then again, Ishmael was on a permanent holiday with us. I thought the beach at Blackpool was a good fit…
Chuba Akpom showed promise in his direct running and maybe this initial loan deal might lead to something more long-term in the summer. Chuba looked reluctant to pull the trigger on a few occasions but appeared to take advice from the stands in the final 10 minutes. What followed was a couple of naïve moments and wayward shooting that received full vitriol of some ‘supporters’ who minutes earlier were screaming at him to shoot. I’d offer one-way flight destinations to some of these morons.
Akpom is nowhere the finished article but I like his aggression and he possesses real pace. On our summer budget, beggars can’t be choosers and people need to be realistic. He’s young and he’s learning. He’d be the type of loan signing I’d look to make… on Football Manager at least! Let’s see what he can do from now until the end of the season.
The big miss up front has obviously been Britt but let’s not take anything away from Dexter Blackstock. He has led the line superbly. Arguably, Dexter’s experience has shown him to be a more effective front man up against bustling Championship cloggers. His contribution to allay fears of relegation shouldn’t be under-estimated. His departure against Norwich may well have ended our play-off hopes. As a unit, we haven’t been the same team since. Dexter was certainly missed again yesterday but there isn’t much point in risking him if he’s not 100%. Britt could well learn from Dexter to add to his game let alone in recovering from injury setbacks.
Thinking of somebody who is entitled to his holiday is Michail Antonio. More or less ever present, Michail is running on empty at the moment. I’m not going to criticise his last two performances at the City Ground given his contribution this season. Easily Player of the Year. He deserves a break and the last few games might offer an opportunity to others.
Enter the Kids Club and the introduction of Tyler Walker and Oliver Burke yesterday. This genuinely did brighten my afternoon. What I’ve noticed most about Walker Jnr in a short time, is his touch and close control. For a lad of his age and stature, that’s no easy feat against hardened Championship centre-halves. His shielding of the ball to hold up play and bring others into the game shows intelligence and real promise. More importantly, he has that natural ability to get himself in the right areas. He was unlucky not to get on the score sheet yesterday with a well-saved close range effort that wasn’t helped by a below par cross into him.
Having seen Tyler dust himself down last week after a bad miss to score a ‘worldie’, I’m quite optimistic about him making a real contribution next term. He’s unfortunate not to have three goals in two games and that’s in a team whose season has effectively finished. Oliver Burke looked reasonably confident and didn’t appear as if the Championship would phase him. He’s quite a big lad for his age so this may bode well in adapting to the division. We owe it to others in the league to keep picking our strongest side for the run in but I’d like to see more from the kids to see what they can offer.
Continuing with the holiday theme is the conundrum that is Michael Mancienne. Like adding a favourite old shirt to an already crowded suitcase, finding room for him is causing Forest a problem. Dougie has tried him at full-back and now as the midfield anchor but in my opinion, Michael’s attacking game is limited. However, what Mancienne does very well is kick, head, anticipate and compete. A centre-half all day for me. Mancienne is a player who was holding our season together at one point with his all-out displays.
I think Kelvin Wilson is a lucky boy. Having lost his place to Danny Collins, he’s been fortunate to establish himself at centre-half. Wilson always appears to ‘coast’ through games and I much prefer Mancienne’s more cavalier approach alongside Jack Hobbs. Wilson has been poor for me this season and has offered nothing when the going has gotten tough.
Similarly to Wilson is Danny Fox, another who seems at the City Ground for a holiday. A player, who in fairness looked a little better under Dougie. Whilst I was pleased to see Fox back in the side to offer balance, he was well below par (once again) yesterday. The problem for me is that Fox never looks ruffled. For somebody who gives the ball away as much as he does, he should look ruffled. I’m not sure he even wants to play at full-back. He hasn’t the pace or know-how to consistently stop opposing wingers. This position seriously needs looking at in the summer with Harding going (surely?). It won’t be easy to offload Fox but we need to cut our losses. Somebody robust would do. A left-sided Lichaj perfect. We can’t rely on Cohen unfortunately.
I cut through the back of the Main Stand on the way out past the Bentley and other super cars in the players’ car park. I’m intrigued to know whose is the Bentley? We’d be well up there, if the season was based on owning flash cars. I almost took a photo on the way through but going with the mood, I wasn’t bothered enough. Jorge Grant’s white boy racer parked next to the Bentley at least offered some sanity.
The jury is still out on Dougie for me but he talks candidly and appears to be up for the challenge. Yes relegation was avoided but anybody worth their salt in management should’ve been doing better. The honeymoon period is over but Dougie may be right. Key players are now running on empty. He’s told a few already that their careers lie elsewhere. I just hope this includes the big time Charlies. In an interview with the Post last week, Kelvin Wilson talked of players ‘spitting their dummies out’ if they weren’t in the team under the last regime. Who are these players? I find that attitude incredible considering player lifestyles at Nottingham Forest. I don’t know of another club in the country that gives so much for so little in return. Life’s a beach for a lot of this current squad.
FFP may not be a pretty situation to find ourselves in but it might well be our salvation. It offers the opportunity to change a culture that I think, has hampered the club’s development for years. Changes have got to be made and for once, money won’t be there to solve it. I want us to be a club where players make their reputations, not live off them.
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