Now without a win in seven, Nottingham Forest’s season continued to fizzle away with 2-1 defeat to Ipswich Town. Jonathan Stevenson offers a fan’s eye view from Portman Road…
We don’t tend to do (relatively) meaningless games, do we? There’s usually something afoot at either the top or bottom come the end of the season, and I could probably count those pointless Forest matches I’ve been to on one hand.
Rocking up to Ipswich on Saturday, I didn’t know what to expect from the team, and didn’t really know how bothered I was going to be. Or even supposed to be.
Since the Stuart Pearce fairytale fizzled out, I’ve watched Forest with a little bit of distance. It took me a while to enjoy them winning again, but it eventually came back. Relegation was never realistically a danger; nor, contrary to our ludicrous chairman’s pronouncements, was a play-off berth. There’s arriving late, and there’s closing the stable door after the horse has bolted…
So where are we? We have a manager who is going to be in charge next season (we think, though you can never be entirely sure), and a playing squad who have enormously under-achieved over the past eight months.
Dougie Freedman started well, but let’s be honest about this: many of these Forest players have been treading water for most of the season, and now there’s little to play for they aren’t exactly busting a gut to prove themselves.
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Of course, some of them just aren’t good enough. Of the XI that started at Ipswich, how many would you be desperate to see in the first team at the start of next season? I’ll start with Hobbs, Osborn and Antonio. Your turn.
The 4-3-3 formation looked like it might work early on. Chuba Akpom didn’t get going at all on the right of a front three, but Dexter Blackstock and Michail Antonio linked up well, and Antonio was yet again a constant menace to an Ipswich defence who battered him all afternoon (since when did the rules change that a player going straight through the back of another player doesn’t get booked any more?).
David Vaughan had a tidy afternoon at the base of the midfield three, Henri Lansbury looked busy without doing much, and Ben Osborn was magnificent. Always making himself available, brave under pressure, the best passer in the side by a mile… It was a terrific display, and taking him off, even though it was late on, seemed counter-productive.
Further back, it seems like Newcastle have spent £7m on two players who cannot help but give the ball away. Karl Darlow needs to start engaging his brain before racing off his line miles out of his area and his distribution was shocking all afternoon, and Jamaal Lascelles’ wasn’t any better. Having Michael Mancienne out at right-back feels like a total waste to me. Mancienne and Hobbs should be the partnership we build next season’s team on. Lascelles’ issues are for someone else to deal with.
After a decent start in which Blackstock really should have scored, we went 1-0 down when a standard Ipswich punt forward was headed on by Daryl Murphy to Freddie Sears, who then teed up Murphy to slam past Darlow into the net. At least it reminded us there were 24,000 Ipswich fans in the ground, because they’d been hideously quiet until then.
I was half hoping Akpom might be hooked at half-time, but he came to life straight after the break and the equaliser came from his superb work, the Arsenal loaned turning brilliantly and racing past three players only to see his shot well saved. When the ball came out to the left to Osborn, his fine cross was comically turned into his own net by Christophe Berra with Blackstock lurking.
For 15 minutes, Forest were very good. Osborn ran the game, Lansbury willingly aided him, and Akpom and Antonio threatened to run riot. But as time ticked on, the Forest we’ve seen so much of this season reappeared. They became nervous and retreated, and a succession of decent Ipswich crosses were met by men in blue as a spate of headers flashed wide and we somehow survived.
Akpom was withdrawn as Forest lost any momentum going forward, and though it came courtesy of a huge slice of luck, there was no real surprise when Ipswich, with everything still to play for, grabbed the winner, as Sears’ effort took a wicked deflection off Mancienne and flew in off the post past a wrong-footed Darlow.
It probably summed up the season in many ways: hope, frustration, inevitability. Talk among the 1,000 (magnificent) travelling fans of a few players being released this week will hopefully be proven true. There are too many players in that squad earning a very good living and doing little to deserve it.
I’ll be at the Cardiff game next week, and I’ll probably stay to applaud the players if they do a lap of honour at the end. But not many of them will justify it. They are still, by and large, the guys who helped get Psycho sacked, after all.
Talking of which (to end on a positive note), I do like the Stuart Pearce song we sang on Saturday…
“Psycho, you’re still my hero, you know. You’re still my hero, you know.”
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