How in the wide world of sport did we lose that one? Apart from the obvious answer that they scored and we didn’t, there was a lot more to this than a repeat of the last two games. At around 85 minutes, the lad who sits next to me said “We’re probably not going to win this, but it’s been a lot more encouraging than the last two.”
Bang. Then it went wrong as Browning, who’d been solid defensively, played a loose ball across the box which took Matthews out of the game, and Daryl Murphy – aye, THAT Daryl Murphy, who’d been on the end of pre-match special guest Andy Reid’s pass those years ago to smash in one of the SoL’s finest goals – worked his space nicely to shoot across Ruiter for the game’s only goal.
On a damp evening slightly dried by the arrival of a deed posh bus, with a clock that was only a couple of minutes out and had a working radio and comfy seats, we were in the ground early simply because there wasn’t time to take cocktails in the town as usual. After a couple of minutes faffing about, during which it looked like we were going to have to kick the wrong way, we sorted things out and kicked south. Thankfully, or so we thought, Grayson had ditched the three centre half business (presumably because you can’t have three halves) in favour of a flat back four. He’d also opted for just the one up front, which gave the bloke in front the opportunity to proclaim that you can’t play two up front and four in the middle, so something has to give. Ask Summerbee, Quinn, Phillips, and Johnston about that – or the line-up that won at Norwich.
Matthews Browning Wilson Oviedo
McManaman Ndong Catts Williams Honeyman
As with most (no, all) games in this division, things started at full pelt, and we were on the front foot. After a couple of moves that were nearly but not quite good enough, Ndong hassled and harried the ball out of their man near the right-hand flag and McManaman ran along the bye-line to fire in a low cross that was cleared. Promising, but what we lacked was a target, as Grabban prefers the ball to his feet rather than his head, and we tried a few balls to that part of his anatomy. We managed a couple of decent runs – Catts, Oviedo – before we actually got a shot away, with Grabban firing a foot over with his left after a decent run. We also played a couple of over optimistic balls which only David Bellion would have reached – but he’d have simply run down the tunnel and into the Wear. Williams was, as in the last game, a veritable Duracell advert, but he expects everyone else to be as keen and as fast as himself – and they’re not. The result was some passes way to optimistic, added to another from Grabban in the same mould towards McManaman.
As they had both Daryl Murphy and Liam Bridcutt in their team, we had to beware the Curse of the Former Player.
We needed Oviedo to cut across in our own box to intercept when Forest broke and looked likely to score, then Grabban sat down, which usually means a popped hamstring. He was off pretty sharpish, being replaced by Vaughan -who quickly set about letting the visiting defence know that he was there. I wouldn’t fancy being in front of him in a queue at the bar. His extra presence in the air, and in the defenders’ faces, gave Honeyman and Ndong the chance to tee themselves up, but both shots were deflected to safety.
Down at the other end, Murphy was generally dealt with competently by Wilson and Browning, meaning that Ruiter had precious little to do. The ref was being a typical Championship ref and letting the game flow unless he was struck by a severed limb, meaning that we got to see a real battle up front between Vaughan and whoever challenged him. McManaman picked up a good ball from Williams, but his shot also hit a defender, and we played out the last ten minutes of the first half as much the better side but without giving their ‘keeper much to do. There was a single added minute, and the teams came out for the second half with no changes.
After the lack-lustre performance last time, we could have no complaints about lack of application or effort, as we started the second half in a positive mood. Some great build-up play by Oviedo brought in Williams, who got the ball to McManaman and his clever turn created a chance which their keeper did well to push away. Looking good, but after that move McManaman’s lack of game-time (sorry for the Americanism) began to show and he tired. A nice move set Matthews away, but his cross sailed harmlessly over the bar, then he almost made up for it as he set up Honeyman, but all we got was a corner. Surely, the Forest back line, with their number 27 looking particularly femmer against Oviedo, would give – and it nearly did when Brian fired a shot into the side netting as he became more of an attacking threat down our left.
Vaughan was having a right ding-dong with their centre half, with his shirt being almost pulled over his head at one stage, and seemingly every challenge ending up with an appeal for a free-kick either way. McManaman was replaced by Gooch in a fairly obvious move with about 18 to go, and Lyndon ran at the visiting defence whenever he could. As Forest got more into the game we were reduced to trying to hit them on the break, and when one move down the right ended with the ball at the feet of Williams, it looked like we might snatch it – but despite the ball being struck as sweetly as any shot at the Sol, it flew a foot wide and nearly took three fans in the North stand into the Karbon bar and Grill. Well, it’s going to happen tonight, we thought, and it’s been a lively performance with good contributions from Ndong, Catts, and Williams in the middle of the field and McManaman out wide, with Oviedo being a threat as well.
Of course, that’s when it all goes wrong for us, doesn’t it? Browning, who’d given Murphy precious little space all night and generally carried out his defensive duties well, inexplicably played a pass that took Matthews out of the game and allowed Murphy to work some space to fire across Ruiter and win the game on 85. As they’d brought on three subs, and the ref and had to spend time talking to both Vaughan and whoever he’d just tangled with, there were three added. In those few minutes, and the few preceding them, we won corners – with Wilson headed both tamely at the keeper under pressure, or over the top - and free-kicks, and Jones replacing Catts (who was none too chuffed to leave the field, but he’s no Billy Jones in the air) as Williams lined up yet another corner. He didn’t get his head to it, but was there to poke a shot goalwards and see it deflected wide. There were more corners and frees that were knocked just wide or cleared off the line, and even Ruiter came up to join in the fun – but to no effect.
Time up, another defeat, but one that is particularly hard to take as we’d been by far the better-looking side for much of the game – but if you don’t have someone to help out your lone forward, you’re going to struggle. None of Catts, Williams, or Ndong, are the type of player who naturally fills in behind the lone striker, and Honeyman and McManaman have their work to do out wide.
Better than last time by a decent margin, but still nowhere near good enough, as Forest were basically not at all clever. As for Man of the Match, there were a few decent moments by several players, but it’ll have to go to Williams again.
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