03 September, 2006

Forest 4 - 0 Chesterfield

My first time in my new seat (the season ticket arrived while I was on holiday) - a drive through pouring rain, a dodgy burger from the bloke on Trent Bridge, purchase a programme (I don't normally bother - it's still not worth £2.50), climb the stairs to the Trent End Upper and find my place between two ladies.

As Clingan was away playing for Northern Ireland, Harris got a start and Jack moved into midfield. A 3-4-1-2 (a favourite of mine, if it's possible to have a favourite formation) with Jack just behind the front two. A back three of Curtis, Cullip and Breckin, wing-backs Southall and Bennett, defensive midfield of Holt (G) and Perch, the aforementioned Jack with Holt (Gr) and Harris upfront. And of course, Smith in goal.

However, we might as well have not bothered for the first half hour. Chesterfield came out of the proverbial blocks the fastest and put us under severe pressure. In particular Folan towered above Curtis and Cullip and ex-stag Larkin's pace frequently took him away from Breckin. We didn't offer much in reply and they exploited the space behind the wing backs to pull us apart.

Playing Jack in the centre of midfield has its advantages and its disadvantages. The disadvantage is that he is involved with everything that happens. And Jack, being Jack, that means a reckless challenge and a stupid booking. The advantage is that he is involved with everything that happens. The first bright spark of the first half was when Perch played the ball square (lots of that going on) to Jack, just in front of the D. Jack turned and played a lovely through-ball for Grant to totally fail to run onto. Creativity? In midfield? How long has it been since we've seen that? Must be Gaz Williams under Fat Joe.

And then, out of nowhere, a cross is played in. Harris (I think) nods it square, over their centre halves (both preoccupied with marking Grant). Running in at the near post is Jack, who heads the ball home. One nil, against the run of play, and probably undeserved. For some reason Chesterfield switched Folan and Larkin, so Breckin nullified the former's arial threat and Larkin found it much harder to use his pace against the more mobile Cullip and Curtis.

And then we got a second. Chesterfield had not created as much since their forward switch but it was still against the run of play. I can't tell you too much about it but you could tell immediately that Harris had scored. The way he turned from the goal and ran most of the pitch made it obvious that "Chopper" had got his first for the club. He ended up buried under the entire outfield, in front of the A-Block. Nice to see that the entire team is behind him.

Confidence visibly grew after the second and my moment of the first half was watching Grant pick the ball up near the half way line, drop his shoulder and then run at the Chesterfield defence, beating at least four, before playing a pass to Bennett. From chunky target man to Stanley Victor the Second!

The second half started late, but we took the game to Chesterfield. Three corners in quick succession and Grant finds himself being hugged by a defender. The ref blows for the penalty and Grant grabs the ball - no way anyone else was taking this! He places the ball on the spot and stares at Barry 'Kenco' Roche. He takes a few steps back. Roche "makes himself big" in the goalmouth. Grant runs up to the ball. Stops. Replaces it on the spot and then repeats the whole sequence. Roche goes the wrong way.

To be fair to Chesterfield, their heads didn't go down. In fact, overall in the game, Smith had to make three of his, now trademark, reflex wonder-saves. They kept pushing us and pushing us (although the defence never looked as shaky as it did in the first half). Then Jack was taken off for the excellently named Junior Agogo. His first touch in a red shirt was to spill the ball to Trigger who curled a beautiful shot past the hapless Roche. Harris moved back to perform Jack's role and was eventually replaced by Thommo to shore up the midfield. This brought Gary Holt more into the game (he had been very quiet till then) and his namesake, Grant, continued his new found, mobile, lease of life. In fact, I would say that Grant has earned himself the accolade of my favourite player - very rare for me to select a striker - for his running, movement and leadership. One more change saw Curtis replaced by Wes - looking like an injury - and despite the chants of "we want five", we had to settle for a mere four goals.

All in all an excellent result. Two nil flattered us at half time, but four nil did not at full time. In fact, the second half was one of the most enjoyable forty-five minutes of football I've seen. The team had a fluency and confidence about them that I have not seen since Paul Hart's play-off season. The entire team celebration for Harris was pleasing. Grant's new-found ability to run at people. Bennett and Southall's marauding runs up the wings. Cullip and Grant's vocal encouragement of their team-mates. Creativity in midfield! These were all things that just did not seem to happen last year. Mr Calderwood (in his uniform of pale blue shirt and red tie) seems to have succeeded in building the team spirit that so evaded Mr Megson. The fact that we could grind out the first half when we were totally outplayed bodes well too. In fact, the football wasn't that great - less Wenger's Arsenal, more Mourinho's Chelsea in style - but there was a juggernaut-like ineveitability about the way we played that will stand us in good stead come a snowy Tuesday night in January.

Man of the Match? I ought to say Smith for his wonder saves, but I have to give it to Grant. I remember Rochdale fans stating he was the greatest forward ever to play at Spotland. I can see why.

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