I disagree with Colin Fray's summary on the radio. I disagree with the Vital match report. I even disagreed with my brother in our post-match disection on the way home. This is how I saw it.
Listening to the radio while waiting for kick-off, Fray mentioned that 28000 were expected. "That could work for Rotherham" was my immediate thought - any visiting manager should have realised by now that to beat Forest you stifle their play and the frustration of the fans will do the rest. The match kicked off, a cross comes in and Smith sets the tone for the rest of the match by ignoring the easy catch and instead, weakly punching the ball onto a Rotherham's player's head. If the Miller was not so surprised it would have gone in - instead he headed wide. This prompted howls of derision aimed at Smith. Other points to note: Curtis cleared the Main stand with a clearance and the bloke in front of me said "at last, we are playing our strongest team". I didn't reply but I did think that we looked particularly lightweight in midfield without a holding player.
Unfortunately for us I was proved right a few minutes later. A runner broke from midfield, Breckin stepped forwards to meet him and Chambers moved across to cover the captain's space. Unfortunately, Breckin completely missed his challenge and Chambers' move left the Rotherham player with acres to run into - he was practically given a written invitation to shoot, and shoot he did. One nil and all because Breckin was pulled out of position as McGugan and Prutton did the attacking thing at the other end of the field. (Thought of the day; we would not have conceded if Gary Holt had been playing). Thankfully, later in the first half CC saw the error and moved Perchio into a holding role with Commons and McGugan swapping wings.
The game was pretty open with chances for both sides and this quietened the obviously nervous 28000 Forest fans, who stopped barracking the outfield players, instead reserving their bile for Smith. Every long kick was met with cries of anguish. Every short roll-out was greeted with ironic cheers. Now, on reflection, I don't rate Smith (in fact I would go as far as to say that he is a "dodgy keeper". Excellent at reflex saves (as proved later in this game) but awful at kicking and absolutely refuses to come off his line for crosses (almost your dictionary definition of a "DK"). As his kicking has got worse his confidence has reduced - and I am absolutely convinced that he now hoofs it long because he is so worried about playing it short: straight at an opposition player. So what do you do with a player short on confidence? Jeer everything he does wrong and make fun of the things he does right of course.
Tyson and Grolt fashioned a couple of chances up front and then Tyson was taken out in their area. He stayed down - not moving for a long time and when he did stand up, he was moving awkwardly. Grant took the penalty, cooly slotting it past Cutler. The players celebrated, apart from Tyson. This was looking bad. He opted to play on but later had to stop for treatment. This was looking very bad. And that was really about it for the first half. A handful of chances for both sides (us probably marginally on top), Smith getting abuse and us looking unbalanced with our attacking midfield line-up.
Second half and it was no surprise to see Jack replace Tyson. Ordinarily I would regard Grant and Jack as our best partnership up-front - Tyson is probably a better striker than Jack but I don't think he works with Grant as well. But today Jack was nowhere. Lots of running, no effectiveness. The fans' frustration was almost under control, but did come out whenever the ball was passed backwards or the ball was played long. Quick tactical reprise: passing football - you try to keep possession, meaning you often do the safe thing to avoid risking the loss of the ball. In other words you cannot go forwards all the time. Long-ball football: get the ball into the "danger" area as quickly as possible by playing it in the air, meaning you often lose possession but the possession you have is generally in more threatening positions (and hence more exciting). You can have passing football or attacking football. Not both, unless your opponents are either out-classed or have decided not to defend.
However, things were scuppered when young Lewis went off injured. The lack of depth in our squad was revealed when he was replaced by Wes - meaning that we were playing a bizarre 3-4-3 in defence (Chambers, Breckin, Morgan) and a 2-4-4 in attack (Breckin swapping his centre half role for centre forward). This also had the effect of nullifying Commons from open play as he spent all his time trying to keep in line with Jack and Grant rather than dropping deep and providing some much needed creativity (in the absence of McGugan) from midfield. News began to filter in of Gillingham taking the lead against Brizzle and the crowd started urging the team forwards ("Attack, Attack, Attack" being the chant). This lead to utter confusion for the players. Do they play it short and risk derision or play it long and risk derision. The result was half way between the two - play it half way and lose possession. Commons forced a good save from Cutler at a free kick but that was about it for chances. Bennett replaced Lofty at left back (old man or is Bennett our last attacking option?) and CC showed some fire and passion smashing his water bottle when a decision didn't go our way. Eventually we forced another chance, Cutler saving from Jack and the rebound falling to Commons - his toe poke was going in when it was cleared a few inches off the line. They forced a couple of chances to but the last fell to another Commons free kick, which he skied.
This was the most tense and nervous I have been at a football match for years (probably the play-off game against Sheffield United) and you could see the despair and dejection on the players' faces at the final whistle. Brizzle had lost (as had Scunny) yet we could not capitalise on it. Breckin sat with his head in his hands in the centre circle for a good few minutes before Prutton and Chambers (I think) forced him to get up and applaud the fans.
It's no secret that I have no love for this bunch of players. I actually agree with Megson (who recently said "Forest is a great club - they'll be even greater in 2007 when some of the contracts are up"). I don't bother watching England any more and I rarely watch Match of the Day because I feel the players are over-paid primadonnas who don't give a stuff for the people who pay their wages. Most weeks I feel exactly the same about the Forest players (even if they are on a fraction of the wages). But not today. Today they did give a stuff. They ran, they fought (even CC showing his fiery side) and they were a bit bewildered and confused (due, in no small amount, to the abuse they got off us). But they really really tried and the reaction at the final whistle showed how important this game was to them. The problem is that we are just not good enough. CC said before the game that we had to prove that we were one of the best two sides in the division. This game shows that, despite the massive wage bill, we are not.
Smith - kicking abysmal (again) and short on confidence.
Chambers - had an absolute mare in the first half and was about half a yard off the pace. However, he did improve in the second.
Curtis - some would criticise him for not crossing the half way line. I would say he does not really know how to.
Prutton - lots of running, no impact. At least he looks less like a homeless now.
Commons - infuriating.
Tyson - now we are down to two fit strikers.
Wright - did well till he was replaced.
Breckin - organised the defence and told people what they should be doing (a first in my book).
Grant - dangerous throughout but ultimately frustrated.