I had been to an old school reunion on Saturday night in Maidenhead and as one does had imbibed a fair quantity of alcoholic refreshment whilst reminiscing about old times (it’s been 45 years since my school mates and I first entered Central Grammar School for Boys, Tile Cross Birmingham at the age of eleven!) Fortified by a fat boy’s breakfast on Sunday morning at the hotel where one of our number is the owner, I decided at the last minute that I would after all go to the match and so I duly set off at about 10.30 north towards Nottingham. I don’t think Mrs Bazza was too pleased when I told her but at the same time I don’t think she was overly surprised either; she just gave me a rather curt “see you later then!” It was a bit slow going on the M1 but I got to Nottingham in good time, parked up and enjoyed a lovely walk along the banks of the River Trent towards the ground. It was a warm, humid day and one that was going to be difficult for the players; an important factor for the squad that was back from a tiring trip to Slovenia in midweek. It did cloud over a little just before kick-off but the sticky atmosphere remained.
The team contained a number of changes form the one fielded on Thursday with Myhill coming back in to goal (no surprise there) Spector stayed at right back in place of the recovering Carr, Ibanez and Caldwell formed the centre of defence with Ridgewell at left back. A five man midfield saw Beausejour, Gomis, Elliott, Fahey and Burke playing behind Zigic who started up front on his own for the first time since the Carling Cup Final. Murphy came on after only 12 minutes for Spector following a heavy tackle and despite Murphy being out of position he did well for the rest of the game. The system didn’t really work to be honest and Blues struggled to support the lone striker with only Elliott being the type of player whose natural instincts are to do so. Despite this Blues did dominate the play for the first half an hour in what was a sterile encounter with very little goal threat to either defence. Fahey who was poor all afternoon should have done better with a header from Ridgewell’s well delivered cross midway through the half and Zigic could and should have shot when well-placed 25 yards out but instead elected to pass.
Not a lot had happened when Forest gained a corner on their right flank in the 35th minute. The delivery to the near post was flicked on by Derbyshire to Ishmael Miller a yard out who had the easiest task to head in. Against the run of play we found ourselves a goal down against the poorest team I have seen so far this season. Bad defending again I’m afraid; the runner to the near post simply has to be stopped or at least tracked properly and he must not be allowed to get there first. After this Forest grew in confidence and became all swagger and poise for the rest of the half. Having not been able to string two passes together they were suddenly playing like Brazil (not really; just a figure of speech! 😀 ) The second half didn’t get much better and it was clear that changes were needed. Zigic and Elliott off, King and Wood on and Blues started to look threatening. Burke who had been largely anonymous since the break began to get into the game and it was he who produced the equaliser.
Lee Camp in the Forest goal had not had a shot to save in the whole game when Burke’s fierce drive towards the top corner came at him. Some may argue that he should have done a bit better than just finger tipping the ball into the net but the shot was always going away from him and to be fair he had little chance; it was a beauty. Moments later the game had been completely turned around when Burke again used his pace and strength to get to the by-line and cut the ball back beautifully for Wood to stroke a lovely curling shot just inside the near post to the delight of our contingent behind the goal. Then with about three minutes to go Ibanez headed a clearance down between the Forest centre-halves who vainly appealing for offside allowed Wood to run through unchallenged to the edge of the box; he drew Camp to him and calmly slotted the ball past the keeper for 3 – 1 with the dispirited Forest defence looking on.
This was by no means a vintage performance by Blues. In fact, we were pretty average for 70 minutes especially when we were operating with only one forward up front. As soon as this was changed things started to happen. What didn’t help was the fact that we had so little creativity in midfield for most of the game. Wade Elliott was not at his best and Fahey’s distribution was atrocious all afternoon. Gomis did what he does efficiently enough but it was the wide men, Beausejour and Burke who were left to provide what little spark we had for the most part. Burke was the stand out player of the midfield quintet in my view. Great shot for the first and he was instrumental in laying on the second. Defensively, we looked better than we have for a while but the corner for their goal should have been defended better. Myhill’s only worthwhile save was when Derbyshire was through in the second half and Myhill smothered the shot; he was not to know that the Forest man was offside.
Ibanez had an excellent game and is to be commended for the headed pass between their central defenders that left Wood clean through for the clincher. Murphy put in a decent shift and is improving game by game; Ridgewell should take note although he was far better than the woeful performance at Southampton. I don’t subscribe to the view that Ridgewell is ‘not wanting to play for us’ or ‘doesn’t want to be here’ as some believe. I just think he is off form at present and hopefully things will turn for him; a spell on the bench may help to concentrate the mind! Caldwell had a solid enough game and looked more secure with Ibanez who was also outstanding in defence. Zigic did OK in the circumstances but was left isolated far too much and enjoyed scant support from midfield; he needs a partner when he plays in my opinion.
Still a win is a win and 3 – 1 away having not played all that great is not to be sniffed at. We have our problems sure enough but as for Nottingham Forest; oh dear! They have skilful individuals but are not playing as a team and frankly once we equalised they capitulated. I am not surprised that Steve McClaren has gone and there were protests against Mark Arthur their CEO and the owners who frankly haven’t got enough money and cannot sustain a £10-12 million loss every year and are stepping down at the end of the season unless some tycoon with more money than sense steps in in the meantime. This is worrying for football in general not only in this country but across the world. The financial state of the game is simply unsustainable in the long term and I’m afraid it is going to take the bankruptcy and extinction of a proud and famous club like Nottingham Forest before the message finally hits home.
The Good: The beautiful weather and the great views of the ducks, geese and swans on the River Trent.
The Bad: The game for the most part despite the fact we won and it’s been a great week with two wins away from home.
The Ugly: The mood of the travelling faithful before Burke’s strike.
NOTTINGHAM FOREST: Camp 6, Chambers 6, Morgan 7, Lynch 8, Hill 5 (Gunter 82, N/A), Majewski 6 (Greening 63, 6), Moussi 6, McGugan 6, Derbyshire 5, Miller 6 (Findley 65, 5), Tudgay 7. Subs not used: Smith, Reid.
Goal: Miller 35
BIRMINGHAM CITY: Myhill 6, Spector N/A (Murphy 12, 7), Caldwell 7, Ibanez 9, Ridgewell 6, Burke 8, Gomis 7, Elliott 6 (Wood 59, 8), Fahey 5, Beausejour 7, Zigic 6 (King 59, 6). Subs not used: Doyle, Redmond.
Goals: Burke 75, Wood 79, Wood 87
Attendance: 20,556 (1,837 Blues fans – loud throughout!)
Referee: Mark Haywood (W Yorkshire): 7. I thought the referee had a sound game. Ran the match well and played advantage when appropriate and what is more important was prepared to bring it back for the original offence. He gave Derbyshire the benefit of the doubt with a shocker of a tackle on Burke in the first half and let off one of the forest midfielders for a tackle from behind on Gomis but these things aside he blended into the background which is the way it should be.