SEASON 2014/15 MATCH REPORTS AND STUFF

GAME 1. AUGUST 9th, 2014
CITY GROUND
FOREST 2 BLACKPOO 0

I couldn't help but remember Billy Davies' return to the City Ground - that one where his face loomed over us on the big screens and he promised to complete his unfinished business. It was a strange piece of public relations, and, looking back, it was a sinister foretaste of things to come, like Orwell's Big Brother beaming down his hollow cult of personality on his adoring public.

I remembered it because this - Stuart Pearce's return - was so fundamentally different it was like a shock of fresh air. There was nothing staged, nothing fake. The atmosphere was genuinely electric, the rendition of Mull of Kintyre swelled to its crescendo, and Stuart Pearce emerged to a shuddering roar of approbation which nearly scrambled the senses. A few salutes to the crowd, and he sat down, bumped fists with his second in command, and settled down to business.

There was a football match then and, with respect to the refreshing sense of honesty which seems to pervade the place now, we have to say that it was an odd business. There was lots of good stuff, but lots of doubts too. The doubts arose mainly from Forest's inability to crush Blackpoo in that rather forgettable second half. But several things have to be remembered. For one, Blackpoo weren't the only side who were underprepared: Forest's latest signings had only had one training session, and it showed in some of the misunderstandings. For two, Blackpoo weren't as bad as we wanted to believe. They have some good players, and a manager who "sorted it out" in the second half by playing two up front and stifling Reidy in midfield. For three, it was a hot and emotional day, and there was a lot of fading going on. Hunt, for example, who had rampaged at will down Blackpoo's left in the first half, faded noticeably in the second, and Forest found themselves pushed back. For four, our central midfield looked a bit flimsy under pressure, which is why people are so concerned about Vaughan and Lansbury.

So, it was obvious, as we all knew anyway, that there is much building to do, both in terms of recruitment and integration. Having said that, there was much to be excitedly hopeful about. The two goals were very special - Antonio's sharp finish was a revelation when you remember the fruitless labours of our previous strikers, and Burke's goal was a sublime repetition of the kind of thing the bugger used to do to us. Assombalonga looked ravenous, was always menacing, and one turn, run and shot reminded us a little bit of a former striker. (Have you noticed, by the way, how early he takes his shots? Have a look at some of his videos, and you'll see him take goalkeepers by surprise with the power he generates from what appear to be flicks.) Fryatt looked intelligent, linked well with others, and seemed as comfortable and creative in midfield as he did up front. Reidy was Reidy. Burke was Burke. The defence looked composed but there will be sterner tests. All in all, there was a lot of raw promise on show, a promise which will only be fulfilled as the players get to know each other and the midfield is strengthened.

That's what we choose to remember from this occasion - the goals, the promise of things to come, and those rapturous minutes when Psycho emerged from the tunnel. And the plain honesty of it all. That'll keep us going for a good while yet.



GAME 2. AUGUST 16th, 2014
MACRON (yes, Macron) STADIUM
BOLN 2 FOREST 2

I wrote a pome, Pie.

It was a good match, wasn't it Stress? An exciting match, full of promise.

Yes, Pie. I wrote a pome.

Not so good after three minutes of course, when Reidy committed a foul in a really dangerous area, which just went to show that there should have been a midfield cruncher doing that job, not Reidy. The goal also went to show that the defence needs stiffening up.

I wrote a pome.

Still, we all know there are people waiting in the wings to strengthen deep midfield and defence. Don't you agree?

I agree that you're boring, Pie. Unlike my pome.

Boring? I'm just trying to put our midfield and defensive frailties into perspective. That second Boln goal, for example, will probably never happen again. Once those weaknesses are addressed, and they will be addressed, we'll be cooking on gas.

Yes Pie, that's as interesting as a statement of the obvious can be, but nowhere near as interesting as my pome.

Okay then, smartarse, let's hear it.

You can search for jewels across the globe,
From Timbuctoo to Tonga,
You'll never find a brighter gem
Than Britt Assombalonga.

Well that's really something, Stress...

He may have been expensive,
And cost a lot of wonga,
But he's worth every ha'penny,
Is Britt Assombalonga.

Wonga? Really?

He's fast and hungry, mobile too,
He'll probably get stronger,
We've not yet seen the very best,
Of Britt Assombalonga.

Oh for God's sake, you've ruined it now. There I was, ready to talk about how dangerous we were going forward, how intelligent our movement was, how valuable were the contributions of Hunt and Antonio and Burke, how professionally we took apart the Boln defence, how gutsy and adventurous we looked, how the Boln faithful were cowed into muttering silence by our superiority, and all you're interested in is spouting some doggerel that rhymes with Assombalonga. Didn't you notice anything?

Er, well, Fox seems bigger than he was, which may be something to do with his extra hair, like Samson. Spearing has degenerated into a wart. Hobbs isn't up to speed yet. Reidy wastes corners. The Macron stadium continues to sweat with nervous disappointment. Antonio wins a lot of headers. The Football League Show is altogether hopeless. My progress through crowds is still being hampered by people who limp. And there is nobody I've seen in the Championship - nobody - who is any better than Forest.

Thankyou Stress. Bormuff next, away. Tough one, that.

The need to fret away from home,
Will hamper us no longer...

Don't tell me, cos we've got the threat
Of Britt Assombalonga.

That's the spirit. Well done olde manne.



GAME 3. AUGUST 19th, 2014
GOLDSANDS STADIUM
BORMUFF 1 FOREST 2
...and then, over an hour into the match, Assombalong won himself a free kick with his strength and persistence. Reidy stood over the ball, taking his time to calculate angles and get his breath back. His cross winged over towards the back of the Bormuff area, where Assombalonga headed it home. Actually, "headed it home" doesn't tell the full story. As he rose to meet it, he was being driven back in mid air by some desperate Bormuff defender "falling" backwards into him. Assombalonga's strength allowed him to ride the assault and, still moving backwards, he somehow found the power to punch the ball, via another defender, into the bottom of the net. It was not, as some have said, a powder puff goal. It was a tremendous effort made possible by the man's skill, strength, athleticism and determination.

...and then, not long afterwards, Hunt exchanged passes with Burke and drove into the area. One stepover and a ton of determination saw him dig out a perfect cross for Fryatt, who opened his Forest account with a simple header. Actually, "a simple header" doesn't tell the full story. As the cross floated over, Assombalonga was being wrestled to the floor by some desperate Bormuff defender, while his mates performed various standing-still and falling-over skills around him. Once more, the Bormuff defence showed how feeble they were when put under real pressure.

...and that was that. Everything else was irrelevant. The looseness of Forest's first half display, Bormuff's fast flowing football rendered pointless by poor finishing and some magnificent defending, Forest's weakness in midfield and down the left, all these things were blown into irrelevance by Forest's sheer guts and finishing power.

Eddie Who, whom we don't like because he's got flies in his eyes, can whine all he likes. Bormuff fans can mutter petulantly about "daylight robbery". None of this matters. All that matters is our management team adapted better than theirs, our defence was better than theirs, our strikers were better than theirs, and we scored more goals than them. We won, for God's sake. Get used to it.



GAME 4. AUGUST 23rd, 2014
CITY GROUND
FOREST 4 READING LADIES 0
ALCHEMY

Antonio is strange. He keeps scoring strange goals. His first goal was the kind of looping, back-across-and-over-the-goalkeeper goal that Championship players aren't supposed to be capable of. His second goal involved passing his right foot through a defender's midriff and hooking it into the net. It was not the kind of goal that real human beings score. There was sorcery at work, obviously. His pin-point cross for Fryatt's goal was too good for a player who "blows hot and cold". We must watch this player carefully. The sheepish grin he displays in celebration is evidence that even he does not understand the strange forces that are guiding him.

Assombalonga, too, is not entirely of this world. We thought we were getting a raw talent who might take a while to adjust to the greater demands of the Championship. Instead we get this goal hungry phenomenon who can run intelligently, hold up the ball to set up his team mates, provide a constant threat up front and even clear danger from his own area. We had no right to expect this. Just about on the hour mark, with the entire Reading defence apparently trying to stamp on an invisible dog, the ball eventually found its way to Assombalonga, who promptly stabbed it home. If you got the strange feeling that the ball was always bound to end up at his feet, you would not be alone. Strange influences are at work, I tell you.

These influences show themselves in many ways. Matty Fryatt spends entire matches with a grin on his face as he works the ball intelligently and waits for Antonio's cross to nod home another goal. Burke revels in the space and support which affords him time for his tricks and crosses. Fox appears to have grown a couple of inches. We never even knew he could head a ball, now here he is almost scoring with a powerful header. We never knew Mancienne was quite that good, or Hunt, who gives the impression he has been playing for Forest for years. And everybody seems so bloody happy. All the time. For Forest fans who have grown used to discord, this genuine sense of unity is difficult to explain.

There are gaps, of course, as were evident in this match. A better team than Reading would have exploited the weaknesses in our midfield to greater effect. In the first half Reading players coasted their way too easily through the middle third and were able to create chances for their strikers, who, luckily, weren't in position or shot like turnips. But something happened in the second half which was, again, not entirely explicable in simple footballing terms. Okay, Lichaj was brought on for Harding, but that was for defensive security. But any tactical change was so subtle it was beyond our ken. Forest simply played better, Cohen made a better job of "stepping in", the team got back on the front foot, scored three goals, and reduced Reading Ladies to a bunch of comic opera buffoons.

You could probably spend the rest of your life trying to explain what is happening at Forest. You would undoubtedly refer to Stuart Pearce's astute signings, his management team's tactical awareness, the happy atmosphere of honest, healthy competition he has engendered, Fawaz's enthusiastic backing. Somewhere or other the word "Chemistry" would appear.

But it isn't Chemistry. Chemistry is a science, a set of processes with entirely predictable results, taught by a fat bloke from Bolton with bad breath and a comical inability to pronounce the word "reservoir". If it were Chemistry, Stuart Pearce wouldn't wear that air of slight disbelief in his interviews, as if even he is not altogether sure where this success is coming from.

No, it's not Chemistry, it's Alchemy, Chemistry's bastard and lunatic older brother, which promises to turn base metals into gold by the process of Happy Accident. It's the only explanation we have. And don't you dare kick it. It's working.



GAME 5. AUGUST 30th, 2014
CITY GROUND
WENDIES 0 FOREST 1

...in very much the same way that Forest will probably take care of the Wendies.
That's how we ended our "preview", and that's pretty much how things turned out. Forest took care of business. The match was, weirdly, like one of those boring business meetings where a few people diffidently advance points of view in the knowledge that the powers-that-be have already made up their minds. A real "going through the motions" affair, it seemed to us. We don't mean this to sound critical, of either side. The fact that Forest seemed to be playing at fifty per cent of their potential for much of the match ended up being oddly reassuring. As Stuart Pearce said, it was a pity people hadn't seen the best of Forest yet, which indicated that there was so much more to come.

Forest started badly, sleepily allowing Wendies' runners to twice slip behind their defence into goal scoring positions. The fact that Forest survived was down to poor Wendies decision making and some splendid defending. Thankfully, Forest recovered from that, but even so they rarely had control of the game, especially in midfield, where the creative influence of Reid was stifled by their aggression and his own dip in form. So the midfield battle became scrappy, with Forest's superior quality only occasionally shining through.

But Forest did hold some aces. Despite having a hit-and-miss game, Antonio was always a threat. He did seem a little affected by the childish boos from the Wendies' fans, but despite that his perseverance was rewarded with a delightful clip to the onrushing Lansbury for Forest's goal. Good old Henri, our second ace. He was included to stiffen up the midfield, which he did with some feistiness, but his real strength is as an attacker, and his goal resulted from a typical late run into the box. That was that, really. Wendies huffed and puffed, but Forest held on.

Actually, I hate the phrase "held on". It implies that a team is so inferior it is somehow lucky to survive, but luck had nothing to do with it. Were Forest lucky to have a defence stuffed with players of outstanding skill and courage? Were Forest lucky to have a goalkeeper with outstanding reflexes and hair? And think on this: if Wendies had equalised, would Forest have settled for a draw? I think not. By the nature of the manager and his players, Forest would have mustered those missing percentages of potential, and gone for it, because all they seem to want to do is win.

Yes, it was a dull game, but that was because Forest did the business, did no more than they had to. To be honest, we think Forest gave too much respect to the opposition by rarely getting out of third gear, but that's us lifting our expectations far too high, and also being hypocritical. We were actually worried that Stuart Pearce was one of those "gung ho" managers whose team would burn brightly but not long. Now we know different. This match showed that he is grittily aware of the length of the campaign, the adaptability of his squad, and their determination to continue doing the business.

Anyway, bugger what Sky audiences think. We're top of the league.



GAME 6. SEPTEMBER 14th, 2014
CITY GROUND
FOREST 1 SHEEP 1

We've been trying to work out why the Sheep, the present lot at least, are so bloody irritating. We don't think it's because they're as good as us, because they're not. We don't even think it's because of those endless years of mutual disrespect, though that weighs heavy in everybody's soul in the days leading up to each clash.

No, it's something else. Do you remember at school, there was always a group of kids that nobody liked very much? The oddballs and the thugs and the sneaks and the cheats and the people who smelled like fish. You remember them. Now imagine all these people gathered together in one place and given some sort of perverse self respect, like comic book heroes wrung from the imagination of a spiteful lunatic, and you've got the Sheep.

Spite and thuggery are the most operative terms here. Regardless of McClaren's pre-match piety, that "he hoped nobody would get sent off", his team almost immediately set about their plan of niggling, disruptive violence. It's been the same for a few years now, and this game is rarely graced by a referee brave enough to do his job properly. If this ref had had any bottle, Buxton would have been joined by Eustace and Shotton and probably Lansbury, though Hughes' reaction to Lansbury's tackle was premeditated and typically ridiculous. Hughes and Keogh would have been sent off for persistent fouling, diving and whining. Unfortunately, the wind up merchants, the "let's surround the ref at every opportunity and fill his ears with bleating crap" brigade got away with it again. They always do.

Yes, we resent almost everything about them. We even resent being told that they were "on top" in the second half, when their five-a-side powder puff football looked good but produced absolutely nothing. It was a bit like being bullied by midges. Last season they got away with this pitty patty stuff because they bemused defences into mistakes and they had players who could finish. This season they're not getting away with it. Their lack of power and penetration is beginning to show. Frustratingly, Forest gave them more respect than they deserved, and held off when they should have been going for the throat.

So, unpunished thuggery, weak refereeing, Forest losing key players and, admittedly, others not playing particularly well, and a farcical pitch invasion, combined to pull off their usual trick of reducing the match to the kind of bitty mess that Derby wanted and Forest weren't quite able to rise above. Once again the match didn't do justice to a wonderful occasion, with its chants and flags and colour and promise.

Except for one moment, a few seconds of absolute class which outshone the hectic stalemate. Assombalonga's turn and shot, brutally athletic and clinical, will remain with us for a long time. It was the kind of heart stopping piece of skill which should have defined the difference between the two sides. It was such a pity that the Sheep managed to scramble an equaliser from a player who probably shouldn't have been on the pitch, but that's the way things go sometimes.

Considering everything, Forest are still top, still unbeaten, still on course for a strong season, and still have no reason to fear anybody. Oh, and we've still not seen the best of them yet.



GAME 7. SEPTEMBER 17th, 2014
CITY GROUND
FOREST 5 COTTAGEFOLK 3

Games like that shouldn't be allowed, because they remind you that the barrier between the real world and the world of insanity is so thin you can't always tell the difference. The game slipped from dry comfort to shit-your-pants misery and back again like a cheese-fuelled nightmare. It was not, overall, a comfortable experience.

It started weird, and just got weirder. Nobody told the Cottagers that the Cloughie sweatshirts and the banners were meant to herald a night of footballing celebration for the hosts. They didn't appear to have read the script at all, as Hoogland drove fiercely straight at Darlo, and McCormack's shot had Darlo scrabbling at his feet to retrieve the ball. Some degree of sanity was restored when Assombalonga scored, though we remain unsure which bit of him it came off, just as we remain unsure that the penalty awarded by the cerebrally challenged DeadMan actually was a penalty. Still, you take what you're given, even if the real world does appear to have slipped off its hinges a bit.

At two nil down, the Cottagers were supposed to fall apart like wet hobnobs, and Forest were supposed to mercilessly gobble them up and spit out the flaky bits that get stuck between your crowns. But no. Instead, Forest decided to knock off early, and the nightmare began. You know that, as sure as eggs go bad, when Forest stop attacking they end up chasing shadows. In fact, some of them become shadows. Mister DeadMan awarded the Cottagers a free kick (presumably to balance out the penalty mistake) which McCormack whipped past Darlo, with the Forest goalkeeper diving several minutes too late. Forest were relieved when the first half ended.

The nightmare continued in the second half. A misplaced pass from the otherwise splendid Tesche left Rodallega sprinting clear of the otherwise not very convincing Fox, and we think the Forest defender got away with a sly trip. Forest slept on, allowing Parker to surge forward, a move which ended with a superb cross from somebody or other to the unmarked (by Fox) Rodallega, who finished clinically. And it came as no surprise, not long later, when the Cottagers profited from a lousy piece of ball retention from Antonio, sliced through Forest's defence and scored with a deflected shot from McCormack. From looking as if they were going to walk a dozen goals into the Cottagers' net, Forest now looked like a gaggle of unacquainted drunks. It could have got worse. Sloppy play and miscommunication led to two more efforts from the Cottagers. The crowd morphed into last season's crowd, muttering low curses, fearful of defeat. "Bloody typical," somebody said, presumably referring to Forest's perennial banana-skin performances against weaker sides.

But there was nothing typical about this, not this match nor this Forest side. A long ball from Mancienne found Antonio, who proceeded to perform something of a miracle. Killing the ball with his right foot, at the same time turning away from his marker, he screwed the ball through the legs of an onrushing defender into the far corner of the net. This sublime piece of skill shook Forest out of their stupor, at last. Burke crossed to Assombalonga, who headed against the post, hungrily blasted home the rebound, and did a funny high-stepping dance to celebrate his hat trick. Then, with the Cottagers completely hobnobbed, Jamie Paterson did what Jamie Paterson does, sidestepping a defender and shooting home for Forest's fifth.

And so ended this absurd three-in-one match, having been won and lost and won again. The celebrations were understandably manic, but the lessons to be learned from the game ... well, we'll leave those to Stuart Pearce and his crew, because we are no longer sure of anything very much, except that, if things carry on like this, we're going to need professional help.



GAME 8. SEPTEMBER 20th, 2014
NUDE END
MEWO 0 FOREST 0

After the glorious lunacy of the Fulham game, I suppose everybody was expecting Forest to give the Loins a bit of a thumping, so a messy 0-0 draw was bound to be a disappointment. Why did it happen?

Lots of reasons, of course. After the first ten minutes when Antonio threatened to rip them apart, the game died. Oddly enough, the deterioration was prompted by an injury to Edwards, which seemed to affect Forest more than it did Mewo. The bulk of the match was littered with inuries, stoppages, and disjointed play. Forest couldn't get a grip in midfield: the defensive midfield were stronger, but creatively it didn't work well, with Lansbury too far forward to get involved, and Burke spending much of the afternoon slinging long balls into no man's land. Antonio and Assombalonga got increasingly isolated, and the match degenerated into an odd version of long distance ping pong, with Mewo carving out a few accidental half chances but not much more. Only towards the end did Forest threaten again, with Burke getting forward and doing what he's supposed to do, and Paterson providing a real threat. Sadly, Assombalonga missed Forest's best chance when he fired Paterson's cross ninety degrees off target.

So, not much to remember, unless you choose to remember Hologram doing his angry goblin act for the gallery (or the cameras), stoking up Mewo's ridiculous supporters into spasms of neanderthal spite. What an unpleasant place, and what an unpleasant manager. As Stress said, "At least that's that one out of the way." I would imagine Stuart Pearce and his players felt much the same.

This is the Championship, remember? It's long, too long, and tough, and there will be more games like this. But it's the same for all the other teams, and yesterday for example Watfor? and Derby and Norwich could only manage home draws, so perhaps a point at Mewo which keeps us top of the league isn't as disappointing as all that. And no, I don't see this as the beginning of a dip. I sense that the squad is too strong, the spirit is too high, and I can't see our strike force having many more dud games. Matches like this are just part of an evolution, and if you can stay on top while not being the finished product then it speaks well of your potential.

Well done lads. Now for Spurs in some cup.



GAME 9. SEPTEMBER 27th, 2014
CITY GROUND
FOREST 0 HOVE 0

Time for the first team to step up and beat Hove into a twitching pulp. That's all we have to say, really. Anything less than a twitching pulp will sit badly with us.

Oh well, perhaps twitching pulps aren't so easy to come by these days. This second 0-0 league draw in a row left us with worries. You probably know what they are.

Injuries are nagging away at us again. The absence of Vaughan and Hobbs we can cope with (although we reckon Vaughan could provide the neatness and toughness which glues together the midfield better than anybody else), but Reidy is missed. Despite his loss of form before his injury, he's still the best creative midfielder we've got, and his guile was missing yesterday.

Assombalonga cannot prosper up front on his own, especially when the service to him is poor and he gets no protection from the referee. Lansbury playing high reduces his influence on the game. Yesterday he did little of note, and was subbed. Play him deeper, let him make late runs.

The contribution of the wingers was sporadic. Burke's influence is reduced by the amount of defensive work he is asked to do. Antonio's defensive work is, to say the least, confused.

The team has been dependent on individual brilliance rather than cohesive threat. The magic has faded for now, probably because we are now a known quantity, and the midfield is not picking up the slack. They work hard, but there are no leaders in the middle of the park.

These are our worries. They are not great troubles, but they nag like the toothache you had recently which you hoped would go away but knew deep down that a visit to the dentist was the inevitable result and dentists these days are bloody expensive though a lot better looking than they used to be.

So how to cope with these worries? Well, the best way is to take the advice of the World War One soldiers who had a bit more to worry about than we do:

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile,
While you've a lucifer to light your fag,
Smile, boys, that's the style.
What's the use of worrying?
It never was worth while, so
Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,
And smile, smile, smile
.

That's the ticket. Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag, mark it "Still Unbeaten", and march towards Wiggum with a smile on your face.



GAME 10. SEPTEMBER 30th, 2014
DW STADIUM
WIGGUM 0 FOREST 0

Missis Pie went along to this one, which was useful, because she sees things plainly. The blood tide of prejudice which overwhelms me and Stress is not for her. Sometimes her views make uncomfortable listening.

She thought, for example, that one or two members of the crowd looked like Toby Jugs. She even noted that one man had enormous feet. These things were not relevant to anything in particular, except as an indication that she was bored, forcing us to admit that we had, indeed, seen more exciting matches. She said, towards the end of the first half, that if she'd not known Forest were in second place, she wouldn't have guessed it from their performance. We tried to explain to her that our midfield was missing the creative spark of Reidy, and she should perhaps concentrate on the solidity of our defence, but we had to admit that, apart from one or two occasions when the team pressed Wiggum back, we didn't threaten enough. Hurtfully, she said she only noticed Assombalonga because the name across his shirt made him look uncommonly broad.

It was a strange old match, and incredibly frustrating, what with that neanderthal drum and Forest players slipping over on the sodden pitch and Wiggum making progress more by accident than design and Forest unable to make their increasingly obvious superiority pay, and that referee, that stupid referee, and Lansbury seeing a lot more of the ball in his deeper role but lazily wasting set pieces and Osborn not cutting it at all and that stupid referee watching as their centre back jammed his arm onto Assombalonga's neck and gave a free kick to Wiggum. So frustrating, but there were good things too.

The Forest defence restricted Wiggum to one chance, a nice bit of accidental interplay which ended with a sliced shot from, we think, Maclean. Forest had two or three chances, but they were difficult. The introduction of Fryatt increased Forest's threat because he made things happen in dangerous areas. And at least Missis Pie conceded that, close up, Assombalonga looked a very likely player, as well as "that leggy bloke" who we experts know as Antonio.

Yes, she agreed, Forest looked the team more likely to score towards the end. And yes, she never got the impression that Wiggum would score, perhaps for ever. And yes, the referee was a planker. And yes, it was frustrating, but she supposed an away point in the rainy heart of darkness to maintain an unbeaten run was a decent outcome in itself.

And we all agreed that she was a fine judge and a wonderful woman, but we'd probably not take her again.



GAME 11. OCTOBER 5th, 2014
CITY GROUND
FOREST 2 DIPSWITCH 2

Have you noticed how often optimistic types like us feel the need to say sorry? We suppose it's because football fandom seems at times to be dominated by people who refuse to accept the possibility of progress or hope. So here we go again, apologizing for things when there shouldn't be anything to apologize for in the first place.

We apologize for thinking that Forest were better than Dipswitch. We apologize for jumping out of our seats when Fryatt/Assombalonga's effort skimmed the post, when a Lansbury corner was just missed by Assombalonga but caused chaos in the Dipswitch defence. We apologize for thinking that the Dipswitch defence looked pretty hopeless at dealing with set pieces. We should have known better.

We apologize for nearly wetting ourselves when Fryatt tried an overhead kick from another corner which the Dipwitch defence didn't deal with.

We're sorry we didn't dismiss Forest's chances entirely when Dipswitch scored, being of that utterly stupid opinion that Forest would come back. We apologize for thinking that a brilliant move between Tesche and Hunt and Antonio should have resulted in a goal, and would have too but for an outstanding save from Gherkin.

We apologize that Tesche scored, and are especially sorry that Lansbury expertly exploited Dipswitch's defensive insecurity at the back post to create the chance. Back post headers are, of course, either lucky or not in the spirit of the game. We should have known that.

We're sorry for thinking that we might win from that point. Efforts from Antonio and Burke obviously created a false sense of optimism of which we should have felt ashamed.

We apologize for not being ashamed, even when Murphy fired home a free header. What we should have done was angrily write off the game, perhaps even the season, or just sink into that stupor of resignation we remember from the end of last season. But we didn't. We're not quite sure why. It may have been something to do with our trust in this team's quality. Stupid, we know, but there it is.

We're sorry we reacted so childishly when Antonio rounded the keeper and his shot was cleared off the line, and when Gherkin somehow managed to block Assombalonga's drive from the rebound. There we were, ridiculously expecting some last minute justice to be meted out to a Dipswitch side which was hanging on by the skin of its time-wasting teeth.

How dreadfully embarrassed we were when Lansbury did his back-post trick again and created the chance for Antonio to belt home the equaliser. We had no right to celebrate as we did. Everybody knows that extra time goals are either lucky or not in the spirit of the game. We apologize for hugging people and swearing a lot.

We apologize for smiling broadly after the match, for thinking that Forest aren't in such a bad place after eleven games, for thinking that, though there are obviously some things to put right or improve on, the good things far outweigh the bad, and in that we are blessed. We even think, controversially, that Stuart Pearce and his management team are reasonably intelligent and clear-sighted men who know what they're doing.

For all these indiscretions we fall to our knees and beg the forgiveness of those who know better, for we are simple folk whose opinions are as chaff in the wind.

Sorry.



GAME 12. OCTOBER 18th, 2014
SOMEWHERE IN WALES
CAERDYDD 2 FOREST 1

When I was a kid at secondary school, I used to dread the end of year reports. They contained the exam results, and beside each subject heading was a mark, a position in class, and the briefest of comments from the subject teacher. These flimsy sheets were folded and tucked into a manilla envelope which we took home to mam and dad.

I dreaded them mainly because of Physics. I didn't get on with Physics - not at first, anyway. Later, I re-learnt it all myself from text books and ended up with a decent grade, but in those early years it was unfathomable. I blame the Physics teacher. He was a fat and humourless man from Burnley who couldn't pronounce "reservoir", and he took against me almost immediately, mainly because of the spinners.

I invented the spinners. At first they were just cogs from old clocks which we used to spin against each other, to see which one could survive most impacts and continue spinning when the others had been swept aside. Then I developed Meccano spinners, made with big blue wheels and hooks like Boadicea's chariot blades, which used to smash the clock cogs into oblivion. Things developed from there, with other class members bringing in bigger and heavier Meccano spinners with names like "Liquidator" and "Big Ben", which we used to deploy at the back of the Physics classroom because there was a wide space there where the spinners could whirl silently on the rubber-tiled floor. The fad ended when a mate of mine brought in a spinner so huge it had to be folded inside his satchel and actually re-built in the classroom. He called it "Thunderer", and it was over two feet in diameter. He got it going all right, and it hummed murderously at the back of the class while the teacher blathered on about "reservoyeurs" at the front. Sadly, "Thunderer" began hacking at the metal legs of our stools, dismantling itself noisily, and we were found out. Everybody in that back row was given a detention, and our relationship with the Physics teacher never recovered.

Which is why I dreaded the end of year Physics report. Which is why I changed it.

On that last half-day of the school year, I would prepare myself by nicking a bit of my mum's Wimsol bleach and putting it into a little bottle. I took this to school, along with a small paintbrush. Just before noon, in the form period, we would be given our reports to take home. Mine was pretty average, apart from Physics, which went something like:

17% - 29/30 - Shocking performance.

These were the days when teachers used to write with a fountain pen using washable ink, which was my saviour. I found an out of the way place, and applied bleach to the offending bits of the report. The washable ink just disappeared, and ten minutes later the paper was dry. Taking a ball point pen, I changed the report to:

47% - 19/30 - Could do better.

It was a little work of art, and I got away with it. Twice.

So what has all this rubbish got to do with Forest, you might ask. Well, all I can say about Forest's performance at Caerdydd is:

Could do better.

And that's all I have to say about that.



GAME 13. OCTOBER 21, 2014
VICARAGE ROADWORKS
WATFOR? 2 FOREST 2

I disagree.

Watfor? are just the footballing equivalent of that packet of stamps you used to buy to start your stamp collection, the one containing exotic looking prints from all nations but, sadly, not worth the spit that licked them. So out paraded a Brazilian, an Ecuadorian, a Swede, a Cameroonian, a Hungarian, a Swiss, a Nigerian, two Czechs and two Italians, to strut their fancy stuff against a bunch of mostly home-grown rustics who shouldn't even have bothered turning up.

And they did an awful lot of strutting. The fat-bummed Forestieri was the prime strutter, with his "Ooh look at me I can kick the ball a long way and make it wobble where's the camera" approach which was spectacular until you realised that, later on, he seemed to have totally run out of strut. Todger the Hungarian wasn't far behind, strolling around in that "Look at me I'm too cool to be arsed" kind of way characteristic of players who aren't quite bright enough to avoid arrogance. And Vydra - "Ooh look at me all flashy shots and flying like a beautiful bird leaving my trailing leg to be clipped in a vain attempt to get Mancienne sent off and falling over in the penalty area to secure a penalty which is the only way I'm going to score". They were all at it, weaving their self-indulgent magic, showing precious little respect for the opposition...

There were two things terribly wrong, however. Firstly, they could only manage two dodgy goals (the first one was the fluky result of a speculative back flick which found its way through three Forest defenders, the second a suspicious looking penalty). Surely a team which sliced through defences with such panache should be able to manage more than two scabby goals? And secondly, they may have been eye-catching on the ball, but they were Utterly Inept without it. The warnings were there early on when Antonio broke down the left and shot at the goalie, and when a cross from the right caused a moment of decidedly uncool chaos between goalie and defenders. But they didn't heed these warnings. So Antonio took advantage, leaving their large-arsed, slow-striding defenders trailing in his wake as he showed them how to score a proper, simple goal. And again they struggled to stop Burke haring down the right, too slow to catch him, too weak to tackle him, pleading with the linesman to help them out, and totally unable to prevent Antonio ramming the cross into the roof of the net.

The difference was then plain to see. Stand up to Watfor?, and they melt away like icing sugar. They may look flashy, but they lack bottom. Forest may have looked unsophisticated, but they had more than enough resilience and tenacity to cope, and just enough talent to give Watfor? a real scare. Perhaps Watfor? had better start showing more respect to their opposition in future, especially when they come back to the City Ground. Can't wait.



GAME 14. OCTOBER 25, 2014
CITY GROUND
FOREST 1 BLACKBbum 3

If Blackbum left the City Ground thinking that they deserved credit for fighting back to victory, they would be wrong. The credit for everything that happened in this match was Forest's. From what was a reasonably dominant position, Forest somehow managed to fold like a wet cardboard box and gift Blackbum three goals. Blackbum didn't have to do much more than accept Forest's generosity.

The first half was okay. Forest played with a kind of studied predictability, and finally penetrated Blackbum's defence with a stunning, outside-of-the-foot bender from Assombalonga, which rebounded off the foot of the post to Fryatt, who swept it home. It seemed like the icing on the cake of a competent half, but underneath the icing, the cake was aleady turning out to be soggy and undercooked. Forest's forward movement lacked guile (no Reidy) and drive (no Cohen) in midfield, and depended too much on long balls to wide areas, the results of which were, on this occasion, disappointing. What went wrong in the second half was partly the result of Forest's predictabilty in the first.

For a start, Blackbum simply pressed higher onto Forest's midfield. A Forest team with a bit of gumption would have used this to pass through the higher line, but they lacked the movement and the vision to do this. They simply could not adapt to the increased pressure and, lacking the confidence to go for Blackbum's throat, they started easing back. The situation was not helped by Fryatt's substitution, leaving the Blackbum defence far less to worry about and virtually encouraging them forward.

This stuff doesn't explain fully why Forest folded. What was really alarming was the lack of leadership on the field. Without that special someone to give them a sense of coherence and direction, the Forest players became confused and nervous. All Blackbum had to do was prey on this nervousness by hoisting long throws and high crosses into the box. A couple of long throws caused chaos. A looped cross was brushed away by Darlow to Baptiste, who thumped home an easy chance. Forest's full backs were not stopping crosses, the centre halves were looking jittery, the goalkeeper was uncertain, the Forest box was stuffed with too many Forest players causing all kinds of muddle.

Forest tried to retaliate, and produced the best move of the match which ended with Lansbury's precise effort being pushed onto the post, but this period of threat was short lived. Another cross into the Forest box found Gestede leaping high above a static Forest defender for a free header into the Forest net. And to cap a thoroughly wet Forest performance, Mancienne (of all people) let Rhodes (of all people) in for Blackbum's third after an untypically amateurish mistake.

So, Blackbum didn't really do anything to deserve the victory. They didn't really have to. A combination of predictability, lack of leadership, guileless midfield, timid tactics, and too many Forest players having a rotten day, were the reasons for this defeat.

“The players will be hurting, and rightly so after their second-half performance, and from there we have to make sure we’re prepared to roll our sleeves up and work our way out of this situation,” said Stuart Pearce after the match, which is fine, as long "working" doesn't mean working hard, but working clever.



GAME 15. NOVEMBER 1, 2014
JOHN SMITH'S STADIUM
UDDERSFEEL 3 FOREST 0

As we've said before, we don't do ratings, but if we did, they would go something like this:

Darlo: Our Karl didn't look entirely secure, but that wasn't surprising considering the defence in front of him spent much of the game crapping chickens. There wasn't much he could do about the goals, so he escapes the Finger of Wrath.
Lichaj: Our Eric had what might be called a middling game, but that wasn't surprising considering (a) he is growing increasingly bow-legged and (b) he got no assistance from anyone, including Burke who should have been on from the start, but for some reason wasn't.
Lascelles: Our Jamal spent much of the game trying to work out where he was in relation to everybody else. He can be forgiven for his geographical uncertainty as (a) he didn't appear to have been given any instructions before the game and (b) he didn't appear to have been given any instructions during it.
Mancienne: Our Michael had a similarly wayward game, probably due to the captaincy, which sits on his shoulders like a bag of wet dogs. A pressurised defence need a towering presence to lead by example and provide authority, but as the goals went in the only thing exuded by our Michael was a kind of bemused despondency. He should not be captain - it does nobody any favours.
Fox: Our Danny is really starting to get on our nerves, because (a) we couldn't see why he was playing in the first place, (b) he tries to give the impression of being better than he ever was or will ever be, and (c) he reminds us more and more of that teacher in Bad Education.
The defence: In summary, the defence was less than the sum of its parts, and the parts didn't play very well to start with. Uddersfeel must have thought it was Christmas.
Tesche: Our Robert wasn't very good, in the sense that he had little to do and didn't make a very good job of doing it. He had little to do because everything he had to do was done by Vaughan, who rendered our Robert rather pointless. Stress kept asking why they were both on the pitch together, a question to which there was no reasonable answer.
Lansbury: Our Henri is fast becoming a fan's favourite, hence the cries of "Give it to Lansbury" as the second half wore on, an ironic reference to the dreadful set-pieces and misplaced passes he was responsible for throughout. He gave the alarming impression of playing badly on purpose, but that was as a result of his trying harder and harder, and getting worse and worse. It happens.
Vaughan: Our David was magnificent, the best player on the pitch by miles. He made heroic efforts to get Forest moving, and provided a secure link between defence and midfield. We don't know why he was taken off. If it was a tactical decision, it was a crap one.
Antonio: Our Mikhail had a reasonably disastrous first half in which nothing looked like coming off for him, except perhaps his legs. He improved in the second half and caused the Udders defence problems. Credit him for working his way through a bad patch. We like our Mikhail, and he definitely escapes the Finger of Wrath...
Assombalonga: ...as does our Britt. He did the best he could with severely limited opportunities. Sooner or later it's going to dawn on our management team that Britt needs a partner, somebody cool and intelligent like, say, Fryatt.
Mince: Our Tom showed bags of quality, and will improve the team going forward. He was underused in the first half, but there came a time towards the end of the match where he seemed to say "Sod this, let's do some damage," got himself on the ball, and started to look seriously dangerous.
Burke: Our Chris should have been on from the start. He provided an enormous gust of energy and threat, and unleashed a shot of such ferocity it almost snapped the crossbar. Had he been on from the start, he would have contributed authority, experience, security for Lichaj, and the kind of attacking energy which Forest lacked. Shame on those who agreed with our manager, that including Mince meant dropping Burke. It was a terrible mistake.
Hunt and Osborn: Not much to say. They did okay.
Stuart Pearce: Our Psycho dug a bit of a hole for himself in this match. We didn't understand the changes, we knew that the omission of Burke would weaken us, we couldn't see why Tesche was needed, we thought that Britt would struggle on his own, we sensed that the team was unprepared for the threats which Uddersfeel posed, and we couldn't see any method in the performance. The team was at its best when it threw off the shackles and just went for it. Okay, there were too many below-par individual performances to guarantee a decent team effort, but we hope that our Psycho will start learning lessons from somebody like Chis Powell, who seems to be making the absolute best of the resources at his disposal. At the moment, our management team isn't.
The Fans: Our Fans were incredible. During the last twenty minutes they produced a solid wall of noise which caused the Udders fans to stare at them as if they were mad. Best shouts of the match: when we went 3 down:We want our money back; when things went quiet: Give it to Lansbury; when Mince drove it into the side netting: Let's pretend we scored a goal.
The Future: We've been too hard, we know we have. Ratings like these always end up emphasising the negative. The truth is that we're not very far off being a winning team. There were times during the Udders match where Forest were completely dominant, and we forged as many, if not more, chances than our opponents. They made the most of theirs, we made the least of ours. We need to get more confident, of course, but the gap between us being average and being good shouldn't be exaggerated. We're only a third of the way through this bloody marathon, after all.



GAME 16. NOVEMBER 5, 2014
CITY GROUND
FOREST 1 BENTFORD 3

Round and round and round we go
Sometimes fast and sometimes slow
Always heading you-know-where
But never ever getting there...

That little lemmings rhyme was never meant to be a joke. Forest have been going in circles for years, cycling through players and managers like an industrial macerator, ending up with little more than a finely blended stew of disappointment. During this time, we've tried all sorts of managers, from the wannabes to the has-beens to the bat-crap crazy. We never seem to settle for everyday competence.

Now, you might say, we appear to be cocking it up again. In Stuart Pearce, you might say, we have once more abandoned everyday competence and gone for the extravagantly romantic gamble. You might say it's not working.

It didn't work last night because, you might say, the team selection smacked of experimentation (or panic) when it should have smacked of attacking intent. The line-up sent a clear signal to the opposition that Forest's game plan was founded entirely on the need to shore up a rattled defence. It was like blood in the water, and the unlikely sharks of Bentford had enough everyday competence to feed on our anxiety.

It didn't work because, you might say, Forest didn't appear to have a method, or if there was a method, the Forest players didn't appear to know what it was. In those early days of the season, Forest fans were saying Just imagine how brilliant this team will be when the players start to gel. Well, they've not so much gelled as separated like badly cooked sauce. Bentford, with their simple method of short passing across and through midfield, showed us what gelling was all about.

We could go on, but to be honest we haven't got the heart. Forest may have killed themselves with individual mistakes and frustratingly below-par performances, but they played with guts and intent for the last part of the match, Antonio's goal was a stunner, and the crowd chanted its support for Stuart Pearce. The team is a long way from dead, and Psycho is (or should be) a long way from getting the sack. But the great cycle of underachievement has got to be broken sooner rather than later, and it's Psycho's job to convince his players that he has the everyday competence to break it.

To say that patience is needed is a statement of the bleeding obvious, but we sincerely hope the wise words of Old Uncle Boff don't prove to be true:

Things will undoubtedly get worse before they become really bad.



GAME 17. NOVEMBER 8, 2014
CITY GROUND
FOREST 2 NORRIDGE 1
IT FEELS LIKE A WIN

Six minutes to go, and Forest are going to lose again. Four defeats in a row. Five defeats in the last six games. No wins in the last ten games.

It started brightly enough, what with Tom Mince curling a beauty just over the bar and Antonio scaring the crap out of Martin, but against the run of play, Howson scored. It was yet another Forest gift. Norridge piddled around with the ball until it reached Howson, who strolled into the area, left Lascelles sprawling, and shot through Darlo's blind spot. What a sickener that was. It certainly knocked Forest sideways for a while. Despite the heroic efforts of Osborn and a scratchy effort or two from the home side, Norridge outnumbered them in midfield, bamboozled them with short passing and good movement, and should have gone two up when Grabban was allowed a free header which skimmed wide.

Norridge's dominance faded, as all things fade. Towards the end of the half, another neat pass from Osborn found Assombalonga, whose progress was brutally cut short by Tettey. Assombalonga's free kick, one of those stabbed efforts he seems to favour, flew just over the bar. A Hunt cross found Fryatt or Antonio, but a weak effort bounced into the arms of the goalkeeper.

The second half was better. Forest came out with more purpose, and though the game became stretched and Norridge muffed a couple of chances, Forest were beginning to look more threatening. Something else happened too. The crowd began to influence the game. The noise level went up a notch, and another. "We're all in it together" suddenly didn't seem like a meaningless cliche any more. The surge of defiant enthusiasm spread through the crowd and flooded onto the pitch. Norridge's confidence dribbled away into fouling and time-wasting.

Stuart Pearce then actually did let slip the dogs of war, bringing on Lansbury and Paterson and going three at the back. Lansbury seemed to have a point to prove, probing well in attack and defending well when Norridge threatened. Despite a few Norridge breaks, Forest were now pushing hard, backed by a rising storm of support from the stands.

But to no avail. Five or six minutes to go, and all Forest's efforts have come to nothing. When the Gods do not favour you, nothing, not pressure nor determination nor the will of the people, can change your destiny. All you can do is rage against the night.

All you can do is watch as Forest balloon a speculative ball down Norridge's left where it is retrieved by Fryatt, who displays a remarkable degree of skill and composure to glide past a couple of defenders and deliver the ball to Assombalonga, who scores with that stab of the right foot he favours. It is not a scuff, it is the best goal ever scored. Twenty thousand people think so. The place has gone mental. People appear to be fighting each other.

Norridge react by making a terrible mistake. They come forward. They win themselves a corner. The corner is headed clear, and finds Paterson, who escapes the clumsy attentions of a Norridge defender to send Assombalonga clear. Assombalonga cuts back onto the right foot he favours, but the chance is lost. The noise now is nudging towards seismic.

Norridge come close again, but thanks to the defensive efforts of Lansbury, are limited to another corner. The corner is headed away by Assombalonga, and finds Paterson. Paterson seems to hesitate, but what he's really doing is affording Assombalonga the time to surge up the left wing. Paterson then delivers the ball to Assombalonga with the best long-distance cross-field pass in the history of the world. Meanwhile, Antonio is charging down the right, and Assombalonga sees him. With that right foot stab he favours, Assombalonga drills the ball to Antonio with the best cross-field pass in the history of the world, and Antonio pushes it forward, steadies himself, shoots, and scores.

The roar is not so much a roar as a crack of thunder. The great man has won us the game. San Antonio dei Miracoli. Saint Antony of the Miracles.

I don't know what any of this means. I don't know whether we'll kick on or fade. What I do know is that we have somehow re-found the alchemy of those early matches, and it feels special. Somebody shouts "It feels like a win", and we all laugh, make our noisy way home, and have jam for tea.



GAME 18. NOVEMBER 22, 2014
MOULINEX
WONDERBRAS 0 FOREST 3

Reporting becomes a serious problem when a performance is so good it's difficult to pick out the best bits, so apologies if this sounds a bit random.

I think we could have seen something very special. For the first time this season we saw a properly effective team performance, where the individual parts were not only at their best but demonstrated an appreciation of each others' abilities and contribution. Partnerships developed, understandings blossomed, potential was fulfilled. As Hannibal Smith once said, I love it when a plan comes together.

There were reasons for hesitation, of course. The Manciennes/Lascelles partnership is definitely a work in progress, Darlo still does some daft things, and Wolves were distinctly average, but to dwell on these things would be churlish. Such doubts were rendered irrelevant by the crushing weight of victory.

The specialness came in the second half. The first half was oddly frustrating, mainly because Forest's threat was so palpable - Antonio's fearsome blast, Lansbury's wicked shot tipped onto the post, Fryatt's shot deflected for a corner. The potential was there, the players were moving forward with confidence, but there was always the nagging worry that Wolves might scab a goal.

In the second half, the potential crystallised into three goals, two of which were surgical. That was where the specialness came in - the composure of the build up play, the clean simplicity of the finishes. This was not the Forest which relied on rampaging runs and individual brilliance, but a settled, confident outfit in which players were reading each other's intentions and trusting each other's skill. After increasing pressure and a few more near things, Forest's first goal was like something from a fantasy training ground routine. Fryatt held the ball up deep down Wolves' right side, used Antonio as a decoy to free himself some room, looked up, played it back to Fox and made himself available for Fox's precise return pass. Fryatt to Antonio wide left, Antonio back infield to Fryatt, who spun and made a simple pass to Lansbury. Lansbury darted a pass towards Antonio, whose deft back flick found Fryatt, who had by now found space behind the Wolves' defence. Fryatt measured a perfect ball to Assombalonga who sidefooted it home. It was such a perfectly controlled piece of play combined with such intelligent movement that the Wolves defenders never came to grips with what was happening. They were probably a bit dizzy.

Fryatt's contribution was immense. How anyone could ever criticise this bloke's importance to the team is beyond us. Stress, a long time doubter, apologised later, and cheered along with the rest as the second goal, an oddly crafted header from Fryatt, looped into the goal. The third goal had me apologising to Stress for ever doubting young Osborn. The nipper pinged a ball out wide to Antonio (not the first time the two had combined). Antonio brought it under immediate control and side footed it towards the penalty spot, where something remarkable happened. With an almost telepathic understanding, two Forest players (Assombalonga and Burke?) crossed paths and dummied the ball, allowing it to reach Lansbury, who steered it home with spectacular ease. I don't think I've ever seen a move like it - what do you call it, a switch dummy?

Whatever you call it, it was a sumptuous piece of football from players who were so confident by now they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. We even felt a bit sorry for Wolves. But only a bit. Forest tortured them for a while longer and could have had a couple more, but three was enough.

So I think what we saw was special, not only in the performance, but in what the performance represented - the promise that this team really is gelling, really is finding its method. The least that can be said is that the players have set themselves a standard, and that standard is very high indeed.



GAME 19. NOVEMBER 29, 2014
ST ANDROIDS
BOREMINGHAM 2 FOREST 1

So what's biting your bum then, Pie?

I'll tell you what's biting my bum, Stress. I'm thinking of packing this in, that's what. Not the website, you understand, but there must be more profitable things to write about than Forest, or even football, these days.

Fungal nail infections might be a promising area of study.

You may scoff, Stress, but at least you know where you stand with fungal nail infections. Writing about Forest is a bit like trying to find your way out of Ikea.

I don't understand, Pie.

You rarely do, Stress. What I mean is, look at this match. It wasn't so much that Forest played poorly, or that lunatic series of events which led to the defeat, it was more the utterly inexplicable nature of the performance after two uplifting victories. All that talk about "Forest finding the right midfield duo in Lansbury and Osborn", "Keeping the momentum going", "Forest finding the right method", "Forest will ensure the rest of the Championship start to fear them again..." just dribbled away like a tramp taking a leak in a back alley. Words, whether they be in previews or post match reactions, make fools of us all sometimes.

You're not wrong, Pie. Why, I've known many a word which promises the earth but disappoints when push comes to shovel.

Shove.

Exactly, Pie.

So here and now, we have to accept certain things. We have to accept that the consistency we were looking for, and thought we'd found, isn't really there at all. Against sides who allow us to play, we'll play. Against sides who press, work hard and are reasonably confident and organised, we'll struggle. This means that nothing can be taken for granted in any game, and the season will probably continue its madcap progress till the very end, with Forest behaving like some flashy Alpha Romeo which can burn off police cars but just as easily break down in the drive.

I feel your pain, Pie.

It's not just Forest, of course, who are so infuriatingly unpredictable. The whole of the Championship is mired in fitfulness. Teams which seemed doomed suddenly find bursts of form, teams which seemed set fair suddenly or gradually fall to pieces. While Forest were labouring against Boremingham, Bournemouth...

Bournmuff. The Muffs.

...were throwing away a two goal lead against Holloway's Millwall...

Hologram's Mewo.

...the Sheep's ticky-tacky football was being brutally exposed against the chaotic Leeds.

Leed.

Teams with good players and high ambition - Norwich, Wigan, Watford -

Norridge, Wiggum, Watfor?

could be heading into trouble. Teams who nobody has heard of, like Ipswich and Brentford, are one point off the top.

Dipswitch and Bentford. Whoever would have thought it, eh?

Exactly, Stress. None of it makes sense. None of it is predictable. Every team is as bad as every other. All the referees are crap. All the previews are crap. All the post match reactions are crap. Everything's crap.

Have you tried e-cigarettes?

What?

E-cigarettes. If you tried e-cigarettes you might see things in a different light. E-cigarettes would convince you that Forest, even though they didn't play well against a resurgent Boremingham, only just lost, and that in unfortunate circumstances. They even came within a whisker of equalising. They ended the match stronger, and fought hard till the end. E-cigarettes might persuade you to embrace the absurdity of football rather than rail against it.

Do you really think so?

Of course I do. At least they would put you in a better bloody mood.

So if I start using e-cigarettes, will we beat Charleston?

Of course we will. As long as you don't buy the ones that blow up. Some of them blow up. But third degree burns is a risk worth taking for peace of mind, wouldn't you say?

I hear your words, Stress, and they are wise words. E-cigarettes - ensuring Forest's success.

Huzzah!



GAME 20. DECEMBER 6, 2014
CITY GROUND
FOREST 1 CHARLESTON 1

We were unlucky not to win that. Nothing, not even the facts, will ever convince us otherwise. We refuse to moan about the first half, in which we badly missed a midfield leader, allowed Charleston to cut through us too easily, lacked an attacking focus, and generally played without style or energy. We simply put these things down to missing Britt and Hobbs and Reidy and Vaughan, and Lansbury needing a severe talking to with the back of somebody's hand.

We prefer to concentrate on the positives. Nothing will ever convince us that Charleston's goal wasn't a fluke, a speculative shot which skewed off Mancienne and skidded into the only place in the world Darlo couldn't reach it. Nothing will ever convince us that most pub players couldn't have scored the goal that Mince missed. Nothing will ever convince us that Paterson shouldn't have been awarded a penalty - not only was he tugged back but his shooting foot was either blocked or dragged away by the Charleston defender. And nothing will ever convince us that Tesche's goal wasn't the most sublime combination of skill and brute power you'll see this side of Christmas.

We didn't play well. We probably won't play consistently well until we get the midfield sorted, or Stuart Pearce gets all the available players properly organised and motivated to play to their potential at the same time, or the Met Office finally admit they are solely responsible for climate change, or the planets align and force the earth's core through its own anus. But to constantly moan about things seems, well, rather pointless. It also seems out of phase with the mood at the City Ground, which was magnificently supportive in the second half.

In short, there are far more things to moan about than Forest's form, even though it does resemble a car trying to go in several directions at once - a disconcerting but not altogether unamusing experience. And anyway, Forest seem to have spent so much time fighting back in games, who's to say that's not the way the whole season will pan out? You never know. A glorious second half surge from mid table is not outside the bounds of possibility. Is it?

Anything is possible. The only constant, as Old Uncle Boff used to say, is that "The weather's always worse in Leicester", and nothing will ever convince us otherwise.



GAME 21. DECEMBER 13, 2014
NEW YORK
ROTHERINGHAM 0 FOREST 0

So what about that then, eh, Stress?

Lost the will to live, Pie.

Everybody loses the will to live in Rotheringham, Stress. It's one of the things you learn as you grow older.

That's no consolation, Pie. It finally dawned on me during the match that Stuart Pearce is probably the worst manager in the world. Whatever there was to get wrong, he got wrong. Failing to pick Fryatt was the worst mistake, almost as bad as sidelining Vaughan which was even worse, but nowhere near as bad as failing to find a decent midfield combination or, what was worst of all, failing to develop a consistent style of play.

Oh come now Stress, it wasn't that bad, was it?

It was worse. It was the worst match in the history of the world. Not one shot on target. Not one pass completed. Not one player fighting for the shirt. Not a single sign of cohesion or progress on the pitch. Fans tearing up their tickets, fighting over food, hanging strangers from lampposts. It was a nightmare.

I sense a degree of exaggeration here, Stress.

It was like watching cattle fight in a storm drain. It was like being trapped in a fridge watching your sausage harden.

No need for that kind of talk, Stress.

I was reduced to tears, Pie. A grown man reduced to tears. I wept incontinently for hours, wept for humanity itself, Pie. I cursed Rotheringham and their Fat Controller, cursed the gods of football, cursed the fate that had cast me to earth as a Forest supporter. "O my club, why hast thou forsaken me?" I cried to the heavens, but the heavens didn't answer.

Perhaps they were busy. There's a lot of stuff going on, you know.

Which is why I had to kill myself.

You killed yourself?

There was no alternative, Pie. My heart had been ripped out, my hopes and dreams crushed beneath the hoofs of inaqueduct management. What else could I do, as the Guardian of the Club's Soul?

Well, you could have not killed yourself, I suppose.

That may have satisfied you, Pie, with your hopes simmering in the tepid stew of patient expectoration, but for me, only the ultimate sacrifice could express my despair.

Expectoration is spit, by the way, which I know seems a little off the point, but I've always thought it important to get the words right, especially when delivering a message of such biblical stupidity, don't you?

What?

I was just wondering how you killed yourself, that's all.

I forget now, but the method of self-illumination is surely an elephant beside the grand significance of the gesture itself.

Whatever. It all seems a bit embarrassing, though.

What's that then, Pie?

Well, killing yourself after a nil-nil draw which moves us up a place. It seems a bit self-indulgent to me. In fact, it strikes me that there's really no point talking to you, Stress.

Why is that then, Pie?

Because you're dead, mainly. There's really no point talking to you because you're dead.

Just because I'm dead doesn't mean I can't have an opinion, Pie.

Oh dear, you've not really thought this through, have you?

I'm sure I don't know from what you're inferring to.

What was that?

I said I'm not sure -

Odd that. I could have sworn I heard a noise, but no - just a toilet flushing somewhere in the vast pomegranate of time, as Stress would say. Ah well, on to Leed, in the sure and certain hope that things will get better. They will get better, you know.

Don't count on it.

There goes that toilet again.



GAME 21. DECEMBER 20, 2014
CITY GROUND
FOREST 1 LEED 1

Endless apologies to our billions of readers, but I missed this one, me and Missis Pie having spent the week in northern Holland with son number one. The only information I got from Stress was a text saying "Not seen Forest play this badly since Megson", but since Stress generally reacts with suicidal dudgeon to everything Forest do these days, I took his views with a pinch of salt, and lo and behold, having read the various reports and seen the extended highlights, I concluded that Forest, though playing nowhere near as fluently as we would hope, were in no way Megsonesque, and should indeed have won three one. If we had won three one, things would have been received with greater charity all round. Despite what the deep-thinkers say, it really is the result that matters.

Still, I learnt a few more things about Holland. The people seem very tall, but this is only because the land, which is extraordinarily flat, gives them an unwarranted sense of verticality. I also learnt that they put vanilla sticks in everything, including the sugar pot. I learnt that their government is near collapse, and that they had voted Arjen Robben their player of the year and Louis van Gaal their manager of the year, neither of which plies his trade in Holland. Oh, and you get free snacks on KLM which give you toothache.

It's a funny old world, isn't it, but it does go on and it'll soon be Christmas. Missis Pie bought me a mini-drone (which makes her an angel), but as it can only be flown in still, clear conditions, I'll probably have to wait until June to launch it.

Do have a happy Christmas, and don't let the football, or the suicidalists, get you down. Everything will be all right in the end.



GAME 23. DECEMBER 26, 2014
RIVERSIDE
MISERABLEBUGGER 3 FOREST 0

GAME 24. DECEMBER 28, 2014
CITY GROUND
FOREST 1 BOREMINGHAM 3

The Miserablebugger report has gone, I'm afraid - lost in a fog of toothache and alcoholic melancholy so thick you could strangle a cat with it, if you wanted to. Gone and lost for ever, like the brain cells that died trying to erase it. The only evidence that the match ever happened is the occasional taste of burnt filling.

So, to the Boremingham match. I remember saying at the end of Boremingham's fluky win at St Androids that I looked forward to seeing them tested at the City Ground. This was supposed to be the match in which Forest redeemed themselves, retrieved a few wheels and gave everybody a cheery-ish end to the year.

But oh dear, it was not to be. Instead, the footballing gods seemed to have saved up their entire stock of spiteful absurdity for this one occasion. I say absurdity because Forest seemed to be doing okay and, despite some alarming Boremingham breaks through our over-committed midfield, they seemed to have got a slightly aimless control of the game. And then quite suddenly the absurdity kicked in. A lazy foul by Lansbury gave Cotterill an opportunity to whip in a free kick - I say "whip" - it was more of a schoolyard bobble which somehow squirmed its way through a cluttered penalty area into the net. It was a stupid, unaccountable goal. And then Cotterill did it again from a similar position - another wretched poke, another squirm through the crowd, and some Boremingham forward getting an unnecessary touch. It seemed entirely unfair, as if every Cotterill touch, however crappy, was imbued with some fluky magic which cheated its way goalwards. The third goal was equally absurd - a shot quite easily batted away by Darlo which bounced off the chest of a bemused Forest defender into the path of their forward. Nobody could quite believe this, not even the Boremingham players. When your luck's in, it's in. When your luck's out, it's gone for good.

I know - it's not quite as simple as that. Luck is only a by-product of confidence and organisation, after all. Forest's bad luck, you could argue, came as a result of defensive nervousness, lack of defensive commitment, lack of leadership and organisation. The shooters should never have been given such easy opportunities to shoot. Forest's defense was numerous but too tentative to address the immediate threat. Too many cooks. There were only vague attempts at targeted marking. Absurdity is only absurd if you allow it to be. Having said that, my good friend's reference to Boremingham as "jammy wankers" has the merit of brevity.

The luck which had benefitted Boremingham steadfastly refused to rescue the home side at any stage of the match. Boremingham never produced anything as good as Britt's turn and cross, Lansbury's drive which pinged in every direction except the goal, Tesche's shot which nearly uprooted the goalposts, Lansbury's volley which caused the kind of mayhem Boremingham would have scored from, Paterson's shot into the side netting, Britt's consolation goal which was the best, and only "proper", goal of the match. Apart from that goal, nothing went for Forest. Not even, surprisingly, the referee.

There's a local shopkeeper who always says to me "What's gone wrong with your lot?" What am I to say to such people? "If you've got an hour or two I could detail every piece of bad judgment and misfortune which has derailed us over recent times, but you don't want that do you because you don't really give a crap." So I mutter something about Stuart Pearce finding life difficult, because it's the easiest and shallowest thing to say. Stress has more or less made up his mind - he wants Pearce gone. I want him to succeed, but I also want him to stop saying things like "Man up", because that just sounds like something from The Manager's Handbook so beloved of Mister Plott. I really don't like the way he keeps distancing himself from the players by harping on about their nervousness. He should be concentrating on restoring their confidence, instilling in them a coherent and recognisable way of playing, inspiring them with the force of his personality, and taking full responsibility for performances and results. That's what managers do. That's what I want Stuart Pearce to do. I suppose I want him to be given the chance to show he can learn to do it.



GAME 25. JANUARY 10, 2015
CITY GROUND
FOREST 0 WENDIES 2

We seem to be playing out some weird twenty first century version of a classical tragedy here - you know, the one where the hero, blinded by pride or hubris, refuses to acknowledge his own flaws, and stubbornly drives on to a catastrophic end. The unfolding drama is accompanied by the heavy tread of inevitability - there is nothing anyone can do to change the hero's fate - certainly not the hero himself, whose bad choices simply accelerate the tragic process. The Gods are wearing their heavy boots, and they're on their way. All we're waiting for now is catharsis, that sense of blessed release and acceptance that comes when the tragedy is over.

That's what it seems like. In the match itself, even when Forest got on top in the first half, there was no discernible pattern to their play, no properly rehearsed moves, no focus. It was all a bit off-the-cuff, like the latest in a long line of experiments based on little more than hopeful endeavour. Against a mediocre but properly organised Wendies side, Forest laboured manfully but to very little effect. Wendies first goal was a stabbing reminder of Forest's organisational weakness, as Vaughan was somehow left completely isolated at left back, misjudged a crossfield ball, allowed May to cross to an unmarked Nuhiu, and the ball ended up being bundled home by somebody I neither know nor care about.

The second half doesn't bear thinking about. All I can remember is that whatever organisation there had been in the Forest side disintegrated to the point where Wendies could have scored a hatful of goals. Forest were, quite literally, all over the place, but rarely in the place they should have been. The lack of confidence and purpose was frightening. As far as I could see, good players just seemed desperately lost. The longer the match went on, the stronger grew that terrible sense of muddled, inevitable defeat.

And that's what our hero Stuart Pearce is now dragging along with him, that terrible sense of the inevitability of decline. It's made all the worse by the fans' emotional attachment to the great man, because however defiantly we cheer him, this kind of tragedy has little room for romance. Whatever our heart says, the Gods have got their heavy boots on, and they are stomping their way towards Derby.



GAME 26. JANUARY 17, 2015
I PRO
SHEEP 1 FOREST 2

FAQ
(Your questions answered by men who have seen more hot dinners than your little finger.)

We have friends who are Derby supporters. This isn't going to be silly, is it?

Rest assured that these answers will be scrupulously impartial. We cannot guarantee their interpretation, however, which may well be biased.

Okay. Did Derby dominate the first half?

It depends what you mean by "dominate". If you mean the Sheep had more possession, well of course they did, because that's what you would expect with them being at home and top of the league and all that. But this so called domination was wholly illusory, because it carried little real threat. We are of the opinion that this season the Sheep have thrived on a diet of loans, flukes and good fortune, and their threat in the first half was entirely dependent on a weak referee, a lot of gamesmanship, a few long range efforts, some alarming deflections, and the most fortunate of own goals. This was the game in which the Emperor realised he was wearing nothing at all, and the world was sniggering at him.

Did Hughes' absence in the second half change the game?

A bit, perhaps, but not significantly. We are of the opinion that Hughes is a seriously overrated player - a pretty sight when given enough room to play his mimsy-wee football, but, sadly, having the competitive edge of a dandelion clock. If his absence made that much difference, then the Sheep have got real problems. They would have been in trouble anyway, because with Tesche pushing on, Lansbury sitting, and Forest generally turning up the pressure, Hughes would have been blown away like ... a dandelion clock.

So why did things change in the second half?

There's been talk of a formation switch which seemed to make us more secure, but the biggest difference was one of intensity. The process had already started after that first goal, when no heads dropped and the Forest defence stood firm and brave. Buoyed by this defiance, and also the knowledge that the Sheep's main weapon was a lazy sod with a fatally impaired sense of balance, Forest came out in the second half with, it seemed to us, a greater belief, as if they had finally decided to shuffle off all the rotten muddled misfortune of previous months, break through the mire of low-confidence, and come out clean on the other side. Similarly, Stuart Pearce's reaction to the goals was nothing to do with losing his job, but more the release of emotion after weeks and weeks of frustration.
With greater belief came greater confidence, better passing, and a power which the Sheep couldn't match.
It must also be said that the Sheep contributed to their own downfall. Once their pitty patty football failed them and they lost control of midfield, the cracks in their defence opened wide. Osborn swung over a free kick which was glanced on by Tesche - a simple move which reduced the Sheep defence to bleating panic. The ever-reliable Keyhole relived his disastrous QPR moment and the ball fell to Assombalonga who, despite being groped by the thug Buxom, managed to stab the ball home. For Forest's second goal, an over-committed Sheep defence puffed vainly to retrieve the situation as Forest drove forward and, as the ever-reliable Keyhole tackled a ghost, Osborn bulleted the ball past Grant.

Did the result save Pearce's job?

The press would like you to believe that for obvious reasons, but it genuinely never felt like that, not even when Forest went behind. If we had lost heavily, Fawaz's trigger finger might have got itchy, but even then we prefer to think that Fawaz has learnt a few lessons about loyalty along the way.

What did you learn from the match?

We learnt that the Sheep are very sore losers, and we know that being sore losers is a sign of insecurity ... that Stuart Pearce is not the best manager in the world, but far better than spiteful ex-players give him credit for ... that Osborn and Tesche have slowly emerged as increasingly influential members of the team ... that Hobbs and Wilson can provide the leadership that the team has been missing ... but most of all, given the right platform, that Forest can release a blood-tide of power strong enough to overwhelm anybody in this division, which leads to the question...

Can this be a springboard to future success?

...to which we have no answer. If they can carry their cohesion and determination into the next matches, there is no reason why not. But we're too aware of the vagaries of this stupid, beautiful game to predict anything. We're just satisfied to remember all those sights and sounds of a wonderful experience, and especially that last attack, as Osborn surged forward with his two wing-men and took it upon himself to blast home his first Forest goal. After that, the world went miraculously mad.



GAME 27. JANUARY 21, 2015
COTTAGE
COTTAGERS 3 FOREST 2

Don't bother to mark anybody. Leave McCormack to his Hollywood stuff and Rodallega to his fancy dan flicks. Just let them waltz around like the flash Harrys they are and after half an hour their legs will turn to jelly and they'll have had enough. After that we can tear into them and finish them off.

Perhaps the players had been given slightly clearer instructions, like "You mark him" or "You - don't give him an inch" or "You - stop him breathing", but something obviously got badly mistranslated somewhere, because the fancy dan stuff produced three goals in that first half hour, which was most definitely not in the script.

The rest of it went to plan. The Cottagers did start to fold after half an hour or so, and soon Forest were after them. Henri's beautifully taken free kick near the end of the first half put the skids under them, and in the second half Forest played like the home side and the Cottagers played like evaporated milk. A second for Henri raised hopes of a draw, but even though the effort was there and the chances came, in the end Forest had given themselves too much to do.

So, another defeat. But not quite like other defeats. At the end of this one we were not left suicidally downhearted (not all of us anyway) but rather oddly proud that we had fought so well to come back from a rotten start and give the home fans a serious case of the squirts. It was a good enough performance to suggest that there is still a lot left in Forest's tank.

There are problems, of course. Slow starts, a defensive midfield that doesn't do its job properly, a suspicion that the management team doesn't properly analyse the opposition and drill players in their individual responsibilities, but these problems aren't insurmountable, nor are they serious enough to justify some of the extraordinary criticism levelled at management and team from people whose vocabulary rarely stretches beyond the word "sh*t".

In short, we are not over concerned. There are far more important things to worry about, like why Cameron looks more and more like a pickled egg or why UKIP candidates look a couple of drinks away from psychiatric intervention or why aerosol lids never bloody fit properly or why the media have turned football into the most tedious of soap operas or why there has been a suspicious increase in the amount of wind since wind turbines were invented or why three different reps for the same double-glazing company knock on your door in the same week and seem upset when your reply to "Are you having a good day?" is "I was until you turned up" or why it takes all afternoon to program a universal remote or why "vaping" sounds more like an act of abomination than sucking a plastic tube.

As Old Uncle Boff used to say: "The world is full of problems. The most important thing is to choose the right ones."



GAME 28. JANUARY 31, 2015
CITY GROUND
FOREST 0 MEWO 1

THE MATCH

We prepared a match report, a miserable document highlighting a lack of vision and method, doubts about what these players actually worked on in training, and a general moan about the learning process having gone into reverse. We referred to our own Reading report, where we ascribed Forest's early success to Alchemy, "Chemistry's bastard and lunatic older brother, which promises to turn base metals into gold by the process of Happy Accident". And we brought this view up to date by reminding ourselves that Alchemy is based entirely on false principles, or no principles at all. And then we learned that Stuart Pearce had been relieved of his duties.

STUART PEARCE

How did we feel about this? To be thoroughly honest, we felt relieved. I suppose I (not Stress) could have thrown some kind of strop, waving the words loyalty and stability around like some battle torn flag, but loyalty and stability are a poor defence in the face of obvious and inevitable decline. We feel sad it didn't work out, but not particularly guilty or angry at his going. Stuart Pearce will survive very well thank you, both in his own life and in our memories.

DOUGIE FREEDMAN

And once more, we have conflict, Stress and I. Stress says he's had it with Forest, assuming, I suppose, that Freedman is the worst of all possible worlds. I counter this by saying that at least he tries to get his teams playing proper football. We suspect this split will be echoed throughout Forestland, and remind ourselves that though everyone has a right to their opinions, ninety per cent of these opinions will be proved wrong. Only time will tell. Worryingly, though, Mister Fawaz has never hidden his desire for promotion, or at least progress towards it, so Dougie will have to reverse the decline at least before the end of the season if he is to survive more than eighteen games.



GAME 29. FEBRUARY 7, 2015
AMEX
HOVE 2 FOREST 3

PROPER GOALS

I would describe the bits in between the goals if I thought they signalled a sea change in the way Forest played, but they didn't really, so I'll just concentrate on the goals.

None of the goals were proper goals apart from one, which I'll come to later.

Hove's first goal wasn't a proper goal because it defied the laws of Physics. A free kick was swung in to an area where several bodies seemed intent on occupying the same space, a phenomenon only acceptable in the murkier reaches of quantum mechanics. The ball subsequently disappeared for a moment (which probably explains why Darlo ended up clutching at some random patch of air) and ended up in the net. God knows who scored it, but it had been coming, mainly because Forest's defence had looked fairly witless on several occasions: something Mister Dug will turn his mind to, no doubt.

The second goal, Forest's reply, came a minute or two later, and was as improper as the Hove one. Osborn floated in a free kick and Danny Collins headed the ball into the net. The reasons we don't consider this a proper goal are manifold. Firstly, Collins was surrounded by a host of Hove defenders, none of whom seemed to understand the basics of defending. Secondly, the Hove goalkeeper came half-way towards the ball before realising he was a stranded waste of space. Thirdly, Collins' header bapped off his head like a spherical fart before gently brushing the post on its way in to the unguarded net. And fourthly, it was Danny Collins, who, we have been reliably informed, no longer exists.

The third goal, Forest's second, took us back to the world of improbable science. A free kick was tapped sideways by Osborn and Henri Lansbury walloped it low and hard in the general direction of goal. The only way the ball could have reached the back of the net was by actually passing through flesh and bone, which it duly did. It was a goal as fundamentally crackers as the rest of the game was proving to be. But the real reason it wasn't a proper goal was that Lansbury celebrated by doing Kevin Nolan's stupid chicken strut, and we hate Kevin Nolan.

The last goal of the game, Hove's second, was just too stupid to be called a proper goal. Hove's substitute drifted to the near post and planted a looping header into the far side of the net: a player not marked, a net unguarded, a disorganised defence punished. Rubbish.

But there was one proper goal, and it was Forest's third. A throw in from Lichaj, a dinked header from Fryatt to Burke, a shuffle from Burke, a precise stab across the area to Osborn who swept it confidently into the net. It was a proper goal because it was sweet and simple and clean, depending not on impossible deflections or lucky breaks but on a combination of experience and intelligence - a proper footballing move which shone like a beacon through the chaotic soup of Forest's recent efforts. The match may have been an undistinguished affair, driven by the vagaries of luck and undying spirit rather than any sense of planned control, but that goal spoke volumes. It was in every sense a return to the basic principles of proper combination play delivered by players who knew what they were doing, and it smacked of confidence.

It may be a false dawn, but that goal reminded me of the proper Forest. Let's hope there's more to come.



GAME 30. FEBRUARY 11, 2015
CITY GROUND
FOREST 3 WIGGUM 0

NORMAL SERVICE
This is not just New Manager Bounce. This is waking up after a long, disturbed sleep. This is Normal Service being resumed.

The only special thing about Mister Dug is that he is a proper manager - not a Name, or an agenda-driven Character, or a Legend - just a proper footballing man who sees things clearly, plays people in the right position, defines their responsibility and holds them to it. He also coaches them properly, instigating simple tactics and simple combinations which make the most of players' strengths. There is nothing special about this - it is simply what you would expect from a proper manager.

Normal Service is being resumed. The game against Wiggum was no great test, but the signs were good. Burke was the old Burke, pinging crosses to the far post, sliding Briitt in for a proper striker's goal, finishing off Antonio's bludgeoning run with a fine goal. This is what we bought him for. Antonio was back to his threatening best on the left, and there are still goals to be scored from this quarter. Britt's appetite was back, and his goal was taken early like the confident striker he always was. Henri too reminded us of his best, surging forward, fluffing good chances before planting an unstoppable shot into the far corner. This is what we bought them for. This was Normal Service.

The whole team pressed, forced Wiggum back, forced mistakes. Once ascendancy was gained, movement and passing improved as confidence grew. Only after Britt's injury did Forest fall away, which was understandable, but even then there was no last-ditch panic.

Of course there will be harder tests than this. Poor old Wiggum looked what they are, a team in which everyone is losing interest, from the absentee owner to the stressed manager to the confused players to the shrinking band of supporters, as they appear to be cutting their losses on their way back to where they came from. But a while ago Forest would have made hard work of this fixture. Last night, thanks to a simpler, clearer vision, they did a proper job. It was not a New Manager Bounce performance, driven by a manic surge of defiant enthusiasm. It was just professional.

The play-offs are too distant - especially with Britt gone. I think Mister Dug knows that. I think he knows that his first priority is to get us safe, as soon as he can, and I think he knows how to do it.

Get well soon, Britt. Come back stronger.



GAME 31. FEBRUARY 14, 2015
BLOOMFIELD BEACH
BLACKPOO 4 FOREST 4

We've seen things you wouldn't believe...

We've seen hundreds of protesters shouting at a horse. We've queued in a long snaky line before being admitted to a temporary prison. We've seen pretend automatic turnstiles in a temporary box tended by a dozen men. We've wee'd in a temporary box where the taps dribble cold water. We've asked for hot dogs from a hot dog shed which didn't have any hot dogs. We've entered a stadium which was basically a box with compost on the floor. We've sat in a temporary stand with baby seats behind posts. We've seen seagulls circling overhead presumably looking for bits of broken player.

And we saw a football match.

Well, not so much a football match as a dark tale from the third Grimm brother, the one who tried to fix his own madness with a screwdriver. One reason for the Gothic chaos was the pitch, which resembled a curious mixture of glue and ploughed concrete. It was at once binding (injuries were inevitable), hard (the ball never settled and the high bounce led to too much head tennis and dangerously high feet), and bumpy (making a short passing game impossibly risky). You could see the effect of the pitch immediately, what with Osborn scuffing an early corner and Antonio's threat defeated by the ball's variable bounce and acceleration. Overall, Blackpoo coped with the conditions better than Forest, but then they would, having recently trained on the pitch as well as played on it.

The second reason the game was a mess was Forest's midfield and defence. The plan of playing Fryatt up front on his own didn't work at all. It reminded us of his performance for Hull in that cup final, where he was willing but ineffective. It might have worked had the midfield got forward and supported him, but they were unwilling to do so, probably because of the game plan to keep it tight until the later stages. But that didn't work either, because even before Hobb's injury the midfield had gone into dopey mode, only closing down Blackpoo's attackers in response to screams from the crowd. And when Hobbs was injured, (pitch), the central defensive pairing of Collins and Lascelles found common sense and communication eluding them.

The third reason the match went mad was that Forest finally woke up after Blackpoo's second goal. With Osborn off, there was nobody willing or able to take the ball through the middle, which was a kind of admission that a more direct approach was being adopted. This change of personnel and tactics led to the most manic sequence of events in the history of football.

Dex scored a goal as scruffy as the pitch. A header from Oliver Burke (who looked like a right footed version of Chris Waddle and played very well) found Dex, who chested it, spun, bounced a grossly mishit shot off the Blackpoo keeper, and bobbled the ball into the net. A minute or so later Antonio made a muscular nuisance of himself in the penalty area and squeezed the ball to Gardner who poked it in. The life of the temporary stand was threatened as the Forest supporters tried to bounce it to death. Blackpoo went ahead again after some idiot defending from Forest, and after some more idiot defending from Forest the ball was cleared upfield for Antonio to chase. He broke free and grappled his way into the box where he was brought down by Aldred. Whether it was really a penalty or not is a question which was blown into insignificance by the wind of lunacy which was driving the game at that point. Aldred was sent off, and we expected Henri , who had had one of his wandering-around-not-doing-very-much games, to contrive a miss, but he slotted the spot kick expertly into the corner. The Forest crowd roared, some poor devil got himself seriously injured reducing Blackpoo to nine men (eight really, as one of their forwards could barely run), and Forest went about the business of winning the game. As the bloke near us screamed unprintable abuse at Burke the Elder, up stepped the man himself to slam a shot into the back of the net. Four three, and this stupid festival of goals was over.

Except, of course, for that last ridiculous twist, where an unmarked Blackpoo substitute headed into an unguarded net - a replica of a goal scored against us by Hove, we think. Well, not the last ridiculous twist. That was Antonio's wild blast over the bar when a little composure would have won the game. If that had happened, the temporary stand would have finally exploded.

Anyway, that was finally that, and we trooped off not really knowing what to think or how to feel. We're still not sure. We know that defence needs sorting out. We know Fryatt is no good up on his own. Apart from that, everything's going swimmingly well.

As we made our way through the streets, some kid on a bike shouted "Pity Forest couldn't win." We and others thought he was being sarcastic, but it gradually dawned on us that, on this lunatic day of protest and desperation, he might just have meant what he said. We're not sure. We're not really sure of anything, any more.



GAME 32. FEBRUARY 21, 2015
CITY GROUND
FOREST 4 BOLN 1

We were worried about this one, probably because we had listened to the hype about Boln's resurgence under Neil Lennon, seen this confirmed by his appearance on some television football panel, and been swayed by the anti-Dougie vitriol on Boln forums. We were probably still a bit nervous after the Blackpoo game. Whatever the reason, we thought this match was going to be the biggest test of Mister Dug's stewardship.

What we got, of course, was the most one sided box of delights you could imagine. The only argument remaining at five o'clock was how much credit Forest deserved for their victory over a remarkably bad side.

It gives us no pleasure to say this, but they were bad - really bad. You could see how bad they were after a few minutes when they gave the ball away and had to concede a free kick, or a few minutes later when Lichaj's long ball was perfectly laid off by Antonio to Osborn, whose cross almost ended with a Lansbury goal. Or on eight minutes, when Lansbury's swinging crossfield ball completely bamboozled their left back to let Chris Burke in for the opening goal. Or on seventeen minutes, when their entire defence was blown flat like cheap fence panels by the force of Antonio's surging run and shot.

They were so bad that not even a soft penalty could raise their spirits nor dampen Forest's attacking intent. A decent side would have used that goal as a springboard to greater commitment, but instead Mills (and it gives us no pleasure to say this) got himself sent off for being, basically, stupid; Moxey played a suicidal back pass to the unfortunate Lonergan who conceded a penalty; and Heskey and Dervite did a fair imitation of elephants on ice to allow Burke to complete the scoring. By now Neil Lennon had stopped strutting around like a set of over-inflated tyres and slumped to the bench, sadly aware that media hype means very little when your product isn't fit for purpose.

So how good were Forest, really? Well, they were very good. Their appetite for attack would have overwhelmed better sides. Their movement with and without the ball was all you could ask for. The variety of their play, from short, accurate passes to probing long balls, gave them a host of attacking options. The best thing was that the players were always looking forward, always primed to attack, confident in their own ability to punish the opposition. It is as if somebody has simplified the game and set them free.

Credit to all of them, but we remain cautious. After such a thumping win it may sound almost churlish to say that safety is our prime concern, but that's the way it is at the moment. Six more points will do it, then we can really relax. And let's say it now - we don't expect to beat the Muffs. They are a very good side, highly praised in the media, with a manager who, like Lennon, probably has flies in his eyes.

It gives us no pleasure to say this, but we think this match is going to be the biggest test of Mister Dug's stewardship.

Again.



GAME 33. FEBRUARY 25, 2015
CITY GROUND
FOREST 2 BORMUFF 1

We don't like the way the Muffs play. In case you think we're just being envious, you should be made aware that we've always detested the slick, possession football so admired by the so called "purists". Not because it can end up being sterile and predictable, which it can, but because by its very nature it insults the opposition. It is designed to make them feel inferior, to feel that they have no part to play in the match, that they should simply lie down and suffer humiliation at the hands of their technically superior masters. It brings with it a smug sense of entitlement. It is usually described as "slick" and "neat", which always puts us in mind of a brylcreemed pimp.

After fifteen minutes of Muff's oily football, however, it seemed to be working. Forest were asleep, failing to mark up from short corners, allowing Surman space to glide in a sweet goal, being besieged in their own area and, generally, not getting a kick. It looked for all the world as if Mister Dug's team were heading for their first defeat, and it was going to be a bad one.

And then Forest woke up. It was as if they had felt the sting of the bully's slap, and decided to do something about it. They stood up, said something like "Sod this for a game of soldiers", and slapped back. Gradually, the Muff's swaggering sense of superiority was disrupted, and Forest counter attacked. The key word is attacked, because somebody at the club has realised that Forest should play to their strengths, not try to copy opponents or be afraid of them. Somebody has also realised that a disciplined and resilient midfield/defence can provide a platform for the attacking players to flourish. So Forest belatedly began to execute their game plan: seal the gaps, frustrate the opposition, contain the threat, and start doing what they do best, which at the moment appears to be scoring goals.

A surging run from Lichaj (who was immense on the night) was capped with a fine cross to Dex, who controlled it, slipped it off to Antonio, and watched his team mate scuff his shot. It may have been a weak effort, but the move lifted the crowd, and illustrated Forest's threat. An Osborn corner found Lascelles, whose header was poorly cleared and led to another corner. This time, Osborn's kick reached Lascelles via some nuisance work from Dex, and the defender drilled it home. From their first bit of sustained pressure, Forest had scored. They had knocked the swaggering bully flat on his back.

Despite the Muffs having something like seventy per cent possession, it became clear as the half wore on that Forest posed the greater threat. A lovely move between Burke and Antonio led to a chance for Lansbury which he almost converted. A misplaced pass allowed Osborn to intercept and release Antonio, whose shot stung the goalkeeper's hands. And a foul on Antonio resulted in Lansbury's free kick spearing beyond Boric's reach to make it 2-1. The swaggering bully was by now wiping the blood from his nose.

Stress had pointed out that there would be more goals in the second half, "because the Muffs were good and both sides were going for it". Anyone would have said the same, to be honest, but it wasn't to be. Despite all their possession, the Muffs could not adapt to the circumstances. They still tried to play brylcreemy football, still ended up playing over five hundred passes, but their penetrative exploits of the first fifteen minutes were a distant memory now, and they didn't seem to understand that Forest had sussed them out. Forest's discipline and concentration grew to formidable proportions, the Muffs got increasingly tetchy, their formation became too stretched, and Forest ended up having more chances, from Lansbury, Lascelles and Osborn. After some substitutions for exhausted players, the game ended with some joyfully comic time wasting.

This was no case of daylight robbery. Forest deserved to win because despite the possession statistics they played the more intelligent football. Eddie Howe would never admit that, but that may be why his side is beginning to stutter. "How we have not picked up any points against Forest this season, I just don’t know," he said. "We owe them one now.” Which to us indicates the smug sense of entitlement exhibited by his team. Arrogance is an unpleasant trait at the best of times, but especially so when it's just had its nose bloodied.



GAME 34. FEBRUARY 28, 2015
MADEJSKI
READING LADIES 0 FOREST 3

This is now getting seriously strange. The "being safe" bit isn't strange: that's just rooted in the everyday logic of football. The strange bit is Forest's almost surreal progression upwards. It's like we're all living in a bubble.

Take this match, for example. There were times towards the end of the first half when Reading Ladies put us under severe pressure, and yet it didn't seem surprising that we didn't concede. It was as if we were being protected by a very resilient bubble, one forged from thorough defensive training, the opposition's lack of conviction, and the growing certainty that, even if the opposition were to score, Forest would score more.

And one more thing: adaptability. Two more things: adaptability and the manager's tactical nous. In the second half, Burke came on for the disappointing Paterson, Forest pushed up to deny the opposition space, and everything changed. From lying too deep and lacking outlets, Forest began to impose their attacking power on a very brittle side. It really is about the attack with Forest. The purpose of the defence is only partly to defend; just as important is its role in proving a secure platform for the attack to flourish. And by God, how it flourishes.

The sense of unreality was confirmed by the quality of Forest's goals. Ten minutes into the second half, Osborn, having picked himself up from a flattening, received the ball from Fox twenty five yards from goal. The shot he delivered had so much work on it that it seemed to enter some subspace warp before hooking violently beyond Federici into the net. It was an effort so remarkable that it deflated the Ladies completely, and reduced the Forest fans to the crudest expressions of awed disbelief.

The second goal resulted from a break by the ever-threatening Antonio. He released it to Fryatt, who proceeded to bamboozle everybody (including, cynics might say, himself) before poking it past Federici's flailing arms into the net. The success of Fryatt's trickery was measured by the fact that the Reading full back simply gave up and fell over. It was another remarkable goal, smacking of enormous self confidence.

By now the atmosphere among the Forest fans was festive, in the sense of them being ever so slightly drunk. The third Forest goal would send them to heaven absolutely plastered.

Gary Gardner picked up the ball forty five yards from the Ladies' goal, sauntered forward, looked left for runners but realised that no-one was closing him down, and lashed a shot towards goal. No, not lashed. Lashed implies a hopeful swing of the foot. There was nothing hopeful or uncontrolled about this shot. A short backswing resulted in a controlled stab of such power that the ball flew straight and true for thirty five yards past the stranded Federici, bouncing deliciously off the underside of the bar into the net. The whole thing seemed to happen in slow motion. Reading fans were shocked into applauding. Forest fans were by now halfway to heaven.

Even by recent standards, these were stunning goals and this was a remarkable victory. There is something so awesome about these performances that they give rise to a sense of unreal expectation. We are living in a bubble, and everybody knows that, sooner or later, bubbles burst.

Except that this bubble isn't one of those insubstantial soap and water things. This bubble is made of iron, and it's travelling at murderous speed.



GAME 35. MARCH 3, 2015
VALLEY
CHARLESTON 2 FOREST 1

It was a puzzling one, this. Some things went as expected, some things didn't.

Sadly, some of the bad things went as expected. It was not that surprising to see one of Charleston's free running forwards penetrate our defensive midfield, causing Lascelles to impetuously burst out of defence to foul him. Those gaps have appeared before, and Lascelles has done that kind of thing before. This time, sadly, the free kick was neatly put away by somebody we've never heard of, and Forest were one down. The second defensive mistake, this time caused by Fox and Antonio failing to track a runner we've never heard of, led to Charleston's second, scored by somebody we've never heard of. We've seen this kind of thing before down our left, and no doubt it will happen again. A crappy cross was deflected to somebody we've never heard of, and he scored what turned out to be the winning goal. These things happened because Charleston pressed high and attacked fluidly, making our defence creak, and because you can't mend a broken roof with cracked tiles.

Some of the good things went as expected too. Forest going a goal down is no great alarm these days, because they have the guts and the talent to fight back. Antonio's equaliser, a sumptuous, rasping drive after a powerful run, came as no surprise at all. Neither did Forest's fighting dominance in the first half. These things are something we've come to expect: it's what they do. They fight hard to get control, but it's a control focused entirely on attack, and sometimes it's a joy to watch.

Which is where things didn't go as expected at all. In this match, for all Forest's threat - we ended up having more shots than the home side - they couldn't finish things off. In previous matches we've grown used to see them score heavily and, for the most part, spectacularly. But in this one, though the chances were many, the shots were off target. It's almost impossible to explain why. Perhaps the mental tiredness caused by too much football in this absurd schedule took the edge off their game. Or perhaps Lady Luck was entertaining the troops somewhere else. Or perhaps the players were trying just a bit too hard. Or perhaps, for the first time, we missed the focus of our attack that is Britt Assombalonga.

Anyway, the second half deteriorated into a cup tie, which was not generally a good thing, but did at least illustrate that both teams wanted to win really badly. In the end the game drifted out of anyone's control and the result rested in the lap of the gods, which is never a satisfactory state of affairs unless it leads to a Derby defeat.

Looking back, the whole game was a bit of a frustrating muddle, one which defied staightforward analysis. Feelings afterwards were muddled too. There was the obvious disappointment at failing to maintain an impressive run and to keep the pressure on those above us, but there was the compensation that it was a very narrow defeat, away from home, against a team in good form, in a match we could just as easily have won. There was also the odd, bittersweet feeling of relief that the burden of winning had been lifted.

But out of this muddle there remained one certainty. Forest will continue to base their game on the confident assumption that they will score more goals than the opposition. It didn't quite work this time, but it will in the future, because it's what they do.



GAME 36. MARCH 7, 2015
CITY GROUND
FOREST 2 MISERABLEBUGGER 1

BUSINESS AS USUAL
We're not big on tactics, but yesterday's match was so interesting in this regard that we're going to frame our whole report around them.

1.   Balance risk and reward
Time and again, Forest are exposed down their left flank. Despite Lichaj's excellent performance, it happened again yesterday on several occasions - one of them resulting in Misrablebugger's goal. The reason for this weakness is that Antonio provides only sporadic support for his left back. That is the risk. The reward, of course, comes from Antonio's attacking prowess. The threat he poses is so awesome that any criticism of his defensive contribution becomes almost irrelevant. Freeing Antonio seems to be a considered decision, based on the assumption that he will generally terrorize the opposition, and occasionally eat them.

2.   Optimize your assets
Forest's assets have diminished alarmingly this season, and with the loss of Assombalonga it seemed that our major goalscoring asset had disappeared. This situation, however, led to a model which encouraged the exploitation of other assets, such as the finishing power of our midfield. Lansbury, Osborn, Antonio, Gardner and Burke have all pitched in, often spectacularly, often from neat interplay and considered lay offs. Yesterday, the move which led to Gardner's equaliser (Kane to Lansbury, Lansbury with a perfectly weighted diversion to Gardner) was a thing of sublime simplicity, and Gardner's finish was surgical. There was nothing accidental or fortuitous about it. It was, as so many of our goals have been, the implementation of practised skills. Another optimised asset has been Dex. His battling and holding skills, which seemed to be abating through lack of opportunity, have re-emerged with startlingly increased vigour. His goal, another fine finish from an Antonio lay off, convinced us that, as in the curious case of Benjamin Button, he is actually growing younger.

3.   Formulate a flexible plan to counter the opposition
The best form of defence is attack, and after the setback of the Lardbutter fluke, Forest took the game to Miserablebugger and showed them what real footballers could do. In the second half, Forest fell back and invited them on. Miserablebugger didn't gain control - Forest ceded it, because that was the plan. Forest kept the opposition in front of them for the most part, with Mancienne darting forward to disrupt their advances, thus ensuring that the central defenders could hold position. Miserablebugger were thus reduced in large part to predictable sideways passes and a few crapshots from distance. After a while it became obvious that Forest weren't too bothered about leaving room on their flanks, as it was clear that Miserablebugger had no-one who could profit from crosses. Once more this was a considered tactic (absorb and hit on the break), not the result of panic or loss of control and, despite the risks, it worked. In short, Forest exhibited far more flexibilty than Miserablebugger, whose approach seemed a bit hidebound. And as Old Uncle Boff used to say, the best plans are the ones that work, and nobody ever argued with Old Uncle Boff, especially when he was drunk.

4.   Embrace the uncontrollable
We're not quite sure what this means. We think it means that in football, as in life or any other business, no plan is foolproof, and Dame Fortune will sometimes stir the pot. There was quite a lot of pot stirring going on yesterday. Lardbutter's goal was a pure fluke. Miserablebugger had definitely left their shooting boots at home, but that was their fault, and we're not so sure they were very good boots to start with. Kike's shot near the end brushed a post, but that was because he struck it with the wrong foot at the wrong angle. The Forest crowd did go a bit quiet during Miserablebugger's long periods of possession, but that was because either (a) they were bored, or (b) they were studiously absorbed in analysing and appreciating Forest's tactics, or (c) they were worried that Miserablebugger would score through another fluke or lucky break because that was what they were reduced to pinning their hopes on. Another uncontrollable was Darlo's occasional lurch into complete madness, waving his arms and punching randomly, but we think he did this for entertainment value. And we should have had a penalty but, hey, what's new? Oh, and the beardy bloke looked like my dentist, which was oddly unsettling.

5.   Promote the advantages of the Protestant work ethic
We don't know whether the Forest players are Protestant, but by God they worked hard - harder than Miserablebugger, who seemed de-energised by Forest's sheer determination. We felt proud of them at the end.

This has probably ended up sounding like an extract from a Business Studies manual, but we wanted to convey the idea that there is a degree of planning and control in Forest's performance that was not there before the Dug Days - sort of Business As Usual kind of thing. There is, however, one more heading:

6.   Control your expectations
There is no way on God's green earth that we can reach the play offs. The gap is far too big, the run of wins cannot be sustained, and the players will run out of energy and time. Reaching the play offs would be a bit like Steve McClaren's face transforming itself into a mask of mottled terror, and we know that's not going to happen.



GAME 37. MARCH 14, 2015
ELLAND ROAD
LEED 0 FOREST 0

Bit of a pfft game, this. Elland Road is supposed to be intimidating, but it intimidated neither the Forest players nor the Forest fans. In the humourless noise that the Leed fans like to call an atmosphere, only the Forest fans seemed to be enjoying themselves, as they always do.

The Leed fans, and also the pundits, will have you believe that this was a game in which the defences dominated and the two sides cancelled each other out. This is true to an extent, but the real reason it ended nil nil was that Forest's midfielders couldn't, for once, finish their incisive moves with a goal. Those wonderfully clinical finishes we've grown used to were sadly lacking in this match, which is not surprising in a way. Without a proper finisher (Dex is great but not a proper finisher) the supply of goals from midfield was bound to dry up sooner or later. Osborn had two good chances but couldn't connect well enough, Antonio always threatened but his shots were miscued, Burke looked as sharp as a knife but good blocks and goalkeeping skills denied him, there were a couple of goalmouth scrambles which didn't fall our way, and Henri missed that late opportunity from just outside their area.

Forest certainly "cancelled out" the Leed attack, which ended up being virtually non existent. Whether Leed "cancelled out" Forest's attack was a more dubious proposition. In general, Leed couldn't cope with Forest's counter attacks, some of which were sumptuously fluent. No, they only coped because Forest had left their shooting boots behind. The evidence of Forest's dominance in the second half was that Forest fans displayed an anguished disbelief that Forest couldn't score. It was only a matter of "putting the round thing in the goal", after all. Or, as Stress likes to say, "Put the bunny back in the box." (Now where did that come from?)

So we had mixed feelings after the match. After all the tumultuous encounters at Elland Road, this one was comparably forgettable. And after the midfield goal spree we've been enjoying, the lack of a decent finish was disappointing. And getting only one point when three would have sent shock waves through Brentford and Wolverhampton and Ipswich, that too was disappointing. On the other hand, the disappointment is only there because expectations have risen to stratospheric levels, except amongst those who pretend they're too cool to care. And the one point ended up taking us closer to sixth place. And Brentford and Ipswich seem to have hit the wall, and Wolves are getting nervous. If Forest can start putting the bunny back in the box again, there's still all to play for.

A good point is enough to keep things interesting. The odds are still stacked against us, but nobody seems to have told the big red train that.



GAME 38. MARCH 18, 2015
CITY GROUND
FOREST 2 ROTHERINGHAM 0

Now that was weird, especially so because Me and Missis Pie weren't at the game. We were engaged in important mind-your-own business which involved us in being stuck in motorway traffic for the duration of the match. Never mind, though - Stress was at the match with his Rotheringham supporting friend Zib or Deg or something, and it was his responsibility to text us if and when significant things happened. It did not go well.

20.05 18 Mar
Hanging on at mo

See what I mean? Twenty minutes without a peep then we are told that Forest are "hanging on". At first sight this seems disturbing, but you've got to factor in Stress's tendency towards abject misery as far as Forest are concerned. Perhaps he's just a bit miffed that Forest haven't scored six already. Still, it was disturbing enough to cause us to miss our turn off. We nearly ended up in Leed, which isn't the best idea at the best of times.

20.28 18 Mar
Jesus this is atrocious. Must be me.

Yes, Stress, it must be you. Meanwhile, we're pootling along the M62, which is designated a "smart motorway". "Smart" in the sense that there are a lot more fairy lights and 50mph speed restrictions all over the place. It is slow going this, and the tension is increased as we wait for the next text, which will surely be something like one down - it's been coming.

This 50mph restriction is causing clear and present danger. Heavy lorries are ignoring the restriction and boring in on law-abiding cars. The lanes are narrow, so the truck to our side is towering over us no more than six inches away. Meanwhile, Missis Pie is struggling with her phone, which has decided to run through its selection of ring tones just for the hell of it. Most of the tones sound like saucepans dancing on a marble floor. None of this is good. Something will have to be done.

20.28 18 Mar
Dex!!!!!!

So much for This is atrocious. Goals change everything, of course, but rarely do they change motorway congestion. That will have to wait for a few minutes, when we will decide to zoom past the idiots and settle in to an uncluttered space. Good old Dex. I try to imagine his goal, and some goalmouth scramble comes to mind. After all, as I mentioned a few days ago, Dex is "not a proper striker".

20.31 18 Mar
Wonder goal by Antonio

Now that's more like it. I imagine the great man thundering forward on the edge of control, defenders bouncing off him like rag dolls, and a hell of a drive to finish it off. The thought makes me smile, as we cruise along the smart motorway at 55mph.

20.47 18 Mar
HT. Poor performance but two great finishes

Well, that's not so bad. Goals change everything. Now we've established a base, more goals will come in the second half.

But nothing happens. No texts, as we roll along the last, uncluttered part of the motorway, until eventually:

21.44 18 Mar
FT 2 0

And that's that. We're home now, and I check on things on the tinternet. I see the two wonderful goals, read about Dougie's delight at the performance, and groan at the Fat Controller's graceless comments. I text Stress:

22.03 18 Mar
Did nothing happen second half?

And he replies:

22.06 18 Mar
Not really. We weren't great to be honest. Odd dreamy game.

Oh well, great can wait. Two wonder goals will do for now. Everybody's entitled to the odd dreamy game. Night night.



GAME 39. MARCH 21, 2015
CARROW ROAD
NORRIDGE 3 FOREST 1

Let's put a different spin on it, shall we? Forest were not "crushed", "overwhelmed" or "outclassed", as press hyperbole would have you believe. Forest were simply beaten by circumstance and a better side on the day.

It was circumstance that rid Forest of yet another striker, which completely buggered up their game plan; circumstance which meant that Forest's brilliant resurgence had burdened them with an unsustainable pressure; circumstance which saw them trying to function on diminished resources against a confident Premier League squad on their own ground.

And yes, Norridge were the better side, but not that much better. Mister Dug's tactics - conceding two thirds of the pitch to Norridge and hitting them with fast breaks - seemed to be working until the very end of the first half. There were alarms, of course, but Forest actually had more chances to score. If Forest had been wearing their magic boots, and if Wes Hooligan hadn't been allowed so much space to slip in the irritating Howson in that last minute, the match would have taken a very different turn.

The problem was Forest's inability to stamp on Norridge's cocky midfield, and it showed again for their second goal. Olsson ran away from Mancienne (who had a troubled game at right back because he is not a right back) and crossed for Jerome to fluke a back-heel into the net. Yes, fluke. We refuse to believe that a player who had cocked up an easier chance in the first half was capable of such pin point accuracy, and conclude that his effort was no more than a hopeful diversion. And Norridge's third came when once more Olsson broke through on the left and Burke, desperately tracking back, fouled him for a penalty. Olsson, of course, made a subtle deceleration to ensure Burke clattered into him, but it was still a penalty.

It was at this point that the headline writers must have left, phoning through their exaggerated copy about a "crushing" defeat for Forest. They probably didn't even see the spirit of Forest's fight back, the bloody minded defiance which kept them going in the face of almost certain defeat. They reminded Norridge, and their own tremendous fans, that you don't take a wounded bear for granted, as Paterson let fly, Ruddy couldn't cope, and Burke poked the ball in. More shots came, more Ruddy panic, and only the ref's premature whistle prevented a perfectly good Lascelles goal. The press reports failed to mention that it was not Forest who ran out of gas, but Norridge, nor will they tell you that it was not Norridge who held sway in the last desperate minutes, but Forest.

Still, for Forest it was too little too late, and the "too late" bit will probably be the story of their season. The spectacular resurgence under Mister Dug has taken its toll, and for Forest to reach the play offs now would be like a story from Henry Wingspan's Book of Miracles, which has yet to be written. None of which, of course, means that we shouldn't be bloody proud of them.



GAME 40. APRIL 3, 2015
CITY GROUND
FOREST 1 WONDERBRAS 2

Being as what April is the cruellest month, and Forest's momentum has dwindled into stardust, here's Mister Egg...

SHEEP 2 WATFOR? 2
Gone are the days when Schteve pontificated smugly from on high. Now he spends much of his time dicking around in the technical area, his face a mask of blotched terror, as the faithful slither away in surly resignation to opposition chants of "Ten men, and you cocked it up". Football can be a cruel game, especially when history repeats itself.

BOLN 1 BLACKPOO 1
Apparently, Eidur Gudjohnsen's illustrious career reached a new high point this week as he celebrated an international return and becoming a dad again by scoring a stoppage-time equaliser against Blackpoo. The link between reproductive capacity and scoring against Blackpoo has not been made clear, though it does mask the bigger issue of Boln's struggles after the early surge which saw Lennon touting his wares as a television pundit. Poo's Lee Clark was left frustrated after a brave performance, but Football can be a cruel game, especially when you have no pitch, ten fans, crap owners and the prospect of Conference football in a few years.

LEED 0 BLACKBUm 3
Blackbum's focus was obviously on their FA Cup replay against Lpoo as they struggled to score three against a feisty Leed team who were fully behind manager Neil Redfearn as they failed to score and conceded only three. Redfearn was defiant in the face of recent chaotic developments at the club, saying "Football is a cruel game. The fans were brilliant today, as they have been all season. They appreciate what we have achieved, despite being pissed about by the wazzocks in charge."

READING LADIES 1 CAERDYDD 1
Ladies' man Steve Clarke dismissed talk of his forthcoming FA Cup defeat against Arsenal, preferring to concentrate on his team's league form. "We've set ourselves a little points tally," he said, "and that's what we're getting, little points." Caerdydd's Russell Slade said something about finishing the season strongly, but, like the tree falling in the woods, nobody was there to hear him.

DIPSWITCH 1 BOURNMUFF 1
Eddie "We Should Have Won" Howe insisted that the Muffs' footballing style was blessed by God and all the Angels, carefully ignoring the fact that it took six-figure loanee blunderbuss Kenwyne Jones to actually get them a goal. As Mick McCarthorse said: "There is an irony that we are meant to be a direct, long ball team and they put someone on and launch it to him to score," carefully ignoring the fact that his own side are as entertaining as a box of porridge.

HOVE 0 NORRIDGE 1
Norridge are going to get automatic promotion, one way or another, which is no surprise considering their squad. The only way they can be prevented from going straight back up is if sides actually try to beat them, unlike Hove, who were beaten before they started. "They're a team that I felt would get promotion at the start of the season and they're a team that I think will get automatic promotion this season," said Hove manager Chris Hughton, boosting his own players' confidence no end. Football is a cruel game, especially when you fold like a wet cardboard box.

MEWO 2 CHARLESTON 1
Mewo supremo Neil Harris praised both players and fans after his team's first home win since for ever. "This club is built on 'backs to the wall'," he said, which, to be fair, is where visiting fans often find themselves. The Charleston boss could have said "Well at least we're staying up," but he didn't, because Football isn't that cruel.

COTTAGERS 1 BENTFORD 4
Bentford moved into top gear just in time for the visit of Forest, which seems to be an unfortunate trend at this time of the season. First Norridge, then Wolves, and now Bentford firing on all cylinders. As Old Uncle Boff used to say, life's a bitch, but at least it doesn't last forever.

WENDIES 1 UDDERSFEEL 1
If Shakespeare had attended this game, he would have concluded that Football is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. And he would have been right.



GAME 41. APRIL 6, 2015
GRIFFIN PARK
BENTFORD 2 FOREST 2
NOTHING TO MOAN ABOUT

The sickening blow of a last minute equaliser is no excuse for prolonged moaning, so we'll forego that approach if you don't mind, and look at the wider context of the game.

We were worried for Forest going into this match. After defeats to Norridge and Wonderbras, facing a good Bentford side determined to sustain their playoff push on the back of a 4-1 thumping of Fulham, this was always going to be tough. And at this time of the season, in this crackpot league, with football matches beginning to resemble riots in a lunatic asylum, we feared the worst.

So imagine our surprise to find that Forest were coping. Okay, Bentford looked busy and dangerous, but they managed only half chances, and Forest's counter attacking strategy was always threatening.

Not only coping, but thriving. How delightful to see Tyler Walker shrug off his earlier cock up to jink sideways and plant a superb shot past the Bentford keeper. That's what we'll remember long after that horrible last minute - the look of joy on the young man's face after equalling his dad's first team scoring record.

And the second goal - the redoubtable Antonio resisting a mauling to switch the ball to Osborn who surged forward and found Kane at the far post - was counter attacking football at its very best - breathtakingly swift and clinical. This part of the strategy was working well, and seemed to be a vindication of Mister Dug's preferred style of play.

The trouble is, the attacking instinct has to be tempered by cool common sense, the game has to be managed, and Forest didn't do this very well. It's not surprising that in such a feverish atmosphere the midfield could not hold on to the ball, but it's a skill which will have to be learned, and Mister Dug knows this. Increasing pressure led to Bentford's first - a deflected shot in a crowded area - and their second, a looped ball which neither the defender (Kane?) nor the otherwise splendid Darlo coped with at all.

Of course it was a sickener, but it was most definitely not a "disgrace", nor did it justify some of the sneering criticism of players, manager or owner that some of our smartarse fans trotted out after the match. A decimated team with little to play for pitched up against an in-form outfit with everything to play for and gave them the fright of their lives. Nothing to moan about there.



GAME 42. APRIL 11, 2015
CITY GROUND
FOREST 0 UDDERSFEEL 1
STRESS'S BLOGUE

My turn. The Fat Man has declared himself unfit to continue because of terminal sulk, so it's up to me to fill the beach1. He says he's not happy about this, because I don't use big enough words or I get the words wrong or I get "caught up in the moment" or some such bosh. Well I'm here to tell you there'll be no more of the fat controller's bland vaginaries2, it's time to face up to the truth. This is where the hard men take over.

If that game had been a meal, it would have been hard to swallow. Only Chris Burke was palatable, trying to win the game on his own like a juicy sixteen ounce rump steak. The rest were just a disappointing bowl of lentil stew3. Vaughan, who we used to like, seems to have turned into a half baked potato. Lansbury, from whom we expect so much, has congealed like yesterday's pizza. Not that yesterday's pizza won't do for a convenient if rather lazy breakfast, but it falls badly short as a main meal. Fox, completely bamboozled by Scannell's run in behind, didn't exactly cover himself in gravy. Again.

So why has this crew, who managed to beat Bormuff and Miserablebugger and play with real appetite, ended up losing to Uddersfeel in a real pudding of a game? Well, Mister Dug thinks that their herculaneum4 efforts to drag themselves up the table has left them "running out of steam". I can understand that, but I don't think it's the only reason. I think the chopping and changing caused by injuries, suspensions and loans has made it impossible to develop a consistent team style, especially at this stage of the season when most of our rivals are settled and well grooved.

So basically I think the players and manager should stop talking about "entertaining the fans" and "taking the game to the opposition, winning and scoring goals" and actually go out and do it. As Old Uncle Boff used to say, the best meal isn't the one you're looking forward to, but the one you've just had. And while you work that one out, here's a picture of some tits:

Footnotes:
1 breach, obviously.
2 vagaries.
3 interestingly, lentil stew was the first example of a "mess of pottage".
4 this should of course be herculean. Herculaneum was an ancient Roman town destroyed by volcanic pyroclastic5 flows in 79 AD.
5 No idea. Ask Wikipedia.



FOREST 1 WATFOR? 3
BLACKBUm 3 FOREST 3

Sorry about this, but we took a few days break in Oxford, which has a lot of stuff in it. Most of the stuff is pretty to see on the outside, but impossibly expensive to see on the inside. One of these stuff is the famous Bridge of Sighs, from which members of the Bullingdon Club used to throw poor people on to the charging cattle.

So we missed the football, but we understand that both games were frenetically exciting affairs which illustrated that Forest's spirits were still high, Forest's defence was extraordinarily duff, and Signor Antonio has turned into a demi-God.

Like you, we're winding down now and thinking about other things, like the amazing dogfight at the top of the Championship (and thinking guiltily that we're glad we're not involved), or next season (and thinking guiltily that we don't want to think about it too much, especially the irony of Fazzer's plea for the fans to be patient).

At the moment, we're just glad Forest haven't caved in, and seem intent on playing out these last fixtures in entertaining fashion. We can still have a say in Dipswitch's fate on Saturday, and it would be nice to wipe the frown off Mick McCarthorse's face, though a victory for Dipswitch would heap the pressure on the Sheep (more guilty thoughts, eh?)

In other matters, it was pleasing to see Aston Villa outplay Lpoo in the semi-final, which was another damaging blow to the reputation of Brendan Rogers, a man we have never trusted because he has suspiciously small hands.



GAME 45. APRIL 25, 2015
SOME DITCH
DIPSWITCH 2 FOREST 1

"We may not have deserved to win, but the reality is, we won." And there you have it, straight from McCarthorse's mouth. The difference between the two sides, as Uncle Boff would have put it, was no greater than the width of a gnat's widger. The only difference was a grotesque fluke of a goal, as Sears saw his poked effort loop off Mancienne's legs past a mesmerized Darlo.

Dipswitch played okay in parts, but so did Forest (there were times in the second half, in fact, when Forset looked like the home side). But it wasn't to be, for a variety of reasons which have by now become fairly obvious. San Antonio was way below his best and couldn't produce his usual Miracles. Akpom, occasionally clever as he was, looked ominously like one of those strikers who never actually strike. And although there was enough energy from Forest to suggest the match mattered, there wasn't that focused energy which leads to an overwhelming desire to win at all costs. If you don't know what we're talking about, imagine that we were hanging on to a play off place like Dipswitch, and concede that this would have given us that extra ten per cent of essential drive, or maybe even that extra ten per cent of luck.

So we would say, in the end, that it's unfair to judge players or manager in these end of season games, partly because they haven't mattered for a while now, partly because they seem to be influenced by some perverse version of Chaos Theory, but mostly because we've no idea what next season's Forest will look like.

Anyway, pfft to yet another season which promised so much and dribbled away down the plughole of ordinariness. But, safe in our position of mid-table mediocrity, we can now keep an amused eye on more important matters such as the play-offs, and which media corporation will win the general election.

Forgive us, we have whisky to drink.



GAME 46. APRIL 25, 2015
CITY GROUND
FOREST 1 CAERDYDD 2

It was a sad old end to the season, wasn't it? All the sadder because the only joy to be found in an otherwise disappointing day was the demise of the Sheep. Forest have enough problems of their own, for heaven's sake. Concentrating on the heartbreaking failure of our rivals is poor consolation.

I mean, you've got to feel sorry for them. Not so long ago they were the darlings of whatever media bothered to cover the Championship, cruising towards promotion by playing "the best football in the league", driven by a manager whose media training couldn't disguise his florid smugness. But gradually reality set in to reveal the fundamental weakness of the whole set up. The defence was awful, let down by a leader who was inexplicably included in the Championship team of the year yet found it impossible to even stand properly when put under pressure; let down by a multi-million pound starlet who turned out to be so weak he couldn't even grow a beard; let down by a striker who couldn't even dive properly because he was too fat; let down by a couple of loan signings who promised to be the "perfect fit" but ended up being impotent bottlers; let down by a manager who, as soon as there was real work to do, lacked the resources to do it. If you've any heart at all, you've got to feel sorry for a team whose naked inadequacies were revealed so publicly. Those poor faces, bleached by nightmare, will haunt me for about a week.

At least Forest's disappointments went mostly under the radar (which, ironically, is what many Forest fans were calling for after the turmoil of last season). On Saturday, Forest were guaranteed less coverage than the Mongolian Stock Exchange. The world didn't miss much. Forest began like a group of players who had just pitched out of bed, went two down after some wretched defending, looked a bit rattled when they realised the crowd were more interested in Derby, and finally woke up when Caerdydd's goalkeeper was sent off for being a dumbass. The last fifteen minutes were okay. There were flashes of the good Forest, and some consolation when Dex got a well deserved goal. We like Dex, mainly because he acts as a channel for the crowd's hopes, rarely lets them down, and actually seems to be getting better with age. But that's just our opinion.

As for the bigger picture, me and Stress have worked out that there are over 18,600,000 ways to analyse the season, ranging from Particulate Chaos theory to Primitive Magic, and none of them are satisfactory. All we know is that we started well, slumped badly, then started well again, then slumped badly again. Looking at this very broad-brush summary, it seems that "new manager bounce" goes a long way to explaining the highs, but worryingly, a combination of injuries, managerial ordinariness and player inconsistency has to explain the lows.

And that's where we are now - a fairly ordinary manager running a fairly ordinary team. Whether Mister Dug transforms himself into the perfect fit remains to be seen. Who will leave, who will join the playing staff, and the effects these changes will have also remains to be seen. Those who already know the answers to these imponderables are, in fact, simply choosing out of eighteen million possibilities, which is a neat but facile trick. As Old Uncle Boff used to say, The only thing history teaches us is that death is inevitable and Derby are crap. Everything else is opinion.


Forest finished the season in 14th place.





Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air. And like the baseless fabric of this vision, the cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, and, like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep. Come on you reds.