Eddie made a three changes from the starting line up at Brentford with Smith replacing Daniels, which I agreed with, Pitman coming in for Kermorgant, due to a family bereavement and Fraser for Pugh which I found very surprising given that Marc is our one player in prime form. I am all for freshening things up but Fraser for Ritchie would have been my choice.
We started very quickly and from an early corner a header by Francis was tipped over. The resultant corner was taken short and MacDonald passed the ball inside to Surman who took a touch before placing a lovely curled 25 yarder into the far corner with his favoured left foot. One up in the third minute and we were on the front foot and all over Forest but the pace wasn’t in the football to really hurt them further. Fraser did have a shot saved by Darlow.
Against the run of play Forest won a corner which was missed by the intended target and deflected off a Forest player straight to Lascelles who only had to swing a boot to connect with it. He did and scored through a crowded area. Somehow one all after 20 minutes. We continued to be on top but Forest looked dangerous on the break. An horrendous challenge by Lichaj on Smith earnt only a yellow card when lesser challenges this season have gained red. Then just before halftime true injustice occurred. Antonio surged infield and was tackled perfectly by Francis but ref N Miller decided that as he had fallen over a free-kick was required. Lansbury superbly bent this over the wall and beyond an at full stretch Boruc. Two one down at halftime despite having over 70% of the play was hard to take.
In the second half we again poured forward but the passing was too slow to make any real chances. Lascelles had a header cleared off the line for them and Pitman headed over for us. Otherwise, there is not really a lot to say about the second period apart from the fact that Forest looked good on the break. We ended the match having lost despite 75% possession.
We have lost the zip in our play that made us so devastating earlier in the season. Whether or not it is a temporary blip we shall see. Our major competitors have all ‘freshed up’ their squads with loan players but we have not. We are looking rather tired and so need to utilise the squad to do the freshening up and as most of them have not had many run outs it should produce a lot of effort but rustiness may mean that it takes a match or two to gee things up. We did miss Arter here and his two match enforced break could be the rest that he needs. Smith did not take his chance here, being replaced by Daniels after 66 mins, but the rustiness and playing on his unfavoured side no doubt contributed to this. Pugh replaced Fraser at the same time and showed his quality straight away with trade mark turns and spins but the rest of the team could not raise itself to match them. I would have taken Ritchie off instead as he seems to be the least naturally fit of our players and a rest or ‘reminder’ would do him good. MacDonald was also replaced by Rantie aafter 77 mins as we really went for it.
The referee for the match, Nigel Miller, was truly awful. He didn’t appear biased, despite all the free-kicks being in the same half i.e. ours meaning they got theirs when they attacked and we ours when we defended, he just isn’t good enough. I don’t question his integrity or honesty but it was just inept. The free-kick given against Francis that produced the second goal could be said to have cost us the match but that is masking the truth that we made very little out of 75% possession so it is an annoyance rather than a deciding factor.
Man of the match is a very difficult thing to decide. It is easier to go through the team eliminating each player as a contender. At breakfast the morning after it was suggested that I give it to the away support and I am happy to do so as the singing was all match despite the events on field. (If I have to give it to a player MacDonald gets it despite being substituted. He did little wrong considering his lack of match time compared to the others.)
As a final bon mot Richard Barker, Andy Burton and me had a rather eventful rail journey back to London. All was going swimmingly until a brake application near Cricklewood resulted in at least one set of brakes at the front of the train not releasing properly. These quickly overheated and started filling the coaches with odourous smoke. I realised what was happening but knew that tunnels were coming up which would naturally not be a good place to stop, unfortunately someone further to the front and in a probably more smokey area did not and they pulled the communication chord. We stopped in a tunnel. The crew kept us all informed, albeit a little hesitantly to begin with. The first plan was to evacuate the train but walking along the ballast in a dangerous and smokey atmosphere was soon discounted and the driver and an engineer eventually isolated the faulty brakes and after a suitable test to make sure that a wheel or the like did not fall off we trundled into St Pancras over an hour late. 100% refunds al round then.
AFCB: Boruc, Francis, Elphick, Cook, Smith, Ritchie, MacDonald, Surman, Fraser, Pitman, Wilson.
Subs: Camp, Daniels, Ward, Gosling, Pugh, Rantie, Stanislas.
Phil Nesbitt, Cockfosters