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Nottingham Forest 0 Watford 1 (30/01/2016) 31/01/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- I’d felt confident about today.  Not just today, actually, but about the Cup…  not that we’re going to do anything as drastic as winning it,  but there can’t be many sides better placed to give it a good go.  We’re neither harbouring pretensions of Europe nor looking terribly anxiously over our shoulder; we’re competitive, we’ve got goals and we’re terrifying on the break, all of which tick boxes.  And it’s been a while, after all, since a good cup run. I’d made a point of bringing the girls to Newcastle and then to this one for that reason, just in case… these journeys, were a formative part of my upbringing too.

But I was particularly confident about today. Comments attributed to Forest’s captain for the day Dexter Blackstock had helped…  there aren’t many Premier League opponents taking us lightly any more so it was slightly surprising to see an opponent being so blasé.  Apart from which, “being used to playing Watford” hasn’t helped Dexter and friends in many recent encounters at the City Ground – the home side had won 3 in 12 here since regular encounters were resumed in 2000, and 2 in 6 since Blackstock moved to the midlands in 2009.  We’re not unbeatable, but telling yourself and the world that nothing much has changed or is changing at Vicarage Road didn’t suggest a well-drilled opponent.

2- Both sides rested players – in our case, arguably, our key men in each area of the pitch.  Pulling the main men out and replacing them with the next in line is going to be disruptive in terms of a drop in quality, but as much so in terms of there being a set of new faces not quite so used to playing together and without those leaders to run things.  Partly as a result, and with the help of a hearty, unpredictable wind, the game was a bit of a scruffy mess for the most part.  We were pretty comfortable after the first fifteen minutes or so, in which the home side pressed voraciously high up the pitch and our centre-backs dealt with pretty much everything with a hearty clout that used to be How You Do It Proper but in this era of casually bringing balls down and sliding them sideways to your man in space feels rather anxious.  We certainly enjoyed more of the possession, even if we didn’t do an awful lot with it against a Forest side who looked precisely like a team who’d discovered that being solid got them quite far and had no appetite for anything more ambitious, like a novice ice skater shuffling around the perimeter of the rink for half an hour without ever risking letting go of the rail.  Yes, me too.

For all of which, the best chance of the half came to the home side; Anya, making his first appearance on the right wing for, perhaps, years, dropped back to cover for Nyom but dithered indecisively permitting Jamie Ward to rattle through on goal.  Cathcart, terrific throughout, stood his ground and forced Ward into a decision, which saw a shot flick wide, but narrowly enough to be a concern until it drifted past the post.

3- A fairly ugly spectacle, then, which continued to rattle around energetically but fruitlessly like a bluebottle in a matchbox.  One significant benefit of this was the inexpensive grounding it gave to new signing and full debutant Nordin Amrabat.  This was in many respects untypical of the sort of game Amrabat will find himself playing in;  nonetheless, he learned very quickly quite how differently the bar is set in England vs Spain in terms of what constitutes a “foul”.  More than once in the first half he found himself on his backside as a result of aggressive but not excessive attention from the home defence, his expression one of irritation but particularly surprise at the lack of a whistle.  He’ll learn; indeed he was already learning by the second half.

He did nothing but whet our appetite for the extra options he gives our attacking armoury.  After a sighter in the first half that went straight down Dorus de Vries’ throat he took advantage of some Deeney-induced chaos to whip an extraordinary half-volley out of the air in the second.  This prompted an even better one-handed clawing save from de Vries, who was first congratulated by Deeney and then given a “how the f*** did you do that?” gesture and grin from Amrabat.  Later a foray down the right from Anya, one of the brighter attacking elements of a midfield in which Guédioura and Abdi had limited impact, saw a cross pulled back to Amrabat who flicked a wicked backheel out of the air past his marker but too close to the keeper. A lot of fun, more to come.

A word too for Costel Pantilimon.  His involvement was limited, but what he did he did perfectly competently, as bullish with crosses as you’d hope from a keeper more than two metres tall (!).  This included a terrific glove to a ball at the feet of the advancing Nelson Oliveira which was perhaps risky but perfectly executed – we had no view at all from behind the far goal, the precision of the challenge only revealed by television.  Overall, we appear to have traded up significantly in January, with the mouthwatering Mario Suárez signing confirmed later in the evening.

4- IMG_1995Being accompanied by Daughter One and in particular Daughter Two demands a certain amount of patience in terms of diverting focus from the action and addressing instead the latest pressing issue.  Daughter One’s concerns focused largely around her wobbly canine, whose agent had first started leaking stories to the press at the now traditional Bridgford Fish Bar stop pre-match and which finally agreed a mutual termination of contract in the car on the way home.  Daughter Two’s questions involved both the intricacies of the offside law, and whether I would “prefer to go to Italy, or to have some ice cream?”.

I tell myself, in such situations, that should I be inattentive to the girls’ concerns the footballing gods will punish me.  As such, when Daughter Two’s increasingly fidgety attention, standing atop her seat, finally developed into a demand for the toilet in 85th minute I did the dutiful thing and missed only Amrabat’s withdrawal in favour of Juan Carlos Paredes – who for all his doubters remains both one of the quickest, most powerful and most agile footballers in the squad and as such is a Good Thing coming off the bench in most circumstances.  I was rewarded by being back in situ by the time Paredes, now an extra man in the midfield, had released Nyom to scuff a ball into the box.  It bounced off Wilson, Ighalo was there to scruffily, instinctively, gobble up the winner.

As an aside, the only difficulties of the day surrounded the overpopulation of our section by beered-up young blokes.  It’s come to something when this is worthy of comment and those who remember Bramall Lane (2003) will know that I’m hardly in a position to criticise but I found myself apologising to German debutant Björn.  “It’s not always like this”.  Which it isn’t, any more.  Those of us shielding our kids from the flares and picking them up when knocked over by good-natured but over-exuberant celebration in a doubled-up row of seats might not miss this aspect of the Good Old Days either.

5- So here we are, then.  Passage successfully navigated, if from a game that won’t live long in the memory.  Which in itself is quite a remarkable thing… as documented above we’ve had a decent record at the City Ground, but all of those wins whatever the backdrop had felt like quite a big deal, results worthy of celebration in themselves.  We’ve progressed now to the stage where a win at Forest is quite a mundane thing… where a fairly tight game has been decided by that extra bit of quality in front of goal.  The beaten side feels hard done by, the senior side yawns and carries on.  We’ve been there plenty of times, not least against Manchester City.  But we’re a bigger beast now, with sharper claws, than when Dexter Blackstock (rightly) saw us as equals and (wrongly) expected to beat us.  The challenge for the support remains being to fully appreciate and enjoy this turn in our fortunes.




1. Tom - 31/01/2016

Can’t you go to Italy AND have your ice cream there?

Matt Rowson - 31/01/2016

That, I believe, was the point. As was subsequently explained. Italy is a good place to have ice cream, so if you go to Italy you get both.

It’s not just the listening, it’s the fact that questions like this just screw with your head.

2. Keith Hannigan - 31/01/2016

You’re a good dad and we are all grateful that you did not mess things up for the rest of us by shirking your fatherly duties. You obviously realize that you are giving your girls something formative by taking them to these games. Memories, yes of course, but also an exposure to a part of the world that many of their peers might be sheltered from. For me and my girls, it was many, many White Sox baseball games where we had our share of beery young men (and, to be fair, women) who, while they would often endearingly try to police themselves when they blearily registered the presence of little girls, were a source of all kinds of new vocabulary and attitudes. Literally rubbing elbows with this part of humanity was great for my girls. It taught them that, while the outside world might be large and loud and occasionally smelly, it was not hostile and that they were a part of it, with shared interests and joys. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it taught them not to be prisses. Good on ya.

As for the football, I think you’ve got it right. It was remarkable only for its unremarkability. Premier club at a mid table Championship side, home team parks the bus and tries to nick a goal but the big club is just better so when the one mistake happens, pounce, convert and leave with the win. Been there, done that. Except now, we are on the winning side. And we almost (almost) take it for granted. Wow.

PS: I’m worried about Abdi. He’s worked so hard this season to be the dutiful disciplined midfielder that QSF requires and, for the most part, done quite credibly but that’s not who he is and the brilliance we all loved doesn’t show as much. Suarez’ arrival pushes him out of the starting lineup, I think. At his best, Almen was one of the best I’ve ever seen wearing yellow and he’s going to be reduced to a squad player. I’m not complaining exactly but it makes me sad. Maybe I’m wrong.

Matt Rowson - 31/01/2016

Thanks Keith. Abdi… yes, me too. Quique hasn’t quite trusted him enough to be the playmaker has he? And to be fair, he’s not got much wrong.

3. JimmyArmchair - 31/01/2016

“Yes, me too.”

Very funny, very good.

Matt Rowson - 31/01/2016

Thanks chief

4. Royston ROF - 31/01/2016

..good words as usual Matt…the beered up were all over the place not just your area….not sure what can be done, except no alcohol in the ground policy..

…the squad is taking shape well, perhaps Jurado will come out (be allowed) as the play maker along side Capou and Watson once we have confirmed our place for next season….

sirhornet - 31/01/2016

If the people I saw on the train up were anything to go by, we would have to give 100% blood transfusions to allow them into the ground of there was a booze ban.

5. Harefield Hornet - 31/01/2016

I was in Z1 with my 9 year old daughter who is now a veteran of Molineux, Villa Park and Leicester and although I recognise the merits of exposing kids to real life I was so sick and fed up with the said beered up young blokes I was actually glad when the stewards threw some of them out.If they hadn’t I would have!

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