|Mullet added 20:11 - May 7|
Sent to Nottingham, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it? But whatever compelled 1500 or so blue souls to a ground where Suffolk seems to translate as second best for years now, there we were. At home, many watching on TV sets to see a solid second tier team, once known for European heroics and generations of success outside the bigger, fashionable clubs in the English game take on Ipswich to avoid relegation to the third tier.
It was like looking at next season as the teams came out in too many ways to be comfortable. This was Ipswich with no Lawrence, no McGoldrick. Bart had Kenlock, Berra, Chambers and Spence from left to right. Skuse, Huws and Ward the more fancied midfield of late and Rowe and Sears supporting Samuel as a lone striker. The team told us as much about our future by noting who wasn’t there as much as who was.
Forest started in silence and a deflected speculative ball across the goalmouth, fell just beyond their expensive focal point. After two or three attempts to get something on target saw Ward whip past the post their opening salvo at salvation or just enough safety gave way to a period of Town ascendency.
In the time, it took a few amateur awayday Stellings’ to announce the Blackburn lead and commemorate the fondness Mogga is still held in by us, Danny Rowe began to smoulder rather than light up the match.
Impressive youth product and nominal number 1 Jordan Smith was forced to save the recently fit Rowe’s effort as showed what cutting in and letting go might do for the first time. Town’s version of 4-3-3 seemed to work much better as both lone strikers looked isolated. Samuel more from the impetus of the wide players servicing him, Assombalonga more through the impotence of his.
Carayol who has always impressed me, crashed to the ground and before being subbed early on massaged both his hamstring and his groin. Who else would forest look to but a lad named Clough. Former Trotter and fancied by many Town fans at one point saw the home side put a flatter, higher line behind their striker and cause more issues for Bart on the counter. The Pole off his line quickly, and collecting slowly much to the annoyance of home fans who slowly found their voice.
Build up play from Town saw Skuse switching momentum down the right and Spence finding Rowe more than once. Huws and Ward swapped sides often, and when the wingers did it, it exploited space and little else.
Sears down the left had the speed but not the balance too often to find a shot or cross that could make the difference. Even when Skuse sliced a volley from a defended corner way beyond him, or Huws passed 15 yards into touch with the wide-playing striker having no chance of getting one on the intended ball. When he collapsed in a heap untouched when Town needed the cross more than anything, the jeers of the home fans drowned out the sense of wonder at what the hell was going to come off for us today.
Rowe on the other flank (mostly) had much better going of it. His electric runs slowly burning and forcing the Reds’ defence to twitch and jerk. When he again found that moving across the whole width of their shuffling perimeter he was unlucky to see his drive bounce back off a defender. The follow up from the keen but off key Samuel forced a save and the woodwork to conspire in keeping us level and Forest in striking distance of survival.
Bar this chance you felt Town might well deserve a lead, or even just a break but didn’t look like they had the skill or savvy to force one. At the other end of the pitch and the contest Assombalonga seemed to be the one man carry a team on his shoulders. His battle with Berra saw much manoeuvring but few shots fired. Both he and Kenlock had moments of denying him, it was Eric Lichaj who had the best chance of making himself a hero. A beautiful cross proved too much for a defence even as resolute as ours, and on the all but the goal line he let his toe take the ball high over the bar, when any other part of his anatomy might have got the touch to poke the ball over the line.
Moments later he tried to atone for this sin with one of the worst penalty shouts ever seen. If Chambers’ tapping of an invisible watch at the linesman had spared his blushes after a late flag early on, I’m not sure a whole game of charades would have spared the Americans blushes. Going down untouched like a geriatric sex worker, his demands for payment from the linesman were brazen and shameful in a manner that deserves viral condemnation.
It was a soft throw across again that would crucify Town. Bart seemed to fly in behind a stationary Kenlock, and getting an uncharacteristic flap at the ball, Spence then cleared off the line as somewhere in the melee the ref pointed to the spot. Confusion reigned amongst Blues fans long after who else but Britt held his nerve and slammed high into the net.
Town rallied, but the corner which they won and saw Berra glance way wide summed up the lack of breath or belief that remained after such a body shot. The hosts went in at half time looking safe(r) and Town fans wore looks that became increasingly stranger and furrowed. It wasn’t unfamiliar enough or good enough.
Before the interval our Ward had been hobbling on his ankle, Skuse had collided heavily with their Ward during one of his many intervening runs. To hear Emmanuel had been warming up and was coming on was confusing but not surprising, until Kenlock was the man removed in a straight swap. Perhaps Mick had wanted to see a half each from the young-backs, perhaps he was less than impressed with some of the defensive decisions that clouded another example of Myles consolidating his claim for regular football.
Town’s straight swap didn’t last long as the game again mirrored the season as a whole. Anything good about the start not built upon, the need to chase worse teams than us, and lack of end-product saw Emmanuel shift to the right and Rowe fill in at wingback. It stifled Forest’s more direct build up, but where the gaps had been ours to exploit previously, now the openings and distance to run shortened.
If Rowe had looked the only man likely to score, let alone have a go from any angle Forest found a superior effort and it was a Captain’s moment. A simple shimmy inward and Cohen unleashed an absolute worldie. Clearly deflected, but no one cared. It looped past a stranded Bart in a way that you just knew would hit the bar at the other end. Forest went wild, and seemed surer of themselves and their status next season. They have a habit of saving these types of things just for us it seems.
Town might have appeared winded by the first goal, the second one smothered us. Adrift and left to wonder at what distance divine intervention might be as Mick switched us back in shape again with the sense that all was lost for a third time in a row. The moment that sealed it again a spot of bother far more blatant.
Emmanuel chasing down his man from the wrong side, is something we’ve seen before. Him handling him less so as the youthful exuberance upended Ward yet again. A clear card and black mark against Josh as again Assombalonga lined up. Switching his kick, it wasn’t just Jesus who saves. Bialkowski hammering the spot kick out for a corner and a restoration for Town seemed just a matter of faith and a little patience.
Sears who had again worked hard but not made headway was booed off or Moore was booed on. Whatever it meant, was soon replaced by a clearer chant of disgust towards McCarthy from a growing minority.
Celebration gave way to rhapsody as finally the second coming of Assombalonga was heralded by their star shooting high into the net again past Bart, having beaten all in front of him and a tight angle. The former Nottingham man chambers and Huws rushed straight to the referee. It was clear the man in the middle had pointed to a free kick for Town, before changing his mind and direction.
Our white Knights gallantly trotted out of position so the scorer could be released and goal made. The mistake was glaring, so was the ref’s but nothing was changing. Town limped to three goals down.
The sub Moore caused far more fear than necessary in his defensive counterparts. Hauled to the ground several times, Huws criminally wasted one free kick with a tame chip into Smith’s arms. The tallest man on the pitch also took a nasty elbow to the mouth which went missed and unpunished. His revenge was a cold moment, a header from close range kicked off the line when he did well to find the effort.
For all his attempts, he was just that moment too slow, too ponderous, too far behind when one looks at the performances of Rowe in a similar light and context.
The final bow of Berra came ten minutes from time as Webster made his long-awaited return. He was a shout back to better days, sunnier August afternoons full of hope and pregnant with potential. As we throw the dirt on this season and the mudslinging will continue as it must surely do now, one wonders if we saw our future in the crystallising defeat today.
An unpopular owner, a squad loaded with injury prone, expensive and incoherent players. An expensive manager, well regarded and with a point to prove. The last time I saw a team like that perform like Forest did today, all whilst facing the drop; Mick McCarthy was in the dugout. We were playing fellow relegation avoiders Birmingham that day.
Bart waded through the pitch invading home fans, between the red smoke and relief evaporating into the air. He was clapping purposefully.
Every team finishes where they deserve, on and off the pitch.