Charlton Athletic 0-2 Nottingham Forest, The Valley, Saturday 10th January 2009, 3pm K.O.
This has to be the coldest match I have ever attended. It was so cold that there was a significant degree of doubt over whether the game would actually go ahead, with Charlton revealing that the temperature of the soil (which, apparently, is usually two or three degrees colder than the air) hadn’t climbed above -5 for a week, and had reached something like -8 on more than one occasion. As a result, I wrapped up warm, wearing about seven layers in the end! On the train I spotted a man in the most inspired jumper I have ever seen – a thick fleecy roll-neck. I was immediately jealous.
I had scrounged the afternoon off work in order to go to this game, and though the travel times were a little tight, I arrived in plenty of time to see the kick-off. Right from the start, Charlton were the better side, and created several chances without breaking the deadlock. One in particular sticks out in my mind: Darren Ambrose was clean through on goal, the ball sat up nicely for him to volley from about 12 yards, only for Wes Morgan to acrobatically stretch out a leg and nick the ball off Ambrose’s toe. This pressure continued, with Forest unable to find any rhythm, and were it not for some very wayward finishing from Deon Burton and a couple of crucial last-minute interventions from Forest defenders, Charlton could have been out of sight within the opening quarter of an hour. However, Charlton were bottom of the table for a reason, or possibly two: they couldn’t score, and they conceded too easily. Forest, still riding the wave of success after their enexpected win over Manchester City the previous Saturday, showed Charlton how it’s done and bagged two goals in quick succession. First, Nathan Tyson knocked in a rebound after Rob Elliott, the target of sustained mocking throughout the second half, fumbled Paul Anderson’s cross/shot, and two minutes later Rob Earnshaw capitalised on a weak back header from Mark Hudson and lifted the ball over Elliott to kill the game.
After half time, normal service resumed, and Forest held Charlton at arm’s length for the majority of the second half, with only the occasional foray forward. As time ticked on, Charlton’s frustration began to show, and they resorted to hopeful (or should that be hopeless?) long shots as they ran out of time and ideas. The final whistle went, and Billy Davies joined the players on the pitch to celebrate a win in his first game in charge of Forest.
Ipswich Town 2-1 Nottingham Forest, Portman Road, Wednesday 18th February 2009, 7.45pm K.O.
Having enjoyed her trip to Crystal Palace (see ‘The Travels of Phil no. 13’), Emma was eager to go to another Forest match. As she’s an Essex girl, I decided to take her to the Ipswich game. Originally, it would have been played on Tuesday the 3rd of February, but due to a clash with the Forest – Derby F.A. Cup Fourth Round replay, it was moved to the 18th. This turned out to be very convenient as I was visiting her that week anyway.
We set off from Chelmsford, and found our way to the ground very easily. As a result, we were there pretty early, and along with the fact that the seating turned out to be unreserved, we bagged ourselves a spot in the front row and settled down for the evening’s entertainment.
The match started in a scrappy fashion, and Forest seemed to be gaining a foothold, having pressured Ipswich’s backline into a couple of sloppy mistakes. However, Forest looked tired right from the outset, and no wonder, this being their tenth game since the turn of the year, and their fourth in a fortnight. Given the lack of depth and the injuries that had ravaged what little Forest had in the way of resources, many of the players playing at Portman Road had played in the vast majority of those matches, only getting a break when injured or suspended.
Ipswich took the lead in the fourteenth minute, James Perch heading a free-kick from the left past Paul Smith and into his own net. Within ten minutes, it seemed that Ian Breckin had equalised, heading in after Richard Wright failed to claim a corner, only for the referee to disallow the ‘goal’ for a foul on Wright. This seemed to deflate Forest, and the game descended into even more of a scrap right up until half-time. During the break, Joe Garner, who had been booked in the first half for mouthing off at the referee, was replaced by Emile Sinclair.
After the break, Forest looked more positive, and created several chances, with Tyson and McGugan in particular testing Wright. On the hour, Ipswich extended their lead, Chris Cohen losing track of right-back David Wright who powered his shot past Paul Smith at his near post. Ipswich nearly added a third very soon after, but brilliant defending from Brendan Moloney and Wes Morgan cleared the ball off the line.
Forest finally scored in the 77th minute, when Garath McCleary, on as a substitute for Matt Thornhill, crossed from the left and Tyson blasted the ball high into the net at the second attempt. Despite this fillip and the addition of four minutes of injury time, Forest couldn’t get the much needed equaliser, though Lewis McGugan nearly succeeded, his shot striking the near post and ricocheting across the goalmouth where Tyson and Gareth McAuley both went for the ball, McAuley nipping in first and clearing. Ipswich held out and consigned Forest to their fourth defeat in five games.
Nottingham Forest 1-3 Derby County, The City Ground, Saturday 21st February 2009, 1pm K.O.
Despite the frustrating defeat to Ipswich only three days previously, this match has to go down as one of the most disappointing I have seen in my time as a Forest fan. Whilst excuses could be made regarding the tiredness I have already mentioned in the previous section, there were four changes to the side, and the worst part was not the obvious fatigue, but the lack of ideas and belief, and the appalling long-ball football which was totally unsuited to the strikers struggling up front.
The match had been moved forward to 1pm, presumably to minimise the amount of drinking time before the game, and so to cut down the amount of drunken abuse and/or violence that might occur due to the close rivalry between Forest and Derby. Despite a chilly breeze, the day was bright and clear, and seemed very much like the opening day of the season – the players’ kit seemed brighter and newer than usual, and there was also something like the sense of expectation that usually disappears within a few weeks of the big kick-off in August. However, this time it disappeared even faster…
Forest were struggling for players, and so included Rob Earnshaw and Paul Anderson despite both still not yet fully recovered from injuries – Earnshaw had only just resumed training after a hamstring injury, and Anderson had a cast on his wrist after breaking and dislocating it against Derby in the F.A. Cup Fourth Round match at Pride Park back at the end of January. Derby included Kris Commons, scorer of the winner in the F.A. Cup replay two weeks before, and fielded a pretty strong team.
The match was over as a contest almost before it began. Derby won a free-kick early on their left, Commons swung it over and the ball struck Luke Chambers and fell kindly for Lewin Nyatanga to poke past Paul Smith at the back post. The Derby fan’s celebrated loudly, and the Forest fans fell silent. Derby continued to look more assured on the ball and kept Forest at arm’s length until, with only half an hour gone(!) Forest finally created a chance. Joe Heath lofted the ball forward from left-back (a common theme of Forest’s attacking play unfortunately), Nathan Tyson flicked it perfectly into the path of Rob Earnshaw, only for him to show his lack of match sharpness by lifting the ball over from 15 yards out. Forest slowly came into the match a bit more, and created another couple of half-chances before the break, but the score remained unchanged.
After half-time, it took Derby even less time to score than it had in the first half. Wes Morgan bundled Commons over wide on the Derby left, and this time Robbie Savage crossed the ball in for Rob Hulse to glance past Paul Smith at the near post. Forest were sinking without trace, and the Derby fans loved it. A third goal nearly came soon after, but Hulse didn’t quite have the pace to get away from Morgan and so his shot from a wide angle was glanced aside for a corner by Smith. Earnshaw still hadn’t found his range a few minutes later, sending a loose ball high and wide from twenty yards after a positive run from Lewis McGugan who was having a mixed afternoon.
A bad week for Perch got worse after 67 minutes. Having switched to right-back following the introduction of McCleary, he was defending at the back post when he nudges over Hulse, giving Derby a penalty in front of the travelling fans, and earning himself his tenth booking of the season and a two-match ban. Steve Davies found the bottom corner with the penalty having sent Smith the wrong way, and it was well and truly game over for Forest. At this point, the home support started leaving in droves, which seemed to provide the 4,000 or more Derby fans with as much satisfaction as any of the goals.
Rob Earnshaw had a third chance, only to see his header from McCleary’s cross saved by Steven Bywater, and then down the other end Derby nearly added a fourth goal as Davies stole in at the back post and headed Andy Todd’s free-kick over Smith and onto the bar. Joe Heath cleared behind for a corner under intense pressure.
The consolation finally came with three minutes to go, as McCleary, provider of Wednesday’s consolation too, crossed and Earnshaw headed in at the near post. By this point, Derby were down to ten men having used all their substitutes only for James McEveley to go off holding his arm, much as Nacer Barazite had done early in the first half. James Perch almost made amends for conceding the penalty but hooked over from six yards out after the ball fell to him unexpectedly. The final whistle went and I didn’t hang around. As luck would have it, my exit route took me past the Derby fans who took great pleasure in predicting relegation for Forest. On the evidence of the performance they’d put in, it was hard to disagree.