Some days don't really work. When your anticipation of a lie in is shattered by the scream of your guest as he steps out of the shower and into a heap of shit that your dog has just deposited on the landing carpet (and, you subsequently discover, in just about every room in the house - believe me, the head is NOT the most frightening end of a Rottweiler), when the cat helpfully throws up as you explain to the understandably appalled guest that this very, very rarely happens, when you watch a dog (and I choose the word advisedly) of a game in appalling conditions, when you finally, thankfully, get home only to realise that you have taken out the wrong key so you have to smash a window to get in, explaining to your guest that this, too, is very, VERY unusual and, indeed, unfortunate, you need, at least, a victory to sustain you. But football and life are not like that and in the ninetieth minute of the game we concede a free kick, possibly Hodges made a meal of it, certainly we were defending with increasing desperation, this was our second unwise challenge in as many minutes, first Greaves the culprit, now Sneekes. And we've seen this film before, Musselwhite and his defence communicate in different languages and wave in bafflement at each other and, with the only real moment of quality of the day, Scunt skipper Jackson curls the ball with precision beyond the Muzzters frantic dive and into the net in front of the visiting fans who celebrate wildly as the game is won.
Terribly disappointing stuff yesterday on a lot of levels. We started well against a weak Scunt outfit neutered as an attacking force without Beagrie and Carruthers and losing a striker replacement, Quailey, in the first half. And handicapping themselves still further, they kept lumbering oaf Steve Torpey on for the entire game. But in a fashion now typical of our season and indeed, almost serving as a metaphor for our season, we fell away, lost control and, in the process, the points. Failing to build on Tuesday's excellent display were:
Fiddle not with those buttons at the bottom of your screen, question not your reporter's powers of recall, it was indeed Bezza lining up on the right as we attacked the North stand, Williams was missing as was the injured Bradshaw so Dudfield returned to reform the strike force that has netted thirty three times this campaign.
And off we went, playing into a dreadful rain-filled wind in front of our biggest crowd of the season with the Ark looking pleasingly full on all sides. The weather was no help to good football, and Whittle misplaced a header to let in Quailey who was foiled well by Musselwhite. Despite this and despite the wind howling over Quiksave we started to make forays and from a free kick at the edge of the area the ball broke to an advanced Mark Greaves whose shot clipped the top of the bar.
The Scunts were making no use of the tsunami-like conditions, long balls over the top of the torpid Torpey who, like the Humber bridge, swayed in the wind but remained fixed in the mud, were not enough to trouble Musselwhite. What did trouble him was trying to kick into the weather, never the man's strong suit, on occasions he couldn't progress the ball more than a quarter of the way down the pitch. We were trying to play football without looking particularly frightening and Beresford looked out of both place and sorts. One thing in our favour was that perennial Scunt dangerman Alex Calvo-Garcia was playing in their back four, an important reminder of how deeply stupid a man Brian Laws is. You'd think playing under Brian Clough would teach a man something, but whilst Martin O'Neill and John Robertson obviously hung on every word and proceed serenely on to world domination and son Nigel continues to impress good judges as he learns the trade at Burton Albion, Laws must have been humming to himself and counting how many seconds it took for drops of condensation to run down the Forest dressing room wall. Anyway he duly took the only Scunt present who could both pass and tackle (and probably walk and chew gum at the same time) out of the midfield berth where he traditionally troubles us and for that we were grateful.
And from the half hour mark we had a measure of control. We forced a corner that came to naught, then Sneekes did well to set up Alexander whose shot was deflected loopily over. From the resultant corner Greaves got in a good downward header that was panicked away. Hodges, very quiet for them did go close with a whipped in cross that Torpey pursued with the pace and mobility of a sideboard. But we approached the interval in definite ascendancy, as in the best move of the half Alexander controlled, held up and released the ball into the path of Beresford who decided to run at their defence and crossed for Dudfield who missed it only for Philpott who didn't to hit it just high. Clearly encouraged Bezza had another go, picking up the ball after good work from Johnsson and Edwards and cutting in to shoot with his left the Scunster netman saving low and well. Half time, 0-0 and considering the teeth of the gale, no reason to think that we'd not improve in the second half.
So of course we lost control. We now started to hit the ball long over the heads of the strikers, Scunny started to pass it on the ground. Much admired manager Brian Thick noticed that Calvo-Garcia was in fact a midfielder and so, in a move displaying great tactical acumen, played him in midfield. Hodges started to run at us and won a corner. They pressed down the middle, Wicks belted a back pass at Musselwhite who sliced into the path of an eager Scunt who was then foiled well by Musselwhite, redeeming both himself and Wicks. Hodges looked like he was getting in the mood and ran at us again on the left. Fortunately he lost control and was screamed and ranted at by much admired man-manager Brian Clueless so he quickly went back into his shell. Soon after this Wicks, to general relief, pulled a hamstring and went off for Goodison, after an afternoon of slicing the ball into touch and mistiming challenges. As a left back Wicks is slow, uncertain, clumsy and clearly out of position - exactly like he is at centre half, in fact, though a bit more to one side.
The Southerners were passing and moving effectively whilst we were doing neither, Dudfield in particular had a dreadful game, touch and pace seeming to have deserted him. We did get one decent mover going, Beresford flicking the ball on for Philpott, but the ageing Casanova didn't quite have it in him to get there and stick it where it was needed. Soon after, Philpott, who had as good an afternoon as anyone in the tiger cause, was withdrawn presumably to fortify himself with oysters and powdered rhino horn. Chuck Norris entered the fray, allowing Beresford to move, with some relief, to the left. Once Rowe replaced Dudfield we did have our best phase of the half, albeit with only 10 minutes left. But nothing of note was created and the game seemed to be fizzling out until Hodges and Jackson struck. That wasn't quite it as Rodney Rowe got free in injury time only for his shot to be saved. And that was quite it.
Another defeat then and, depending on your perspective, proof either that there is far more wrong with the players than Brian Little's ability to motivate them or that Little has done them so much harm that they are sunk in a deeper morass than we thought. I wouldn't know and neither, if you're honest, would you. But where we go from here before we meet up again at Oxford is clear. Out of a playoff position for the first time since last August, we are sagging alarmingly and Billy Russell, like an expensive bra, has to lift us and shape us and get us pointing again in the right direction. I have to go back to the landing to have another scrub at that blasted stain on the carpet.
On balance, I think I've got the better end of the deal.
Report by: Mark Gretton
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