Welcome back, one and all.
I’ve been away for a bit, enjoying all New York has to offer, which is mainly tall buildings and constant tipping. Ahh, people who want you to pay them for doing their job badly. A concept close to all our hearts, I’m sure.
Anyway, enough of that. We only went and bloody won this week, didn’t we. That’s great. Really great. It wasn’t all plain sailing, mind, and I as looked back over it I noticed the performance got split into four very distinct portions.
Part one (opening 25 minutes or so), and both teams were god-awful. Quite clearly lacking in confidence, each pass was a considerable effort, and while Ishmael Miller had a few moments for Forest when he looked likely to cause grief, the referee or Richard Wood came to our rescue meaning he soon got fed up of being useful and returned to his alternate sauntering self.
This period saw my vocal chords stretched to their very limit, as I attempted to relay my thoughts to Andy Thorn, 70-or-so yards away. I was cross, mainly because we always hear Thorn speak of this passing style that he’s trying to cultivate, but what we witnessed in those opening minutes was more like an under-10s training session. “If anyone comes near you, just get rid of it” seemed to be the overriding philosophy. No-one appeared capable or willing to shield the ball or hold on to it until a meaningful pass presented itself, meaning a long ball to Clive became the default option. Unfortunately his brick wall shins/thigh/feet/chest/head/arse struggled to keep possession in any reasonable way, and the pattern of long ball > defend remained for a far longer period than I felt comfortable with.
Vigour and determination
Then the penny dropped that Forest were suffering from an equally bad, if not worse, lack of confidence, and there was a noticeable change in approach. Our anonymous midfield square (2-2) gained more and more control of the ball, and the high-ball to Platt became a last resort as Thomas got increasingly involved, Deegan harried the beastly 19 Moussi, and even David “Monsieur Useless” Bell realised he was being afforded more time than he expected. The chances were still limited, but with the tempo increase, for the first game in a while I didn’t want half-time to come. We all know what happens if we reach half-time in a good form; we return after the break like a bunch of wallies. That was the part two though, and it wasn’t too bad.
As it transpires, we returned after half-time and played with the same vigour and determination that we’d finished the first half with. I was surprised, but contrary to what was suggested by BBC Radio Nottingham, I felt we looked much more likely to break the deadlock. Wes Morgan continued to dominate the Forest defence, but Clive and Juke committed to pushing him at every moment. The supporting characters in the back four were nowhere near as solid, so pressing them proved key.
Chris Hussey was having his best game this season; Deegan harried every ball like a terrier (as opposed to a pitbull), Thomas wasn’t heavily involved, but hugely effective in what he did; Wood commanded the back line wonderfully and Juke started to win more headers than he really should have been able to.
The team effort and reasonable improvement in quality resulted in a fine opening goal. It started on the left with a cross from Hussey, which Juke (I haven’t seen the highlights, so I think it was him) slammed towards goal and forced an annoyingly world-class save from Lee Camp. While I was ranting to those around me about “bloody goalies always making wonder saves against us”, Cyrus Christie received the ball on the right and delivered the ball back in for Juke to fling himself at and this time dispatch into the net past Camp. Five for the season now for Juke, and his goals are single-handedly keeping us above water.
Even David Bell – who we all give a hard time because he’s been mainly shite this year – had a tremendous left-foot shot saved. What he lacks in consistency, his natural technique will always mean he will test the keeper if he has the opportunity. Left foot or right foot, he can strike a ball. The annoying git.
Clinging on to a result
The performance then began to get very shaky, following the long delay for Murphy’s injury (who’s okay now, in case you were wondering), we spent the final 15 plus 10 minutes giving the most panicky display of seeing-out-a-win I’ve seen since.. well, the last time we tried to see out a win.
I know we were desperate, so holding on to the 1-0 was all we should really care about, but it became a lot clearer why we’re having such issues in the final stages of matches, as I watched our tactics in this final quarter unfold. The only aim was to smash the ball, whoever it was, as far as they could, to wherever they could. You have to take a coaching badge to learn how to teach that.
Call me a maverick, but in my mind the best way to see a game out is to stop the opposition having possession, or get another goal. Now I admit getting another was probably not on the cards, but keeping the ball should have been. These are all pros, and I really think we should expect better. The panic amongst our players began on 75 mins and frankly, the only reason we saw out that game was due to Forest’s lack of confidence rather than any successfully implement tactics ourselves.
Deegan’s an interesting chap. He works so hard, but you can see the panic overcome him when he has time on the ball, and that led to quite a few moments of sloppiness on his part. Oddly, he seems at his best when he doesn’t have quite as much time to think, which was best demonstrated on the left with Hussey, with whom he worked some nice positions through quick one-two’s and instinctive movement. Give that man time to get his head up, and he’ll often spend a week getting the ball under-control. Hopefully with more exposure to the league, he’ll calm down a bit. Had a good game overall though.
Another worry which I have is the mentality of Cyrus, which I hope is purely down to desperation not to throw away the lead, rather than anything more fundamental in what that sausage Harrison is teaching him. He had another good time of it in the good portions of the match I spoke about, but there was a bit too much aimlessness about his final 20 minutes which I do hope wasn’t encouraged by the coaching team. It’ll ruin his progress as a player if that style of play becomes the norm for him. We don’t want to Coventry-ify him.
Smashing the ball out of play every time you get it will not work against the quality teams. You’re just giving them another chance to figure out a way to get around you. Keeping the ball, frustrating players and forcing them to abandon their shape will tire them, and lead to more openings to play the ball forward, and keep possession in less dangerous areas. I know our expectations are pretty low at the moment that keeping the ball in the final ten minutes sounds idealistic, but just think about how often this happens to us when we’re chasing games. Whether we’re chasing a goal, or clinging on to a result – the closing minutes of a game will usually be happening in our own half. A question I’d love to ask the Opta guys would be around the territory and possession stats for the final five minutes of games involving Coventry. I doubt we’d come out on top in many of those comparisons.
That was my main concern throughout the game really – the willingness with which we were content to give up possession – but I still felt in patches we showed good movement, and the game will have done players like Hussey and Thomas a world of good.
Forest themselves were poor, but they don’t have poor players. New manager syndrome might be enough to get them back on track, but like us, they don’t believe in their ability very much at the moment. They were expected to be challenging this year, so will no doubt be feeling the pressure given where they are. Cotterill’s done a reasonable job at Pompey, but I do wonder if he has it in him to ignite a stagnant Forest campaign.
Man of the match
He may have only played 78 minutes, but he coped with the presence of Miller extremely well, and also lent Hussey a supportive ear throughout the game, which is something I’m sure he appreciated. Hussey’s had to put up with Joe Murphy cursing him rotten up to now. Some of it’s warranted, but he’s looked a fragile soul recently, and I’m sure the 90 minute bollocking he gets has something to do with it. Wood seemed to really help him along however, and the team gained from that.
On a side note (as I missed a lot of this while away), I’d like to register my annoyance at once again having our hand forced by finances and SISU’s desire to save money at the expense of the team. Let us all be clear: Freddy Eastwood is not a bad player. I’m not even convinced that he’s even as wildly unfit as being claimed. Yet out of nowhere he’s not our player any more, and our poor quality squad has been reduced even further.
I resent having to release him on the off-chance that the money might be used to fund a move for a loan player. Heaven knows who that could even be. Apparently Michael Kightly isn’t the sort of player that fits in our team, and we don’t need young Premiership players because we have youngsters ourselves. Doesn’t matter that for years now the foundation for success in the Championship has been built on blooding Premiership-schooled youngsters. We don’t want ’em.
Yep. Looks like we’ll just keep shipping them out, toeing the pragmatic line that has been enforced upon us by SISU.
What fun. Now I remember what I bought my season ticket for.