An overwhelming feeling of impeding doom was in abundance going into this fixture against everyone’s favourite South Wales-based Malaysian-owned football club. Unfortunately, these dark thoughts became a reality. Although the wheels did indeed come rolling off and in true comedic style, trundled on ahead in front of us as we sat and blithely watched, a truth was realised: they hadn’t really been fixed on securely in the first place.
Forest had stuttered and lurched since the last improbable, drone-scrutinised victory against Fulham and stalled somewhat drastically in the interim. Even though the Bluebirds resided in the lower reaches of the table, trips to South Wales tend to yield little in the way of fruit, especially when a new manager is making his debut, especially when that new manager is all-round nice guy yet architect of that epic play-off semi final downfall against the mighty Yeovil Town, Russell Slade. (No, we’re still not over it but thanks for asking).
Team selection saw Matty Fryatt drafted in to partner Britt Assombalonga up front in a tentative 4-4-2 with Robert Tesche and Henri Lansbury shovelling the coal in the engine room. A bright opening in which chances were fashioned at both ends gave way to as poor and lethargic performance we have seen for a while. Although Chris Burke embarked upon some menacing dribbles, they started in his own half and even though they ventured deep into enemy territory, a decisive pass remained elusive. Cardiff made their pressure count though and they generally chose to show off their tricky dribbling skills around the edge of our penalty area. A worrying early signal of the problems this was causing came in the shape of Michail Antonio somehow finding himself momentarily stationed centrally and faced with the task of screening a somewhat tentative back four. This was not good. Despite Burke’s effort being cleared off the line at one end, Federico Macheda took advantage of slack defending and slotted calmly home. As Bjork warbled way back when, this wasn’t supposed to happen.
Stuart Pearce looked desperately unhappy; a thunderous expression dominated his visage, as if he’d just discovered that someone had taken his last Kit-Kat from the fridge.
Cardiff carried on regardless though and Peter Whittingham slalomed through our porous defence, winked at Darlow and slotted the ball into the opposite corner. Suddenly, there were mountains to climb and we were right up against it in the knowledge that to come back would be a big ask, and other such clichés.
Impossible is nothing though and the precedent was there. Football is littered with comebacks of this ilk, perhaps none more satisfying than this one:
Alas, this wasn't 1984 and defending continued be of the slapstick variety in the second half. Britt was getting little change from Bruno Ecuele Manga and as for Antonio…well, he’s had better days. But it would be too easy to pin this on specific individuals. Lansbury, Kelvin Wilson and everyone’s favourite voodoo doll, Dan Harding, were the target of much spleen venting (a tad harsh given that Dan only came on for the second half). In truth though, it was a collectively poor performance. On another day, our disallowed goal would have counted (store that offside decision in the cupboard labeled, ‘marginal’) and there would have been a towel to dry the ball which would have surely ensured that the throw in was planted firmly on a Forest head and nestled in the net, thereby claiming an undeserved point and maintaining the precious unbeaten run. But that Forest shirt, no matter how nice it is, was never going to dry that ball sufficiently for this to happen.
But were we that bad? Actually, no. We strung together more passes, won more aerial duals and completed more dribbles, but just not in the right places. Matters weren’t helped by the previously imperious defence having a day when they decided that to close down the opposition when running towards goal, would be foolhardy and a little too much effort. Worryingly, Manciennce was still immense in the second half. Make of that what you will. For whatever reason, the midfield engine room of Lansbury and Tesche did not prove effective either defending or going forward.
Like a monster coming over the hill, this defeat had been coming. Maybe we can focus on performances and take a more relaxed approach to the league table. Today showed what we all knew anyway: we aren’t quite as good as the league table has been suggesting. But neither are we as bad as it felt on Saturday afternoon. As usual, the truth resides somewhere in-between. Stuart Pearce does not require a defence…but he’s going to get one anyway: he’s achieved a staggering amount in a short space of time. He’s galvanised the club and fans alike and made us into a competitive force in this league despite a plethora of new players and, naturally, dealing with an injury crisis that makes the One Hundred Year War look feel like a blink of an eye.
It’s been a while since we endured that stomach churning, rock in your belly feeling that a defeat brings. There will be more. But if we can have a little more time to fix the wheels on properly this time, then we may well reap the rewards later.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/IX2NRRXC0BU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>