"It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs." - ‘Frankenstein’ - Mary Shelley
Victor Frankenstein’s heart sank when, after months spent acquiring dead bodies and stitching them together like a patchwork quilt with the aim being to create life once again, he realised that all he had succeeded in doing was creating an unholy shambles of a mess. It was indeed a dreary night in November, the 5th of November to be precise, when Stuart Pearce could empathise with Victor Frankenstein, as he looked upon his team selection against Brentford and shouted out to the heavens, ‘My God! What have I done?’
But, unlike Victor, Pearce did not abandon his creation. He stood back, scratched his head and got busy making it better by giving it a cuddle, telling it that he really was alive and offering words of encouragement. It was notable that in the opening exchanges of this encounter, Pearce was stood on the edge of his technical area clapping, applauding and encouraging every act that a Forest player performed. It mattered not whether a player had done a good thing or a bad thing, he was there, like a proud and idealistic paternal figure. He would not be wondering away from his creation to indulge in an episode of self-indulgent melodramatic tantrums. He had work to do.
In terms of team selection, Henri Lansbury and Chris Burke were the most notable casualties from Wednesday evening, alongside Kelvin Wilson. It would be their turn to take a stint in slicing the half time oranges. There is no doubting either’s quality at this level but performances have simply been poor recently. Burke has succeeded only in twisting and turning himself inside out without delivering a cross and Lansbury has been so frustrated with his own performance that he might as well have had ‘red card waiting to happen’ stitched on to the back of his shirt. The ever willing and rapidly improving Dan Harding was given the nod over the injured Danny Fox for left back and Robert Tesche would be given the task of making sure that everything was neat and tidy in the middle of the park. Post match, Pearce unconvincingly informed us that Wilson was injured and as for David Vaughan, I’m going to stick my neck out and hazard a guess that he too was suffering from a slight knock; just for a change.
Naturally though, this being football and this being Forest, things didn’t quite go according to plan. Jonny Howson gained possession wide right and wandered towards the goal. Since nobody in a red short seemed much interested in preventing him from doing so, he kept going. Still nobody came. He continued. Jamaal Lascelles eventually ambled over to him with the intention of, presumably, requesting that Howson perhaps went and dribbled away from the Forest goal, since… you know, it would be quite an inconvenience were he to continue with this action. However, Lascelles only succeeded in falling over. This being the case, Howson felt it best to slam the ball into the bottom corner. Can’t really blame him for that.
This was the moment we all feared. The Forest rearguard had, to be fair, gone longer than they had against Huddersfield Town in conceding a goal but not quite managed to last as long as against Brentford. Note to opposition: if you don’t score against us in the opening two minutes, try again around the sixteenth minute mark – this is when the window will be flung wide open.
Howson’s goal reduced us to a lifeless thing once again as we chased shadows and resembled a particularly stupid dog chasing its own tail. Thankfully though, this was temporary. The crowd could see that effort levels were high, that the players were doing the right things and continued to offer support and encouragement, spurned on by the Creator who prowled the touchline.
It would have been easy for the players to hide but no one did. Little Benny Osborn, perhaps the least experienced player out there, was incessant in demanding the ball and getting things started, even when in very difficult and demanding positions on the park. None more so when Karl Darlow seemingly insisted on repeatedly passing the ball to him even when surrounded by swarms of yellow shirts. However, Osborn never panicked and continuously responded by controlling the ball and passing it to a man in red. Darlow’s distribution caused surges of uncertainty in the crowd and it was at best, erratic. However, it seemed like he was making a conscious effort to pass the ball out to either full back or central midfield and although hearts were frequently in mouths, it was more exciting to watch than seeing him repeatedly hoof it up for Britt to be bullied out of winning a header against a burly centre-back. Always, the Creator was applauding and encouraging.
Obligatory hairy moments were experienced in the second half but the Canaries were generally nowhere near as threatening. Often, fans gnash their teeth in fury as their team seemingly ‘sits back’ to defend a lead. It is often difficult to decipher whether a team does indeed sit back or whether they are forced back by the opposition but in this case, it really did seem like the foot was eased away from the pedal. Alexander Tettey was less effective and Cameron Jerome was swapped for Kyle Lafferty; a move that saw the Forest defence collectively shrug its shoulders and get on with it.
Norwich, somewhat unsurprisingly, were trying to eke out every available minute, epitomised by the tragic sight of Gary O'Neill picking the ball up to take a throw, even though it was clearly a Forest throw-in, and after a tap from Lichaj to give the ball to him, running and falling in a style reminiscent of the referee Paul Alcock after his shove from Paolo Di Canio. The difference being here that Di Canio’s shove was like a mighty haymaker compared to Lichaj’s gentle tap. John Ruddy was in no hurry to take his goal kicks either.
Of course, Forest would do the same in such a position but the feeling lingered that were Norwich to take their cue from Huddersfield and Brentford and put together a sustained spell, they might well have finished us off.
Forest deserved their equaliser. Michael Turner was harassed. Matty Fryatt put in a sterling shift and set up Britt Assombalonga for a finish which, for a striker on a barren streak who has snatched at chances in recent games, was impressive in its nonchalance. Like Mike Summerbee said to Michael Caine at half time in the changing rooms whilst considering escape, ‘We can win this'.
The rest you know. The moment Antonio’s shot bulged the Trent End net, another legendary City Ground moment had been born. If that seems to be overcooking it a little, context is everything. A winless streak was suddenly and gloriously halted and the crowd had stayed with the team throughout the game even though for eighty-five minutes, it looked like the reward for doing so would be naught. If it looked like we celebrated like we’d won the FA Cup and a Play-off semi final all at once, then so be it – we haven’t experienced either anyway. This is what it felt like:
A brief word about bringing all players back to defend corners: a tactic causing frustration and consternation amongst many for a while now. But the decisive goal came from exactly this situation. As the Norwich corner came to nothing, rather than aim a long ball to Britt’s feet for him to hold it up and lay it off, Jamie Paterson was able to clear towards the already forward running Britt, which in turn maintained the forward momentum in the counter attack as Fryatt and Antonio ran like whirling dervishes headlong onto the, by now, weak and crumbling harbour wall that was the Norwich defence. One wonders whether the pace of this attack would have been allowed to happen if Britt was stood stationary on the half way line.
‘The dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs." The beast has awoken. The spark has been infused. The eye is open again and its limbs are agitated once more.
In the denouement of Shelley’ classic, the monster disappears north across the Artic tundra, presumably to die and is never seen again. What are we to deduce from this? Either this dramatic finale from Forest is a brief leg twitch, after which it will revert to the lifeless thing that sleepwalked through the previous nine games. Alternatively, Forest will now decisively march north with purpose and determination, while its creator, though weary, stands looking on, proud and fulfilled.