Starts are very important: it stands to reason that the earlier you score, the higher the chance of going on to win the game and if your team doesn't tend to score early, it’s generally not a good thing. Forest tend not to score early or indeed, start well away from home and this is a growing cause for concern. Kelvin Wilson’s bobbly back-pass in the opening seconds to Karl Darlow immediately put him on the back foot and surely dented his confidence in terms of distribution. Many blamed Darlow and once again decided that based on his inability to deal with a difficult and bouncing back pass, his heart was clearly not with us and that he wanted to be sitting on one of those comfy, heated and heavily sponsored padded chairs (previously known as the 'bench’) alongside Alan Pardew up at Newcastle United. That’s not right and that’s not fair: Wilson gave him a googly in the first place and moreover, one directed towards the goal, rather than the conventionally safer strategy of passing it back wide of the goal, just in case). Besides, the wider point here is that we conceded early at Huddersfield and here, with a pressing team in our face, were on the back foot from the off. We need to start better.
The long ball.
There can be no hiding from the fact that often in this game, especially in the first half, the ball went long from the back towards a centrally positioned Dexter Blackstock or Michail Antonio out wide, especially from Danny Fox. Such tactics at the New York Stadium might have been partially down to the effective and incessant pressing from the Millers, or maybe it was the knowledge of Blackstock being able to win more aerial battles than he loses. Alternatively, with confidence low and away from home, it is much easier to ‘get rid’ than to try and pick out a pass and risk howls of abuse if it goes wrong. Either way, I found myself reminiscing about the trip to White Hart Lane earlier in the season where we seemed much more composed on the ball and tried to move it through from back to front. Maybe it’s a trick of the mind and Forest did actually hoof it long to Lars Veldwijk that night or maybe it’s much easier to try when the pressure’s off. Or maybe we simply didn’t have the right players on the pitch to try such a strategy in this game.
The team selection.
For all that, Pearce’s team selection did cause concern. No Ben Osborn. No Matty Fryatt. Yes to Henri Lansbury and Jamie Paterson and Fox was preferred to Dan Harding. With Paterson operating as a winger in a 4-4-2, it looked like the plan to score a goal was to look for a knockdown from Blackstock or hope for a piece of magic from Britt Assombalonga or Antonio (who at one point, marvelously swatted Ben Pringle away like an irritating gnat) but despite a Blackstock header chalked off for pushing, neither tactic looked reliable.
It must be remembered that us fans don’t always have the full facts available regarding what goes on in training in the build up to these games and that no matter what we think we know, most of the time, those making the decisions do so based on a number of factors and not on the memory of, for instance, Jamie Paterson’s hat-trick almost a year ago against a depleted West Ham United. That’s not meant to sound half as petty or mean-spirited towards Paterson as it does: he’s a fantastic talent and an exciting young player but he’s looked desperately shorn of confidence recently. The point being that I’ll usually defer to the manager’s decisions based on the fact that he works with the players every day. But Pearce is developing a bit of a reputation regarding his team selection (remember Brentford at home?) and one does wonder whether this was a very defensively minded team selection with the aim of containing the opposition away from home.
There are still too many players underperforming. Why? I know not but it’s time that mirrors were looked into for a long time in a hard manner. You know who you are.
Paterson got called a ‘puff’, Darlow had a good number of fans on his back, angry demands for Pearce to leave someone forward when defending a corner (brief reminder that our winning goal against Norwich City came from a Norwich corner for which we pulled everyone back to defend), Blackstock loudly informed he was ‘stealing a living’, throwing beer around away from home with the consequence being that it was not available to buy at half-time, chanting for ‘Reidy’ directed at Pearce (although I’m not quite sure what the desired outcome of this might be), a good old fashioned shouting and slanging match between two Forest fans behind me, chants of ‘Psycho’ towards the end in support of the boss; no doubt a direct response to those having a good old moan and questioning Pearce’s leadership credentials. This is not good and indicates a crack in the previously outstanding support of the club (as witnessed at Huddersfield and at home against Norwich), which was largely absent yesterday.
There can be no denying that this was a hugely frustrating performance, hot on the heels of a similar one at Birmingham and an equally plodding one in the first half at home to Charlton, but let’s not start wondering about what it might be like under different managers. Sure, in an alternative universe, we are now reaping the benefits of the successful and patient implementation of Sean O’ Driscoll’s patient passing game or are powering to the top of the table under Billy Davies thanks to his ability to get the best out of some individuals. But in one such alternative reality, I’m now writing my Sunday column for The Observer having ousted Daniel Taylor as chief sports writer after the editor read a previous match report and spotted some raw potential and wanted to take a punt on a hunch. But that’s the thing about alternative universes: they’re always significantly better than the reality you actually inhabit. We’ve got Stuart Pearce in charge and currently, I can think of no one else I would rather have since I know he has the best interests of the club at the heart of every single decision he makes. If this time next year, we are still treading water in mid table then perhaps we can start wondering about whether we’re really progressing but until then, quit any jibber-jabber about Mr Pearce’s current job prospects. Bournemouth, Ipswich Town and dare I say it, Derby County are currently benefiting from long-term strategies.
Frustration enveloped me like a big cosy blanket while my feet froze solid to the concrete floor. Sure, I rolled my eyes at some decisions made by manager and players alike during the game. Sure, I emitted a groan or annoyance at a misplaced pass or a perceived lack of effort.
But just because we have two stars on our shirt, it does not follow that we should be steamrollering Rotherham United. I desperately (more than you can imagine) wish we were doing exactly this but that don’t make it so. Having said that, we surely must and can, do better.