It’s ok; you can open your eyes now and tentatively release the pressure exerted from balling your fingers into fists until your knuckles glow bright white and pressing the heels into your eye sockets until you see the flashing lights…it’s over.
A discarded ice cream lay strewn on the street approaching the Trent End. On close inspection, it seemed as if it had been momentarily enjoyed by some momentarily lucky soul: a few joyous licks of the wondrously sweet stuff before being dropped, perhaps jostled by an innocent bystander, onto the cold, unforgiving ground. No doubt, others paused for a moment to reflect upon the misfortune endured by this now ice cream-less individual. Maybe some laughed. Maybe others got angry and tried to harass the jostler. Maybe others walked on by, shrugged their shoulders and joined a queue to buy another ice cream at the next van since, you know, there’s always next time and maybe they’ll get lucky enough to enjoy their experience.
That August month back in 2014 was not just any ice cream, but an ice cream with sprinkles, raspberry sauce, chocolate sauce and a big chunky flake, all beautifully cosseted in a fancy cone. Now it’s splodged all over the floor in an unceremonious mess.
But, for now, let’s focus on this game. (Must we? – Ed) Yes, we must.
Going into this game without a win in seven, expectations were low. Upon taking the iron throne, Dougie Freedman played the real life version of Sensible Soccer in his team selections by placing players in their preferred positions. For some reason, that wholly sensible strategy is no longer being employed as having seen Michael Mancienne struggle at right back at Ipswich last week, we were treated to the sight of him struggling at left back. Essentially, Mancienne is a central defender – not a defensive midfielder either – and with Kelvin Wilson suspended, surely the logical choice in who should partner Jack Hobbs at centre back was the man who played with elegance there in the early stages of the season and not the soon to be departing and essentially loan player in the shape of Jamaal Lascelles. Nothing against young Lascelles – sure, his form has been patchy but he’s a young lad who has come through the ranks and has provided the club with some much needed monetary finds. However, he will not be playing here next season so there seemed to be little sense in playing him in this fixture. Indeed, fielding four loan players in the starting line up (Karl Darlow, Gary Gardner and Todd Kane) seemed a little weird. It would have given everyone a lift to see the much-heralded youngsters who are surely chopping at the bit to run around on the pitch. Ben Osborn, Tyler Walker, Jorge Grant and Oliver Burke have all tasted first team action and so, in varying degrees, are considered ready for it.
Freedman possibly felt that it was important to break this run and give the fans a much needed taste of victory – thus he went with the slightly more experience starting eleven. With victories in such short supply recently, this was surely the ideal time to throw caution to the wind. Even if the lads might have struggled, they’d have got the crowd’s full support. While we’re at it, £32 for a ticket for this game stinks the place out: surely prices could have been reduced to encourage young uns to come and watch the young uns. Alas, apparently not.
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Cardiff looked comfortable and did what most opposition teams have done at the City Ground recently and played it neatly around in Forest’s half, just keeping the ball and waiting for the defence to allow themselves to be easily dragged out of position. Of course, this is a heck of a lot easier when you have a player unaccustomed to the nuances of defending the left back position, especially when such a left back has in front of him a player such as…oh, let’s say Michail Antonio, who is a formidable presence going forward but less so when it comes to helping out his own left back. There was a moment in the second half when Mancienne found himself just wide of the opposition penalty area, in a perfect position to throw over a cross. However, he spooned his effort straight out of play, having had to take the cross with his weaker left foot. Now, many would argue that any professional footballer should easily be able to kick a ball in the general direction of the goal with his weaker foot – and they’d have a fairly hermetic case. But when under pressure and in an alien position, it’s probably not that easy. Even though both Cardiff goals originated from the left side of the Forest defence, there is a case to feel a degree of sympathy for Michael Mancienne.
Just to make sure the other loanee, Chuba Akpom, didn’t feel left out of the loanee party, Freedman threw him on to minimal effect. It was only when Ben Osborn entered the fray did Forest start to apply some sustained pressure and create some openings. After Cardiff stopper David Marshall got himself needlessly sent off for looking at Lascelles in a threatening manner, Blackstock scored a Blackstockesque goal.
And that was that. Postmortems, reflections and deconstructions of the season as a whole can come later but for now, let’s just forget about the mishandled ice cream and satisfy ourselves with a cup of tea.