When it comes to the 3rd round of the FA Cup, there are some things that we all like to see:
• A minnow pulling down the pants of a big boy and giving them a right old scare
• A breakdown of the occupation of the bulk of a non league team
• Puddles and mud
• An animal briefly interfering with play, resulting in chuckles all around
• Away ends packed to the rafters
At the City Ground, we got none of these things. This was an all Championship affair which on the one hand, failed to spark any serious degree of excitement for either set of fans, especially those of a West London disposition given their barely believable miserable record in Nottingham which up to this game read as follows: Played 30. Drawn 12. Lost 18. Won 0.
It hasn't always been sweetness and light in the cup for Forest in recent years but never mind - make that 31 games without a win.
Dougie Freedman shuffled his pack and in doing so, dropped a Joker onto the floor. Rather than leaving if laying there amongst the dust and breadcrumbs, he picked it up and slammed it down on the table - thus it was that Oliver Burke got a start on the right wing. As early as the 2nd minute, he picked up the ball and gave the whole of the opposition defence one mass heart palpitation with his speed and close control.
Playing on the wing isn't really the most attractive proposition. For starters, you are expected to beat the opposition full back for pace and skill each and every time and if you can't do exactly this, there seems little point in being in the side. Furthermore, the opposing full back knows this only all too well and in order to prevent such an occurrence, will most likely slide tackle the winger into the gravelly running track beyond the touchline...if he's lucky. The alternative being into the laps of those in Row A. But beyond this, the winger is subject to the incessant orders/shouting/moaning of his or her manager...and coach... and assistant...and doctor, dietician, adviser and personal phone holder - all of whom seem to be nestling on the touchline these days. Burke alternated his time in the first half between hearing such orders and scaring the bejeezus out of poor old Clint Hill.
It was lovely to hear that to Freedman, Oliver Burke is not 'Ollie' or indeed, a much more likely 'Burkey'. No - 'Oliver' it is. Such formalities hark back to the golden age of the FA Cup when scruffy youths scaled leafless trees to catch a piece of the action.
It was young Oliver who brightened up this otherwise tepid tie too. On 24 minutes, a high and difficult ball came sailing out of the Forest defence. On the halfway line, Oliver pirouetted gracefully like a ballerina and in one movement, not only brought the ball down but plopped it ahead of him in just the right place to make Clint Hill wish his alarm clock hadn't gone off that morning. He was off. His shot squirmed towards the far post where Jamie Ward slid in to claim his first goal for the club since signing from Derby County in the summer. Oliver's delightful goal against Cardiff City was no fluke - the boy can play.
From then on, Forest got the ball to Oliver at every opportunity. On one occasion, three hooped defenders surrounded young Oliver. At one stage, the ball came to Oliver's feet wide on the right with only poor old Clint Hill facing him. Hill's face was the definition of that moment when your pint is spilled onto the pub floor and you look up only to see that the cause of such an event is the biggest and hardest bloke you've ever encountered. In other words, a mixture of sadness, disappointment, anger but ultimately, abject fear.
Forest looked the better side in the first half and 14,000 or so should shuffled off to find a hot chocolate and to see whether any classic upsets were on the cards up and down the country.
As it was, the game panned out pretty much as most expected it to go - bright start, take a lead and then collectively mooch around for the rest of the game just hoping somehow to score another goal whilst indulging in some last minute tackles and hoping Dorus De Vries has packed his game saving gloves. The second half went pretty much to such a script.
The notion of 'sitting back' in a tricksy little one in which to engage. BBC's match stats claim that the home side just shaded possession overall but this seems like a trick of the eye as the Forest defence barely shuffled further than 5 yards beyond the penalty area and Dexter Blackstock struggled to hold up the play. In fairness to Freedman, he and Paul Williams were at one stage urging the team to move forward, to push up, to just take a few goddam steps towards the bloody Trent End. All of which suggests that the current trend of being unable to see a game out comfortably and conceding equalisers in the second half is part of a wider problem than simply 'sitting back'. Maybe the players lack the confidence to step up and take the initiative. Maybe the defence feels confident enough to hold the opposition off. Maybe when under pressure, the natural reaction is to sit tight and just hope that one of their lot doesn't score a goal. As it was, QPR were unable to muster a decent effort on goal beyond a smart header from a set piece, which De Vries acrobatically turned over the bar.
Of course, this being Forest, it wouldn't feel natural if there wasn't a headache inducing injury on which to report. Henri Lansbury spent a worrying amount of time laying on the floor before he was stretchered off with a splint and an oxygen mask. Post match, Freedman could offer little beyond the ankle being the problem. Let's take a wild guess at the damage being ankle ligaments and being out for 2/3 months. Sounds about standard for Forest, doesn't it?
If there is a silver lining - beyond progressing to the 4th round which in itself is a very pleasant outcome - it is that Gary Gardner's loan signing can now be seen as a pre-emptive strike upon the enemy that is long term injuries. He and David Vaughan should work things out in the middle quite nicely indeed. Beyond that, Robert Tesche Chris Cohen can always be called upon if needs be. Besides, rest assured that no club will be plonking any bundles of wonga on the table for Lansbury in the foreseeable future.
Beyond that, Chris Cohen slotted in at left back comfortably and Bojan Jokic showed confidence under pressure when he was introduced for his debut too. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink patrolled the touchline in that weird stance that he has and Jamie Mackie ran around in that Jamie Mackie hustling bustling style of his for an hour or so before being withdrawn without really affecting the play very much. James Perch has achingly good hair and seemed a very nice chap as he took time to sign some young Forest fan's programme.
Here's looking forward to half an hour of mouth gouging with a blunt instrument in the form of watching The One Show on Monday before being paired with Reading at home in the next round.
Magic of the cup, eh?
Here's one of those numerous Forest victories against QPR at the City Ground thanks to a Gary Crosby goal. Why? Why not: