Saturday, 30 April 2011

A Win In The Sun

I left a nervy Sheffield to travel to today’s game between Nottingham Forest and Scunthorpe; nervy because of an impending derby that could confirm the relegation of Sheffield United to League One. It was an atmosphere that didn’t seem to match the weather, sunshine and a light breeze, not the kind of weather you associate with fear and depression.

I was greeted by the same good weather once I arrived in Nottingham but a very different atmosphere. It’s a mood of cynical optimism; fans hopeful for getting into the play offs yet lacking any faith in the play offs as a means of promotion. You can hardly blame Forest fans for that attitude, three play off disappointments have taken their toll on those supporters.

The ground was close to full by the time the teams adopted anthem, ‘Mull of Kintyre’ rang out around the City Ground. The only substantial empty spaces were in the Scunthorpe end where only a determined few had travelled down; hardly surprising considering their relegation was all but mathematically confirmed.

It was a first half of brief periods of activity interspersed between extended sections of flat play from both sides. The first 10 minutes were dramatic with Scunthorpe actually starting the brighter, Mark Duffy drawing a decent save from Lee Camp, but on 9 minutes a Chris Cohen through ball picked out Kris Boyd who did what he did at Rangers for several seasons; give him the service and he will score. His lack of effort can at times cause supporters to question his place in the team but it can’t be denied that when he is given a chance he tends to tuck it away. In 6 starts and 3 substitute appearances he’s scored 6 goals, that’s good by any standards.

Scunthorpe keeper Joe Murphy made two good saves to deny an Earnshaw shot on the turn and a long range drive by right back Chris Gunter but he could only watch as Chambers powered in a header from a corner despite the best efforts of a defender on the line.

They were given a lifeline when Gunter collided with the Iron’s winger Nunez on 36 minutes and the referee signalled for a penalty. O’Connor was clinical with the penalty and the remainder of the first half passed with little event.

Throughout the first half the majority of Forest fan’s frustrations were focussed on two Pauls who previously had been held in high regard. Liverpool loanee Paul Konchesky has been a real disappointment considering the ability he undoubtedly has; it seems his move from Fulham to Liverpool has sapped not just confidence but a degree of assured quality and it showed as he repeatedly gave the ball away, at one point almost costing Forest a goal. The other was Paul McKenna; the defensive midfielder is a favourite of manager Billy Davies and at times last season was the midfield general Forest relied on, but this year he’s looked sluggish and careless in possession and lacking in both pace and positioning.

Forest were winning but it wasn’t as convincing as many fans clearly would have liked against a side that had nothing to play for, there was a lack of creativity and a certain lack of drive to push on and improve their goal difference by winning heavily.

It appeared though that Davies agreed with the fans assessment as at half time he brought on Guy Moussi for Mckenna and pacy winger Paul Anderson for the hard working but ineffective David McGoldrick. It proved to be a very intelligent move as after the break Forest dominated from start to finish. Moussi was immense from the moment he came on, breaking up Scunthorpe's play and also taking on other players and starting several of Forest's best attacking moves. He's an ungainly looking player yet somehow keeps control and out strength much more physically imposing players.

The third goal, just 3 minutes after the break, seemed to kill off the remaining fight in Scunthorpe. A McGugan free kick from out on the left wing wasn’t cleared and Anderson managed to squeeze in a powerful shot at the near post.

The match was short on clear opportunities for the next 30 minutes or so, with what few chances there were falling to Forest. They eventually got their fourth when a cross was, after a scramble, turned in by player of the season Luke Chambers.

The fifth wasn’t far behind though it came with a bit of controversy. Moussi won a free kick on the edge of Scunthorpe’s box. Several Forest players surrounded the ball, all eager to have a dig and there were calls from around the ground for centre back Chambers to try and complete his hat-trick. While the referee was still trying to organise the wall, Earnshaw’s eagerness to try and add his name to the score sheet got the better of him and he curled the ball over the wall and into the net before the ref had blown his whistle. As he’d been booked in the first half his dismissal was, by the letter of the law, correct, but in reality it seemed unnecessary and petty. One of those situations where a referee would do no harm by just showing common sense; telling the Welsh striker to wait for his whistle and take it again would probably have been sufficient.

As it was a slightly bemused looking Earnshaw left the pitch so that the game could continue and Boyd immediately smashed the ball in via a deflection off a foot in the wall.

5-1 and the stadium echoed with songs full of that hope I mentioned earlier, the cynicism forgotten for the time being.

By the time I got back to Sheffield the tension had boiled over into anger and frustration. If I’d had any doubts about whether United were definitely down or not, the aggression and threats I received for wearing a Forest shirt made it pretty clear. United’s season had ended in defeat and there were a lot of middle aged men looking to take out their aggression. One of the very rare times I have felt genuinely uncomfortable and unsafe in the city centre.

Today’s song is by The Flaming Lips and is called ‘The Yeah Yeah Yeah song’. Enjoy.

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