Everyone knows full well the implications of this defeat. Thoughts on chances of survival can wait for another day. Let’s just focus on the game – and get it over with as quickly as possible, for the consolation descent into a wine bottle just won’t wait. And at least half of the crowd at the start have a head start on me by leaving early.
Parkinson went again with the formation as against Norwich, with Shelvey in the hole. With Bouazza having done a runner Ambrose returned to fill the wide left berth, Spring went straight into the team alongside Semedo in central midfield, while Murty and McEveley not surprisingly were named as the full-backs and Hudson returned to partner Fortune. Otherwise it was as you were, with Sam out right and Burton as the lone forward.
My thoughts in the first 20 minutes were that Forest had singularly failed to do their homework as, like Norwich, they were taken by surprise by the formation and failed to pick up Shelvey. The result was he played in Burton twice in the early stages. On the first occasion Burton shot into the side-netting from a narrow angle and on the second their keeper managed to smother the shot. Those proved to be the best chances we had all game, although half-chances came and went. We undoubtedly dominated the first half an hour, with Ambrose involved, Spring looking effective but understandably a little rusty with some misplaced passes, and Sam threatening. But as in previous games after the opening salvo failed to produce the crucial goal we started to look less effective and the opposition came into it more, with Tyson and the thoroughly unlikeable Earnshaw buzzing around to no great effect.
There was an enforced change before long as Semedo was caught late by a bad tackle which went unnoticed by the officials. He had to go off, to be replaced by Holland. The change didn’t seem at the time to weaken us, but it did limit our options later in the game as Spring tired.
As Forest came more into the game what has become a regular pattern at The Valley this season was repeated. We failed to score when on top and conceded poor goals when the opposition ventured forward. Their first was indeed a poor goal to give away. A cross from their right seemed harmless until the first defender failed to get in a decisive header and merely flicked it on to the far post, past the second defender. It was gathered, returned, and after the first effort was blocked Tyson buried the chance. A few minutes later a decent shot was palmed away by their keeper, Holland played a bad ball forward, and it was returned with interest. Earnshaw easily got the better of Hudson and strode forward to chip Elliot. At that point we had had four decent shots and a couple of half-decent ones, they had two attempts on goal, and we go into the break 2-0 down. Unlucky for sure, but not unusual for us this season.
We badly needed a goal early in the second half to galvanise the players and the crowd. Forest not surprisingly were content to sit back and play on the break, with the result that the our formation was becoming progressively less effective. Ambrose disappeared from the game, Shelvey became frustrated, and only Sam provided an effective outlet, although this time to no great effect. We did have two free kicks in dangerous positions, but Shelvey hit the first well over the bar and playing a little safer with the second only curled it into the goalkeeper’s arms.
A change was needed, but the double substitution when it came failed to improve things. Waghorn and Gray came on up front, with Burton and Spring going off, Shelvey dropping back into central midfield. This to my mind asked an awful lot of Shelvey. A reversion to a basic 4-4-2 should have seen him replaced, but with Spring going off and Holland already on there was I suppose no real option.
The longer the game went on the more depressing it became for all concerned, including the players. We got the ball into the box enough times but it never quite fell – or to put it another way nobody had the predatory instincts to be in the right place at the right time. Ambrose did have a couple of decent shots but the day was summed up when Shelvey played a corner quickly to Sam in space in their box. Instead of the drilled shot billowing into the net a mishit ball bobbled closer to the goal only to be hacked clear.
By now the crowd were leaving in droves and the news of five added minutes only deepened the gloom, seemingly limiting the chances of getting the 17.07 train back. Those that remained were at least not overly inclined to boo at the finish. It wasn’t the worst performance of the season, not by a distance. But the result was all that mattered today.