Nothing went right today, from the opening minute. I don’t know whether the team was tired after the midweek efforts, whether there were still scars from the earlier game at their place, or whether it was just one of those days (it did begin at 04.00 French time to get back in time). We can’t really say that the game for sure turned on a dreadful decision by the officials, but it put paid to what chances we had. After barely getting a kick in the first 20 minutes or so, and being unable to pass the ball (can’t blame the difficult surface as they had no problems doing so), there was just the possibility that having not gone behind we might start to get a foothold in the game when we game took a decisive turn for the worse. We may well have gone on to lose anyway as we were being outplayed by a decent, if cynical, Forest team. But we will never know. And our response to being a man short wasn't the plucky backs-to-the-wall, spirited display that you hope for.
Let’s deal with the sending off first. From where I sit in the East Stand it looked like a rather cheap shot by Kermorgant against a centre-back who’d been giving him a battering. The ball was going out and Yann swung his leg towards it, with little chance of making contact with anything other than their guy, not with the boot but part of his leg. It was a foul, possibly a tough yellow, but no more. By no stretch of the imagination could it have been interpreted as violent conduct. Their guy reacted and turned nothing into something, with him grabbing Kermorgant by the face and others getting involved as Kermorgant was backing off. The ref, who had a decent view of the original contact, seemed far from clear that anything untoward had happened, consulted the linesman on that side of the pitch without any hint of a problem (he seemed to be asking if anything had happened in the subsequent melee), then noticed that the linesman on the far side, more than the full width of the pitch away, had something to say. After that exchange the red card came out. If Kermorgant did something after the original contact that I didn’t see, so be it. But if he was dismissed for the first foul it was a nonsense. Their guy walked away with nothing despite his reaction.
(As I took time out to watch the England v France rugby – well, it’s the one time the entente cordial gets suspended, I thought I’d better check some details on the BBC site and have seen that Powell accepts is was a deserved red card; I didn’t see it that way but haven’t seen the replays; subject to these I remain convinced it wasn’t Kermorgant kicking their guy, but swinging his leg in the direction of the ball but surely aware that he wouldn’t make contact with it; there was no actual kick of their guy.)
Sir Chris had opted to put out the same starting XI as on Tuesday night, presumably with a view to negating their midfield and keeping things tight, with Dervitte in front of the back four, Jackson and Stephens in central midfield, and Pritchard and Wagstaff operating out wide. But in a strangely subdued atmosphere we started not just slowly but poorly as nobody in midfield seemed able to either hold the ball or play it to another in red. Stephens was having a mare, Jackson was combative but no more, while Pritchard and Wagstaff were regularly brushed off the ball. And when they got the ball they tended to hold it, with Reid in particular showing the virtues of working the ball and not giving it away.
The only consolation was that we didn’t fall behind during that period. They didn’t fashion that much, but did put us under pressure and prompt moments of panic, with it difficult for defenders to keep their feet especially when turning. One chance did go begging as two weak attempted clearances ended with the ball falling to one of theirs on the edge of the box only for him to blast over. But otherwise the thoughts were either let’s get to the break level and come out and simply play better, or just that we’d seen off the early problems and just might start to turn things around. The sending off clearly put the emphasis on the former, and with Wagstaff seemingly taking up a more central position it was obvious that a change would be needed, to bring on Fuller to hopefully be better able to hold the ball and provide some outlet.
The change was made at the break, with Stephens giving way for Fuller. He had had a dire first half and could have no complaints, but there was also the feeling that Wagstaff and Pritchard were too peripheral in a game in which we were being outplayed before the sending off.
Anyway, we settled in for the second half just hoping for life to fast-forward and somehow to hold out. Those thoughts evaporated quite quickly as Forest scored twice in fairly short order. They actually spurned four or five excellent chances, including one that looked more difficult to miss than score, hitting the woodwork twice and pulling us apart. The disappointment was that the two they scored were truly bad goals to concede, the result of defensive mistakes rather than some flowing moves which merited better finishes.
The first came from a dangerous move inside the box, but as their forward skipped past Solly he was covered and the danger seemed to have passed. But both our guys froze and their forward was able to poke the ball home as they watched. There’s no question where the blame for the second lies as a run-of-the-mill shot wasn’t held by Hamer and the forward ran on to the loose ball to score. That mistake seemed to unsettle him badly too, with a nervy period following (albeit with one good save to turn one round the post).
2-0 up and Forest relaxed a bit, happy to keep possession but still fashioning good chances. We did go for it in the sense that Haynes came on, for Wagstaff. We needed a moment out of the blue from either him or Fuller to provoke an unlikely comeback, but while Haynes did unsettle them Fuller seemed lacklustre. We even brought on Obika (for Pritchard) at the death, ending the game with 10 men but three forwards. But it was all to no avail as Forest saw out the game comfortably.
It was a sobering experience after Tuesday night and nobody, with the exception of Haynes and some of the defence, emerged with any credit. We were poor before the dismissal and the response was less than fighting. We could have lost the game 5-0. They missed their best – and well-crafted – chances and scored twice from mistakes. No Kermorgant for three games presumably (Powell’s comments don’t exactly point towards an appeal), further evidence of poor home form, and because we lost (badly) inevitable questioning of the formation. Basically nothing could have turned out worse. My imminent large takeaway will probably be a disaster too.
Hamer – 4/10. One good save but a poor mistake for their second (following the one against Hull) and a worrying reaction afterwards. He’s still well in credit for me, but it is now a decision for Powell whether Button should get the nod.
Solly – 6/10. Can’t say he carries some of the blame for their first without seeing it again, but it was one that shouldn’t have gone in. Otherwise tough to tell in a team display that was well below par, with not much opportunity to get forward.
Wiggins – 6/10. Some good moments, including one going forward and one piece of covering in the first half, but seems to be feeling his way back, which is not surprising.
Morrison – 6/10. No obvious mistakes but they could have scored a hatful and their centre-forward pulled our defence apart.
Cort – 6/10. As with Morrison. Found it hard to keep his feet sometimes but usually managed to get it out of the danger zone when under pressure.
Dervitte – 5/10. In the team to protect the defence and we were unable to keep things tight.
Pritchard – 4/10. Never gave up but ineffective against strong opposition. Brushed off the ball and passing not crisp enough.
Jackson – 5/10. We were outplayed in midfield before and after the sending off; his contribution didn’t go beyond being combative and covering, while perhaps today we also needed someone shouting at people to rouse them into action.
Stephens – 4/10. Stream of misplaced passes in the first half; we do rely on him to make the team tick and today it stuttered badly.
Wagstaff – 4/10. Like Pritchard, today he was peripheral.
Kermorgant – If the red proves to be justified the score would have to be very low; I still think it was very harsh, but it was an action which invited the officials to make an interpretation of what was done.
Subs – Fuller (4/10 – disappointing in that we needed a guy to hold the ball and work tirelessly, which he didn’t seem to do today); Haynes (7/10 – did make a real difference and caused them the few problems they had); Obika (only on for a couple of minutes but hope switching BWP for him will prove an astute move).