Sunday, 27 October 2013

Ifs And Maybes, For Both Teams

This proved to be a game of ifs and maybes, for both teams. We knew conditions were going to be difficult (but whatever happens tonight they weren’t too bad), and that Wigan would provide a stern test, even if hopefully they would be feeling the exersions of their Thursday night game. In the first half we played well and created the two moments of note, one of which should have seen us take the lead; but Wigan upped it in the second half and they can point to five or six good chances which weren’t converted, while we had some moments but basically had lost control of the game. The fact that despite the chances neither keeper had to make an outstanding save (there was a decent one from Hamer) probably says it all: neither team can complain about not winning because the opportunities were put wide.

The good news ahead of the start was that Kermorgant was back in the starting line-up, raising hopes that his ankle troubles were behind him. Given the conditions, it was fair to assume that we’d need his prowess in the air – in both boxes. After two successive clean sheets (effectively three, given that Forest scored at the start of that game) the defence picked itself. Stewart and Pritchard provided the width and Stephens and Cousins were paired in central midfield, with Church alongside Kermorgant up front. It was an adventurous set-up, one which put a fair degree of pressure on Stephens and Cousins to both protect the defence and to keep things moving going forward.

In the first half they did the job well. Carson was denied the quality warm welcome back to The Valley he surely would have received as seemingly he picked up a knock in the warm-up, which meant a second-choice keeper in and (I think) no keeper for Wigan on the bench. Call me a wizened old cynic, but for me that cried out for the first couple of crosses/set pieces to be put right under his nose to see what he was made of, with Kermorgant, Morrison et al there to perhaps put in a robust challenge or two. Instead, unfortunately the quality of the balls in from out wide was poor, from left and right, and their guy was able to feel his way into the game. A missed opportunity perhaps.

No matter, we were playing with some confidence and no little ability and were generally on top, knocking the ball around well enough and preventing Wigan from creating much. Stewart seemed reluctant to take on Boyce, but with Wiggins providing good support and with Stephens winning tackles and pulling the strings we just needed to fashion a few decent chances to break the deadlock. There was a setback as Kermorgant, who had been strangely anonymous, departed, to be replaced by Sordell. Obviously that ankle still isn’t right, which is a real worry.

The chance of the half did finally materialise. Good work down the left put in Wiggins and this time, instead of a routine cross, he squared it to Pritchard in space around the edge of the box. It was well set up but he didn’t get over it and the shot went over the bar. He really had to hit the target. After that there was a near miss as a cross from the right to the far post was almost bundled home by someone, but it was cleared. There were a couple of fairly routine shots for Hamer to save, but at the break we were probably ahead on points by one-and-a-half chances to zero.

The second half was to be materially different, as Wigan raised their game and progressively took control. We still created some dangerous moments, but they tended to come from breaks rather than as a result of having control as our midfield was generally penned back. A sign of things to come came early in the half as a near post header from them cannoned back off the underside of the bar. That one was close, but those that followed can only be attributed to poor finishing (in addition to some excellent blocks from us). One curling shot seemed headed for the corner of the net from where we sat but Hamer was able to gather it, but on other occasions you could only say they should have scored.

In a decent game in the conditions – one refereed with a fair degree of understanding, with the card kept in the pocket (until late on Pritchard was guilty of one too many) – we had our moments too. A cross from the left was met by Pritchard but he couldn’t direct it goalwards; a truly storming run by Wilson ended with a dangerous cross (and then a long treck back for him as they broke and exploited the space left behind); and there was my favourite moment of the game (given that we didn’t actually score). Stewart had through the match seemed totally reluctant to try to take on Boyce on the outside, either cutting in or laying it back, but late on the two squared up and Boyce must have had it in his head that he won’t go outside me. He did, and left Boyce for dead, only for his cross to be smothered by a couple of defenders as Sordell couldn’t quite get on the end of it.

However, with the impressive Wood having to follow Kermorgant to the bench as he failed to recover from what looked like a bad fall (Dervite came on) we were looking down to the bare bones: no other forward on the bench, no other central defender available, and despite our good moments you could sense that with 20 minutes to go we would probably be the happier with a draw (which isn’t to say that I wasn’t hoping for one at the death to go in off someone’s backside). Jackson replaced Cousins late on but by then we were content if not happy with the point.

There were enough positives to take from the game, including a third consecutive clean sheet and a fourth game unbeaten. No problems with the effort and commitment, in all areas of the pitch. We should have been ahead at the break but given the chances that Wigan squandered in the second half we take the point and move on (again). Let’s just hope that Kermorgant and Wood aren’t sidelined for long.

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 8/10. Did everything that he could well, including some decent saves. Can’t blame him for Wigan not hitting the target with their best chances.

Wilson – 7/10. Still managed to make one bad error, ghosting past one guy when covering after a corner but then putting in a terrible pass which meant us losing possession in a dangerous fashion; but has to get an extra point for that storming run.

Wiggins – 8/10. Man-of-the-match today is a tough call, but I’d just about give it to him. Effective going forward and defensively solid. Seems to me that the indifferent early season form is behind him.

Morrison – 7/10. Another candidate, with a resolute performance against decent opponents. Wigan put us under a fair bit of pressure in the second half and he stood firm, but they did have chances.

Wood – 7/10. Another good, effective performance until he had to go off. It can’t be an accident that the defence has tightened up considerably since he came in.

Stewart – 7/10. Not explosive and ultimately wasn’t able to be the match-winner, but was always involved and provided my highlight of the match.

Stephens – 7/10. At half-time I would have had him as the MoTM after an impressive display. But we lost control of the game in the second half and he was far less visible.

Cousins – 7/10. Nothing dramatic, but like Stephens influential in the first half and less effective in the second, before being replaced, as we were pinned back. Have to say I hope we don’t hear more comparisons with Parker as apart from coming through the youth ranks they look different types of player to me.

Pritchard – 7/10. Combative and involved in a number of our best moments in the second half. But still a question mark over his ability to make the right choice when in a good position and he did miss the best chance we had all game.

Church – 7/10. Worked tirelessly, even when the ref seemed to be penalising him for every challenge. Nothing fell for him up front, but it wasn’t for a want of trying.

Kermorgant – Don’t think it’s fair to give a mark. The time he was on the pitch he was strangely out of the game, for what turned out to be an obvious reason. Have we rushed him back too soon again?

Subs – Sordell (7/10; thought he worked well enough against decent opponents and almost got on the end of a cross to convert); Dervite (7/10; was pretty much backs to the wall by the time he came on and I saw nothing wrong); Jackson (7/10; well, why not? Everyone else has a 7 today).

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Credit Where It's Due

Sometimes there’s no harm in giving a bit of credit, even when local rivals are involved. Just listened to the interviews on the radio with both Holloway and the Palace chairman. Both were open, clearly honest, and communicating fairly to their fans the reasons for the departure of a manager. Whatever the ins and out, and whatever happens next (on both fronts others are far better placed than me to comment), they both emerge with credit, with a willingness to talk to the media about a difficult affair, with no side to what they said, obvious regret from both parties that things haven’t worked out the way they hoped, and presumably a parting of the ways with good wishes all round.

Even though we understandably want to turn over Millwall when we play them, and feel that something’s wrong with the world if we are below them in the league, I couldn’t help thinking through recent years that in Jackett they had a good, level-headed manager doing a decent job (which is in no way any comment on the guy in charge now; on that front I have no idea). Palace will no doubt regroup and even if they do come back down will obviously have the resources in the short term to stand a fair chance of going back up.

OK, the (relative) goodwill will come to a quick end if there’s any suggestion that Palace might come knocking on Sir Chris’ door. I can’t say who would suit them, but can’t help thinking that one suitable candidate would be Curbishley, if he is looking to get back into the swing of things. The job itself would presumably involve a ‘no lose’ situation as far as this season is concerned (ie if they get relegated the guy stays, unless it’s a deal framed deliberately to tempt someone for just the rest of this season) and Curbs obviously has experience of keeping sides in the Premiership and of rebounding from the Championship after relegation. Might stick in the throat, but if he wants a job I wouldn’t blame him for sending in the application (although just how I’d feel if he led out a Palace team at The Valley would have to remain an open question; West Ham was another matter).

Closer to home, I couldn’t help noticing on the club site the piece about the ‘Addicks Place stones’ in front of The Valley having had a “full professional clean”. On the assumption that this has extended to the older bricks, that is welcome news and here too some credit where it’s due. It seems there were discussions with supporters over the appearance of the plot and if suggestions have been acted on so much the better. I will try to take a look at my brick on Sunday (assuming we leave the pub in time).

Of course we wish Wigan well in their European match tomorrow night. But it would be unreasonable of them to hope for anything other than a very tiring victory, including the possibility of a few post-match niggles for key players. Goodwill does after all only extend so far. Don’t know who draws up the fixture list for the Europa League, but if it had been me they would have been travelling to Rubin Kazan this week rather than the other way around.

As for last weekend, there were five requirements for me to have the perfect Saturday in Lyon. Well, the car worked OK, the corkscrew didn’t break, and after a fashion my partner Suzanne managed to work her new oven (I thought I was bad when it comes to having to read instruction manuals but she does take the biscuit). Three out of three became four out of four with our glorious victory. Believe me, there was a corner of Lyon where glasses were raised in tribute.

However, nobody likes perfection and perhaps predictably Lyon Duchere did not play their part to make it a clean sweep. They will have felt confident of beating mid-table Jura Sud and started the game well enough, generally dictating the play and looking threatening. But after a couple of efforts didn’t find the net Duchere were caught cold when their defence and goalkeeper hesitated and allowed in a Jura guy to score midway through the first half. No matter, plenty of time left – and indeed Duchere evened things up just a few minutes later as their nippy winger cut in and shot fiercely past their keeper at his near post. At that stage perhaps a little complacency set in as Duchere failed to use the equaliser as a springboard. Instead before the break they dawdled on the ball in midfield and Jura sprang forward well with numbers, played in their guy who rounded the keeper and scored.

At half-time the talk among the crowd (which must have numbered a little short of 200, including a carload who had clearly made the short trip from Jura) was that the Duchere manager might deliver a few choice words. Whatever was said didn’t have the desired effect as Duchere became increasingly frustrated at their inability to break down a team happy to keep their shape behind the ball and able to threaten far more on the break. Conditions weren’t easy as through Saturday it seemed the Mistral had made its appearance, but Duchere ended up failing to create a decent chance in the second half and can have no complaints about the result.

So be it. If I had to choose one of the five not to come off I guess I could have lived with the corkscrew breaking (provided this happened when the supermarket was still open), but other than that sorry Duchere but if pushed it had to be you.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Vive La Difference

Now we’ve got the internationals nonsense out of the way, can we get back to serious football please? For me this will involve a Lyon Duchere game tomorrow evening rather than a trip north to Blackburn. Having decamped to Lyon a week ago to avoid all the hubris of the England qualification games (and of course to see my French partner Suzanne), my own particular weekend treck (back to Blighty) should begin at sparrow’s fart on Sunday morning, assuming the alarm and coffee do the trick. I will have to content myself with texts updates and tracking the game on the Beeb, with fingers crossed for a happier outcome than Operation Ewood in another life some years ago.

Hopefully everybody’s rested up (knocking in a few against West Ham doesn’t really count, although for the record Suzanne is happy to hear we had another Frenchman featuring on trial), perhaps one or more of the injured will be back. Whatever, it really feels like the early skirmishes of the season have passed and now it’s down to the business of ensuring we don’t get embroiled in a relegation scrap. Five tough games (on paper) ahead before we rub salt into Doncaster’s wounds with the replayed game (no, don’t wish to suggest that one’s any sort of gimmee). Show a replay of the Forest game to serve as a reminder of what’s eminently possible, if minds as well as bodies are up for it.

Actually getting to watch the England games while in France has been a bit of a challenge, especially if for a Friday night you are booked into an hotel up a hill in a village outside Vaison la Romaine, one with a splendid view of Mont Ventoux but a restaurant that at this time of year stops newcomers at eight on the dot and which only has the basic TV channels in the room. So after traffic foul-ups and delays getting out of Lyon, instead of a slap-up feed washed down with something red and England on in the background, we ended up with a motorway service station ‘salad’ each while watching France trounce Australia (albeit with the head start of a real homer penalty for a handball; the replays showed that the ball didn’t even touch the guy’s hand). Catching the Poland game proved easier when back in Lyon (no ITV but enough streaming options).

Others clearly place a much higher importance on England games than I do (if it’s a choice between England winning the pot in Brazil and us staying up/getting promoted I’d have no hesitation in choosing the latter). Doesn’t mean I’m not pleased to be English, let alone in any way ashamed of the fact as the Mail might want to suggest (truth is it’s the Mail that hates Britain, which is why it rants so much, in a frustrated desire to turn the clock back 50 years to some supposed idyll that never existed).

I’m an Addick, a Londoner, English, British and European (I’d go on to suggest a global citizen, but then you kind of lose meaning if you’re defining yourself) and happy to be all of those things. I’m just not much of a flag-waver and cannot help but laugh at the suggestion of ‘English/British values’ (like ‘Christian values’ they don’t exist, they are just a set of labels for fairly basic habits and customs that are always positive and in essence exist anywhere you go). Seems that when Wiltshire was pressed on the matter his overriding characteristic of an English player is the ability to tackle hard, which led to the absurdity of Wenger being obliged to defend one of his players in public having complained for years of being stripped of decent players as a result of ‘tough tackling’. Then you had Rednapp making the daftest comment I heard, along the lines of ‘if they’re born in Britain it doesn’t matter where they come from’ (well Harry, if they were born in Britain that’s exactly where they came from).

I guess I’m just wary (to put it mildly) of any organisation, political or otherwise, the rationale for which is to emphasise division and separateness (ie ‘all our ills are their fault’) rather than focus on the far greater commonality of goals and aspirations and how to try achieve them. Tomorrow afternoon, thousands of people will flock to Blackburn’s ground and for a short period of time two different groups will want different outcomes. Once the game’s over, they will go their separate ways and then do pretty similar things (there’s a cheap joke in there somewhere about the habits of northerners but we’ll let it pass).

Which to try to get back to Charlton might provide some clue as to why Sir Chris gets the support that he does from the majority of Addicks (myself included). We loved him as a player, not because of where he came from (he did have a skeleton in his own past after all) but because he displayed consistently what are reasonable to view as positive and endearing characteristics. The goodwill generated has carried over to a strong desire to see him succeed as a manager, a feeling only intensified by what he has actually done since taking over, not just overseeing promotion but crafting a team that also displays positive characteristics (most of the time, except when we play Millwall it seems). Things can always change; of course there may come a time when the players don’t respond well to him and his staff, when the results and situation require a different approach and a new leader. But as others have said as things stand the far greater danger is that another club will come knocking on his door.

Those that might support a change of manager I’m sure don’t do so from any sense of mischief, or because they are any more or less of an Addick than me. Just amounts to a difference of opinion over what is best for the club we support, which is the overriding shared desire. Again, far more unites us than divides us. Blimey, even when I feel disgruntled about the owners I have to remember that in addition to them writing the cheques they did after all choose Sir Chris.

So, all that’s required for tomorrow is the car to work (so that we can get to the Croix Rousse market and back), the corkscrew not to break (I have a rather nice Barolo lined up for the afternoon), Suzanne’s new cooker to work properly (so that she can concentrate on rustling up something to accompany the wine), three points to come our way, and then victory for Duchere (they’ve made a decent start to the season, lying third with four wins, two draws and a defeat from the first seven; the match is at home to Jura Sud, while tonight the two teams above Duchere – Yzeure and Moulins – play each other, so there’s scope for ground to be made up). All those fall into place and Sunday can look after itself.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Take The Point, Take The Break

The question before the game was which team would show up, the one that didn’t perform against Millwall or the one that did against Forest. In the event it proved to be something between the two. The effort and commitment were there, but the quality seldom was. As an attacking force our threat diminished the longer the game went on and we ended the match looking pretty much what we are: a patched-up side missing key players, trying to make it to an international break with something to show from the game. That we emerged with a point, and our first clean sheet of the season, was due to the excellence of the defence – but also the fact that the petulant Ince, having been handed the chance of the game at the death by terrible indecision on the part of Wilson, put it wide.

The team was unchanged from Tuesday, with Church overcoming his knock and Pritchard returning to take a place on the bench. And the opening 20 minutes were to prove our brightest spell of the game. We were in the ascendency, largely controlling midfield, and the passing and movement, while not perhaps having the good tempo of Tuesday night, kept us ticking over without being especially threatening. Gower provided the anchor in midfield, with Stephens and Cousins keeping possession well, while Wiggins was keeping Ince under control and Morrison and Wood ensuring that Fuller wasn’t able to break free.

An early free kick just outside the box after a clumsy challenge saw Stephens strike it well enough but without enough dip to get it below the bar, and a few minutes later he hit one over from outside the box. But if we’d won the first 20 minutes on points Blackpool came more into it after that and, with Ince and Fuller, you had the fear that they had the players more likely to break the deadlock. Hamer seemed a little traumatised by Reid’s goal for Forest as shots that were going wide or over the bar saw him scrambling after them, but when it mattered he was there, diving low to his left to save well from a header.

That, to the best of my recollection, was about it for the first half, bar a decent ball in or two from Wiggins (and to be fair some indifferent ones). At the break the question was which team, or player, would take the game by the scruff of the neck.

It didn’t prove to be us. Increasingly Church and Sordell were frustrated by poor service and their inability to provide any material challenge in the air to their centre-backs, and Harriott was unable to make or exploit space in the hole behind them. The one decent effort we had was a rasping shot from Cousins which was touched around the post, but in the main balls were played forward more in hope than expectation. Wood did bring a decent tip over from their keeper but was in any case penalised for a push. And Sordell did manage to lay claim to the worst penalty appeal of the season, ensuring that he’d just managed to get into the box before falling over. I think I’m as partisan as they come, but it didn’t occur to me to howl for a decision in our favour.

At the other end Blackpool increasingly relied on the long throw to provide something that might fall for them in the box. That threat was handled well by Hamer and those in front of him. Changes were made by both sides, to no real effect. If anything our substitutions made us more disjointed. Surprisingly (for me) Gower was taken off, with Pritchard coming on. We lost an important element of control in midfield with his departure and really added little. Stewart replaced Church, who seemed to be fading and feeling the knock from Tuesday, and late on Pigott came on for Sordell.

By the end our chances of nicking one and taking the three points were diminishing and I suspect we’d all have settled for the draw. That we were nearly denied that was down to a moment of madness. There were enough players around for there not to be a threat but Wilson seemed caught in at least three minds and ended up heading the ball into the path of Ince. He should have scored, but perhaps there is some justice. He’d been lucky to just get a yellow for a nasty, petulant kick out after his inability to control the ball had lost possession, while his first-half performance had suggested he is preparing himself for the Premiership as the rule was ‘there was contact, I’m entitled to fall on my face’. He missed and that was that.

The positives? The clean sheet, another encouraging showing from Cousins, and the highly impressive performance from my man of the match, Wood (with Morrison not far behind). The negatives? Further evidence that Harriott isn’t a guy to play in the hole (his main asset is pace and that just doesn’t get utilised), and the fact that our front two failed to carve out anything, even though they were working on scraps. The stats do sometimes speak for themselves. On Tuesday we had 22 attempts on goal; today we had eight, two on target. I suspect one of those was one that barely reached their keeper and you can’t exactly complain about a 0-0 if you create that little.

Rest up for a couple of weeks and let’s get going after the break. Personally I’ll depart to Lyon for a break (and the chance to check on the progress of my adopted French team, Lyon Duchere).

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 8/10. Seemed nervous in the first half, but made the save when called on and instrumental in ensuring that their string of long throws into the box didn’t result in goals.

Wilson – 5/10. Sorry, but it was a bad mistake at the death which very nearly resulted in a defeat.

Wiggins – 7/10. That Ince produced next to nothing has to reflect well on his performance. Not quite the effectiveness going forward we saw on Tuesday night, but perhaps he had Ince in mind.

Morrison – 8/10. Another sterling showing. Fuller was seen off and they didn’t have a decent chance until gifted one.

Wood – 8/10. My man of the match, after a very good showing on Tuesday night. He’s come back in to a back four, done a resolute job in two games, and so far not put a foot wrong.

Stephens – 7/10. For me more effective when Gower was on the pitch than when required to control the centre after his departure. Good first half but faded in the second.

Gower – 7/10. Nothing dramatic, but I don’t know why he was substituted (especially as that didn’t seem to be a change in formation). Without him we were winning far less of the challenges.

Cousins – 7/10. Another good showing (tempted to make it an 8). What impresses me is both his ability to retain possession and to make a simple but productive pass.

Harriott – 6/10. Really feel he’s been asked to perform in a position which isn’t for him, at least not yet. His control and ability to pick a pass aren’t especially strong and in the hole his pace gets neutralised. I hope – when all are back fit – that he gets the opportunity as an outright winger.

Church – 6/10. Below par performance, perhaps the result of his knock on Tuesday night. Not equipped to be a target man for balls forward and today unable to create much.

Sordell – 6/10. The service was poor and too often was jumping aimlessly for balls he had no chance of winning. Both he and Church quite clearly need the return of Kermorgant.

Subs – Prichard (6/10 – struggled to make an impact when he came on); Stewart (6/10 – much the same); Pigott (much the same).

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Pride Restored

After the spineless performance against Millwall and a bad defeat at Burnley, my main wish was to walk away from the two next home games feeling proud of the team I support, whatever the result. Part one has been accomplished. The effort, determination and character that were so sadly absent before were back in force, which together with no little ability and so much better movement ended up making a decent Forest team look pretty ordinary for large periods of the game. That we should have won nobody can seriously argue against; the stats alone ought to confirm that as we had by far the greater number of scoring opportunities, in both halves. But it felt like a victory.

Sir Chris celebrated at the end like it was and he had every right to. And note to board: there is no other manager in the country, not one, who would have received the backing from the crowd that Powell received after we’d fallen behind in the first minute. (Of course, for a laugh I’d texted my French partner Suzanne at 19.40 to say ‘good news, we’re not losing yet’; had to send one at 19.48 to say ‘we are now’.)

Sod’s law means that when you have ample time to write a match account, due to a 12.15 kick-off, the incidents of note could have been scribbled on the proverbial back of a fag packet. Now it’s 22.30 and trying to describe all of those from tonight’s encounter would take me well past my bedtime. Suffice to say – again in direct contrast with the televised Millwall match – this was one that any neutral would have thoroughly enjoyed.

The absence of Kermorgant from the squad did underline how questionable was the decision to send him on towards the end away at Burnley. Without him, and the others (including Pritchard), we lined up with a flat back four (Wilson, Wiggins, Morrison and Wood in front of Hamer), a front two (Church and Sordell), and a four-man midfield of Stephens, Gower, Cousins and Harriott. But the surprise was that Harriott operated less on the flank than in a roving role, putting the onus on the full-backs to provide the width; Stephens tended to be on the left side, Gower central and Cousins to his right.

The game had barely started when a ball played in the air out wide prompted a silly and unnecessary challenge by Cousins on the returning Andy Reid. The free kick was right on the touchline and seemed an open opportunity for him to curl in something dangerous for someone to get on the end of. Just didn’t expect him to curl one quite superbly into the top far corner of the net. Quite clearly Hamer didn’t either as despite the angle he couldn’t get a touch on it.

Not surprisingly the team seemed stunned and for the next 10 minutes or so Forest set out to put their stamp on the game. Not by pulling us apart but by demonstrating that they were bigger, stronger, could knock the ball around at ease. They would have realised that we were low on confidence and might have killed the game off in that period. Instead, with the crowd repeating the Cardiff reaction of last season, we gradually worked our way back into the game and, despite the absence of an aerial threat for balls played forward, began to create chances, due in no small part to the contribution of Wiggins going forward.

A lot of things in that period weren’t going right, not least as Harriott operating centrally found himself running into crowded areas. But it was already apparent that the movement and willingness to give the guy with the ball necessary support was a world apart from the Millwall game, not least due to the contribution of Stephens. That alone began to bring rewards.

The first of many chances that came and went was the result of a Wiggins ball in from the left. Church had escaped his markers and got between them and the keeper, only to fail to get a decisive contact. It was a bad miss. From another Wiggins cross Cousins failed to make any contact when in a great position to score. Wilson cut into the box and I thought his shot was destined for the net, only for it to go agonisingly wide. And just before the break Stephens got clear down the left and a parried shot led to the sort of goalmouth scramble that when you’re luck’s in gets converted. Against that, one interception saw Forest break clear and only a combination of Wood and Wilson managed to prevent their guy putting it away. At the break we were a distance ahead on chances but hadn’t taken any and were behind to something exceptional.

We picked things up where we left off in the second half, with early jitters between their defenders and keeper resulting in a corner and another near miss. Forest’s anxiety at their loss of control of a game that early on seemed theirs for the taking was to be reflected in three substitutions quite early on. But we still needed to score.

Just when we were starting to think it might really be one of those nights we did. Decent work down the left ended with the ball running loose on the other side and Wilson bearing down on it in loads of space. Seemed he would take it on and shoot, but instead he played it square to Sordell in a better position and he finished coolly, showing what he might be able to do regularly if the service is provided.

The outpouring of relief, the effort expended, and the fact that we now had something to protect perhaps not surprisingly resulted in the tempo dropping and Forest coming more into the game. There was always a threat from set pieces, with more than a fair share of pushing/pulling/blocking going on which the ref seemed oblivious to. But by and large we kept them at bay and continued to fashion the better chances.

I’m not sure I remember all of them, but Cousins hit the post from a tight angle inside the box, prompting another scramble from which a goal seemed inevitable, then Harriott blazed over from a good position. At the other end it seemed for a moment that the ball would break in the box for one of their guys, but Cousins was to make a quite superb block. It was all set up for a last-gasp winner for us and the chance did come at the death (after Hughes had replaced Gower, Church limped off for Pigott, and Dervite made a late entry to the fray). Another corner and Morrison coming in at the far post couldn’t keep the shot down.

With the final whistle the players didn’t seem sure whether to celebrate or bemoan the fact that this was a game that we should have won, with a little more composure and luck in their box (can’t even call it the final third as some of the chances were from a few yards out). Whatever the initial reaction, with a chance to reflect they should take away pride in the performance and the obvious lesson that to compete in any Championship game requires the level of commitment that was on show tonight and not in the previous home game. There is no excuse for letting standards drop on Saturday.

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 6/10. Their goal made him look a little foolish and given the distance and angle there has to be some culpability, even though it was a superb curling effort. Otherwise struggled to deal with their corners but thanks to those in front of him didn’t have a shot in anger to save.

Wilson – 7/10. Defensively sound, bar one moment at the end when having been beaten to the ball lost his composure and was rounded again when on the ground. Gets a clear assist for our goal.

Wiggins – 8/10. There was concern about his form in the early games, but tonight he provided our most potent attacking threat in the first half as well as playing his part defensively.

Morrison – 8/10. Oh, so nearly a 9, if only he’d converted the chance at the finish.

Wood – 7/10. Quietly effective and impressive. Their absence of chances from open play was in no part due to him.

Stephens – 8/10. Just a world apart from the Millwall display. Not every pass or flick came off but made himself available, supported the guy with the ball, and almost scored.

Gower – 7/10. Unfussy and composed. Provided solidity in the centre of midfield.

Cousins – 7/10. Poor foul at the start to give away the free kick for their goal, missed a good chance in the first half, and couldn’t quite convert the one in the second. But otherwise very good, notable that unlike Pritchard when isolated in possession he didn’t tend to lose it but managed to find an out. And deserves a mark for his block in the box towards the end.

Harriott – 6/10. Harsh perhaps as he didn’t stop running and trying to make things happen, but didn’t really cause them the problems he might have done in his role and often chose the wrong pass/option.

Church – 7/10. Another tireless performance but as against Millwall he failed to take a good chance when it arose.

Sordell – 7/10. Often out of the game, is unable to provide an effective challenge for balls in the air, but took his chance when it came.

Subs – Hughes (7/10: a delight to see him back on the pitch, brought on to help shore things up); Pigott (6/10; worked hard enough and did offer more of a challenge to their centre-backs when it came to competing for balls in the air); Dervite (too late on for a mark).