The overriding emotion was different, this time. Whereas last year’s ‘ten-men’ win at the City Ground felt miraculous, this one was professional and gritty. Where the 3-2 FA Cup win in February 2009 was dramatic, this game was unglamorous – trench warfare at times, almost threatening to break into hand-to-hand combat at others. Where the 3-1 league win on a sunny day two weeks after we’d knocked them out of the cup was surprisingly comfortable – almost easy – this time, like our 1-0 league win at Pride Park last season, it was frantic and fractious.
What pleased me most of all was the way that our players managed to keep their heads, while Red Dogs lost theirs all around them. Rewind back 12 months to the incident when Frank Fielding was sent off and you’ll see Greening, Reid and Cohen in the referee’s face, like a Greek chorus moaning for Frank to be sent off. Exactly the same sort of thing was happening on Sunday and it was obvious almost from the first whistle that Forest wanted to referee the game themselves.
For the second time in recent seasons, the FA handed this combustible fixture to an inexperienced young referee. Robert Madley did his best, but with their histrionic inability to allow him to get on with the job, Forest made it almost impossible for him.
Even Forest-supporting BBC journalist Jonathan Stevenson admitted afterwards that his team’s behaviour was ‘immature’. When you see Greg Halford, a man the size of the Incredible Hulk, fall, rolling as if poleaxed, after minor contact from the 5’5″ tall bruiser Jamie Ward, you know that something is going badly wrong somewhere.
The point I’m trying to make is that the caustic atmosphere of this particular derby seems to be too much some of the Forest players. They get so wound up about the game that they turn on the ref at the first sign of a tackle, or just take the law into their own hands, as when half the team flew at Roberts after a standing challenge on Cohen – not flagged as a foul by the linesman stood a couple of yards away – or when Blackstock went down under a challenge, then obstructed the ball and wrestled Roberts to the ground, rather than letting the game continue.
It seems rather hypocriticial to conduct a determined campaign to pressurise a young official into giving a red card, then start crying when one of your own players walks for elbowing somebody in the face. Credit to Madley for not setting out to ‘even it up’ by dismissing a Derby player or awarding a non-existent penalty, but more importantly, huge credit to the Derby players for never giving him a decision to make after Blackstock was sent off.
Perhaps if the Forest players had expended more energy and thought on playing football and less on trying to influence Madley, they would have created at least one goalscoring opportunity in a first half they certainly shaded in terms of possession.
If I was Sean O’Driscoll, I would be furious with the likes of Blackstock, Cohen and Reid for their lack of discipline. It is for the fans to get overheated and rant and rave at the ref during these games, not the players. A lot of guff is talked about fans wanting to see ‘passion’ and ‘commitment’ in local derbies, but these are characteristics best displayed by just getting the result.
John Brayford, the victim of comfortably the worst tackle in the game, a disgusting lunge from Simon Cox that could have snapped his ankle, tweeted after the game: “We came, we saw, we delivered.” Exactly. That’s called professionalism. A less demonstrative individual than Brayford would be hard to find on an English football field – so too would a right back with more dedication to his task.
After the sending-off, what made me feel proud was the coolness with which we carved out the winning goal, then the calmness with which we continued to play, seeing out the game in relatively unruffled fashion until the dying minutes, when the Hail Marys starting bombing in.
Clough’s switch to 4-3-3 (or 4-5-1, call it what you will) was absolutely right, giving us the luxury of a spare man in midfield and allowing Will Hughes to start to conduct the proceedings from the centre, where he belongs. Hughes struggled badly in a physical mismatch against Halford in the first half, but came into his own once freed from the left wing. Long-term, Clough has a nice selection headache, because he has three very good central midfield players who must be among the first names on his team sheet. How to accommodate them all?
By the way, whose idea was it for Forest to sign Jermaine Jenas on an ’emergency’ loan? Judging from O’Driscoll’s post-match comments, not his. On why Jenas didn’t even make the bench on Sunday, he said:
“He needs to play matches, that’s the difficulty. Do you throw him in when he’s not match fit? That’s the dilemma… Do you throw him in in the Championship, where you don’t get no easy games?’
In a situation where you already have three midfielders on the bench, how can you possibly need Jenas as an expensive ’emergency’ loanee? And if it’s an ’emergency’, why would you sign a player who isn’t ready to play? One can only assume that Jenas was foisted on the manager by naive owners trying to make a statement to the fans before the derby. What a waste of money.
Anyway, that’s their problem. Let the Forest fans cling to the fallacy of some imagined moral high ground, where their team are as innocent as babes and only lost to us because we cheated. My main wish is for the Forest team to grow up, stop playacting and surrounding the ref, let the football do the talking and give us a game, eleven v eleven.
Then we can burst their bubble good and proper by beating them again and doing the Double Double in January.