Still in the bottom three, Forest slumped to a fifth consecutive home league defeat against a superior Southampton side. James Bolton reports from the City Ground.
Surprisingly, Steve Cotterill converted to a conventional 4-4-2 formation for the visit of table-topping Southampton. Greg Cunningham and Marlon Harewood came in for Kieron Freeman and Andy Reid.
Southampton’s passing style was plain to see from kick-off, their movement off the ball was outstanding from start to finish and often lead us chasing shadows. Dean Hammond and Adam Lallana tested Lee Camp with efforts from outside the box.
Marcus Tudgay had two chances to give Forest the lead. A flicked header from a corner came to Tudgay too quickly for him to convert his header on target, and when Tudgay was released by Harewood, his attempted lob fell into the hands of Kelvin Davis.
Harewood had a chance of his own from a Lewis McGugan free kick when the ball deflected into his path, but he dwelt on the ball and his goal bound effort was spectacularly blocked on the line by Jos Hooiveld.
Southampton then broke at speed and after a defensive error from Luke Chambers, Jack Cork cut the ball back to David Connolly who was denied by a good save from Camp, but Guly do Prado slammed home. That section of play encapsulated our season. Harewood and do Prado’s chances were very similar, but the level of clinical finishing couldn’t have been more different.
Joel Lynch had a golden chance from a corner at the far post, but he headed over and McGugan tested Davis with 25-yard free kick. The first half came to a close and, despite a few chances, it had been a rather dull first half.
But the second half sparked into life on 49 minutes. Chambers was harshly shown a straight red card for leading with his elbow in a challenge with Connolly. The striker fell to the ground before being surrounded by Southampton players, including the goalkeeper who had run around 60 yards to join the fracas. Cotterill and a member of Nigel Adkin’s backroom staff had heated words, but Forest were down to 10 men, deepening their defensive crisis.
Southampton continued their sharp movement and progressive style while the Forest player’s heads sank as the Saints doubled their lead. After neat passing in and around the Forest box, Dan Harding’s deflected cross fell to Connolly, who pounced to claim his fifth of the season.
Schneiderlin then got his own name on the score sheet when his skidding low effort from 30 yards whizzed past Camp, who certainly should have done better. Camp did stop the scoreline getting even worse with good acrobatic saves from Lee Holmes and Hammond.
Forest were completely and utterly outclassed by a team who on today’s evidence are rightfully sitting at the top of the Championship. Their defence was solid, their passing crisp and their movement superb and they didn’t even seem to break a sweat. After yet another questionable refereeing display, even that wasn’t an excuse.
Amongst everyone in the ground today, it really did feel like one of those days watching a team destined for relegation. The fans felt it, the team on Radio Nottingham felt it and so did the players. The spark wasn’t there. It looked as though what fire there was in their bellies had been doused.
While there were the usual irrational calls of ‘Bring Back Billy’, one tweet read out by Robin Chipperfield post-match used the phrase; “Forest are rotten to the core”, and we are really. We have a group of players vastly underperforming, a management team who don’t seem to be in tandem with the manager, who seems void of ideas himself.
I am not a fan who slams the manager, and I am very appreciative of the massive job that Steve Cotterill faced upon his arrival at The City Ground. But the most common answer in his post-match interview was “I don’t know the answer to that one”. Many fans will tell you that rather sums up his managerial capabilities.
Unsurprisingly, there have been calls from fans for Neil Warnock, a manager with a proven track record at this level. Personally, I think they’re more calls of desperation than logic. Would Frank Clark swallow his pride and sack a manager he saw as the ideal candidate to deal with the mess we are in? And, even if he wanted to, we don’t have the financial means to pay off a manager and a four-man backroom team that still lingers from the previous failed regime.
As for Cotterill’s reputation as a ‘wheeler dealer’, more than two weeks into the transfer window and we have seen nothing other than the extension of Cunningham’s loan and the signing of Harewood on a free.
I think today, Cotterill can be criticised for his team selection. Leaving out Andy Reid, who assisted all three goals in the win against Ipswich and was our most creative outlet against Leicester, was a strange decision.
Almost a year ago to the day, Forest beat Portsmouth 2-1 at home with a stoppage time winner. Eleven of the 14 players that featured that day featured are still Forest players, eight of them featured against Southampton and six of them started.
The squad, in terms of personnel at least, isn’t vastly different, but it doesn’t look like much is happening on the transfer front to freshen things up. Not quite Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses so far. Another sitcom title might be more appropriate at the moment. One Foot In The Grave.