Five — FIVE — goals from Nottingham Forest saw the Reds beat a depleted West Ham United 5-0 to put them through to the 4th Round of the FA Cup. David Marples offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground…
A sky of battleship grey. A biting wind. A frost covering cars on awakening. A crowd slightly bloated from Christmas excess of pies, alcohol and cheese sporting sale sought winter wear. An undersized home crowd and a heaving away end up and down the country. Ah. This must be FA Cup 3rd Round day.
We all have our own memories and special moments associated with FA Cup 3rd Round day but these days, such a day entails Premier League managers talking up the importance of the Cup while, at the same time, naming weakened sides; unusual kick-off times (even more so than usual); reminders of the importance of Mark Robins’ goal at the City Ground and its importance to the career of Sir Alex Ferguson; ITV managing to mess up their coverage of what should be a straightforward job; and, of course, an underwhelming tie for the Garibaldi.
Big Sam named a youthful and severely weakened side. Little Billy named a strong and competitive side. He and we both sensed blood. Paterson jinked this way and that and ended up on the deck after bamboozling a Hammers defender. Penalty. Abdoun clutched the ball like a toddler hanging on to their favourite blanket. Despite the seniority of Reid and Lansbury in his face, he would not relinquish: not ever. He sensed a first goal. In the stands, strangers muttered to each other, ‘he’d better score this now’. And score he did… with aplomb. Panenka, Pirlo and now Abdoun. Take a bow.
At this stage, it was all a little too easy and yet very familiar. Reid and Lansbury dominated the midfield while Hobbs and Lascelles were imperious at the back. We kept the ball and camped in the Hammers’ half. We probed, passed, prodded but, alas, without much penetration. West Ham must improve; they can’t be any worse, surely they’ll up their game in the second-half and we’ll rue not taking advantage of our domination. That’s just what happens these days on Trentside and beyond. Those mini Hammers will come good and give us a run for our money.
And they did – for all of five minutes. But we stood firm and went on to produce a complete second-half performance consisting of goals. Loads of ‘em. Three for Jamie; the little whippet of a winger with a magic touch. Young Jamie has shown flashes of brilliance thus far but has looked a little lightweight and in need of a few pies in order to fulfil his potential; releasing the ball earlier might also have helped too but today, this boy was different gravy. His joy at converting his hattrick was boyish and giddy – and good for him. With the game wrapped up, the team spent the rest of the half trying to tee up Lansbury for a goal. Alas, his shooting boots were left in the changing rooms.
And then a most unusual thing occurred: some naysayers might suggest that unusual occurrence to be Harding coming on and having a decent game, or Little Billy speaking to the local press post game. Harsh. No, it happened and I saw it: Abdoun passed up a scoring chance and successfully squared it to Reid to convert. Amazing. The next time Abdoun looks to the heavens in despair as a teammate dares to pass it to someone else but him, I may even have a pang of sympathy for him and resist a wry smile to myself. Well played, sir. Although you were THIS close to being hauled off after a bout of showboating which believe you me, did not go down very well on the Forest bench.
Watching your team does not get much better that this: coasting to victory with no pressure; a rare time when you can sit back and simply enjoy the game without those constant ‘whatifs’ and secret deals you do with yourself if only this happens or that doesn’t happen as your stomach is tied in knots of anxiety. And against a Premier League team too. Admittedly, although this was a Premier League club, the team selected today was anything but. Big Sam was serenaded by both sets of fans regarding his employability on Monday morning: if the Hammers stay up and reach the League Cup Final, this will be a small footnote in their season. If not, this will be the moment that faith was lost in his leadership. The record books will simply state that Championship side Nottingham Forest hammered the Hammers of the Premier League 5-0. Not our most glorious moment as a football club but a most satisfying one for now.
Annually the value of the cup is discussed but ask the Rochdale fans or ask Jamie Paterson and you will be surprised at how much the Cup means, no matter that the ribbons are sponsored, no matter that ITV insisted on referring to us as Notts, no matter that middling Premier League clubs send out weakened sides. It still matters; it’s just that perhaps we as Forest fans forgot what it was like to be involved or have such an afternoon as this. Of course we’ll undo all our good work by going out against Ipswich in the next round thanks to a David McGoldrick hattrick and a Luke Chambers man-of-the-match performance in the next round and no doubt draw a blank at Bolton, thus re-igniting the demands for the lesser spotted 20-goals-a-season-striker. Pessimistic? Maybe but that’s more a reflection on myself than the team. But for now, that doesn’t matter. Reidy has signed a new contract, Hobbs wants to stay and we’ve got Jamie… Jamie… Jamie and his magic touch.
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