Nottingham Forest slumped to a 4-1 defeat at the hands of FA Cup holders Wigan Athletic, as the mounting injuries begin to take their toll. Ben Lawson offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground…
There was an air of frustration around the stands even before 3 o’clock came around as manager Billy Davies revealed that the ever-reliable Jack Hobbs will miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury, further adding to the already vast injury list. The 90 minutes that followed did nothing to ease that frustration.
I, along with most supporters, was surprised to learn that Jonathan Greening was making his first league start since 2012. He had a relatively positive impact after coming off the bench at Burnley last week but I was nonetheless confused when I saw him and his flowing locks scuttling about the pitch just before kick-off. He was greeted by chants of ‘If Greening scores, we’re on the pitch’ that almost trumped last week’s ‘Jonathan Greening, he walks on the Trent’. Unfortunately, the reality is that he does neither (score or walk on water). I was later informed that he stepped in to cover for Guy Moussi who was missing “through family issues”.
Wigan spurned a number of decent openings in the first-half, namely Martyn Waghorn and Nicky Maynard who both fluffed their shots after getting into decent positions. Forest struggled to get their passing game going but were gifted a golden opportunity after a poor back-pass from Leon Barnett fell short of Ali Al Habsi and saw Simon Cox go through on goal. Cox lost his composure and sent the ball wide when it looked easier to score – a feature of his play which has been all too apparent since he signed. He did, however, show good awareness later on to tee up Jamie Paterson for the equalising goal.
Wigan took the lead in a scrappy half after Jordi Gómez’s initial shot was deflected and fell kindly to Waghorn who sent the ball into the net with Darlow already committed to his dive. Forest showed little sign of getting back into the game before half-time as the so-called creative players remained largely ineffective and struggled to threaten. Paterson’s touch was uncharacteristically poor and he fired a good chance over after breaking into the penalty area. Radoslaw Majewski failed to impose himself on the game as is so often the case and both Greening and Gonzalo Jara misplaced the simplest of passes.
The defence struggled to deal with Wigan’s pace and movement and the first-half misery was compounded as Eric Lichaj was replaced by Danny Collins just 46 minutes into his first game back after a spell on the treatment table. We can only hope that it isn’t too serious.
Forest upped the tempo in the second-half and Jamie Mackie’s endeavour down the right-hand side raised hopes of a comeback. He got the better of left-back Jean Beausejour on a number of occasions before he was cynically brought down as he charged through on goal. Beausejour hacked Mackie down on the edge of the penalty area and was perhaps slightly fortunate not to receive a red card for denying a goal scoring opportunity. Wigan failed to clear the resulting free-kick and Mackie’s deflected cross found Cox whose lay-off was smashed high into the net by Paterson with the aid of a slight deflection. Deflections everywhere.
Mackie’s threat was then emphasised as Wigan manager Uwe Rösler replaced Beausejour with experienced Scotland international Stephen Crainey. The Reds still weren’t keeping the ball well though and looked vulnerable to counter attacks. Former Forest defender James Perch went close after good work from Waghorn on the wing before Wigan regained the lead through Emmerson Boyce. Greg Halford failed to connect properly with a headed clearance and the ball fell to James McClean, the Irish winger volleyed the ball into the ground and Boyce got just enough of a touch to divert the ball past Darlow.
Capitulation ensued. James McArthur and then Gómez fired great strikes home in front of the Trent End and Forest were booed off by the few that remained at full-time. A deserved win for Wigan who looked dangerous on the counter throughout and have some real quality players as well as an impressive manager (animated touchline manner not so impressive).
The booing was, in my opinion, absurd given the recent unbeaten run of 16 games. Such are the ways of fickle football fans. Having said that, you can bemoan bad luck with injuries all you want but a quick glance at the bench midway through the game was a timely reminder that we should be competing better than we have been in the last two games. Missing your first choice back four and a number of quality midfielders is unfortunate but performances as abject as this one shouldn’t be occurring given the players that we do still have available.
There was upwards of £3 million worth of player on the bench in the form of Algerians Djamel Abdoun and Rafik Djebbour. Neither has pulled up any trees since signing, although in Djebbour’s defense his service has been extremely poor whenever he’s played. With no Championship experience between them, I can’t help but feel that signing proven players at this level would’ve been a wiser move. Take Maynard for example. Despite being wasteful today he’s a player that’s scored shedloads in the second tier and a loan move for such a player would’ve been a much safer bet. They may yet prove to be good signings but Davies might also have missed a trick unless transfers are, as he puts it, “in the hands of other people”.
He also insisted that automatic promotion is still possible in his post-match press conference. I’m not convinced. Get some of the injured players back and maybe a loan signing or two and we could have a real go at the play-offs. Wait… did somebody say play-offs? S**t.
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