words: David Marples
Essentially, when you boil it all down, there are but seven basic narratives:
A bit like the time Benny Osborn put the ball in the Derby net in the last minute.
A bit like when Forest stuffed Manchester City in the FA Cup with Matt Thornhill in the side.
A bit like travelling to Luton Town and successfully finding the away entrance.
A bit like that time we travelled over land and sea for the first time in ages to Malmo and found that although those Europeans are quite good, there is a way to defeat them. And it felt so very good to be making such a journey.
A bit like those times when Grant Holt was deployed on the left wing.
A bit like any performance under Billy Davies.
A bit like all those times a new manager came in and Forest won away from home: at Norwich City under John Pemberton or at Brighton under Dougie Freedman.
It seems like Nottingham Forest are locked into a recurring narrative away from home this season, ironically reminiscent of the anguish experienced by Phil Connors in Groundhog Day. The plot goes something like this with slight variations along the way:
Come half time at Ashton Gate, most would have wrestled to the floor and removed the left arm from the torso of anyone offering a 2-1 defeat and chucking in the prospect of reducing a very decent team to a series of huffs and puffs with a soupçon of frustration chucked in.
The first half was a bit of a shambles, which Mark Warburton went some way towards acknowledging in his post match comments:
“The first half was frustrating as, even though we weren't playing very well, to get to 35 minutes at 0-0 gave us a chance to get to half-time, regroup and go hard again in the second half. But we went in two down and gave ourselves a mountain to climb which was the biggest frustration for us.
"The first goal is a soft goal to give away. The second one, the lads have said it swerved beyond belief and that Jordan went one way, the ball the other. We were 2-0 down and you come in and say to them that we didn't create chances, didn't look after the football well enough and they were the better team.”
The concession of the two goals was particularly frustrating since Forest had negotiated that difficult opening twenty minutes away from home without conceding an entirely avoidable goal. Although under pressure, they appeared to be coping reasonably well and even fashioned the odd chance at the other end. It wasn’t spectacular – this wasn’t an opening sequence of James Bond set piece sized proportions - but it was encouraging; reminiscent of the extended exposition at the start of Lord of the Rings whereby the whole history of Sauron is explained. It goes on a bit too long but it is necessary as it provides a firm platform for the excitement to come.
But then, once the opening goal was conceded, it all went very World War Z - a hotchpotch of a narrative with a few scares and a breached defence chucked in for good measure.
Still, on the upside, no animals were harmed in the making of this feature and although it’s difficult to accept, coming away with a result from Ashton Gate against the team third in the table was always going to be akin to getting a green light and generous funding for a film documenting the moral virtues of Marlon King. It’s really not 1989 and Garry Parker and biblical rain anymore. Sadly. That was 28 years ago - nearly three times as long ago as the time between winning the European Cup and lifting the League Cup against Luton Town. Have a bit of that with your dinner to precipitate a deep and sustained bout of naval gazing and existential crisis.
Ashton Gate has changed since then. It went and got all grown up - got a roof and upgraded from a battered old mini to a mid/top range seriously economical estate with a bit of turbo chucked in - a bit like you really. Don’t beat yourself up about it though - we all change. The grass grows beneath your feet every single day; it’s just that on a daily basis, you don’t notice until it’s up to your waist and you need a scythe to trim it back. Although we fear change, it is inevitable. And yet, despite the shifting sands of the setting, the narrative of Forest away remains largely the same.
Naturally, there are anomalies to the narrative. This season, these outliers come in the form of the visit to the City Ground of Sheffield United and Middlesbrough and away from home, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley and Birmingham City.
The reason for these being rather avant-garde, experimental art house anomolies? Of 22 games played this season, these are the only games in which Forest have beaten a team currently above them in the table and lost to a team currently below them. In addition, four of these fixtures occurred before September was done, dusted and stuck in the bin.
In short, the narrative trajectory of Nottingham Forest is textbook middle of the table: generally win games against teams below and generally lose games against teams above. Generally win home games and generally lose away games. It’s not blockbuster material and it can be intensely frustrating at times – especially away from home – but, and at the risk of repetition, it is precisely what you said you’d settle for at the start of the season.
Regardless, we were spared the wholly unedifying sight of two Forest players throwing a proper mardy over who gets to take a penalty. There were no purple blankets covering the cold legs of an expensive gamble of a flop on the bench and neither Lica nor Dumitru were anywhere near a football pitch wearing Garibaldi Red. It was a narrow defeat against a high-flying and admirably more than the sum of its parts team safely ensconced in third position.
It was, in narrative terms, generic.
While you are here, Issue Six of Bandy is now available. We didn't win the FSF award for fanzine of the year but we did enjoy a free bar at the awards event. Why not buy a copy and tell us why we didn't deserve to be anywhere near such a nomination in the first place?
Issue Six celebrates the mighty John Robertson and contains an exclusive interview with the great man. If you ever bought a pack of Panini stickers there's a wonderful article in there which will transport you back to that beautiful feeling of ripping open a new pack and seeing a shiny in there. Remember Betamax? Johnny Metgod does. Remember Ron Atkinson noodling around in the away dugout? That away game against Dynamo Berlin? Did you hear the Reservoir Red Dogs podcast featuring our own Julie Pritchard? She's in this and every issue too and you really should read her work.
If you've enjoyed our podcasts or enjoyed reading these match reports, please support us in buying a copy of Issue Six here or even better, subscribing. Thank you.
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