words: David Marples
And so the end is near and now we face the final curtain.
This final home game of the season may have lacked the pizazz, the bends-inducing pressure and the warm bloody sun that the final home game of last season did but frankly, this was preferable. Admittedly, a little sun certainly wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Even though the game ended scoreless, it wasn’t without incident. The home side came out of the traps quickly and created numerous presentable opportunities yet couldn’t quite fashion a clear-cut one to convert. This was largely due to the impregnable defending from the away side, epitomised by the impressive Lloyd Kelly. Thus the pattern for the game was set with Forest racking up 24 shots by the end yet having little tangible to show for this.
Nonetheless, a second consecutive clean sheet suggests that maybe a corner has been turned after a glut of soft concessions. Danny Fox turned in perhaps his best performance yet, Michael Mancienne looked largely composed, Stefanos Kapino looked like he might finally be getting some sleep at night and not waking up in a cold sweat at the thought of a slab of pure Neil Warnock smashing into him and Ben Osborn once again played a blinder at left back.
It was he who got into the opposition’s six-yard box to win the penalty that Lee Tomlin tamely spurned. Naturally, Osborn is going to struggle to deal with the old long diagonal from the right wing to the far post but the sight of him so frequently scampering forward with boundless energy like a loyal Labrador desperate to retrieve the ball to his owner who has carelessly chucked it away again was a joy to behold.
In the middle of the park, it is fair to say that Adlene Guedioura has struggled to live up to his past form but with each game, he is improving and looking fitter. Jack Colback did his usual no frills yet highly efficient thing and Andreas Bouchalakis surprised everyone in playing slightly higher up the pitch and looking like a very solid goal threat.
Up front, a spark was missing. As much as Lee Tomlin probed and prodded to find a killer pass, Daryl Murphy was rarely ever going to latch on to it with a run in behind the defence to slot home. This can be forgiven – the guy is 35 and would probably much prefer a few beefy crosses rifled across the face of the goal. To deride him for a lack of mobility is a bit like moaning at Andres Iniesta for not getting stuck in and letting the opposition know what he’s about early doors. What was undeniably frustrating though was Murphy’s inability to make the ball stick when it came to his feet.
The Daryl Murphy on the pitch here was a very different iteration to the one at the start of the season. Ever since Ireland’s defeat to Denmark in the World Cup play-off game, Murphy has looked like a man bereft. Whereas previously, in the early days of the season under Mark Warburton, he was the wise old man who would nick a goal, now he is the old man who would struggle to steal a brick from a skip.
The day will largely be remembered as the day Chris Cohen retired. There were emotional scenes as Cohen entered the fray as a late substitute and lurked around the penalty area with a view to bagging a customary late season Chris Cohen goal.
It is unlikely that future ‘best ever Forest eleven’ teams will include Cohen and for some supporters, his elevation to the status of ‘legend’ is a little over the top. Yet there is more to this than simply a footballer retiring from a Championship club.
Cohen’s luck with injuries would make a good man turn bad yet throughout it all, he has maintained a quiet dignity. We often overlook the fact that footballers are human beings, struggling with the same pressures, doubts and insecurities as you and I. The highs they experience are probably higher than any we might yet the lows are no doubt equally earth juddering in magnitude. Having to give up something that you’ve done all your life - something that you have generally done better than most of the population - owing to your body giving up on you must be a crushing experience.
“The decision to retire was forced,” said Cohen after the game. “I feel alright at the moment – I can do one day where I can go quite hard and train but the next day, I can’t really pick up my little boy and do all the things you want to do and have a normal life so I knew it was the right decision around Christmas time.”
Such a thought reminds us all that there really are more important things in life than football.
Eleven different Forest managers have selected Cohen and on top of that there is an assortment of temporary managers. Perhaps this says more about the state of the club during Cohen’s time there. While there are no trophies on which to reminisce, there is a promotion and a good few warm Chris Cohen moments for us to savour; each one felt like a nice, big hug.
Besides, any man who can somehow maintain ‘quiet one in a boy-band who doesn’t sing much but periodically smiles into the camera while delivering a cheeky wink’ good looks while into his thirties deserves, at the very least, grudging respect.
Stood pitch-side after the game, Cohen reminisced on what football means to him: "As I said to the boys in there, play as long as you can; it is the best job in the world and sometimes, with the pressure and the worry and the amount of speculation on you and the worry that you build yourself, it doesn’t always feel like that but as much as you can, get some perspective on things and just really enjoy being out there because there’s no feeling like it.”
He’s right you know. Football is there to be enjoyed. It’s easy to lose sight of that.
So here’s to you, Chris Cohen. You got knocked down but you got up again. A lot. Forest through and through.
ISSUE EIGHT. COMING VERY SOON.