words: David Marples
The story goes that when manager at Bayern Munich in 2009, Louis van Gaal wanted to assert his authority. According to striker Luca Toni, ‘The coach wanted to make clear to us that he can drop any player, it was all the same to him because, as he said, he had the balls. He demonstrated this literally by dropping his trousers. I have never experienced anything like it, it was totally crazy. Luckily, I didn’t see a lot, because I wasn’t in the front row.’
It is unsavoury to speculate on precisely what those in the front row witnessed on that day yet whatever it was, Louis van Gaal has nothing on Ben Brereton after he stepped up and ended Nottingham Forest’s great goal drought of 2018.
Brereton has endured a tough time in recent weeks leading the Forest line. Although desperately unlucky to hit the bar with a long-range strike in the previous game against Brentford, he unfathomably turned back into the crowd when clean through in the same game. He looked bereft of confidence and in need of a warm cup of tea, a few Jaffa Cakes and a big hug.
Against Ipswich Town, Brereton was booked in the second half for taking a tumble when he thought he’d won his side a penalty. As the clock ticked into the 89thminute and his side having just created a new record for games without a goal, he found himself bearing down on goal but before he could get a strike away, an arm went into his back pushing him down to the ground. No debate this time – penalty.
He might have skulked away, leaving Greek international striker - Apostolos Vellios - to take responsibility for a pressure penalty. Or maybe leave Danny Fox – wearing the armband – to whack one as hard has he possibly could at the Trent End goal. After all, he’s only eighteen.
But no. Brereton is made of sterner stuff. He has balls of solid steel.
It wasn’t just that he scored the penalty, it’s the way he scored it. He found the bottom corner – low and hard – and his shot grazed the inside of the post. Perfection. A few inches to the left and Bartosz Bialkowski in the Ipswich goal would have got a hand to it.
Not the big one to the fans for getting on his back for Brereton either in celebration. No cupped hand gesture to the Trent End. No shushing of those who had a go at him. He knows the occasion and the club is bigger than that. He taps the badge while running off to a backdrop of what can only be called ‘scenes’. Balls of steel.
He’s not done yet. Deep deep deep deep deep into injury time, he runs the ball into the penalty area and crosses towards the far post ands find Joe Lolley steaming in to convert and stick a very firm nail into the Forest goal drought coffin.
To say it was a hard fought victory would be under egging the pudding. Once Forest went behind down to a Grant Ward a header, a sense of dread enveloped the City Ground, especially after a bright opening flurry saw numerous chances spurned by the home team.
Despite looking comfortable at the back – hat-tips to the excellent Fox and Tobias Figuerido at centre back – Forest looked clunky in midfield and going forward. The engine room looked more functional than functioning with Ben Watson, Jack Colback and Adlene Guedioura all seemingly trying to do the same job. While Colback’s holding brief was clear, Watson and Guedioura seemed to have licence to push further forward – at one stage in the second half, Watson was in a number 10 role while Lee Tomlin was pulling off a last minute tackle alongside Fox – with neither creating much of note.
Any creative output came from a hopeful Tomlin flick or the tireless Joe Lolley who at one stage simply took on the whole Ipswich team and surrounding twee villages containing incalculable pink cottages singlehandedly.
It wasn’t a pretty performance, a fact that manager Aitor Karanka was happy to admit: ‘The only good thing is that we won the game. I was disappointed for most of the game, about 85 minutes, but in football everything can change in one second.’
Someone once said that it only takes a second to score a goal. He was right. Often though, the score line is not the only thing that changes when a goal is scored. In this case, confidence was restored and there was a palpable belief that anything was possible.
Lolley’s last minute intervention means that those nervous scrutinies of the league table can be put to bed, that plans for next season can be firmly put into place and the welcome return of that loving feeling. It’s been a while, nice to meet you again.
Issue Eight. Coming soon.