words: David Marples
So...I had this idea to tell the story of how the Roman Empire eventually crumbled or how the final days of The Smiths played out. Research on Romulus Ausgutulus and Odovacar has been diligently undertaken while memory banks have been mined for the messy events in July 1987 when Johnny Marr, Morrissey and the NME all tripped up over a tangle of crossed wires.
This was in anticipation of QPR finally winning a game of football at the City Ground. There was going to be a painfully extended analogy on how all great things must one day come to pass and how in many ways we are all the children of Ozymandias: once great and mighty but all eventually reduced to dust in a lost and lonely desert, all subject to the eroding force that is mortality.
Yet in many ways, this performance cemented the notion that rather than an era closing, a new dawn is breaking. Before we get carried away, we’re not talking epoch defining demolitions of Manchester United at Old Trafford as a foreshadow of shedloads of trinkets. No – probably best not to boast that world domination is on the way after beating a QPR side that have yet to win away this season. It is though plausible though to interpret this performance as reason to believe that the club is in good care while it carefully and slowly removes the jungle of intravenous drips providing life support. As Colin Fray pointed out post-game, this time last year Forest faced QPR and drew 1-1, leaving them in eighteenth position in the table with sixteen points. Then came the weird November miracle that saw Forest win two consecutive games away from home and return to the City Ground with a win against league leaders Newcastle United.
If such a run results last year suggested that the future was bright, chasm-sized cracks were being overlooked. Vladimir Stojkovic was clowning around in goal, Nicklas Bendtner was sat on the bench with a purple blanket to keep his legs warm and Nicolao Dumitru was a professional footballer employed by Nottingham Forest. Maybe more significantly the attendance for this dismantling of QPR was 24, 021, meaning that 4000 more fans attended this fixture than they did last year. We all know that gate numbers count for little when it comes to results and points but they are a reasonable barometer of a club’s well being.
Things are better. Progress has been made.
Audible gasps of breath were heard around Trent Bridge at 2.00pm when it was revealed that David Vaughan would not play a part. It looked like a 4-4-2 line up as Tyler Walker got the nod to either partner Daryl Murphy up top or to lurk menacingly on the right side, depending upon which way you perceived the formation. At times, it morphed into a 4-1-4-1 with Liam Bridcutt sitting deep, allowing Ben Osborn to dictate things in the middle and link up with Kieran Dowell in a number ten role, sometimes supported by Walker coming inside and sometimes not. Whatever, after the opening thirteen minutes, it worked a treat after Dowell exhibited his increasing desire to be a little more heavyweight by winning a tackle in midfield and feeding Walker. Rarely has a crowd at the City Ground wanted a player to score a goal more than on this occasion. He did and he was reminded that he is one of our own.
It has been a while since a Forest crowd enjoyed that delicious feeling of watching their team with a degree of comfort that a win was forthcoming. Osborn, Dowell and Barrie McKay were simply mesmerising and if last week I stated that it would be a pleasure to watch these lads have a kickabout with an orange, this week, it would be a treat to watch them simply set the cones out for a training session. Imagine how good they might be a year from now. Sure, Dowell might not be here but Zach Clough will.
While these fleet-footed virtuosos gamboled around, Daryl Murphy was the strict teacher who watched on like a proud dad. He chased the channels when he needed to yet remained central and acted as a focal point at other times, creating space for the others to do their thing. It remains a tough gig to be the main striker in this team but Murphy’s importance should not be underestimated.
Nor should Joe Worrall and Michael Mancienne who are starting to build up an understanding in the centre of the defence. Clean sheets are a rare commodity for this team so if convention dictates that we should pillory players for conceding goals, it is only right to acknowledge and praise them when they don’t. No doubt it was particularly pleasing for Jordan Smith who remains precisely what he was both after his save against Ipswich Town in the final game of last season and his mistakes against Reading in midweek: a young goalkeeper with bags of potential still learning his trade and showing clear signs of progress.
QPR boss and specialist in tree chopping, Ian Holloway, might not have seen this coming but it was little surprise to those who have seen McKay serve up full backs’ heads on platters, those who have seen Osborn run and run and run and run and play the right pass before running some more, those who have cooed and sighed at the way Dowell can control a football – they had seen this coming.
Seeing Tyler Walker marked by Michael Dawson a week ago did things to the souls of those who saw his father never being beaten in the 1980s and also those who saw Dawson partner Des in defence in 2003. Seeing Tyler Walker slam one into the roof of the net at the Trent End did deeper and stranger things to those souls. There were emotions.
It is a long time since Walker announced his presence with a well-taken goal at Griffin Park in April 2015. He has been loaned out, sometimes derided and often overlooked but throughout it all, he was young and suffering from injuries. It’s a frustrating mantra but young players need a guiding hand a little patience. He’s got the former in the shape of Mark Warburton; he needs the latter from the supporters.
Days like these should be enjoyed for all they are worth. And yet, feet should remain firmly rooted to the ground for now. With youth comes inconsistency and while the empty coda of a free weekend ahead followed by a trip to struggling Birmingham City might look like an opportunity to ‘barge our way into play-off contention’, it might be worth tying those horses very firmly to a post with a bowline knot. It would be lovely to face such a surprisingly impotent team such as this iteration of QPR each week but sterner tests lie ahead. Besides, youngsters these days can be a bit flaky: one minute they are the epitome of politeness, giving you faith in where the future of the human race is heading yet the next they are setting fire to their genitals for the lolz while somehow failing to record it for their Snapchat streaks. We shouldn’t expect unfailingly polite manners each and every time from such kids – they will frustrate the bejeezeus out of us on occasions.
The era of Forest dominance over QPR in Nottingham remains intact but one day, it will end. Yet this performance is a tangible sign that we can dare to believe things are better and moving in the right direction.
When Johnny Marr and Morrissey started writing songs together, they embarked upon a ludicrous run of success and perfection in such a short space of time that to explain it is almost impossible. But even then, it would take a little time for them to peak with the acclaimed ‘The Queen is Dead’ album which reached number two in the UK charts and features the much loved ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’. This team and club still has a way to go before they chalk up such sustained critical and commercial success. But maybe we’re at the stage where Johnny Marr has just knocked on Morrissey’s door with the intention of sounding him out about starting a band.
While you are here, Issue Six of Bandy and Shinty is imminent. We have been nominated for the FSF 'fanzine of the year' award. Subscribers will receive their copy as soon as it rolls off the printing press and non-subscribers will be able to order their copy via this website soon after. In Issue Six, we will be celebrating a very special Nottingham Forest player. If you've enjoyed our podcasts or enjoyed reading these match reports, please support us in buying a copy of Issue Six or even better, subscribing. Thank you.