‘We certainly haven’t been helped by officials but we have to look at ourselves as a team, and as I said at the start of the season, we continue to be a work in progress.’
‘We have tried to be sensible in our dealings – first and foremost to create a team that is competitive in this division. Without foundations you can’t build or develop anything and results will determine how far we can go – and more importantly how fast – but as we carry on the process please continue to support your local team – it makes a difference.’
(Programme Notes – Sean O’Driscoll, Nottingham Forest Manager)
‘There is no-one, who wants to play attractive, open and accurate rugby more than me, and we will strive to be the best in this area with real ambition with no fear, but this freedom will be defined by control of the darker arts!’
‘Our supporters, home and away, are truly inspirational…a very positive effect on our performance.’
(Coach’s Notes – Nigel Davies, Gloucester Director of Rugby)
There are striking similarities between the early season performances of the Tricky Trees and Glaws. Both are clubs in transition with new men at the helm, thoughtful coaches, respected within their games, who have brought with them new philosophies and patterns of play.
Patience is a great virtue at such times. The City Ground and Kingsholm faithful remain on board, at the moment, appetites whetted by tantalising passages of play that, given greater sustained consistency, hint at a bright and successful future for both clubs.
A long-term vision is all well and good, but supporter confidence, notoriously fragile, is reliant upon clear, early signs of incremental improvement, no matter how small, which indicate new systems and strategies are beginning to work, and are worth persevering with.
It is still early days but with just under a quarter of their respective league programmes completed both teams have made reasonable enough starts to suggest they could be genuine play-off contenders, come the business end of the season, and will both be pleased with their current mid-table standings:
NFFC: P10 – W3 – D5 – L2 = 14 points (12th/24)
GRFC: P6 – W4 – D1 – L1 = 19 points (5th/12)
The late pre-season takeover by the Al-Hasawi family brought with it a wave of optimism along Trent-side which has been missing for some time. Sean O’Driscoll, newly appointed as manager, quickly but methodically set about assembling a balanced squad – eleven new signings coming in and six old faces sent out on loan – instilling into them an organised, efficient style of tick-tack play which most fans could only have dreamt about in the long dark months under the two Steves – McClaren and Cotterill.
There has been much water under Trent Bridge since, with storm clouds looming, ‘Schteve the brollyman’ mercifully jumped ship, and paddled back to Holland, just eleven matches into his ill-fated ‘rain’. But it never rains it always pours, and as the flood waters rose, Steve Cotterill was hauled on board to set about the rescue mission with a no-nonsense (no idea) brand of ‘hoofball’ that made strong men weep. And then, at last, a chink of light and a life-line as Sean O’Driscoll was brought in to help man the lifeboat – lending a hand on the training ground. The ball reclaimed from the heavens, was re-acquainted with the grass and Forest, as in days of old, passed their way out of trouble.
It proved to be SO’Ds law for Cotterill, who was quickly shown the door – his vision for the club apparently at odds with that of the new owners – to be replaced by his second in command, ‘the quiet man’, who had won the minds and hearts of players and fans alike.
The last time I held a season ticket at the City Ground, it was in the, then, brand new Brian Clough Stand. ‘Stan the Man’ Collymore and ‘Flying Dutchman’ Brian Roy were carving their way through 1st Division defences and Forest, under Frank Clark, qualified for Europe (the UEFA Cup) in 3rd place – the highest post Clough era finish.
Thereafter, whilst always a regular attendee at the City Ground, at perhaps a dozen or so games a season, it became increasingly difficult to justify such an annual expenditure (coupled with a 200 mile round journey from the Shire).
In recent times I’ve tended to make as many away outings as home game visits, in a post retirement enthusiasm to visit all 92 league grounds (47 down 45 to go – at the last count). But this year, enticed by a combination of renewed optimism, following the Kuwaiti takeover, and a rare, unexpected opportunity, to bag a prime seat on the front row of Upper Trent End – directly in line with the right hand edge of penalty area – I succumbed. It comes at a cost which will be recovered by attending just over half the games, which I most likely would have done anyway – buying tickets on a match to match basis. So a no brainer, really or as Chris put it, ‘That’s your Christmas birthday presents sorted!’
In fact I’ve come full circle. My first ever Forest season ticket was for the old Trent End terrace back in 1967-68 – the season after finishing 1st Division runners-up to Man U and losing FA Cup semi-finalists to Spurs. ‘Zigger Zagger’ – Joe Baker and Ian Storey-Moore were still in their pomp and a, then club record, transfer fee of £100,000 was squandered on the not so Slim Jim Baxter, who exchanged the pubs and clubs of Wear-side for those of Trent-side – the career of the legendary Scottish international midfielder, already in terminal decline. Back then, my junior ticket cost 5 guineas (remember those?) – £5.25 in modern parlance.
To date, I’ve been able to take in all five home league matches (plus an away trip to Huddersfield) and I’ve been hugely impressed and excited by how SO’D’s team is developing. It’s very much a case of evolution rather than revolution, focused on laying strong foundations, instilling good habits, enabling players to take more responsibility for making better on pitch decisions. It’s been largely entertaining too. Football played on the floor with good levels of precision and skill – which only bodes well for the future.
There are bound to blips along the way, and a 0-1 defeat against ‘Direby’ is always a bitter pill to swallow especially coming, as it did, largely as result of a bizarre refereeing decision, which saw Dexter Blackstock red-carded for a fairly innocuous ‘elbow’ as he tried to gain elevation to head the ball. At worst it was a yellow card incident. Even the ‘victim’, Derby captain Richard Keogh, conceded that a sending off was harsh. Mind you that didn’t stop him making the most of it, going down as if he had been pole-axed. Ironically, Dex had been rammed from behind throughout the first half with little or no protection from an inexperienced referee – supposedly being fast-tracked towards the Premier League – but clearly out of his depth in what was always going to be a highly charged contest. I trust he felt suitably sheepish after watching the TV replay.
In the previous game, at Elland Road, Blackstock also suffered at the hands of a poor refereeing display as a perfectly good headed equaliser was disallowed, subsequently depriving Forest of, what would have been a hard-earned away point against Leeds United. They say these things even themselves out over the season – let’s hope so.
Of the many newcomers, Simon Gillett (a free transfer from Donny Rovers) has been a dynamo in midfield – the glue that holds the passing game together, Greg Halford (a snip from financially crippled Pompey) has proved a versatile addition to the back four, Sam Hutchinson (on loan from Premiership Chelsea) oozes quality at full back, and Simon Cox (surplus to requirements at the Baggies) has provided a constant goal threat up front. His two touch control and volley against Brum City was a top drawer finish – the best I’ve seen from a Forest striker for some time.
As far as my outings to Kingsholm go it’s now a matter of cherry picking games that fall on Forest away days – but so far so good, as I’ve managed to take in two out of the first three home games, against Wasps and Baarf.
Coach Nigel Davies is trying to recreate at Glaws the tenaciously ambitious style of play that brought him much success with Llanelli Scarlets, and which has him earmarked as a potential future Welsh international coach, whenever Warren Gatland decides to stand down. In particular he has focused on ‘the breakdown’ as an area for improvement.
The Cherry and Whites made a barnstorming start against Wasps, flying into a 20 points to 3 lead after half an hour. Once again the balanced running of James Simpson Daniel was a delight to behold, as he put on the after burners, picking up a nicely timed pass from lock, Tom Savage, cutting inside off his left foot, leaving three would be tacklers in his wake, to register a trademark finish. It was to win the Aviva Premiership try of the week award, and worthy of the plaudit from Sky commentator, former Baarf & England fly half, Stuart Barnes, that ‘Sinbad’ is, ‘England’s only bona fide attacking genius in the last ten years’. Why so few caps then? England’s loss has certainly been Glawster’s gain!
Giant Fijian flanker Sione Kalamafoni, celebrated his first Castle Grim start with a rampaging breakaway try. The lead could have been greater, as young number 10, Freddie Burns – player of the season to date, had been denied an early score by the TMO (Television Match Official).
Unfortunately Glaws were unable to keep the momentum going in the second half, as Wasps fought back, but fortunately there was be no final sting in the tail from the visitors and the home side hung on for a 29-22 win, a final outcome that was far closer than it ought to have been.
Last weekend’s West Country derby, against oldest opponents and fiercest rivals Baarf (first meeting 1882) was, unsurprisingly, not without a hint of controversy.
All Black Stephen Donald, kicker of the 2011 World Cup winning goal, was in imperious form for the men from the ‘Wreck’, gliding through for a glorious touch down with just 35 seconds on the clock – and the Glaws defensive line still in the changing room!
After such an early setback it was an uphill struggle for much of the first half but the Cherry and Whites survived a period of sustained Baarf dominance to leave the pitch just four points adrift, after two successful Freddie Burns’ penalties reduced the visitors’ early ten point lead.
It was a different game in the second half and despite the best efforts of long time Kingsholm nemesis, Dave Pearson, taking charge of his final game before moving to a new position as the 6 Nations first elite referee coach (heaven help us!) Glaws retained the local bragging rights with a 16-10 victory, making it nine wins out of the last ten encounters!
The controversial TMO system should make for more correct refereeing decisions. During this game the TV match official was used on three occasions, but not on what might have been a crucial fourth!
In the first half Bath were denied a score by full back Nick Abendanon, following a foot in touch by winger Kyle Eastmond, as he delivered an inside pass – a close shave for Glaws, at a time when they were rocking, but a correct decision.
In the second period, as Glaws mounted their comeback, winger Shane Monahan was denied a try, following a surging forty metre burst, for a delayed second movement, after being hauled down beneath the posts – harsh, but then I would say that!
Glaws full-back Rob Cook’s first touchdown for his new club, diving over in the left corner, followed a sublime pass from JS-D, was curiously deemed worth a referral before being awarded – clearly correct and never in doubt!
Finally with Glaws in a precarious 13-10 lead, with ten minutes to go, centre Henry Trinder went over for what looked to be the decisive score, only to have it ruled out for a foot in touch, against Monahan. This time there was no referral, but Sky TV pundits clearly indicated the touch judge got it wrong. The TMO, however is not allowed to intervene unless he’s been asked – crazy!
It might have proved costly. But, as it was, Freddie Burns extended the lead with a wobbly drop-goal from the edge of the 22, and Glaws rode out a nervy last couple of minutes to clinch four points.
There’s a long way to go but it’s a case of so far so good for both Sean O’Driscoll and Nigel Davies…
C’mon You Reds / C’mon Glaws!