By Matt Rowson
So, let's be absolutely crystal about this. This is supposed to be fun, right? I mean, the whole paying-money-to-watch-football thing is supposed to yield some sort of return in terms of enjoyment?
Where Tuesday night fits into that general picture is sort of a struggle, for starters. From the keepingyourheaddownwhenwalkingacrossthehighstreet thing to dodging the confrontations outside the ground to the pre-match entertainment once in the stadium... I'm really struggling to find the "fun" aspect here. The football, the result, disappointing too, of course, if a little incidental.
Not typical though, was it, in all fairness. If that was the norm, you'd get a very different breed of person attending games regularly, if any sport was left to hang a hat onto. Not seen anything like that myself in over twenty years of coming to games and okay, maybe I'm naïve, maybe I've led a sheltered life as a supporter but, frankly, that's the way I like it. The "real boys" are welcome to continue their desperate games, so long as they do it far away from any human beings and clear up the body parts afterwards. Enough of this already.
Normal games are fun though, clearly. Okay, so the football's often of questionable standard. And the food's a bit crap. Okay, the food's a lot crap. And, by being kept in a confined space with lots of other occasionally excited and emotional people, a confined space where it's the norm to let rip and express your opinions, you're going to end up wanting to kill at least one other person. And you'll probably be subjected to either someone shouting very loud at you down a tannoy system about how much you're supposed to "Enjoyyyy the Game", or Gareth Gates. Six times. And maybe you'll have to drive halfway across the country to sit on a piece of plastic in the cold (paying the thick end of £20 for the privilege), probably shouting at the players' every mistake to let them know just how pissed off with life you are and, no, it isn't their fault but they're there and they're earning money and how dare they not win every tackle, you obviously would in their shoes. Then listen on 606 to fans of assorted clubs sigh in exasperation about how referees always have it in for their club whilst Jonathan Pearce tries to think of an original response to such inanity.
Forest have all this to put up with too, of course, we're not special in that regard. In addition, they've got the lingering knowledge that not too long ago, and if only for a fairly brief spell, they were a really top club that won stuff. Not lower division titles, fun as they are, but proper stuff. And now they're about as far from winning proper stuff as they are from swimming to the moon, and they get the crap food, crap football, Gareth Gates and 606 muppets as well. No wonder the City Ground has become such a miserable whiney place.
The irony is, of course, that we'd miss this all terribly if it wasn't there. Were we to enter into a relegation fight this season, heaven forbid, we'd all be desperately hoping that we were able to preserve the incentive to drive up to Preston on a Tuesday night. Or whatever. And if the shadowy possibility of the club's extinction, occasionally darkly inferred by club releases, became a reality, we'd weep at the prospect of never again being in a position where a flavourless gritty pastie was worth £3.50 because "at least it's something hot".
Given all of which, wouldn't we really be better off enjoying what we've got for as long as we've got it? Things could be an awful lot worse....
Forest have made a reasonable start to the season, despite enduring black financial clouds over the City Ground, and have a particularly strong home record thus far, winning three and drawing one whilst scoring twelve to two against in the process. Having said which, they dropped points in their only really tricky home game (Preston), and what is a decent first team is likely to have its thin layer of back-up exposed on Saturday.
In goal for Forest will be Welsh International keeper Darren Ward, with cover from Irishman Barry Roche.
At the back, Norwegian Jan-Olav Hjelde should return from suspension in the centre but his regular partner Des Walker missed Wednesday's Cup Tie with a virus. Having sat out the entire season last year following his release from Sheffield Wednesday, Paul Hart brought Walker in over the summer to provide his young side with some experience, and promptly made him captain.
The two other central options, who protected a clean sheet when pairing up for the Kidderminster game, are Scottish U21 stopper Chris Doig, who suffered a serious injury in this tie two years ago, and highly rated youngster Michael Dawson. Two other experienced centrehalves in the squad, Tony Vaughan and Christian Edwards, are persona non grata and unlikely to make an appearance.
At right-back, Mathieu Louis-Jean had his most convincing season for Forest last term but faces competition from versatile young Irishman John Thompson, who replaced Louis-Jean at half-time on Wednesday. On the left is Canadian International Jim Brennan, resurgent under Paul Hart having fallen out of favour under David Platt. Marcus Hall, once touted as a Watford target, started the season on non-contract terms at Forest but has since signed for Southampton, whilst Keith Foy is transfer listed.
In midfield, talented Scottish playmaker Gareth Williams missed the cup-tie with a thigh injury; German teenager Eugen Bopp is likely to retain his place if Williams is still unavailable. Riccardo Scimeca should also feature, still not quite living down his £3m pricetag despite four goals already this term, as well as England U21 man David Prutton. Forest benefitted from Bradford's summer problems by snapping up thirty-one year-old former Aberdeen man Eoin Jess, who should play on the left although he was only on the bench for the Cup game following a groin problem. Irish winger Andy Reid is another option, whilst injury-prone striker Jack Lester, twice on-target on Wednesday, can play just behind the front two, but Gary Jones has returned to Tranmere on loan.
Up front, David Johnson seems to be making a decent stab of salvaging his Forest career, knocking in a few goals this season having impressed a number of suitors during loan spells last year. Marlon Harewood, last season's leading marksman, missed Wednesday's game with a dead leg picked up in Forest's last league game at Coventry; two further young prospects, seventeen year old Craig Westcarr and Frenchman Mikael Antoine-Curier are other possibilities.
So no Robbo and no Dom on Saturday; no half-a-dozen injured strikers either. Despite which, I fully intend to enjoy myself. There's a lot to be said for the power of positive thinking. You never know, we might even score this time...