It’s been many a long Winter since I’ve ventured into the environs of Nottingham Forest’s City Ground for a game. So long in fact that on my last visit, Forest were in their pomp and nigh on unbeatable under Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. It was with curiosity then that I ventured back, Trentside after so long away, being keen to take in the many changes over the years that would inevitably be evident.
My friend and I parked up early and some way from the ground in the ‘enemy territory’ of Meadow Lane – close to the home ground of Nottingham rivals Notts County. As we walked over River Trent via the Lady Bay Bridge it reminded me of the days when there was little to call between each of the two club’s teams. That was before Brian Clough and Peter Taylor came along and indelibly left their mark on Nottingham history.
The City Ground, Nottingham
Early we were with the intention of a couple of pre-game drinks. We chose The Larwood and Voce Tavern situated in the magnificent Trent Bridge International Cricket Ground nearby. Cutting down Fox Road behind the impressive new stand, views became apparent of the superb interior of the cricket ground which somehow manages to look both traditional and modern at the same time. The Larwood and Voce Tavern, named after the famous pair of Notts and England fast bowlers is very popular for a pre-match drink for many fans. Apart from the predictable plastic ‘glasses’, it’s a very acceptable and good natured venue before the game.Back over to The City Ground via Radcliffe Road and it’s apparent how the local businesses have adapted their match day service. Several frontages of businesses along the road thronging with Forest supporters were being used as impromptu beer gardens. It was nice to note how friendly the atmosphere along the way to the ground was, certainly much more of a family gathering than of yore. We managed a brief visit to the club shop but to little avail as there was a twenty-minute queue to buy the goods on show. It was heartening to see the neat retro 1960s’ jerseys as worn by Joe Baker, Ian Storey-Moore, Henry Newton and a few of my other heroes of the day. For those another vintage, 1959 FA Cup Final jerseys were also on sale, showing the bold design of the day, before the clean lines of football shirts were spoiled by advertising.
On and up into The Brian Clough Stand which now dwarfs the old Main Stand on the opposite side of the pitch. The players were already out and ready for kick-off. Former favourite, Steve Hodge having been presented to the crowd on this weekend of the anniversary of the tragedy of the Hillsborough disaster.
The current Forest side are a young and inexperienced one. They look uncomfortable and undecided how to react to what is a desperate relegation fight and this was very apparent in the first half as their opponents, Bristol City played the neater and more controlled football. Forest looked under pressure in the midfield and often resorted to a long, hopeful punt forwards down the pitch which was wasteful and invariably saw them lose possession. This in turn continually put them under increasing pressure. Little was seen of The Reds as an attacking force apart from the diminutive and lively Robert Earnshaw who looked the only likely threat.
Robert Earnshaw in celebratory mood
When former Hibs winger, Ivan Sproule put Bristol City ahead after a goalkeeping error by Iain Turner, the writing looked to be on the wall at an early stage. The afore-mentioned Earnshaw brought some relief however when levelling in the 32nd minute, taking the teams into the interval at 1-1.
The second half took on a different pattern as a rejuvenated and more urgent looking Forest took hold of much of the possession. Time and again however, their superiority was wasted with a poor final ball just as they looked to be threatening the Bristol side. Much of the second period of play was in Bristol City’s half of the pitch but Forest’s lack of penetration was paid for dearly when former Red target, Adebola netted in 78 minutes. It looked all over with a gloating set of Bristol City supporters announcing to the Forest faithful that they were ‘going down’.
What was quite noticeable through the game was Forest manager, Billy Davies’ enthusiasm and involvement from pitch side. The Scot worked hard from his technical area, constantly directing and encouraging his young players who were slowly growing in confidence. This was particularly important as Forest appear to lack an older, more experienced ‘leader’ type on the pitch – someone for the players to look to when the going gets tough.
Bill Davies directs
It was Davies’ substitutions when introducing McGugan, Garner and to some extent McLeary that changed the pattern of the game. Despite constant Forest pressure a Bristol side soaking up the attacks appeared to be heading for victory but with just seven minutes left the game was turned on it’s head. McAlister of Bristol was ordered off due to a second bookable offence and this gave a home side, with it’s tail already up, the final spur it needed. In a conclusion of heavy drama, substitute, Garner equalised before a blast of a volley from Blackstock sailed into the Bristol net in the 90th minute to tumultuous acclaim from the Trent End and most parts of the ground. Forest’s courage and perseverance had seen them though, not without a a little craft and good judgement from manager Davies.
Full time: Nottingham Forest 3 – 2 Bristol City
The impressive 22,776 crowd poured out of The City Ground in jubilant mood, still very much capable of avoiding relegation. My friend and I shared the bonhomie walking back high over the grey waters of the River Trent from Lady Bay before the traditional listening to a proud and relieved Billy Davies on Radio Nottingham on the way home. I hope it won’t be as long again before I’m back down in the Forest. I’m sure it won’t be.