In case you’ve been wondering where the Town match reports have gone, and I can tell you that at least 3 people have made this enquiry (though 2 of them just asked without suggesting they were missed), they are the victim of Carlos Corberán’s squad’s relentless winning.
It’s not that I don’t like Town triumphs, it’s just that it has become monotonous and I find the style of play disconcertingly bloodless despite the occasional burst of excitement.
In the context of following a football team, this is an extremely first world problem and almost entirely assuaged by the phenomenal points total achieved. I just stopped wanting to write about it and will wait until we revert to being mediocre again (where all the nuggets lay).
However, I am moved to put down thoughts on the upcoming play off final; the culmination of a remarkable season which was supposed to be about anchoring ourselves to mid table and away from any drama.
A slow, Covid impacted start – not helped by having to face Fulham with a threadbare team and a keeper with a reverse Midas touch – culminated in a win against an equally dire Preston without having a shot on target.
The bad news pretty much ended there. A low cost, highly motivated and together group of players gradually won over a support ground down by the unabated drudgery of defeat and failure. 2020/2021, a season followed over laptops and tablets, was the final straw for many but most of those who resolved to stay away are probably, and happily, back in the fold now.
As ever with Huddersfield Town, the greatest success comes with barely a price tag and the ingenuity of Bromby and his recruitment team has paid off in spades, burying the understandable scepticism of most as one uninspiring signing after another trudged through the doors. How wrong we were.
Inevitably, a low cost squad lacked the free flowing flair of the top 2 in the division. Probably some of the bottom 6 too, but dips in results were few and far between all the way through and often predicated on matches falling too soon after travel.
The two league defeats in 2022 – more on the cup defeat later – fitted this pattern with a confidence shattering draw at West Brom preceding an entirely flat performance in South London and the traditional battering by Bournemouth. Then I returned from the States and there have been no defeats for me not to report upon, and just one draw.
Despatching Luton in the play off semi-final with less than convincing displays nevertheless broke the spell of never recording a home play off win without penalties. It has been a major feature of the season to break several voodoos, including a win at Middlesbrough which pretty much confirmed an extension to the season.
And so, to Forest. Excitable, hugely enthusiastic and desperate Forest.
Back in the early Spring, Town drew the Tricky Trees in the 5th round of the FA Cup. A rather mundane tie between 2 clubs from the same division, both with more pressing concerns than a competition they wouldn’t win. Then the 6th round draw was made, before the tie, and the East Midlanders’ unbridled joy at the prospect of a home game against Liverpool rather drowned out Town fans’ mild stirrings.
This outbreak of Tiggerish excitement was explained by the fact that Forest hadn’t played Liverpool for around 40 years and the collective memories of Clough inspired glory days were triggered to slightly uncomfortable levels. This is not to disparage the emotions – Town fans of a certain age will remember being drawn against a Gaza and Lineker inspired Spurs side in the 90s before losing to Blackpool in a rearranged tie. The disappointment was not only palpable, it is still remembered.
Town’s commitment to the game at a ground where they had rather robbed 3 points a few months previously seemed less than convincing and a fairly weak team was quite easily beaten despite taking the lead. The disappointment was fleeting and rather subsumed by astonishment at the endearing but vaguely odd celebrations of Forest fans.
Playing celebration police is never a good look and we have endured such crap before, but it was a little weird to see a famous and undoubtedly big club prostrate itself at the feet of the Premier League giants and compound it by desperately searching for evidence that the Scousers cared that it had been so long.
The build up to Wembley is taking a similar shape. It matters enormously to Forest that they are promoted to a league they have been away from for so long and, again, this is understandable. It is, however, nearly a quarter of a century since they disappeared from the top table and despite the delusions of some of their fan base, there hasn’t been a massive clamour for their return.
Premier League clubs care about just one thing. Themselves. Most of them look at promoted clubs as likely fodder who will keep them afloat and away from relegation. They couldn’t give a toss about the City Ground’s capacity, history or atmosphere and once the first few months of unending patronisation is over, neither will anyone else.
Forest’s own play off semi final rather betrayed what could well be their Achilles’ Heel. An excellent hour at Bramall Lane saw them dominate and run roughshod over an injury hit Sheffield United, who wouldn’t have been able to complain if they had been 4 down, but they weren’t and a late goal pulled the tie back from a Forest formality to competitive.
At home, the expectations of their swelled support overheated the team and despite Forest grabbing a lead, they were second best for long periods as the weight of expectations bore down. A fortunate save by the excellent Samba near the end kept Forest in the game and Sheffield United crumbled in the penalty shoot out as badly as they did 10 years ago.
Man for man and £ for very little £, Nottingham Forest have better players than Huddersfield Town and this was evident in both league encounters.
In the first one in West Yorkshire, the stifling presence of Houghton had been banished and the visitors were entirely convincing 2-0 winners and collected their first 3 points of the season under a caretaker manager.
It was a different story at the City Ground. As with a fair number of games this season, Town fans left at the end wondering how a win had been achieved and they particularly rode their luck on this occasion. However, one of the most difficult away games had been successfully negotiated and Town’s unbeaten streak of 17 was well underway.
At Wembley, Town fans can’t really lose. A defeat will be disappointing, of course, but a season where their presumed doomed team finished 3rd and reached a play off final is nothing less than an outstanding success. And we know what is in store for the winners.
For Forest, it is difficult not to sense that they are putting themselves under enormous pressure with their untrammelled belief in their destiny and they will not be helped by a media who very much like the look of Forest’s history and desperation for Premier League football.
Next Sunday will rest on a few factors; the quite fascinating clash of 2 of the best coaches in the game (not just the Championship), Forest’s attacking intent from the start and how Town cope with that, how Forest react to frustration if they can’t get past a stingy Town defence and at what point the favourites begin to tire as they are want to do.
Most of all, however, will be how Forest cope with all the self inflicted pressure. If they don’t let the occasion overwhelm them, they are the more likely to win but it is just as likely that Town’s stifling and pragmatic style can pile on the pressure and create the few openings they need to win.
For many Town fans, defeat will be met with stoic disappointment. Memories of the sheer ruthlessness of a brutal league rather tempers the excitement this time around and it just isn’t convincing that inevitable and grinding defeats will be accepted on the altar of earning lots of money.
Regardless of the consequences of winning, however, win we must.
The stakes are much higher for Forest and you rather fear for them if they fail. They are reliant on a few too many loans, the obvious talent of some they do own will be gone and the estimable Cooper will have something of a rebuild to do. Winning will resolve these issues but the other problems begin.
For both sets of fans – enjoy it and remember it’s only a game.
See you on the other side.