Football’s a funny old game. If you’re old enough to remember ‘The Saint and Greavsie’, then you’ll know where the popularisation of that particular stock phrase originated. It wasn’t a great show in all honesty, but was as good as it got in an era when TV punditry was primarily about humour, albeit of the cheesy, Tarbuckesque variety, rather than slick Sky’s every-angle-covered gizmo-fest.
The technophile’s choice, which on the weekend just past, added 3D to its dishful of whistles and bells, thrives on the groaning sideshow that accompanies the game now it faces 24 hour rolling scrutiny and the fear of missing any detail, regardless of its relevance. The back pages and websites fill up with financial reportage, or banal conjecture about which Latin wonderkid Sir Alex or Arsène might be trying to shoehorn into their crowded training ground car park. Analysis of what happens on the pitch is forced to fit in around this.
Forest-Derby clashes are gathering an ugly sideshow all of their own. It’s usually what we look for in any derby fixture, and Glasgow’s Old Firm take the prize, weaving a few centuries of Irish bloodshed into their histories and on-the-pitch meetings. What is often obscured by all the kerfuffling is that the matches themselves are not very good. Not always the case, of course: this season’s first Manchester derby at Old Trafford was a belter; our victory at the City Ground over the Rams in August was thrilling. Whilst all that history, the friction, and the battle for local pride go into making the occasion what it is, it could easily become an unwanted distraction for Forest at this stage of the season.
“Don’t panic, Captain Mainwaring!” feels like an appropriate battle cry in the aftermath of Saturday’s reverse. So the news that Billy Davies has accused Nigel Clough of assaulting him in the bout of mass handbags that followed is worrying. And Davies’ comments on the matter give cause for concern. He talks of the pettiness surrounding the fixture compared to the Old Firm matches he experienced, yet is ensuring at the same time that the next meeting between the sides (hopefully not next season at least!) will feature more of the same.
If it’s an attempt to deflect attention from the fact that Forest were ineffective against a very poor Derby side anchored at the wrong end of the table, it’s somewhat excessive. Forest’s magnificent run had to end eventually. That it should be at the hooves of Derby, is – as Jimmy Greaves would’ve noted – funny, ironic, maybe inevitable. Derby’s players probably needed no more of an incentive to raise their limited game than the chance to end that run, and may have been praying that Reading or QPR didn’t beat them to it.
We need to move on quickly, and the response Davies gets from his players will be telling. Their growing air of invincibility has been breached, and beating Sheffield Wednesday at home this weekend – straightforward enough on paper – takes on massive significance. Failure to do so could lead to a crash in confidence, and plenty of other sides fancying their chances against us. February promises to be a defining month in the season, with awkward trips to Coventry, Doncaster and Leicester, more local sides seeking revenge for defeats, heavy in a couple of cases. A resurgent Sheffield United will come to Nottingham looking for a victory to cement their play-off ambitions.
By the time Swansea visit on March 6th, things could look very different. Davies will have a much better picture of the calibre of the squad he assembled in the summer, and we will know much more about his own credentials as a manager of our club.