Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Nottingham Forest 0 Carlisle United 1

I’ve had my fill of Nottingham Forest this season, but for £5 each, and a look at high-flying Carlisle United, it’s a worthwhile night out.

Sticky junior survives a disciplinary hearing at the dinner table. We are joined by “The Skipper” and The Architect. We just manage to steal the last available parking spot in West Bridgford Library.

It’s Main Stand “B” Block again tonight. I don’t see the kids for ages as they hang around the tunnel collecting autographs. It’s great to see the ground filling up. Over 28,000 are expected tonight.

Carlisle is in Cumbria, north- west England and has a population of over 70,000. Famous people from the area include: wicket keeper Paul Nixon, former Ipswich defender, the classy Kevin Beattie, Matt Jansen (sublime until his moped accident) and the writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg. Bill Shankly once managed the club. Former Forest “striker” Scott Dobie has foolishly labelled the Reds a team of individuals. Harsh words indeed.

There’s a bit of history between the Cumbrian club and my team Lincoln City. Back in 2002 there was an altercation involving Carlisle chairman John Courtenay and maverick striker Ritchie Foran. The separate incidents took place in the directors’ box and the players’ tunnel at Sincil Bank. Both were summoned to, and found guilty at, Gainsborough Magistrates’ Court.

Former manager Neil McDonald was sensationally sacked at the start of the season. The experienced John Ward has steadied the ship and made them a force to be reckoned with. He chats away to Forest’s Sammy Clingan, who he coached at Wolves.

The Carlisle keeper’ is warming up. He doesn’t look old enough to have a paper round. His name is Keiren Westwood. He used to play for Manchester City. I'm disappointed that their leading scorer and £140,000 signing, Joe Garner from Blackburn Rovers, is injured tonight. I'd been looking forward to watching him.

The ground reaches fever pitch, and the opening half lives up to its billing. Forest play at a great tempo. Commons is on top of his game, but can’t find the target. It’s hard to live with him when he is on this form.

Carlisle are terrific going forward. They have an abundance of left footers. Simon Hackney, previously of Woodley Sports, is a slip of a lad, but flies forward like a whippet.

The Cumbrians attack with pace and look comfortable on either flank. They seize on a mistake by the ponderous Kelvin Wilson, but Grant Smith fires over. They have opportunities in the early stages but fail to work the goalkeeper. Their shots are off radar. They must all be wearing Scott Dobie’s slight seconds boots.

Forest play some lovely slick football. Commons and Northern Ireland international Sammy Clingan are at the heart of their best moves. Clingan orchestrates the Forest midfield, dictating the play.

Left back Julian Bennett is back in favour with Calderwood, after initially being overlooked at the start of the campaign for the more cultured Matt Lockwood. But Bennett plays with his heart and soul, and is one of us. The entire Forest back four tonight, are Nottingham born and bred. You’d rather play with Bennett, than against him. His physical presence is too much for lightweight Leicester born winger Cleveland Taylor. Bennett has him in his pocket. He hurls himself at a Commons corner, but it’s superbly tipped over by The Paperboy. Holt squanders another two chances before the break.

The Forest disc jockey is a closet indie fan. He spins a classic Charlatans tune during the break.

Carlisle have packed the midfield, but ex Middlesbrough forward Danny Graham works hard and holds the ball up intelligently. The bloke behind me is slagging him off. He is wearing his Forest rose-tinted spectacles.

Forest do not have it their own way in the second period and the visitors come more into the game. Wes Morgan and Kelvin Wilson continually bollock the lumbering Forest keeper’ Paul Smith for not coming off his line, as Carlisle crosses flash across the penalty area.

You can smell an error in the air. Forest are nervous in defence. It comes in the 71st minute, Smith finally comes off his line, there’s a miscommunication between Wilson and himself, Graham gambles, seizes on the opportunity and finishes smartly, smacking the ball in off the post. There’s silence from the bloke behind me.

There’s little response from Forest. Carlisle firmly shut the door. Arron Davies and new signing from Bromley, Gareth McCleary, have cameo roles to play. Another long-range free-kick from Kris Commons is turned past the post by The Paperboy.

On the shot count, the win is slightly smash and grab. But John Ward’s team are organised and disciplined. Each player knows his job, and sticks to the task.

A special mention for the Carlisle travelling support; 822 have travelled down on a school night. Their support has been vociferous and vital. Forest are a shade unlucky and the task in-hand is uphill from now. Their run-in is far from easy.

Nottingham Forest 0 Carlisle United 1 Graham

Attendance: 28,487

Man of the Match: Keiran Westwood (A tale of two goalkeepers)

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