Run Forest, Run – Part 12: Panic

Matt’s here to round off his Forest of the future adventure. He’s achieved a lot in a short space of time with Nottingham Forest but can he round it off in style? Catch up with part 11 here.

Hello and welcome back to the final part of our experiment to make Nottingham Forest a force in England and Europe. We jumped into the hotseat after simming 8 seasons and given Stuart Pearce his P45. In season 1 we came close to winning the league, only to be denied by Watford, but did get us back into Europe where we capitulated in the group stage, but shone domestically to do a Man City style domestic treble. Into our 3rd and final season and we have the chance for the quadruple, but to do so, we’ll have to overcome Joe Royle’s Division 1 Middlesbrough.

League Cup Final day and a chance to defend our trophy. Middlesbrough were reigning Premiership champions when we jumped into the hotseat, but the past few seasons have been unkind to them, but under Joe R’s guidance, they are heading back to the big time and have a chance at a domestic cup.

And that’s the way it seems to be heading when Frank Parkinson heads them into a half time lead. It’s not until late in the game that we settle the scores with Kaye heading in from a corner and whilst everyone was prepping for extra-time, Rubi-gol pops up with a late winner to bring the 3 handled trophy back to the City Ground. Three hands indeed.

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We barely have time to wipe the sweat from our brow and wash the champagne from our underpants as we’re off to the Principality of Monaco to play the first leg of the Champions League Semi final. There’s obviously still some champagne sloshing around our system as we are 2 goals down until Luis Figo/Marco halves the deficit with a valuable away goal.

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While all this was going on, Leeds lost two league games in a row, we’re 5pts behind them and Spurs with 3 games in hand, I can sense a fixture pile up coming.
We won’t have time to worry about that for the moment though, as it’s our 3rd cup game in our 3rd cup competition in a row and this time we take the lead against plucky Boro, only for them to equalise after the break. This time it does go into extra-time but the recently recalled Zizi Debbah knocks in a rebound early doors and we see out the rest of the tie to head into the final against Newcastle United.

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All these cup games mean we’ll have to play in the league again soon. How soon is now? Now, where we welcome Wolves round to ours, where they huff and they puff and they blow our house down. Our league form seems to have dropped off a cliff…

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After our destruction by Wolves, we need to win our next game against 4th place Everton.

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Joyce in the goal repels everything we have to throw at him, only one shot from Inge gets through, and we concede to drop 2pts, not to mention injuries to two of our centrebacks.

2 days later and it’s the bank holiday fixtures and we travel to Arsenal. Our return leg against Monaco is in another 2 days, so it’s another squad rotation experiment.

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Another 1-1 draw and another injury to a defender. I think the experiment went too far again. 2 dropped pts. At this stage, I think we need to forget the league in pursuit of European Glory.

The second league is a tense affair. A goal from Monaco would see us needing 3 without further reply to avoid extra-time, but young Dutch maestro Twan Inge puts ahead on away goals and then as the tension rises, William Sagnol brings down Rubini in the box, gets sent off and Gorgeous Guerrero rolls back the years and sends us into a European Final. Hard luck William, it was really nothing.

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It’ll be the mighty Milan in the final.

Back to the league and Inge and crucial goals go Hand in Glove at the moment. Will that goal be huge at the end of the season? We’re 7 pts behind Leeds with 2 games in hand, we’ve got a chance!

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Sheffield Utd next. They are 20th in the table and there for the taking.

Bigmouth strikes again.

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Lyttle Chef and Ronald MacDonald serve up a beating that drains my soul. Meat is definitely murder in those hamburgers.

A loss to Sunderland away confirms we won’t be retaining the title. In truth we were holding on until The Lizard got sent off and the penalty went in Jancker at the end just rubbed salt in the wounds and heaven knows I’m miserable now.

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Such is life, with the race over, we then go and thrash Burnley in our next league game
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Interestingly, more people came to watch this dead-rubber than to see us dispatch Monaco in the home leg of the Champions League Semi-Final. Go figure.

2 days later it’s another catch up game against Bolton and we are tired and truly awful. We were so bad, even the pitch went off in disgust after 5 minutes.

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I feel like the boy with the thorn in his side. And my girlfriends in a coma. (Certain statements may be untrue – that joke isn’t funny anymore.)

We’ve one last league game to play and it’s against Newcastle, who we’ll play again 7 days later at Wembley in the FA Cup Final. I’m unsure what side I should put out. Save the first teamers for the two cup finals looming and give the squad members one last run out?

There’s intrigue at the top, where Spurs need a Leeds slip up to take the title and at the bottom it’s any 3 from 5 to go down.

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In the end I decide to mix the team up a bit and see what happens.

The story of this game, and stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before, is that we’re crap, they get a man sent off, we rouse a comeback and then we are crap again and lose.

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Rodrigao the man to watch in 7 days time then.

At the top, Leeds drew 1-1 whilst Spurs beat Swindon 3-0 but it wasn’t enough and Leeds take the title having conceded only 2 goals fewer than Spurs, unbelievable Jeff.

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We limp into 3rd. In the final run in, since we lost 3-4 to Leeds, if you include that game, our form was:

P11 W2 D2 L7 – not exactly Champions form was it?

At the bottom, Watford, champions 2 seasons ago, join Bolton and Swindon in the drop, Burnley doing a last minute escape. Joe Kinnear pays the price and loses his job. You can only imagine the swearing, That Charming Man.

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With all that disappointment out of the way, I remind the squad that we have two cup finals to play and some pride to restore to the City Ground Fans. I tell them Cloughie would be spinning in his grave to know we relinquished the championship to Leeds so meekly.

Liverpool end a impressive first season back in the Premiership by sealing the Cup Winners Cup, great stuff by Alan Shearer.

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FA Cup Final – Newcastle United – Wembley.

We’re the holders, we finished above them in the table, we’ve won th League Cup and have a Champions League final awaiting us. We should be favourites, but we’re not. Our form has been woeful, so we’re the underdogs. I tell my players this. I use it to my advantage. It’s mind games son.

The Lizard and Gazza Jnr are suspended so it’s Courtin in goal and Julen Guerrero on the bench.

Newcastle boss, Jimmy Nicholl insists on holding my hand as we lead the teams out ‘I’ve never won this cup!’ says Jimmy to me. Poor Jimmy has some sort of fear of the big occasion it seems.

Fear is only a four-letter word. He’s also called Gareth and plays in midfield for Newcastle United and puts them one up after 4 minutes. But we win the first half, my favourite front two getting a goal each.

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Nelo gets injured early in the second half and the classy veteran Guerrero comes on to replace him. Newcastle have a goal ruled out for offside and Kaye and Courtin combine to thwart Rodrigao and the trophy is coming home with us, happy times!

On a sadder note, Nelo is out of the big one, his injury laying him up for 6 weeks. Is the script written for Julen Guerrero?

Champions League Final – AC Milan – Stadio Olimpico – Rome

Milan have recaptured their invincibility of the late 80’s and early 90’s. A time when Forest were popping up in the odd cup final. Since the start of the save, Milan have won 2 champions League titles and a Cup Winners Cup, 2 World Club Cups and 2 European Super Cups, 5 Coppa Italia’s, 3 Super Coppa Italias and Serie A 7 times out of 11. They have Thierry henry up front, Valerien Ismael in defence and the regen of Peter Schmeichel in goal.

However, they’re not invincible. They’ve finished 17 points behind new champions Napoli in Serie A and lost the Coppa Italia final to two goals from Ronaldo – they can be defeated. If hope is a light, it’s a light that never goes out.

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Zizi Debbah, such an enigma this season, goes down injured in the 4th minute, so young Derek ‘Al Shearer’ Thompson replaces him and slots past the intimidating frame of the Dane, Meedom. We survive a late onslaught before halftime to go in, one nil up.

No need for stirring half time team talks, it’s just as you are and keep your heads.

Advice Tentoni should have had before he hauled down Rubini in the box and received his marching orders. Icelander Gislason has ice in his veins and coolly dispatches the spot kick and we stay firm at the back, Chagnaud in for the injured Bogie getting the MOTM award.

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2-0 at full time, we are champions of Europe, barely 3 seasons after promotion from Division 1.

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Milan, treble runners up. Henry just didn’t turn up.

Confirmation of our trophy haul over 3 seasons

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And our league placings. Our capitulation this season in the league is still a little hard to swallow.

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Goal stats – Rubini amazingly scored no goals in 8 European games and Debbah certainly dropped off from last seasons form. Maybe hitting 30 years old affected him. Really could have done with some goals from him in the run-in.

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A last chance to look at the teams we turned down:

Liverpool – A solid 7th place in the league and the Cup Winners Cup trophy meant a decent return for Shearer’s team to the top table.

Lazio – 5th in Serie A gives them a chance at European football next season

Espanyol – 5th in La Liga and back into Europe for these big-punchers next season.
For completeness, Real Madrid took the title in La Liga, Sevilla the Copa Del Rey and Juventus took the Eufa Cup. I’m disappointed we never faced Juventus who had William Gallas at the back, then I could have used the headline ‘Debbah Does Gallas’, but alas, it was not to be.

As it’s 2008, theres the Euros to be played out and my central defensive partnership of Kaye and Bogie have been called up along with Derek Thompson, who may lead the line with Noel Whelan for Arrigo Sacchi’s side.

England bow out at the group stages. Derek Thompson doesn’t play until the final game, a win over Slovenia, but it’s not enough and they go out on goal difference. Should have had me at the wheel, FA.

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Italy and France overcome Germany and Yugoslavia respectively to set up the final

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A hat trick for Papin’s regen seals the win for France. Milan’s Tentoni and Pelatti are runners up for the 4th time this season, that’s a kick in the Ballacks for sure.

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Well, that brings me to the end of Part 12 and the end of this save. Thanks to all have read, commented and retweeted and I hope you have enjoyed it. I can’t really say I have as much as the Eric Cantona/Man Utd and Gary Lineker/Torino/England blogs I have done previously. I think jumping in 8 seasons down is tricky as normally by that time you have a feel for the game and the characters whereas I felt I was all at sea and Zizi Debbah frustrated the hell out of me.

Special thanks to Dave for hosting me every Wednesday for the past 12 weeks and I look forward to a break and the CM Cup where you’ll find plenty of veterans in my Criterion Club squad, including this blog’s hero, Julen Guerrero.

You can follow me on Twitter where I am intermittently tracing the managerial movements of Alex Ferguson and am currently at Aberdeen awaiting the call from Man Utd once they tire of George Graham. I’m sure I’ll be back at some point with another blog save, interlaced with pop culture references, I just need a good story.

I hope this has been a fitting tribute to Brian Clough. I managed to win all the trophies he did (except the Zenith Data Systems/Simod Cup) but did get my hands on the FA Cup, twice. Cheers Old Big ‘Ead.

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You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

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Run Forest, Run – Part 11

It’s the penultimate episode of Matt’s Forest of the future save! He’s tantalisingly close to restoring Forest to their best years but can he keep competing on all fronts? Catch up with part 10 here.

Hello and welcome back to my Forest blog and for the penultimate part. We head into 2008 as defending domestic treble champions and have set our sights on European glory. We’re top of the league, into the quarter finals of the Champions League and League Cup and about embark on our quest t retain the FA Cup.

We’re doing well, but we’re functional and hardly ripping up any trees, which might be best for a team called Forest.

2007 has been a great year for us, and we see it out with a league match against Watford. They have a strikeforce of Giggs, Heskey, Fowler and Owen, but the latter two are injured, which might explain why they are hovering around the relegation places.

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Missing penalties won’t help their cause, nor will Shay Given conceding 4 goals. I’m pleased with that result, we played liquid football.

It’s a complete change of lineup when 3rd Division Bournemouth come to town in the FA Cup 3rd round and Alfonso does what he was bought to do, come up with valuable goals.

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It’ll be Premiership Leeds in the next round at the end of January, but for now, it’s the quarter finals against Man City in the League Cup.

City are down to 10 men early doors, but it isn’t until they score a ridiculous own goal that we take control and book a semi-final spot.

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We’ll take on Arsenal while it’s a north-east derby in the other.

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Jarni Jnr is out for a few weeks, otherwise we are unchanged for the trip to mid-table Huddersfield.

Gifton Noel-Williams. I can say no more.

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The board were as unimpressed as I was.

Time for some redemption against lowly Swindon. Debbah and Rubini shut down any thought of a Swindon comeback.

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We’re quickly back to FA Cup action against Leeds who are chasing us hard at the top of the table. Amazingly they only have Thomas Myhre as a goalie and he’s injured so it’ll be a random fake goalie, who no doubt will be the reincarnation of Lev Yashin.

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Maybe he’s actually the regen of Paul Rachubka. It should have been more than 4 really.

It’ll be Division 1 Portsmouth next time out.

Back to the league and our form has gone to pot.

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With that, Leeds and Spurs jump above us in the table and we’re down to 3rd.

Back to the cups, my lovely cups. They’ll shield me from the inconsistencies of the league.

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Lovely cups. Although conceding 3 away goals isn’t the greatest thing ever.

At least in the cup we entertain…

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Four nil up and cruising and then we let in two silly goals.

Potential banana skin in the next round though…

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Arsenal really should have made us pay for this.

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But they didn’t and it’s another League Cup Final to look forward to

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Back to the league and back to winning ways again, Nice to see Ascensio on the score sheet, he was a Stuart Pearce signing

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All these cup games give us a bit of a fixture pile up in the league and so it’s a midweek date with our title rivals Spurs.

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Rubini is rolling in the goals so much, Fred Durst could sing about him.

This game was duller than a tin of Dulux extra dull matt emulsion

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After a long wait, we’re back into Europe and face Espanyol in the Champions League quarter finals.

The Lizard is suspended so Courtin takes over goalkeeping duties. We weather the storm of baby Keane getting sent off and everyone’s favourite Icelander gives us the lead and a valuable away goal, but the lead is ours for only 3 minutes and we come away with a draw.

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While we await the return leg, we take on Lincoln City in the FA Cup Quarter Final.

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Rubini is currently on fire and only a late lapse lets Lincoln in. We’re into the semi’s and another match up with first division Middlesbrough who we’ll meet soon in the League Cup Final, manager Joe Royle channelling his inner ‘Bryan Robson 1997’.

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We travel to one of Bryan’s former clubs next and come away with 3pts courtesy of 3 goals with no reply. Utd looking a shadow of their former self these days, just like in real life really!

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This win takes us into a table topping clash with Leeds. The scoreline suggest a close match, but in truth, our 3 goals in a 5 minute flurry flatters us and Leeds were cruising to the 3pts. Will this prove vital at the end of the season?

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This run of form is good preparation for the return leg against Espanyol, where hold a slender advantage having drawn 1-1 away n the first leg.

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Thompson puts us ahead and when Gislason doubles our lead I start to relax. Edilson gets one back to set up a nervy last 15 minutes but a Thompson second settles my nerves. Espanyol have a player called Nayim in their first 11, but there are no last minute lobs here and we’ve booked our place in the semi-finals. It was no mean feat defeating a talented Espanyol side, but it gives me confidence that this side can go even further.

The draw is made and we avoid Milan and another trip to Spain. Monaco was probably the best draw we could have had and we’ll pick up the semi-final in the last part next week.

There’s just time for one more league match to finish off this post and we’re away to Villa in 10th spot while we sit second to Leeds by 2 pts but with a game in hand.

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Of course, our form couldn’t last could it? Dukes with the early goal was a definite Hazard.

So, at the end of this part, we’re down to 3rd, our game in hand could put us back 2pts from Leeds at the top, but it’s a big if at the moment.

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At the bottom, newly promoted Chelsea are struggling, as are Joe Kinnear’s Watford, whose job is in danger.

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We definitely need to win our game in hand. I’ll be back next week for the final part of this season and this save, can I go out in a blaze of European glory and make Cloughie proud? See you next time.

Before I go, my customary update on the teams you turned down:

Liverpool – Up to an impressive 8th for Shearer’s team. We beat them in the League Cup and they got knocked out of FA Cup by Bury, but they are through to the Semi-Finals of the Cup Winners Cup after dramatically overcoming Real Madrid 5-4 in the quarter finals to set up a semi-final meeting with Inter Milan. Some chap called Neville the hero in Spain.

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Espanyol – Well, we’ve knocked them out of Europe and they are down to 5th in La Liga but have a Copa Del Rey semi-final with Sevilla to look forward to, so there’s that.

Lazio – Well, they are 7th in Serie A with nothing left to play for, not a sausage.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

Run Forest, Run – Part 10: Stuck in 2nd Gear

Matt Wills is back to get you through hump day. His Nottingham Forest adventure began 8 seasons in but he’s more than caught up now. The glory days are back at the City Ground but are those magic European nights here to stay? Catch up with part 9 here.

Hey you guys, we’re back with our Forest Future save, and well into Season 3 now after a domestic treble last season. We’re 2 from 2 in our Champions League group and have worked our way to the top of the Premier League.

A quick visual reminder…

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Newcastle chasing us hard, Man Utd looking adrift already. Shocking stuff.

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AaB dominant with no goals conceded so far.

Whilst things are going quite well, Wee Jimmy wants to go

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I say no and as The Lizard is injured for a week, put him in the sticks for our away trip to Leeds. He concedes to Chris Woodcock after only 2 minutes. At the other end, we can find no way past Thomas Mhyre and when Bogie hauls down Woodcock in the box and is sent to the dressing room, Timofte converts to make it a bad day at the office.

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We’ll have to lick our wounds for a week or so as it’s the International Break and it’s costly for our strike force

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Young Derek Thompson is itching for first team football, so he’ll fill Rubini’s boots for a week or so to keep him happy.

Derek takes his chance against Villa, but we hold the lead for a whole minute before Mark Low equalises. It’s more injury woe as Debbah goes down hurt, so old man Alfonso steps off the bench to take his place and helps set up Fisher for the winner 2 minutes later.

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Debbah’s out for a few weeks, so we’ll be relying on youth and experience for our goals when we take on Aab in our 3rd Champions League group game.

We take an early lead, but Aab come back strong to equalise but we cannot find a winner.

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The Match Stats tell the story – only 4 shots on target. I need my injured strikers back pronto!

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They are still out injured however when we take on Wolves and although we go in front, this time it’s for less than a minute when Richie Wellens scores. Inge secures the three points with a second half strike but in truth we were holding on until the red card. We’re certainly not fluid at the moment. Last seasons hero Guerrero has gone right off the boil this time out, but still remains a vital squad member.

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We find some striking form when we take on Kettering in our defence of the League Cup and although we score five, I’m disappointed to concede 2 to a Division 2 side, still, we’re into the next round to take on Kidderminster Harriers. Nelo and Inge getting the goals from midfield which is always a bonus.

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Really not understanding our lack of goals at the minute. I know Debbah and Rubini are out, but surely we can score a few at against Bolton, no?

No.

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At least The Lizard kept a clean sheet. Somehow we’re still top of the league. Bolton finished 6th last season, so it’s not that much of an upset.

Our 4th Champions League game sees us travel to Rosenborg and Trujillo from Metallica is invloved again, our winner coming from the unlikely left wingback position through Jarni Jnr.

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That gives us 10 points from 4 games and one more win from our last 2 should see us through to the quarters.

Despite that, it feels like the wheels are coming off a little in the league. Not sure where to start with our away game against Everton. Baksa scores again and Thompson had a goal ruled out for offside in the last minute. We should have done better against 10 men. I think Ron Butcher is the regen of Ian Wright, who always used to like scoring against Forest.

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I think my problem is that my summer recruitment strategy means we haven’t had a settled side as I try to find my best 11.

While I’m pondering all that, England have qualified for Euro 08 with a perfect record and know their group for the finals. Noel Whelan helping out with 3 goals in 8 games.

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England will probably finish bottom of their group after such a fine qualifying campaign.

We’re up against Arsenal next, who are top and amazingly we are 2nd. So we aren’t that entertaining at the moment, but maybe we are becoming resilient and Debbah celebrates his return with the winning goal and send us back to the top of the pile.

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Back to our European campaign and we’re cruising to our required 3 points in our match against CSKA until The Lizard gets himself sent off, but summer signing Davide Courtin keeps them at bay after conceding the penalty.

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We have 13pts but qualification isn’t confirmed yet.

We’re away to Martin O’Neill’s Man City in the league next.

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Substitute Thompson saves us a point, but really its two dropped and we’re back down to second in the league.

It’s a complete change in the starting 11 for the League Cup as I give some of the fringe players some game time and we squeeze through after 120 minutes against Kidderminster. Our defence of the trophy marches on.

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The story of our next league match against Sunderland can be told in the space of 4 send half minutes.

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We seem to like winning 2-1 at the minute.

It’s our last Champions League group game up next and we do just enough to finish top.

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I just want to avoid Milan in the next round.

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Well we did, but not much better.

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Our group mates AaB draw Milan out of the hat and we’ll pick that thread up in the next post.

As we head into Xmas its all very routine away to Burnley

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Boxing day is an absolute bore draw against Newcastle which I won’t even post details of it was that drab, but it keeps us top at Xmas, but it’s getting tight

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Liverpool doing well after promotion, but it’s a different story for Chelsea who came up with them

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The next, and penultimate blog post will pick up with our defence of the FA Cup and the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but before we go, and quick round up of the teams I avoided.

Liverpool – 12th in the Premier League following last season’s promotion. They are out of the League Cup, losing to Man City, but have the 3rd round of the FA Cup against Bristol City to look forward to in the new year, as well as a two-legged affair with Real Madrid in the Quarter Finals of the Cup Winners Cup. Alan Shearer is doing some good work at the helm.

Lazio – Midtable in Serie A, with not much than pride to play for where the bugger story is Napoli leading the table, 7 points ahead of the mighty Milan.

Espanyol – Our next opponents in Europe are 4th in La Liga, only 3 points from the top and into the quarter finals of the Copa Del Rey.

Also a quick mention for Stuart Pearce, the man I usurped from the Forest hot-seat took over the reins at Bradford City and got them promoted to Division 1 in his second season where they are now fighting against relegation.

See you next week as we enter the business end of our final season.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

Run Forest, Run – Part 9: Search For The Guerrero Inside Yourself

 

Hello – we’re into the third and final season of my attempt to return Nottingham Forest to European supremacy after simming 8 seasons into the future. Or the past. Whichever. After a near miss on season one, we completed a domestic treble but performed badly in Europe, so this season we’re setting our sights on European glory.

I decide the team needs some defensive solidity at the back and in the nets. Trouble is, we’re still not that attractive a prospect yet and it’s hard to attract players.

Arno Splinter is available from Barca for £3m but wants nothing to do with me and the regen of Jean Pierre Papin is available on a free, but despite zilch interest from anyone else, he snubs me.

So, it’s youngsters and unknowns again. I sign up the regens of Luis Figo and Finidi George to compete down the right hand side, sign a German defender with 2 caps to his name and a promising looking French goalkeeper. I trim some deadweight from my squad, releasing Anti Niemi in a free and selling The Borg, some squad players and Frank Lampard to Derby.

Paul Scholes is available for £2m but turns me down too and Marcello Lippi is sacked as England manager, so I apply, but just like Cloughie, I am ignored – not even an interview for me! Spain also sack Claudio Ranieri, I can only assume for calling up Julen Guerrero and then not playing him. I throw my hat in the ring and the Spanish FA set fire to it. Cheers for that.

Anyway, with the squad surgery done for now, (I also added everyone’s favourite Icelandic DM/FC) after a few pre-season friendlies to get us fit and in the mood, we take on Man Utd in the season curtain raiser.

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It’s not a classic encounter and it’s not until the second half when Fitzgerald cancels out Rubini’s opener and after pummelling the opposition keeper, we can’t find a winner but we’re five from five in the shootout with Beckham fluffing his lines.

That’s another trophy in the cabinet at the City Ground.

We kick off the league defence against our old foes Watford.

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They are a star-studded team as you can see. Robbie Fowler, Emile Heskey, Ryan Giggs, Shay Given, Tom Youngs and the hilariously named Gerry Cherry on the bench. Inge is the difference, but we lose the Lad from Chad, Nelo, in the first minute, which is not ideal as Guerrero is out for 3 months after a pre-season injury.

Boy ‘Finidi’ George comes in to replace Nelo for the next match against Huddersfield, who scores and then gets injured and we stumble to a disappointing draw. We’re losing midfielders as fast as Spinal Tap lose drummers. Dobly gets the equaliser for Huddersfield. Tap fans will enjoy that.

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Marco (Luis Figo) comes in for the injured Boy George/Julen Guerrero/Nelo/Gazza Regen against Swindon and it’s not until Dennis Waterman scores an own-goal that we start clicking. Not so good for you, Dennis. (He’s not really called Dennis). Thompson and Bogie make the score look more comfortable than it really was.

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Next up, it’s a midweek look at what you could have won, as vote option Liverpool are back in the Premier League. It’s an unchanged side for me.

The regens of Figo and Shearer condemn the real Alan Shearer’s team to a 2-0 defeat and it’s 10 points from 12 for Forest.

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While all that was going on, Jesper Blomqvist leaves us for Rotherham and our Champions League group is drawn and it’s a beaut. I hope.

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Our happy bubble of a fairly easy Champions League group is pricked when we play Spurs and lose our first game of the season. 3 goals disallowed! I’m spitting feathers! Now we’re 6th and Spurs go top.

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4 days later, we entertain Man Utd and Boy George nets as Ricken is stricken. Paul Scholes tries to show me what I’m missing in the final minutes, but is denied by the post and we collect the 3 points.

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Norwich City next, and it’s all fairly routine this time out.

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Liberian Debbah getting his first goal of the season along with Brendan ‘Gazza’ Fisher.

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Debbah is in fine form as we start our Champions League campaign at home to Rosenborg. We’re actually 1 nil down at half time as I give a start to new German defender Jurgen Levy, but he manages to concede a penalty and get sent off allowing Metallica bassist Rob Trujillo to slot from the spot, and nothing else matters. We come out of the blocks after the break firing on all cylinders and put the game to bed before Trujillo nets again from the spot. What a great start to our European adventures.

Back to reality now as we welcome Chelsea to the City Ground and he just can’t get enough. Rubini and young Marco Figo getting on the scoresheet. I’ve kept faith with Lizarralde in goal, or The Lizard as I’ll intermittently call him from now on, who rewards me with a clean sheet.

11

It’s back in the air in midweek as we fly to Sofia. Debbah has been so good lately I don’t want him getting big-headed so I drop him for veteran Alfonso who scores his first goal since joining in the 2nd minute. Barely 60 seconds later, Boy ‘Finidi’ George doubles our lead and it’s the crying game for CSKA when Guerrero puts us three to the good after 10 minutes. It’s too good to be True, so to cut a long story short, CSKA reply with two before half time, Boy George scores again and Inge makes it 5 before half time. The second half is like an exhibition match and we fly home with 3 more points on the board.

12

After all that, we’re only second to AaB, who we’ll face next time out.

13

All that excitement means we have played 9 games and are roughly a quarter of the way through the season. Despite the setback to Spurs, we’re a point in front at the top, with plent of seasoned Premiership teams breathing down our necks.

14

At the bottom, Sunderland, Chelsea and Swindon all look like being cut adrift already.

15

Well, that’s it for this update, the league is going well and we’ve made a positive start in a fairly comfortable group in Europe, so it can only go wrong in the next save.

Before I go, my customary round up of the teams we could have been following instead of Forest.

Liverpool – They may be struggling in the league, but their Cup Winners Cup campaign is off to a flyer as they hold a 1st round 1st leg 6-0 lead against Finnish team TPV Tampere (No, me neither).

Lazio – Midtable after 6 games and already out of the Coppa Italia – it looks like a long season is in store for Dario Hubner’s men.

Espanyol – They are top of the pile in La Liga after games and 2nd in their Champs League group, but they have also signed Mickael Silvestre, so you can’t have everything.
Thanks for reading, see you next week!

PS Catch me on Twitter for my infrequent postings of my Alex Ferguson challenge where I try to emulate another managerial legend and follow his career path from East Stirling to Man Utd via St Mirren, Aberdeen and the Scottish national side. Only if you want to of course!

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

Run Forest, Run – Part 8: Holding out for a Guerrero

It’s the end of Matt’s second season in charge of Nottingham Forest. It might be 2007 but he is getting close to restoring those glory days. Catch up with part 7 here.

Hi and welcome back to the final update of season 2 where I’ve time travelled to the future and try and turn Forest into force once more. We were Premier League runners up last year which gave us a place in the Champions League which came and went, but we’re top of the league and into the later stages of both domestic cups, so things are looking up.

We’ll start with some international recognition.

1

This recall to the Spain squad is fully deserved and Guerrero celebrates by putting us ahead in the first half against 6th placed Sunderland. Carsten Jancker leads a fight back in the second half, setting up Halsall for the equaliser, but Zizi Debbah and a late double from Inge means this team is purring.

2

It’s international break time just before the transfer deadline shuts and Twan Inge makes his debut as a late substitute for Holland in their narrow 2-1 away win over Moldova. Barry Smith also makes his debut for Eire in similar circumstances although his is a losing debut away to Slovakia, but there’s sadness for Julen Guerrero who doesn’t even make the bench for Spain against Austria. Its was a friendly for pity’s sake, have a heart Claudio Ranieri!

Transfer deadline comes and I manage to sign Little Luis Enrique for real this time, for a bargain £1.5m and let a reserve goalie, Jeremy Stuart go to Bury.

Next up it’s the League Cup Final against Leeds United. Leeds have Ion Timofte and Chris Woodcock up front and Thomas Myhre in goal with Patrick Vieira and Nigel Quashie marshalling the midfield in a straight 4-4-2 formation. Manager Alan Little looking to add to last years FA Cup triumph.

New signing Juanmi is cup-tied, for reasons I can’t understand as he’s either played for Forest in the competition on loan or for Las Palmas. In Spain.

Barry ‘Roy Keane’ Smith is suspended, so Steven McManaman comes into the holding role, but apart from that it’s as we were.

3

Leeds rigid 4-4-2 formation stifles us and Woodcock draws first blood before Quashie goes off injured. Then towards the end of the half Woodcock sees red and it’s time to earn my corn in the half time team-talk.

Guerrero has a goal ruled out for offside on 50 minutes and we win endless corners but can find no way past Myhre in goal. I bring on Ascencio for Rubini and push Inge forward. My gamble pays off in the last minute of normal time as Debbah rises highest to a corner from Nelo to hammer a header past Myhre finally.

That late goal deflates 10 man Leeds and we score twice through Guerrero and Scottish wingback Hamish Chappell. Tonito gets sent off just before half time and we are almost there. We play out the last 15 minutes and Guerrero gets MOTM. Lloyd Kaye lifts the aloft the three handled cup and shouts ‘Baby, you make me wish I had three hands!’

4

The board are delighted, and we’ve won £500k, which is good. It’s not a route to Europe, as you know, but we have other avenues for that, starting with our FA Cup semi-final against Spurs. The other semi-final sees our title challenge rivals man Utd take on Alan Shearer’s Division 1 Liverpool.

We beat Spurs 7-2 last time out, but I am expecting more fight this time around from Kevin Keegan’s team who sold 3 of their best players to Arsenal on transfer deadline day. Best not question Keegan’s transfer dealings.

Juanmi is on for Chappell and Alfonso is on the bench against his old club.

5

Rubini decides the first half is a good time to score his 25th of the season, but Kovacevic levels before half time. Guerrero slots in Debbah and we are in control until Janney takes advantage of a defensive slip up and after a dire 30 minutes of extra time it’ll be a replay. In the other semi-final, Liverpool upset the odds to dump Utd out by 1 goal to nil.

3 days later and it’s back to Old Trafford to face Spurs again. I consider ringing the changes as most of my squad are knackered but persevere with the same line up from Sunday and with a little help from Nicky Weaver’s sending off, we run out 4-1 winners and it’ll be a final against Liverpool in May.

6

After all these cup exploits, it’s back to the bread and butter of the league and title rivals Man Utd serve up a humdinger of a 3-3 draw where Guerrero cancels out a Noel Whelan winner.

7

That point keeps us 2 pts behind Utd with a game in hand, which is against basement club Middlesbrough the following Wednesday.

Just when you think you’ve found some form…

8

A crazy middle of the game.

All of which sort of makes our next game away to mid-table Norwich pivotal if we are to sustain a title challenge.

9

My team like to put me through the wringer on the final run in, don’t they?

Man Utd draw nil-nil with 3rd place Leeds and we go top on goal difference with a game in hand. It’s ours to lose now with 5 games to go.

10

It’s another International Break and a chance for my players to rest up, even Guerrero who is overlooked by Ranieri’s Spain again, which maybe is a good thing.

When we take on Arsenal for our game in hand, its suspensions rather than injuries that force changes, with one of them, Fahlen, grabbing the winning goal to put us 3 pts clear at the top with 4 games to go.

11

Those 4 games will be played out in the spaces of 7 days due to the usual bank holiday fixture congestion in English CM world.

Up first are Huddersfield where a 0-0 draw and a Man Utd win do little to calm my fears of a collapse like last season. Then it’s on to Martin O’Neill’s Wolves for the Bank Holiday Monday showdown.

We’re running on empty but I’m loath to make wholesale changes, but Debbah and Fahlen carry us through as worthy winners. Combined with a Man Utd loss to 17th place Burnley, and we’re 4 pts clear with 2 games to go!

12

By a twist of fate, or selective algorithms and scheduling, our next match 2 days later is against Burnley at home.

13

Rubini and Bogie deliver the goods and its party time at The City Ground as we add the Premier League Crown to the League Cup won earlier this season.

Nottingham Forest are league champions for the first time since 1978.

It’s a complete change of line up for the final game to save players for the FA Cup final and Aston Villa show no mercy to demolish us 4-1, but it’s a carnival atmosphere as the Premier League Trophy is paraded around the ground.

Conformation of our achievements below, with man Utd sealing the second Champions League spot. Last years winners down to 5th, leapfrogged by our limp showing against Villa.

14

At the bottom, Ipswich trying to pretend they aren’t gong down with Middlesbrough and Hull.

15

Leeds finished 3rd and qualified for Europe, but lose another final this season…

16

We now have a chance to do what in reality would be a historic domestic treble but Man Utd achieved that feat in the very first season of this save.

It’ll be champions of the Premier Division vs Champions of Division 1 as Liverpool and Chelsea finish in first and second respectively.

17

We show Liverpool what they will be in store for next season, and in truth the game as a contest was effectively over in the first 15 minutes.

18

It’s a rout and we’ve done the treble, amazing scenes. Debbah with a double to add to Nelo and Rubini. In the end we were too much for Liverpool and I give some fringe players 5 minutes on the Wembley turf to start the celebrations. Liverpool will be disappointed, but they will be back in the Premier League and into Europe, where we’ll also focus our attention for the final season of this save.

Stats time:

19

Debbah and Rubini plundered 65 goals between them across 4 competitions. Alfonso got a big fat zero in his 9 outings and I’m glad I paid £750,000 for him and not the usual £15,750,000.

You’ll see Guerrero 3rd in the top scorers list and let’s dwell on this veteran Spaniard for a moment.

You’ll recall he joined us late on in the first Season, having been rescued from Sheffield Wednesday in Division 2.

20

He scored 4 goals in 8 games for us as we came close to sealing the title, but this season he has been amazing, even at the age of 33. He left Athletic Bilbao in the second season of this save for Valencia but rarely featured and a bargain move to Sheffield Wednesday saw consistent performances for 3 seasons in Division 1 until they were relegated to Division 2 in 04/05, where they still reside, having finished 18th under the stewardship of Jason Cundy – says it all really.

Ever dependable, match winner and game turner, I have come to love this Spanish playmaker and I hope he’ll keep his boots on into his 34th year as we push for European Glory and try to emulate Cloughie.

Awards confirmation:

21

A nice symmetry with Alan Shearer getting Div 1 Manager of the Year and his regen getting PFA Young Player of the Year. Blog favourite Tomlinson doing well for Crewe in Division 3.

A quick chance before we go to round up the other teams that were an option at the very start of this blog:

Liverpool – Division 1 Champions and FA Cup Runners Up – we’ll be seeing a lot more of Alan Shearer’s side next season.

Lazio – Escaped relegation by 3 pts in Serie A where Milan were champions by a whopping 17 points. Milan also picked up the Coppa Italia to complete a dominant double.

Espanyol – Heartache in the league as a late season loss to Deportivo allowed Real Sociedad to claim the title by 1 point, but Espanyol had their revenge on Deportivo in the Champions League final, beating them 4-2.

See you next week for the start of our third and final season!

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

Run Forest, Run – Part 7: Inge-ing our way to the top

Happy hump day! Here’s Matt with his Forest in the future save. Things have taken a dramatic turn – catch up with part 6 here.

You join me on Boxing Day 2006 in my quest to make Nottingham Forest great again. We’re mid-way through season 2 and out of Europe but keeping pace with the front runners in the league, if only we could find some sort of form…

It’s 4th against 9th on Boxing Day as we take on Bolton away. Injuries have robbed us of some key performers, but I’m hopeful my squad can weather the busy festive period.

We’re not great and rely on Inge to rescue us a point. I think I might be relying on young Thompson in the absence of Debbah a little too much.

1

Some stalwarts are starting to return from injury, but none are fit enough to face Everton at home. We start well through Rubini, then concede immediately. Its back and forth for the rest of the half until Inge pops up in the box to send us into halftime in front. Young Thompson extends our lead and although Everton pull one back, we hold out for a win that keeps us 4th but a point off top spot.

2

Little Luis Enrique is recalled by Las Palmas so I’m short on defensive options at right wingback but keep faith with young Costacurta.

We fall behind to Birmingham away in our FA Cup quest but recover well to seal a 4-1 win. A returning Ascencio helping himself to 2 goals.

3

Staying with cup action, it’s a midweek visit from Sheff Utd in the League Cup Quarter Finals. It’s a tight game, their keeper getting MOTM tells most of the story, but a minute from time young Dutch maestro Inge seals the win and a semi-final spot against Newcastle.

4

It’s a strong statement of intent as we brush aside Ipswich at Portman Road on our return to league action, which is just aswell as the 3 teams above also record wins.

5

It’s tight at the top…

6

Things may change in our next match as we take on first place Watford, who have Figo and Giggs on either wing, but it’s Shay Given in goal who earns them a point in a fairly even 0-0 draw.

7

There’s nothing even when we take on West ham in the FA Cup 4th round, Inge and Debbah combining to devastating effect. Young Inge is growing into a vital player in this team now.

8

Of course, being the team we are, it’s back down to earth with a bump against man City in the league, leaving us 4th and 4 pts off Man Utd in 1st.

9

Maybe we’re just cut out for the domestic cup competition’s like Cloughie’s team of the late 80’s/early 90’s. This is reinforced when we sweep aside Newcastle in the first leg of the League Cup Semi-Final, 6-1. Rubini with 4! Shame we conceded one though.

10

Before the second leg, we’ll stick with the cup and our 5th round tie against Norwich City. Nelo settles the game, it was text book, and we’re into the quarters.

11

We’re even further than that in the League Cup. With a 5 goal cushion, I ring the changes for the return leg and am happy with a 1-1 draw to take us into the final against Leeds United.

12

Back to league action and we brush aside Hull 3-1, but we’re still 7pts off top spot. Ok we have a game in hand, but still.

13

Julen Guerrero has been a real bargain buy for us and has stayed fairly free of injury for a veteran. In contrast, young Brendan ‘Gazza’ Fisher has just recovered from shin splints, only to damage his hip in training and he’s out for the rest of the season. Always seems to be the problem with this regen.

I’m not sure if this signing is really worth it as he’s 34, but he may pop up with the odd important goal in the run in.

14

We’re too strong again for Newcastle at home in the league, Nelo, Inge and Debbah getting the goals to put us 3rd with a game in hand.

15

That game in hand is a midweek trip away to Sheff Utd, and it’s Debbah with a treble to put us 2nd and 2 pts off Man Utd.

16

Its FA Cup Quarter Final time and Rubini puts us in control against Sunderland before Jancker pulls one back. Guerrero makes the game safe and I give his compatriot Alfonso a 20 minute cameo, but no goals on his debut.

17

We’ll have Spurs in the semi-final, a replay of the 91 final, as I expect the papers will caption it.

It’s a dress rehearsal in the league in another midweek catch up game and it’’s action right from the start. Rubini after 5 minutes, then a response from Kovacevic 4 minutes later. Rubini puts us back in front, then Debbah makes it 3-1 before half time. The floodgates open in the second half and it’s a 7-2 rout. Good times!

18

Even though the troops are tired, I send the same team out 3 days later to face Leeds, where a 2-nil win and favourable results elsewhere puts us top of the pile with nine games to go, which seems like the perfect place to end this part. Join me next week where we’ll have the League Cup Final, the FA Cup semi-final and the league run in, it promises to be very interesting!

19

A quick look elsewhere:

Liverpool are up to 4th in Division 1 and looking good for a playoff spot, Czech striker Marek Suchoparek banging in the goals for them.

Lazio have pulled themselves out of the relegation zone in Serie A but are still 1pt from the drop zone.

Espanyol are 2nd in La Liga, 2 pts off Real Sociedad, they’re also in the Champions League quarter-finals, holding Milan to a 0-0 draw in the first leg.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills

Run Forest, Run – Part 6: Zizi Like Sunday Mourning

Matt Wills is here to bring you more from his Nottingham Forest in the future save. Having fast forwarded 8 years, it’s all about making up lost time for Matt and return Forest to their past glories. Catch up with part 5 here.

Hi, welcome back to my Nottingham Forest challenge. Part 5 was a bit dour as we had a hangover from our near miss in season one, but I’m determined to be more positive going forward.

I start by dropping wantaway Liberian Zizi Debbah and bring in Derek ‘Alan Shearer’ Thompson up-top as we labour to a 2-0 win over 18th placed Sunderland, but in an attempt to be more positive, the board are pleased with the result and it catapults us from 8th to 3rd in the table.

1

Even Lizarralde’s injury is minor only needing a few days rest. My cup is half-full.

During the international break for European Championship qualifiers, Lloyd Kaye gets his first cap for England in a 2-0 win away to Romania, Noel Whelan and Scholes with the goals. I’m proud of young Kaye.

After the break, we do well to see off 5th placed Leeds, even if we do leave it late, but my inspired substitutions win out in the end.

2

This puts us 3rd on goal difference from Burnley and only 4pts behind Villa at the top.

This nice little run of form brings us to my biggest test since I took over Forest, AC Milan in our 3rd group game in the Champions League. Milan are the holders and did the treble last season.

I decide to swap out Rubi-Gol and bring back Debbah, as I can only play 3 Non-EU players.

Milan have Thierry Henry upfront and Peter Schmeichel’s regen in goal, this will be some task.

3

Although we give it a good go, we spend a disappointing evening in the San Siro, and it’s not without it’s casualties.

4

It would be a divine miracle to qualify from this position. Even 10 points in 2nd is unlikely to be enough to go through as one of the two best runners up. Still, we’ll give it a go.

5

4 weeks without the lad from Chad.

Debbah enjoys his return to the line-up, although he doesn’t score, he gets Man of the Match against lowly Middlesbrough. Fisher and Kaye notching for us and another clean sheet to boot.

6

This win takes us up to 2nd in the table, and a Villa loss leaves us a point behind them with 12 games played. Feeling positive!

7

It’s a break from league action, for the League Cup and Burnley. Debbah adds a hat trick to his previous MOTM award and we’re in the hat for the next round.

8

This will be an interesting game…

9

I keep exactly the same team for the next game, which coincidentally is Burnley again, but this time away and it’s a real kick in the teeth given our recent fine domestic form. We’re a proper Jeckel and Hyde team again and we slide to 5th. A win would have put us a point clear at the top.

10

Our Mission Impossible resumes in Europe and we take away a narrow win from Croatia. It’s probably not going to be enough, but does award us £750k which will pay for Zizi’s hospital treatment for a few weeks at least.

11

Arsenal beat us to Rai’s regen. Back to the shopping list…

12

Another 2-1 win, this time against Man Utd. It’s impressive that we achieved this with Antti Niemi in goal and forgotten Italian regen The Borg up front. However, not so impressive when you learn that Utd have a guy called Jon Salako in goal…

We’re joint top with Everton, but we’ve scored less and conceded more so settle for 2nd spot for now.

13

After missing out on Rai’s regen, I scour Europe for some back up and sign up Brian Laudrup Jnr, he can’t Fahl(en) to improve us.

14

Fahlen goes straight into the team against bottom club Arsenal, and of course, we play absolutely pants in defence and lose 5-3. This team is starting to drive me to distraction. Down to 5th and Man U top the table! Give me strength!

15

I give the squad a right good rollicking for that and they respond in our next game at home to Rosenborg. Debbah with 4, Rubi-Gol with 2, lovely stuff. We still have a slim chance of qualifying, but to do so we’ll have to beat Milan in our last group game, no easy task.

16

Based on that win, I expect us to lose our next match in the league to Norwich, but we don’t and it’s a welcome 3 pts in the bag. Bergkamp and Shearer Jnrs getting the goals here.

17

3 days later and its Division 1 Liverpool in the 4th Round of the League Cup. Shearer has set his team up to frustrate and the only action in 90 minutes is an injury to Spanish wingback Juanmi. I realise I’ve done my usual thing of not shuffling my subs, so it’s either Fabio Cannavaro or Jesper Blomqvist to replace him. I opt for Jesper and we eventually make the breakthrough via Thompson in the 3rd minute of extra-time and we’re in the hat for the quarter final, which will be Sheffield United at home. The returning Nelo gets man of the match, which was nice.

19

It’s away to 17th placed Huddersfield in the league next. Huddersfield have Dick Dolby up front, whose name makes me think of American talk show hosts for some strange reason. Juanmi is out for a month, so Costacurta comes in at right wingback and I recall Rubini for Thompson, but we fail to get out of first gear in a turgid first half. Then we concede to Gifton Noel Williams in the second half, and I wonder what I’ve done to deserve such things, but luckily Zizi Debbah is on hand to equalise a minute later and then he seals all three points in the last minute by rounding the keeper to slot home – please don’t leave me Zizi!

19

So here we go into the final Champions League group game. We’re up against holders Milan, who sit 6 points clear in Serie A with a game in hand. They have already qualified from our group, with a perfect 5/5 and 15 pts. We’re on 7 in second. Dortmund and Aab are the only 2nd placed teams with more points than us with 10 and 8 respectively, so our task is clear. Beat the mighty AC Milan at the City Ground and hope results elsewhere go our way. It couldn’t be simpler…

Fisher is suspended so veteran Guerrero comes in for him and I have to sacrifice Rubini for Thompson to meet my 3 Non-EU quota for European games. We have more of the chances in the first half but the Schmeichel regen Meedom is impervious and Matteo Pelatti makes it Mission Impossible with a goal on 24 minutes. I try to gee the lads up at half time and send them out with their tails up but we need 2 goals and results elsewhere to go our way, it’s a tall order indeed, and one that unfortunately eludes us.

20

Elsewhere, Aab won but Dortmund drew, so we would have made it had it not been for Milan, and all the other results to be honest. So we are out of Europe, woe is me.

Back to domestic duties and it only takes Nelo 5 minutes to get injured at home to Wolves. Luckily, I had Frank Lampard on the bench. Fisher follows him on 36 minutes and I reluctantly bring on Blomqvist and go in 0-0 at the break. Debbah cancels out a Wolves opener in the second half and then grabs a second 2 minutes later, good old Jesper with the assist, what was I worried about? It’s another 2-1 win! Fisher is out for 3 months with shin splints, the legacy of being Gazza’s regen I suppose. Things get better when Rubini hands in a transfer request as he wants to move to a bigger club, and then Debbah goes down injured for a few weeks.

21

Word gets out that we’re the walking wounded, and I get a mysterious call from an agent claiming they can send me Debbah’s cousin for a trial, but I politely decline…

2 days before Xmas, we’re away to 3rd place Aston Villa and they’re 1 nil up after 6 minutes following a goal mouth scramble. Apart from Blomqvist rattling the crossbar in the dying minutes, that’s it and it’s a sobering festive break at the City Ground.

22

That game was our 19th and leaves us half way and at the end of this update. Villa have leapt to the top and we’re now 4th behind Man Utd and last years champions Watford. We’re only 2pts from the top spot but could have been 2 pts clear had we beaten Villa.

23

We’ll pick this up again on boxing day, hoping for more consistency as we head into 2007, but before we go, a quick look at the other teams we turned down:

Liverpool – Out of the League Cup thanks to us, they are still amongst the play off spots in Division 1.

Lazio – Looking at a swift return to Serie B as they lie 16th in the top division – oh dear.

Espanyol – The best of the bunch as they push Real Sociedad for the Spanish title.

See you soon guys.

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt_C_Wills