Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Stage Is Set

The FA Cup, a competition rich is history and prestige, the greatest domestic knock out tournament in the world, elusive to some of the greatest managers and players football has ever known. And on Sunday the sixteenth of February, the fifth round will see more than just cup history as a combination of factors set the stage for a very interesting game. Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest have their own history, from a dislike of each other stemming all the way back to the miners strikes to the infamous play off semi final in 2003. But it is not as black and white as a football and fan rivalry, this fixture will see personal history come into the lime light. Nigel Clough will face off against rival Billy Davies, against the club his legendary father lead to glory, the club that worships his fathers memory.

The Rivalry

In 1990 after successive promotions Sheffield United struggled to adapt to life in the old First Division, and did not win a league game until December the twenty second, the opponents, Nottingham Forest. This win revived our season and we survived, despite Forest getting their revenge in a two nil win at The City ground. This was not the start of the two clubs footballing rivalry but a catalyst to a number of very explosive and heated games between the two. The rivalry itself is not just between the two specific clubs, but stems from an animosity between Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. The two counties were almost at war during the miners strikes of yesteryear, as those miners from Yorkshire picketed and were targets of not only the police and government but also the media those in Nottinghamshire continued to work. One would think that after nearly forty years this wouldn't be a focal point of a rivalry, but the hatred became deep seeded as many lost their livelihoods and communities to this day still struggle to recover. The chant of "SCABS" can often be heard from Yorkshire teams towards Nottingham Forest, but non seem to reach the intensity of when our
two clubs meet. August eleventh 2001, I like many others made the trip to the city ground where a crowd of 25,513 (6,000 Blades) saw the game end 1-1, Paul Devlin grabbed a last gasp equaliser to cancel out Marlon Harewoods opener, it didn't feel like just a normal point, we were jubilant, it felt like a derby game. No one will forget what was arguably the greatest play off game of all time at Bramall Lane when the two clubs met. The first leg had ended 1-1 thanks to a Michael Brown equaliser from the penalty spot, it was an electric atmosphere again comparable to a Derby game. David Johnson gave Forest the lead after a defensive error and Forest looked like they were in control and heading to Cardiff, Forest continued to bear down on us and came close to a second on a few occasions, they eventually got it, Andy Reid (who has represented both clubs) slotted home in front of the visiting supporters who went wild, many believed it was game over and Forest had won the day. What no one expected was one of the greatest comebacks in history, it started with
a Michael Brown free kick somehow bobbling over the line, then with twenty minutes to go Steve Kabba skilfully flicked the ball over his marker before volleying over the keeper into the back of the net, level terms and game on, the end of regulation time meant the two would have to continue their dual into extra time, the drama would not stop and an iconic moment would soon take centre stage. A big kick forwards from Paddy Kenny bounced next to Canadian Paul Peschisolido, he has two defenders glued to him, he brings it down, he dribbles central on the outside of the box, cuts round one player, holds up another, he hits a daisy cutter towards goal,,,,, "OH MY GOD!!" you don't have to be a lip reader to know what Pesch is saying, his shirt is whipped off and he sprints round the pitch like a mad man puffing out his pale chest. Kabba's cross lead to an own goal securing The Blades victory, what made it doubly sweet was the scorer, ex Wednesday player Des Walker, despite a consolation goal for the visitors United had put Forest to the sword in a victory that would go down in folk law. The rivalry had another famous game, one that involved our mangers fathers last home game, one that saw Nottingham Forests relegated from The Premiership.

The Clough's

In 1993 Nottingham Forest hosted rivals Sheffield United at the city ground for their last home game of the season, one they had to win to have any chance of Premiership survival, 26,752 fans packed into the ground (3,500 Blades selling out their allocation) to see Forest humbled by goals from Glyn Hodges and Brian Gayle. The Blades following lauded Clough mercilessly, but then showed respect by chanting "Cloughy for England" to which an iconic image of Clough waving to the Blades appeared. Nigel Clough took Forest from no hoper's to kings of European and English football, he is a true legend of the game and is worshipped by both Forest and Derby, two rival fans who hate each other. Nigel too has Forest connections, he was leading scorer in the season they were relegated. The club itself must have a special place in the heart of our gaffer, a place he saw his fathers greatest triumphs come to fruition, a place he started his career in the beautiful game. Nigel himself followed in his fathers footsteps taking the helm at Derby County, and like his father after Derby took the job at a Yorkshire club (we unlike Leeds embraced our new manager) but as far as accomplishments go son and father are light years apart, at least for now. One thing that is certain, if Nigel wants to do what Brian could never do, win the FA Cup he has to be ruthless, Clough Senior would understand, no matter how special a club is to you when your in the cup those loyalties go out the window, and all that matters is the result. Despite the Clough family being part of Nottingham legend, there is one man who truly believes he is now Mr Nottingham Forest, and another reason this game will have some heat, Billy Davies.

The Animosity

Billy Davies strikes many as more pantomime villain than football manager. John Pemberton was know to regard Davies as a vile, arrogant and disrespectful human being after working only a few days with him. The man truly believes he is the best, and he and Nigel Clough are no strangers to each other. Davies also like the Clough's has connections in Derby as well as Forest, he managed Derby before taking up his first spell in Nottingham. Twenty months after being sacked due to two successive play off failures Davies returned, named King Billy by the fans the man believed his own hype and began disrespecting other managers and clubs on a regular basis. In a heated game between rivals Forest
and Derby, Davies and Clough became involved in a touchline melee, the once arrogant little man lost his hard man attitude and began making cringe worthy threats involving solicitors after claiming Clough had struck him in the back with his knee, sounding less like King Billy and more like a spoilt prince. In the last meeting of the two Davies had the last laugh, his forest team defeated Clough's Derby and few days later Nigel was sacked. When the two managers lock horns again it will lead to a very tense atmosphere on the touchline, both having a point to prove. It wont only be Managers with points to prove, amongst Forests ranks are a few ex-Blades, some of whom don't have the best of memories of their time here.

The Ex-Blades

Greg Halford has great memories of his time here, he often takes to twitter to wish us luck, to reminisce with Blades fans and he will receive a good reception from us come match day. Despite the reception we have to be wary, Halford is a great professional, and he will want to progress to the next round of the cup, as mentioned earlier despite a fondness for us he knows for ninety minutes we are an obstacle and one he will want to overcome. Naturally a right back, Halford is great on the ball, but his danger stems from his versatility, he is the true definition of a utility player, from defence to midfield, the wings even when needs be as a striker Greg can do it all, and we will have to keep a close eye on him as he could very well be one of the players who punishes us. One player who will not have that fondness is Darius Henderson, the stocky forward has been critical of our club on a number of occasions. He feels he was not properly utilised here, but when the fans made it clear no matter how he was utilised he
was stealing a wage and not good enough he took exception and wanted out. The fans never took to Darius as he seemed lazy, he never used his strength in an effective manner, yes he grabbed some goals but he was never the striker we invested in. He has has done marginally better since leaving us but has had the same complaints everywhere he has played. He will have a point to prove as well as just wanting to win the game, he has the ability to try and bully his way into goal scoring opportunities, we will need Harry to be on top form and possibly try and overwhelm him so that he loses his composure, if not we could see Henderson gloating in front of The Kop as we pick the
ball out of the goal. A Forest institution and all round brilliant player Andy Reid is again at the City ground, he had a brief spell with us a few seasons back and was instantly a hit. excellent on the ball, a great delivery and very talented many wanted to sign him on a permanent basis, but at the time he was out of our reach. He
knows what its like to play against us in a Forest shirt, it was he who scored against us in the play off semi final mentioned earlier. He will have no real problem in performing against us, as fondly as we remember his time here, to him we were just a quick stop to gain some fitness. We will have to really work hard to keep him at bay, he knows where the goal is and will cause us endless danger.

The Key Players

The team selection will be the biggest part of this, one wrong decision and we could have a torrid day on our hands. I for one believe That not only should Michael Doyle not feature against Brentford but he should not feature in this game. We beat Fulham without him, we got our first league win in what seems like an eternity without him, we do not need him. Neil Collins has been twice the leader Doyle has, and I believe with his leadership and his new found confidence he will be an integral part in any game plan, we will need him to keep the defence organized against an array of attacking talent. As stated earlier if Henderson is starting then Harry Maguire will be essential, he has the strength and quality to frustrate the frontman, but no matter who starts upfront for Forest Maguire will be integral, he has been since match day one of the season and continues to be week in week out, despite such a young age, without him we look lost. The Scottish trio of Scougall, Murphy and Flynn seem to just be in sync, they have an understanding and they are all in form, we need them fit and fighting. Nothing is set ins stone in this fixture, there are no certainties in football, but what we do know is despite the so called big games drawn together in this round, non will have as many combustible elements as the tie at Bramall Lane.

-Jonathan Gascoigne

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