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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