Saturday, 13 April 2013

Nottingham Forest 0 Norwich City 1

Following the unabashed entertainment of the NextGen finals and last Friday’s Youth Cup quarter-final on Merseyside, I’d come to the conclusion that every youth match was a joy to watch. 

These teenagers played the game with the handbrake off, I thought, for the pure and simple fun of it and liberated from the intense scrutiny and pressure they will come to experience in the senior ranks.

Unfortunately I was mistaken, since this latest FA Youth Cup outing was a distinctly drab affair. The first leg of two in this less attractive of the semi-final pairings - the other being Chelsea against Liverpool - was a match of few chances, played with an air of nervousness you sometimes get when sides are more interested in not ceding the advantage than going out to win. 

I was at the City Ground for the first time in 14 years - remarkable considering Forest are the nearest “big” club to Boston. The last time I was here was during their last top flight campaign, 1998-1999, when my late uncle Graham took me to matches against Middlesbrough and Tottenham.

They lost both and were pretty terrible all round that season, but I bet the supporters of the two-time European champions never imagined they’d be stuck in the second tier ever since. 

Despite being reasonably local, I feel no affinity to Forest. There are far too many Forest fans in Boston who don’t actually go to the City Ground every week but would never go down to York Street. 

Still, it was nice to be back in Nottingham - however briefly - as it’s at least a place I know my way around without resort to maps, taxis and directions off dodgy locals. 

Having seen off Everton 4-2 with a free-flowing display of football, Norwich came with confidence and a fair few supporters too in the one open stand. This season, ITV4 have decided to show all four legs of the semi-finals, a decision I applaud as it’s a great showcase for these up-and-coming players. 

But few, if any, impressed the watching public in this one. Norwich showed nothing near the attacking impetus seen at Goodison Park and, although the Murphy brothers showed their usual understanding, hat-trick hero Callum Morris was quiet. A muddy pitch didn’t help either.

In truth, they’d been set up to absorb anything that Forest could throw at them and strike on the counter. They didn’t come up against a lot, with Forest’s only chance of note coming when striker Morgan Ferrier hit the crossbar with a curling shot close to half-time. 

In the second half, they completely failed to break down a solid Norwich side and as time dragged on, it became inevitable that Norwich would steal it. 

Sure enough, they did but with more than a hint of controversy that I didn’t realise straight away. Cameron Norman swung in an excellent cross from the right and there was Reece Hall-Johnson at the back post to bundle the ball in for a vital advantage. 

It was impossible to see from the press box 100 yards away, but television replays showed Hall-Johnson handled in the act of scoring. There were no protests from the Forest defence oddly and they seemed resigned to the fact that it’ll be Norwich finishing the job at Carrow Road on Tuesday. I guess we’ll see. 

Next Match: The second leg at Carrow Road on Tuesday night - another new venue for me.