‘This was the decisive moment when …’. You can apply your own ending. It’s the time of year when that sentence starter gets rolled out by football punters and fans alike as they try to read the runes taking us to the end of the season. The first weekend fixtures of March gave us plenty of examples of ‘turning-point’ results. Arsenal’s comeback against Bournemouth after trailing 0-2 brought a stop to a topsy-turvy outcome of bottom defeating top of the league club. The stunning – historic – 7-0 humiliation of Manchester United by Liverpool was not a widespread prediction and will have sent a shudder down the spine of any team yet to visit Anfield, including Forest. Enough material in either game to fuel Premiership pub chat for a week. In Nottingham, reflections on the Reds’ home draw with Everton inevitably had supporters pondering two points lost whilst appreciating the final result, courtesy of Brennan Johnson’s fine equaliser.
In March, strange things happen and not just on the football pitch. It’s a fickle weather month when sun and snow can pack a punch and change from one to the other in the blink of an eye. Nature’s full of green shoots and swelling buds but the detritus of winter still dominates with rotting wood and leaves. Yet it’s when gardeners rub itchy fingers, scrutinise forecasts, dig their plots and gather seeds in anticipation. Planting comes with a mix of the feel in the air, local lores and traditions, what they’ve always done and what the experts tell them. And timing comes with a bit of pot-luck.
Likewise, football fans up and down the country speculate more readily on the fate of their team. We study league tables and remaining fixtures and past form records of opposing teams to be faced to find patterns and consolidate predictions. All is laced with hope as much as analysis. A crystal ball, some tea-leaves or a pack of Tarot cards might come in more handy. Divination is a tricky business!
During a week of tumbling temperatures, as we endure a euphemistic ‘cold snap’, a league table is like a frozen moment, a snapshot of the way things are. Check the Premiership and most teams, including Forest, have thirteen games remaining and we know it’s going to be unlucky for some: three, to be precise. Such is the way things have shaped up so far, nine clubs find themselves in the ‘relegation mix’, from AFC Bournemouth to Crystal Palace, separated by a mere six points. That’s an unusually packed and competitive field. In the scramble for survival, we’re likely to see some odd results as teams suddenly click for a streak of wins or tumble to unexpected defeats.
With pretty much any combination of three of those clubs destined for the Championship, how could we not be following our team even closer? When Shakespeare took up the fate of Julius Caesar for his play, he had a soothsayer warn the emperor: ‘Beware the ides of March’. Come the day (15th), Caesar sees the fortune-teller on his way to the Capitol and says, ’The ides of March are come’. ‘Aye, Caesar, but not gone,’ comes the ominous reply. By the end of the day, the emperor has been stabbed in the back by his ‘friend’ Brutus and his fellow conspirators. That assassination changed Roman history. Two thousand years on, we might not witness quite the bloodshed of that episode but plenty of sweat, blood and tears will be spilt on the pitch as we round the bend and head for the home-straight into who knows what. And keep an eye on your back!
When clocks go forward on March 26th and shunt us into British Summer Time, we’ll feel added urgency, with the season’s end looming ever closer. Every team will aim to ‘take each game as it comes’ and ‘focus on the task in hand’. But fortune will play its part, be it a referee decision, a lucky break, or an injury-free period. And managers will look with increased intensity to their most reliable players and to their match-winners. It’s March, remember, so a bit of magic will be thrown into the mix as well.
The animal we all associate with this month in particular is, of course (no pun intended), the hare. Watch that mammal hurtle across an open field and you’re in for a treat. Icons of spring – and fertility! – their turn of speed and capacity to change direction in an instant is mercurial. No wonder they carry reputations of myth and magic. They are essentially creatures of the night but cannot help themselves as they daytime sprint and box through March and the mating season.
So, managers (mating aside!) will be looking for something of the hare in their strikers and Forest, on current form, have one of the best: Brennan Johnson. Skill, speed, balance and turn, are there in abundance. And the confidence is up. Let’s hope he can help lead the way through this month and on to the end of May and the last day of the season at Crystal Palace. As with the hare, survival is the key for Forest this season.
*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC Morgan Gibbs-White & Brennan Johnson in action v Everton.