Football: Silence stalks bleak Forest

AFTER a big-money takeover failed to keep them in the Premiership last season, Nottingham Forest pinned everything on winning back top-flight status at the first attempt. Second in the First Division with almost three-quarters of the season gone, they remain on course in spite of some inconsistent recent form. The players believe they can achieve their goal. What worries them is whether their supporters do.

The next four days will be critical to Forest's season. Today they face the leaders Middlesbrough, on Wednesday third-placed Sunderland. Given that they play both at home, Forest should start favourites. These days, however, Dave Bassett's team are not sure that playing before their own crowd is necessarily an advantage.

Blind loyalty has never been part of the Forest fan's make-up. Even during the headiest days of the Clough era, the banks of the River Trent could hardly be described as a hot-bed of football passion. This season, though, the atmosphere at the City Ground has sometimes been closer to cold indifference, disturbed less often by chants of support than by derisive snorts when players do not meet the expected standard.

After Forest's last home match against Huddersfield had drawn a typically lukewarm response despite a 3-0 scoreline, Bassett accused the grumbling fans of having a "death wish". It was not the first time he had used the phrase.

Now it is getting to the players, for whom the fervent support enjoyed by Middlesbrough (average attendance 29,992) and Sunderland (32,292) is a pointed reminder of what they are missing. On the night Forest met Huddersfield in front of 18,231, marginally below their average, the Wearsiders attracted 40,579 to the Stadium of Light for the visit of struggling Reading.

"It makes a huge difference," the Forest midfielder Andy Johnson said. "Go to Middlesbrough or Sunderland and the atmosphere is intimidating for a visiting team. If you have that kind of noise and you know it is your own fans making it, getting behind you, it gives you a tremendous lift even before you step on the pitch.

"We are not going to get the kind of crowds Middlesbrough and Sunderland enjoy, but we should be capable of bringing in at least 20,000 for every home game and creating a big-match atmosphere every time."

In fact, Forest this season have been watched by 4,000 fewer fans, on average, than when they last fought their way out of the Nationwide League in 1993-94, a decline held partly to blame for a pounds 6.4m half-year operating loss announced on Friday. Some supporters blame high ticket prices - pounds 20 for adults - and those who do pay argue that the quality of entertainment should match the cost.

"Of course, fans have a right to criticise," Johnson said. "They pay their money and are entitled to their views. We just wish they would save them until afterwards and get behind the team during the game. It should be the visiting teams who do not like playing here."

The 23-year-old former Norwich midfielder has not escaped personal criticism since Bassett paid more than pounds 2m for him last summer. Bought to provide the drive the side have lacked since the departure of Roy Keane, he was slow to settle and suffered injury problems, after which he found it difficult to regain his place until Colin Cooper returned to more accustomed duties in defence. "It has been a difficult season," he admitted. "I do not feel I have hit my best form. I like to get forward and score goals and that has not happened."

Yet he is convinced that Forest, bolstered today by the return from international duty of their 26-goal leading scorer, Pierre van Hooijdonk, can win promotion and that his decision to join them in preference to Leicester or Crystal Palace last summer will be vindicated.

"Obviously, these two games are crucial, the biggest of our season and the results will have a big psychological impact. But we have a good squad and for all Middlesbrough's big crowds and big spending power, we are only three points adrift of them."

i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower