Time Is Running Out
Colin Calderwood could hardly be expected to throw in the towel with the first daffodils of spring only just in bloom, writes James Robson.
But you wonder if even he believed his words in the moments after Saturday's draw at Scunthorpe.
Ten points adrift of the League One leaders, the Nottingham Forest manager insisted the title was still within his team's sights.
And despite Bristol City's shock defeat last night, even second place is beginning to look more doubtful - but the more their title aspirations dissipate, the more bullish their manager becomes.
Not even another disappointing week in an increasingly under-whelming second half of the season could tempt Calderwood to stray from the party line.
Defeat at Doncaster last Tuesday meant anything other than victory at Scunthorpe would all but ring the death knell for Forest's championship hopes - but publicly, at least, Calderwood remains insistent.
'I don't think we are looking at second place now,' he said after Scunthorpe. 'We said that we would, hopefully, have a realistic chance after this game and we still have that - it is not dead and buried.
'We have enough games left to play with.'
Forest now have nine games with which to make up a chasm-like ten-point gap.
That would require a seismic swing in fortunes that even the most optimistic of supporters would accept is virtually beyond them.
Quite apart from turning their own form around, Forest would be left hoping for the wheels to fall off Scunthorpe's title charge in spectacular fashion.
Nigel Adkins' side have lost only once in their last 23 league games. And if their title resolve needed proving to anyone, they did so in recovering from Kris Commons' goal on Saturday to earn a draw against Forest.
While Calderwood still suggested there could be a twist before the end of the campaign, his words seemed a little hollow.
Particularly given his previous comments about the leaders.
Only back in February he said: 'If everyone is honest, they think Scunthorpe will fade away.
'But I think they've been there too long. Everyone thought the same about Southend but they didn't. I see a strong similarity between the two.'
There has been little in that time to suggest Scunthorpe will implode now.
Instead Forest's realistic target must now be second place - making their clash with Bristol City at the end of month crucial to their promotion hopes.
Calderwood has understandably pointed to two ultimately winnable home games against Gillingham and Cheltenham before the match at Ashton Gate.
But they could still trail Bristol by four points, if not more, by that point.
Gary Johnson's team, like Scunthorpe, have also picked up momentum since the turn of the year.
Their defeat at home to Bradford last night was another twist in the plot but the visit of Forest will hold no fears with the Robins boasting the best home record in the division, with 13 wins.
Again Calderwood will know that three points will be crucial if Forest are to salvage automatic promotion.
It seems certain that Forest's remaining away fixtures will prove pivotal to their promotion challenge.
While they don't have the most daunting run-in of the top six, they will be clocking up the miles with the trip to Bristol and then three journeys to London against Millwall, Brentford and Leyton Orient.
Given their record of only one away win in 2007, that will have to improve if Calderwood is to be proven right in his assertion that the title race is far from over.
Nottingham Evening Post
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