Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Wat's Next

It had to happen eventually. After a start to the season of 11 matches unbeaten, Nottingham Forest finally succumbed to their first defeat, going down 2-1 away at Cardiff City on Saturday. The league schedule doesn't allow much time for dwelling on your sorrows though, and what better way to bounce back than to put one over on the current league leaders - Watford - in their own back yard?

If that's to happen though, Forest will have to play better than they have in recent matches. Not that the performance against Cardiff was totally abject - it wasn't; but a strong start and finish unfortunately sandwiched a lacklustre middle and a short spell of defensive lapses resulted in conceding two goals, a handicap which ultimately proved insurmountable.

For the second match in succession, Forest are facing a team who may be buoyed by 'new manager syndrome,' though at Watford this season that seems to be a weekly occurrence. Current incumbent Slavisa Jokanivic is their ninety-second fourth gaffer of the season, replacing Billy McKinlay, who in turn replaced Oscar Garcia, who in.......well, you get the picture.

Still, this state of constant off-the-field flux doesn't seem to have overly harmed the on-the-field performances, as an impressive 3-0 away at Sheffield Wednesday last time out saw the Hornets replace Norwich City at the Championship summit.

As always in this league, the opposition will present a stern test, with the striking duo of Troy Deeney and Matej Vydra up there with the finest in the division. The Czech forward, in his second loan period at Vicarage Road, was a real thorn in Forest's side during his first spell and the likes of Michael Mancienne and Kelvin Wilson will have their hands full for sure. With players of the quality of Almen Abdi and Ikechi Anya in their lineup as well, Watford can offer more than just Deeney and Vydra as a threat.

Forest will be missing the suspended Henri Lansbury, with the midfielder having picked up his fifth booking of the season (yes, already) against the RedBluebirds on Saturday. Hopefully the enforced absence will provide a wake-up call though, as so far this season, Lansbury hasn't yet hit the heights we know he's capable of. At least (barring any warm-up-related calamities) David Vaughan will be able to take his place. One would also imagine that Britt Assombalonga, who Watford released a few seasons ago, will be motivated to show his former employers just what they're missing.

Whether or not Stuart Pearce decides to play Matt Fryatt in support of Britt tonight, or go for more midfield solidity, remains to be seen. Whatever the team, this will be yet another stern test of Forest's promotion credentials. Win, and Saturday's reverse will be little more than an unpleasant memory; but lose again and the gap to Watford would be six points. Not insurmountable of course, but more than would be desired. I'm sure Pearce will be up for the challenge - let's hope the players are too.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Start the Car

So, the plan of getting injured players back to full fitness during the international break didn't quite go according to plan. Instead, Nottingham Forest were dealt the twin blows that both influential midfielder Andy Reid and defensive rock Jack Hobbs will be missing for the foreseeable future - around three months in both cases. Not the kind of news we wanted to hear and an unwelcome hark back to the injury situation of last season. The only positive to be taken from this is that, hopefully, both players will be fit again in early 2015 - just the right time to boost what will hopefully still be our promotion push.

Added to the revelation that Crystal Palace are now playing silly buggers over the permanent signing of Jack Hunt, it's fair to say that the break hasn't been the most fruitful for Forest. Still, at least nobody else got injured...

Anyway, it's back to the League and back in front of the Sky cameras for our next match; the always-tricky trip to South Wales to take on Cardiff City at the inspiringly-named Cardiff City Stadium. Although this is never an easy fixture, Forest's recent record here hasn't been too bad.

This time round we'll be facing a side who, after giving Blackpool their first Championship win of the season, will be lining up for the first time under their new manager; the ex Notts County boss and open Forest admirer Russell Slade. Hopefully his admiration for the Reds (our Reds, not his new ones) will stretch to letting us take the three points.

Cardiff have made a shaky start to the season following their relegation - which is why Slade replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the first place. However, they can still call upon a squad containing the likes of Peter Whittingham, Adam Le Fondre and Federico Macheda, to name but a few.

As yet it's not known if David Vaughan has recovered sufficiently to take any part in the match, so it's likely that Forest will line up with their away formation of 4-5-1, though presumably Matt Fryatt will be fit to start alongside Britt Assombalonga if Stuart Pearce does decide to go with two up-front.

In isolation, a draw away at Cardiff would feel like a pretty decent result. But it's been so long since we've won a match (even though we still haven't lost one) that, in the context of our current run, a draw would seem a little disappointing. The Bluebirds aren't - at the moment - as much of a threat as in previous seasons and a fully-firing Forest should be able to give them a decent game. Our last televised match away in the League saw a battling 1-0 win away at Sheffield Wednesday. A similar result and performance would do just fine.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Nottingham Forest 2 - 2 Ipswich Town

If I were asked to write a one word review of the 2-2 draw between Nottingham Forest and Ipswich Town I would, after careful consideration, plump for 'RrrrraaaAGGGGHHHHRgggghhhhr.' Indeed, this inarticulate, primeval roar of unadulterated frustration sums up the match more eloquently than any words I'll end up writing below. It was howled several times by several people as passes went astray, runs weren't tracked and chances went begging. Even after Michail Antonio's late, late equaliser hit the back of the net, there was still a sense that the three points had been there for the taking.

Ipswich were well organised and, when they weren't angling long balls to their giant forwards, played some decent stuff; but they didn't undo Forest with outstanding attacking play. Both of their goals were eminently avoidable. They came with a plan in mind and it very nearly saw them escape with all three points, though a draw was probably fair at the end.

Matt Fryatt made a welcome return to the starting line-up in place of Ben Osborn, as the Reds switched back to a 4-4-2 formation to provide support to Britt Assombalonga in the only change from the team that played Wigan. The visitors seemed to be playing three up front as Daryl Murphy and Connor Sammon flanked ex-Forest forward David McGoldrick.

After a bright Ipswich start, Forest came close to ending their scoring drought as Michail Antonio's free kick was headed against the post by Assombalonga. A Henri Lansbury corner missed everyone in the area as the visitors, despite their back line of giants, seemed to struggle with crosses. It seemed only a matter of time before Forest's run of goalless matches would end, and it was, but not in the way the majority of the crowd wanted.

A long ball down the flank by Cole Skuse found Murphy, whose clever flick inside took Eric Lichaj out of the game. He then turned Kelvin Wilson before curling in a low shot which, from where I was sitting, Karl Darlow seemed to dive over. A well taken goal for Murphy, but one which didn't cover the Forest defence in glory. It nearly got worse after the impressive Jonny Williams intercepted a poor Lansbury back-pass and raced through on goal, only to be stopped by a wonderful challenge from Michael Mancienne.

Midway through the half Wilson had to be replaced by Jamaal Lascelles. I didn't see an impact injury so I'm not sure why, and hopefully he won't be missing for an ever-recurring period of three weeks again. Lascelles looked a bit rusty to be honest and Lichaj was struggling down the right, but neither side could muster any serious chances and the half-time score remained 0-1.

The Tractor Boys again started the half well before Forest started to get a grip of the game. Robert Tesche was moving the ball around really well and Lansbury started to take more time over his passes, but it looked like being one of those days. Shots were blocked, runs were stopped and passes were cut out, before a nice move down the right saw Jack Hunt find Antonio. His first-time shot was on target but visiting keeper Dean Gerken produced a tremendous save and the ball trickled wide. The resulting corner came to nothing, but a few minutes later another one did bear fruit as Lansbury's centre eluded everyone apart from Robert Tesche, who stooped to head home his first goal for the Reds.

From here it looked like Forest would push on for the win, but minutes later they were caught out again. Ipswich had a two-on-one down their left hand side and oversized full-back Tyrone Mings' cross was headed home by Murphy again to restore the visitors' lead. This was a real kick in the teeth for the Reds and it looked certain that the unbeaten start to the season was juddering to a halt; a feeling which was intensified when Antonio rounded Gerken but saw his shot cleared off the line, and Assombalonga's effort from the rebound was improbably turned over by the Ipswich keeper. Mings then flattened Antonio in the box but the referee gave nothing and the game seemed to be up.

Tesche went close to a second goal before, just into the five minutes of stoppage time, Dan Harding, a late substitute for Lichaj, won another corner down the left. Lansbury's deep delivery fell to Antonio who crashed home the equaliser. It was too late in the day for either side to claim a winner and, in fairness, neither team really deserved one.

I don't often single out visiting players' performances but Christophe Berra was outstanding for Ipswich. Whilst Luke Chambers seemed to spend the entire match trying to find out if 'Assombalonga' would fit onto the back of his shirt, Berra was imperious, winning everything in the air and the majority of balls on the ground too. Gerken also deserves a mention for a couple of amazing saves.

For Forest it was a real mixed bag. Lichaj had an off day and Lascelles looked like he'd not played in a while. Mancienne was his usual impressive self while Fryatt and Chris Burke both frustrated; following up impressive play by misplacing a pass or dribbling into trouble. Antonio was, well, Antonio and Assombalonga worked hard for little reward. The Reds man of the match was undoubtedly Robert Tesche. In a frantic game he always seemed to have time to pick the right pass and it was great to see him netting for the first time for Forest. The sooner we can get his contract extended, the better.

So we get to the second international break of the season with Forest still unbeaten and level on points with top spot. This traditionally tight division seems even closer than usual, with nobody able to string a series of wins together and team after team spurning the chance to go top. Four points from four games may seem like a poor return now, but who knows how valuable they'll be come the end of the season?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Any Wich Way You Can

Ten games in to the Championship season and it's already shaping up to be as close as ever, if not even more so. Before this weekend's round of matches, just three points separates the top eight teams, with nobody seemingly able to take a firm grip of the league as yet.

Forest are a solitary point better off than this time last year, which isn't bad, but it feels like we could've sneaked a point or two more. What does make happier reading however, is the comparison against the same matches last season. For the purpose of this, I've assumed Fulham are QPR from last year:

Match                     2013/14 Result               2014/15 Result           Comparison
Blackpool (H)         L (0)                               W (3)                          +3
Bolton (A)              D (1)                                D (1)                           0
Bournemouth (A)   L (0)                                W (3)                          +3
Reading (H)           L (0)                                W (3)                          +3
Sheffield Wed (A)  W (3)                               W (3)                           0
Derby (H)               W (3)                               D (1)                          -2
Fulham (H)             W (3) (QPR)                   W (3)                           0
Millwall (A)              D (1)                               D (1)                           0
Brighton (H)            L (0)                               D (1)                          +1
Wigan (A)               L (0)                                D (1)                          +1

So, ten matches in we're some nine points better off than in the same set of matches last season. That has to be a positive and puts a better reflection on the last couple of results, though of course there's no doubting that we'd have preferred wins. Still, three draws on the trot isn't as bad as it first seems.

Anyway, on to our next opponents Ipswich Town. The Tractor Boys are currently nicely placed in that group of eight teams at the top, having made a solid start to the season. This has been helped in no small part by the form of ex-Forest striker David McGoldrick. Yes, the same David McGoldrick who seemed totally bereft of confidence and form during his entire spell with the Reds; who constantly seemed on the verge of great things, but never delivered them. Indeed he's flourished so much since leaving Trentside that, in the recent transfer window, it's reported that Ipswich turned down an £8m bid from Leicester City for him. Wow.

One would think that he'll be motivated to show Forest fans what he's really capable of on Sunday. Of course, we'll all be hoping that he reverts to the form he showed when lining up at the City Ground wearing red, rather than continuing his current hot streak. With Luke Chambers and Paul Anderson also in the Ipswich ranks there'll be a few reunions come Sunday afternoon.

The Reds will be hoping that Matt Fryatt, who returned as a substitute against Wigan, will be sufficiently recovered to take a place in the starting XI. This match may have come too soon for Andy Reid and David Vaughan though. Still, Fryatt's talent and versatility means he could take a deeper role behind Britt Assombalonga in a 4-4-1-1, as Forest look to end their current scoring drought.

After the Ipswich match we come to the next international break of the season. While these hiatuses are often blamed for stalling momentum, this one could actually do Forest a favour. If we can get a positive result on Sunday and get the likes of Reid, Vaughan and Jack Hobbs fit and well during the break, we'll return to action against Cardiff still near the top of the table and in great shape to push on.

Monday, 29 September 2014

A Wigan a Prayer

It's back on the road and back in action as Nottingham Forest continue their Championship campaign with a trip to the Springfield Park JJB Stadium DW Stadium to take on Wigan Athletic, who were, I think I'm right in saying, the only team to do the league double over the Reds last season.

Forest make the trip to the North West still unbeaten, but having been knocked off the top of the table due to their second consecutive goalless draw, this time at home to Brighton and Hove Albion. By a strange quirk of fixture-computer-generated fate, Forest will again be facing one of last season's losing playoff semi-finalists next up, and indeed another team that play in blue and white stripes. Spooky.

Much as with Brighton, Wigan haven't enjoyed the best start to their Championship season, languishing as they are in lower-mid table on eight points - again just as Brighton were. However, with the likes of Shaun Maloney, Callum McManamanamanaman and, er, James Perch in their lineup they're unlikely to be pushovers. Them being at home should mean they play in a more attacking manner than the Seagulls did however, which might play into Forest's hands.

None of the Reds' injured quintet of Chris Cohen, Andy Reid, Matt Fryatt, Jack Hobbs and David Vaughan are likely to play against the Latics so it wouldn't be a surprise if Stuart Pearce stuck by the team who laboured somewhat - but at least kept a clean sheet - against Brighton. The omens for this one aren't good though: Wigan inflicted Forests's first league defeat of last season and, if they were to repeat the feat this time round, the Reds record after their first ten matches would be identical to last term, with five wins, four draws and a solitary loss.

Still, let's not be too downbeat. Forest are more than capable of getting a result in this match and - as mentioned earlier - with the onus being on Wigan to attack, the opportunities might arise for Forest to hit them on the break. A return to winning ways would be most welcome and would see the Reds nicely positioned ten matches in. Get the next couple of matches out of the way, get to the next international break and get the injured players healthy again and things will look a lot more rosy.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Nottingham Forest 0-0 Brighton and Hove Albion

About the only positive I can take from this game is that we got one more point than we did in last season's corresponding match. Other than that, there was precious little to get excited about as Nottingham Forest stuttered to their second consecutive goalless draw in the league, courtesy of their worst performance at the City Ground this season. 

As expected, Stuart Pearce recalled the players he'd rested against Spurs on Wednesday night, meaning that the likes of Karl Darlow, Michael Mancienne and Britt Assombalonga returned to the starting lineup. Robert Tesche and David Vaughan were picked as the deeper midfielders, but the latter got injured - again - in the warm-up, and his place was taken by Ben Osborn. Osborn could perhaps have counted himself unlucky not to have started anyway, after his impressive performance at White Hart Lane. 

Brighton also started with one up front, in the form of Craig Mackail-Smith, while his fellow attackers Chris O' Grady and Joao Teixiera both started on the bench. My hopes for this match weren't high when I found out that Robert Madley was the referee, and it pretty much panned out as expected. 

The visitors opened up brightly, with Darlow forced into an early save, before Forest started to exercise some control. However, though Brighton were happy to let the Reds keep possession in their own half, as soon as they tried to play through the Seagulls, the shutters were well and truly put up. As a result, chances were at a premium, and the only save of note that visiting keeper David Stockdale had to make was from a deflected Robert Tesche effort. Bar having to clear a few long balls, Karl Darlow was also relatively untroubled and it was no surprise when the first half finished goalless. 

Things didn't change much after the interval, with Sami Hyypia's men happy to soak up pressure and hit Forest on the break. A couple of their more dangerous attacks ended up with offsides, and a dangerous cross saw Michael Mancienne divert the ball just wide of his own goal. 

Lars Veldwijk's introduction nearly bore fruit, as he just couldn't stretch to convert a dangerous centre, and Mancienne headed over late on when well placed, his attempt thudding into the turf before clearing the crossbar. In the end a draw was probably fair, though disappointing. 

Considering most of the team was rested midweek, this was a strangely lethargic performance. Henri Lansbury in particular was out of sorts. Kelvin Wilson completed another 90 minutes and was deservedly named the sponsor's Man of the Match. The creativity and endeavour of Andy Reid and Matt Fryatt respectively was sorely missed, and the sooner they're back in the starting XI the better. 

Still, we remain unbeaten and in an automatic promotion position, so things aren't that bad just yet. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Brighton Breezy

Before looking forward to Forest's next Championship match - at home to Brighton and Hove Albion - here's a very quick recap of the 3-1 defeat  - our first of the season - away at Tottenham Hotspur in the Capital One Cup.

Looking at Stuart Pearce's team selection before the match it would be easy to say that he wasn't taking the match seriously. However, to do so would be doing both he and the players he picked a massive disservice. Pearce insisted that he believed whatever team he picked would be capable of winning the match, and indeed as late as 70 minutes into the tie, it seemed that could well be the case.

Spurs dominated possession in the first half but failed to really trouble Forest, who went closest to scoring after Ben Osborn's wonderful run ended with a thumping shot which rattled the crossbar. After the break Forest saw more of the ball and looked totally comfortable against a home team who still boasted a £26m striker in their line-up, and it wasn't a huge surprise when the Reds took the lead.

Some good running by Lars Veldwijk saw him chase down a deflected shot before he looked up and pulled back a great ball into the six-yard box, where d├ębutante Jorge (is it pronounced 'George' or 'Hor-gay?') Grant was waiting to sweep it home.

This stung Spurs into a response, but it took a wonder-strike from their substitute Ryan Mason to level the scores. As the inexperienced Forest team tired, Spurs went ahead through aforementioned £26m man Roberto Soldado before Harry '3 Points' Kane wrapped up the points victory with a late goal. Pearce's pragmatism was totally vindicated as the team he sent out did him, themselves and the club proud.

So it's back to the bread and butter of the League, and Saturday's helping of Lurpak-covered Hovis sees an opportunity to avenge last season's last-day loss against Brighton and Hove Albion back on Trentside. That victory saw the Seagulls swoop into the final playoff place at the expense of premature pitch invaders Reading, before succumbing to eventual runners-up Derby.

Brighton's indifferent start to the season under new manager Sami Hyypia might suggest something of a playoff hangover, though they did progress to the fourth round of the Capital One Cup this week with a comfortable away win at Burton Albion. Still, as with any team in this division, Forest would be foolish to take their challenge lightly. Craig Mackail-Smith and recent signings Sam Baldock and Chris O'Grady suggest they're capable of scoring goals; whilst long-term loanees Gary Gardner and Joao Teixeira are impressive names in midfield. This won't be a walk in the park - far from it.

However, for Forest the likes of Britt Assombalonga, Michail Antonio and Michael Mancienne should have benefited from their midweek rest whilst Andy Reid and Jack Hunt may be back in contention, though this match has probably come too soon for Matt Fryatt and Jack Hobbs. Presuming Fryatt is still injured, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Forest persisting with their 4-5-1 formation with the likes of Lansbury and Reid getting forward in support of lone-striker Assombalonga.

The Championship table is now starting to take shape. If Forest's more established players can consistently display the passion and commitment that their replacements did against Tottenham, then they've got every chance of remaining near the top.