Saturday, 8 November 2014

Nottingham Forest 2 - 1 Norwich City

As the fourth official held up his board with the red number four brightly proclaiming the number of minutes of stoppage time to the leaden Trentside sky; I sat mulling over what to write about what seemed like another match without a victory. It would be hard, I thought, to criticise the team for their efforts today, even if we'd only managed a draw. Two minutes, one goal and a maniacal celebration later however, and it was a moot point. The long wait was over. Three points were in the bag.

Having started Wednesday's defeat against Brentford with no recognised strikers, Stuart Pearce this time named two, with Matt Fryatt recovering from a tweaked groin (ooer, matron) to partner Britt Assombalonga up front. The team was set up as a conventional 4-4-2, with Jack Hunt recovering from his midweek injury to start at right back, but Daniel Fox not, and being replaced by Dan Harding at left back. Jamaal Lascelles partnered Michael Mancienne at centre half. The midfield quartet consisted of Michail Antonio, Robert Tesche, Ben Osborn and Tom Ince.

Norwich could afford to leave the likes of Nathan Redmond and Gary Hooper on the bench and still name a lineup that looked, frankly, rather worrying. The striking partnership of Lewis Grabban and Cameron Jerome in particular looked like it would cause the Reds defence some bother.

Considering both teams must have been pretty low on confidence, the opening exchanges were rather exciting, with ambitious attacks at either end. A driving Antonio run saw Russell Martin take a fancy to his shirt and try to remove it, earning a very early booking. At the other end Norwich looked to hit Jerome with long passes behind the Reds defence. An Antonio cross found Ince at the back post, and his fizzing shot, er, fizzed narrowly over the bar. Forest had shown more gumption in the first 15 minutes than they'd managed all match against Brentford, but then got hit by a sucker punch.

Some neat interplay between Martin and Jonny Howson found the Canaries midfielder in space in the penalty area. With no defender around to close him down he had the time and space to plant a low shot past Karl Darlow and give the visitors the lead. The early confidence almost visibly drained from the players, and Norwich proceeded to take a grip on the game, though without really troubling Darlow again. Assombalonga's speculative long-range free kick which flew over the crossbar was as close as Forest came to drawing level and the teams trooped off at half time with the score still 1-0.

The interval saw another Forest fan win the 60" TV on offer in the Golden Goal Challenge, and Jamie Paterson go through the kind of vigorous warmup routine which suggested he'd be starting the second half. And indeed he did, replacing Tom Ince.

Early Norwich pressure in the second half thankfully came to nothing, though Darlow was forced into a decent save to palm Grabban's stinging effort round the post. Forest then started to wrest back control of the game, Fryatt and Osborn in particular buzzing round and harassing their opponents, something that was sorely missing against Brentford. Consequently, Norwich started to look shaky and sit deeper, which further encouraged the home team.

Just after the hour mark, Pearce rolled his last two substitute-shaped dice, replacing Hunt with Eric Lichaj and Harding with Henri Lansbury. The first change seemed logical, as Hunt appeared still appeared to be struggling, but the second was rather baffling and a bit harsh on Harding. I wasn't sure if the plan was to play three at the back - and I'm still not sure now. Lansbury lined up on the left at any rate, with Paterson moving infield.

Chances came and went but still a goal wasn't forthcoming. Both Antonio and Assombalonga headed wide from excellent crosses. City keeper John Ruddy stuck his hand in Lascelles face but wasn't punished, and Lansbury shot over from Ruddy's misplaced kick. Norwich sub Kyle Lafferty got booked for hacking down Mancienne and it looked for a while as if the Reds would again have to finish a match with ten men, but the Reds defender recovered and, soon after, the breakthrough came.

A long ball forward was chased down by the industrious Fryatt, and his low cross was swept home by Assombalonga for his tenth goal of the season. At first glance it looked like a slight miss-hit but the replay made it appear a calm finish. To be honest nobody cared - the relief was palpable.

Norwich immediately won a corner from which nothing came, a Forest counterattack saw Assombalonga hesitate when seemingly clean through and end up having his shot blocked, Tesche was forced to concede a foul as City broke down the other end and Bradley Johnson fired over following a scramble after the resultant free kick. This was breathless stuff and either side looked like they could win.

Lansbury did well to track back and concede a corner and, when it was cleared, Forest broke again. Paterson's pass found Assombalonga just in the Norwich half and instead of bearing down on goal, he picked out Antonio with a super through-ball. The Reds winger surged into the box and, with fantastic composure, slid the ball under Ruddy to give Forest the lead. The ground erupted, and following celebrations which, in my case resembled a kangaroo on acid, whistles began immediately as the home fans implored the referee to end the match. Frantic Norwich pressure saw Alex Tettey line up a last-gasp shot which Lichaj flung himself at to block, and that proved a fitting end to a much, much-needed victory, Wowzers.

This was a vastly improved performance - which admittedly isn't saying much. The defence looked better but still let Norwich play through us a bit too much for my liking. Fortune favoured the brave with Pearce's substitutions today though, and the extra midfield impetus that Paterson and Lansbury supplied ended up making the difference. Osborn had probably his best game for the Reds and Fryatt's constant harrying and running got the reward it deserved with the assist for the first goal. Assombalonga tucked away his chance nicely and his pass to find the again-impressive Antonio was the juiciest of peaches. That Wednesday we signed those two players is looking more and more important every week.

The slightly more seasoned Forest fan may remember Pearce's first game as caretaker manager all those years ago, in which a late Alf-Inge Haaland winner saw the Reds come back to defeat Arsenal. This match reminded me a lot of that one. Now follows another international break and a chance to rest and take stock. I might even watch the Leicester City Appreciation Football League Show tonight.

Nah - probably not.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Nottingham Forest 1 - 3 Brentford

The rather spiffing Seat Pitch are hosting my match review of the Brentford debacle. Though it could just as happily have been hosted in a wheelie bin,

Anyway, if you wish to relive the agony again, knock yourself out here:

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Brent Cross

Anyone foolish enough to be writing off Nottingham Forest's season already should take a look at the League table this morning and note who's top. It's Bournemouth. The same Bournemouth who Forest beat 2-1 on their own turf. The same Bournemouth who, after a great start to the season, hit some patchy form and plummeted down the table. They've now strung together six wins in a row, so if they can do it, why can't we?

Admittedly, at the moment we don't look anything like being capable of that but I'm sure Bournemouth's fans felt the same after slumping to a 3-1 home defeat to Leeds United. My point is, things can change very quickly in the Championship. We've found that out to our cost recently; but if we could manage a few good consecutive results we'd soon be back on the rise.

Our first opportunity to do this comes with the visit of Brentford. Now I'll have to be honest and confess I don't know much about Brentford other than they play at Griffin Park and their nickname is the Bees. I'm guessing that's more to do with the first letter of their name than any resemblance to the insects, as I've never seen any red-and-white-striped bees.

Anyway, they'll be another team that we cannot take lightly. After all, their last result was a comeback victory against already crowned champions and League Cup winners former League leaders Derby; and while I may be being flippant, I grudgingly admit that the sheep won't lose too many this season. Therefore any team that does beat them has to be treated with respect. It also has to be said that Brentford are on the same points as us, so we've absolutely no right to treat this as a guaranteed win.

Quite how Forest will line up against the Bees is anyone's guess. Matt Fryatt (groin) and Kelvin Wilson (family bereavement) could both be back in contention and the 3-0 reverse against Huddersfield would suggest that improvement is needed at both ends of the pitch. The presence of Tom Ince allows more flexibility up front and in midfield as we could, for example, push Michail Antonio further forward to partner Britt Assombalonga and have Ince and Chris Burke on the wings. Or have Ince just behind a front one (or two), That's for Stuart Pearce to decide.

His biggest job however may not be selecting the XI to start, but rather to instil some confidence in those he does deem best for the job. Back-to-back defeats and first-minute goal concessions are never good for the psyche (or the Psycho!), so Pearce and his coaching staff need to build the team back up and remind them that, when they were proudly perched on the top of the table just a few weeks ago, they were there on merit.

This is a test for Pearce, there's no doubt about it. However, in my opinion anyone questioning his suitability for the job needs to have a long, hard think about things. This isn't just sentimentality speaking, it's practicality too. We've all seen first hand that constantly chopping and changing managers is not a recipe for success. We need to pick one man, stick with him, and let him build the team, and indeed the whole club, to get where we want to be. Nobody will be more driven and committed to do that than Pearce. When Forest were first relegated from the Premier League he stuck with us, and ultimately reaped the rewards. As an England player and former captain he could've moved to many clubs, but he showed patience and loyalty. As fans and as a club, we owe him the same.

Friday, 31 October 2014

An Udder Brick In the Wall

These pun-related titles are becoming harder to come up with...

Forest embark on the latest phase of 'Operation Winagame' bolstered by the addition of Tom Ince on loan from Hull City until the end of December. Ince, no stranger to Nottingham after a previous spell on loan at Notts County, has agreed a two month switch and should play some part against Huddersfield Town on Saturday.

The Reds have already travelled to the John Smith's Stadium this season, returning with a 2-0 win in the Coca Cola Cup. However, the Town side that lines up against Forest on Saturday will be a different prospect to the one which was easily overcome that evening. New(ish) manager Chris Powell has inspired something of a turnaround in fortunes and his charges are currently enjoying a six match unbeaten run which includes a notable win away at Wolves. Last time out they came back from two goals away at Ipswich Town - another respectable result.

There are a few familiar faces in the Huddersfield ranks as ex Forest defender Joel Lynch was joined by Radoslaw Majewski on loan in the summer, and more recently by Grant Holt. Though Majewski won't be eligible to play (even if he were getting picked - which he isn't at the moment), the Reds are likely to come up against the not-inconsiderable form of Holt in partnership with Nakhi Wells. A real little and large duo. In width, anyway.

Forest have no new injury worries so the main choices facing Stuart Pearce will be whether to throw Tom Ince straight into the starting line-up, whether Henri Lansbury deserves recalling to the first XI and whether Matt Fryatt should partner Britt Assombalonga up front. The addition of Ince adds some extra flexibility to the midfield and forward ranks and, if he can recapture his Blackpool form for the Reds, this deal could be a great one for both parties.

The respective form of both teams means a repeat of the comfortable Cup cruise is unlikely to be repeated; but hopefully the boost of a new signing and a verbal backside-kicking from Pearce will spur the boys on to a better performance than last time out. Forest have a decent record at Huddersfield; let's hope it continues.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Nottingham Forest 1 - 3 Blackburn Rovers

I try not to use too many clich├ęs when writing these reviews, but this really was the stereotypical game of two halves. From 1-0 up and comfortable to 3-1 down and soundly beaten in 45 minutes, the second half was painful to watch. Frustratingly, yet again Forest weren't undone by any wonderful football. Some sustained pressure led to an equalising goal then everything went to pot. 

After the defeat at Cardiff City, the battling draw against Watford offered some promising signs. The return to the City Ground saw the return of two up front, with Matt Fryatt replacing Ben Osborn. Despite being available following his suspension ending, Henri Lansbury could only claim a place on the bench, as did Eric Lichaj, who was replaced at left-back by Dan Harding. The visitors went with just Jordan Rhodes in attack. Well, they obviously had ten other players too but, you know what I mean. 

The game started with the obligatory dodgy Championship refereeing decisions, as Forest were called offside a couple of times and Ryan Tunnicliffe cleaned out Dan Harding without censure. For the most part, the first half was a scrappy affair, with blocked shots and misplaced passes. Jack Hunt's excellent run was finished with a poor cross straight into Rovers' keeper Jason Steele's hands. Then, following a fast break, Michail Antonio's cross went right behind Britt Assombalonga.

Not long afterwards the breakthrough came. The lively Assombalonga ran and hit a lovely curling shot with the outside of his right foot. It beat Steele and rebounded off the post, hit Fryatt on the knee and flew in. Proper striker's goal. The lead could've been doubled before the interval as Assombalonga went close a couple more times following good runs and shots. There was to be no further scoring though and the teams left the field with Forest ahead and no hint of what was to come. 

The second half saw an early interruption in play as Markus Olsson indulged in a comedy pratfall while chasing a through ball and required a few minutes' treatment. Rovers started to dominate possession and, perhaps in respose, Stuart Pearce replaced Fryatt with Henri Lansbury. This change failed to stem the tide though and, after the Reds failed to clear a corner, the ball fell to Alex Baptiste who lashed home the leveller. 

Lansbury then went close twice, first seeing his shot blocked by the feet of Steele, then seeing a curling effort cannon back off an upright. The game still seemed there for the taking until David Vaughan - who had hitherto been impressive - gave away the ball. Rovers broke down the right and a pinpoint centre found the noggin of substitute Rudy Gestede who firmly headed the visitors into the lead. Less than two minutes later things got worse. A long punt upfield got the usually exemplary Michael Mancienne into bother and he misjudged the bounce. Jordan Rhodes didn't though and he picked it up, cut wide and steered it into the corner for 3-1. And that was that. 

Well, pretty much. Jamie Paterson's introduction as sub didn't really help as he got into good positions but failed to pick out red shirts, which was pretty much the story of the match. Forest got into lots of threatening situations but the final ball was mostly lacking. In contrast, Blackburn's crossing caused problems that Forest ultimately couldn't answer. Chris Burke's wild slash wide when well placed was a fitting end to proceedings. 

I'm not sure how to sum this match up, just as I'm not sure where it went wrong. We certainly didn't make the best of good situations and probably sat too deep when ahead. We seemed to lack a bit of urgency until Rovers drew level and, as a result, the momentum swung so far that we couldn't wrest it back. 

Ending on a positive note, as I always try to, David Vaughan produced a polished performance and despite this lamentable run of form we're still only four points off the top and it's not November yet. A loan signing or two would boost the numbers and perhaps the morale and hopefully there'll be some movement on that front before the next match. All things, good or bad, have to come to an end. This run will be no exception. 

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Rover and Out

Another game, another failure to win. But in this case 'failure' is too harsh a word, as coming back twice to draw away at the (then) League leaders Watford was, in fairness, a pretty decent result. Watford are a good side who'll win more than they lose this season, and escaping with a point after being behind twice isn't too shabby. Many teams will go to Vicarage Road this season and leave with nothing.

It's back to the City Ground next for the visit of Blackburn Rovers. Things are a lot more settled at Ewood Park these days after a couple of turbulent seasons under the chaotic ownership of the Venkys. Gary Bowyer seems to have won the managerial game of musical chairs and Rovers are sitting comfortably in mid-table, only three points behind Forest.

As usual with Blackburn, almost-guaranteed goal-machine Jordan Rhodes will be the one to watch, though Rudy Gestede has proved an able partner since joining the club and is their top League scorer this season. Midfielder Ben Marshall is another to be wary of, and indeed he scored their goal in last season's Trentside defeat. Defensive behemoth Grant Hanley will no doubt prove obstructive, if for no other reason than the time taken to circumnavigate his tremendous bulk.

The Reds will have midfielder Henri Lansbury available again after his suspension, which will give Stuart Pearce a choice to make with David Vaughan fit as well. It wouldn't be surprising to see Pearce revert back to a 4-4-2 at home, with Matt Fryatt coming back in for - possibly - Ben Osborn.

No game is really a 'must win' so early in the season, but after so long without one, a victory would be very welcome indeed. Despite this winless streak, Forest are still currently better off than in the comparative matches last season. Three points against Blackburn would ensure we stay that way, and stay in the mix at top of the table.

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.