Thursday, 18 September 2014

Nottingham Forest 5 - 3 Fulham

The fine fellows at Seat Pitch are very kindly hosting my match review for this corker. So, knock yourselves out...

Monday, 15 September 2014

Glass Half Ful

In its own way, Nottingham Forest's forthcoming match against Fulham will provide as stern a test of Stuart Pearce's managerial credentials as Sunday's East Midlands derby did.

For one thing, there'll be more expectation on Forest to win, with the West London outfit currently languishing at the bottom of the Championship table after a rotten run of results. It's also very likely that the mood around the Forest camp may be a little flat; after surrendering the lead late-on against Derby and also - it would appear - having lost captain Chris Cohen for some length of time due to another serious knee injury. With Andy Reid limping off as well, one of the Gaffa's main tasks before kickoff on Wednesday will be to pick the boys back up again.

Presuming he can do that (and who could doubt him?) then Wednesday's match should offer Forest a decent chance of putting their disappointment behind them and consolidating their position at the top of the league. They'll have to be wary however; Fulham surely can't play as badly as they have been for too much longer and, once again, Pearce will need to make sure his players show no sign of complacency.

Forest will be forced into at least one change for Wednesday as there's no way Cohen will be able to play any part. If neither Reid nor Matt Fryatt (who missed the Derby game through injury) are available again then I'd be tempted to start Jamie Paterson playing just behind main striker Britt Assombalonga. Paterson showed on many occasions last season that he's an accomplished finisher, and his pace and trickery can cause problems for any defence. After such a calm and assured performance in the most volatile of fixtures, I'd definitely start Robert Tesche in the central midfield role too. Other than that, and hoping that no further injuries occur before Wednesday evening, I'd keep the rest of the team as it was.

The matches come thick and fast in the Championship so there's no time for Forest to dwell on their misfortunes. Nothing would raise the mood more than a comfortable victory and hopefully Pearce and his team will be able to provide it.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Nottingham Forest 1 - 1 Derby County

If one were to list the components of an archetypal local derby, this match would have contained most of them. Full-blooded tackles, niggly fouls, goals, a sending off and lunatics invading the pitch. All we were missing was a dubious penalty and an albatross swooping down and stealing the ball. What - you mean you've never seen that at a match before?

For all the social media nonsense, there wasn't a Bobby Zamora mask to be seen as we trooped into the Trent End to hear that Stuart Pearce had opted for a 4-5-1 with Britt Assombalonga as the lone striker; though with Matt Fryatt not in the squad due to injury it might have been a forced rather than tactical change. Other than that, the team was as expected, with Eric Lichaj at left-back and the triumvirate of Chris Cohen, Andy Reid and Henri Lansbury in the centre of midfield. For the visitors, rat-like striker Jamie Ward missed out due to injury, but Jake 'Missing Link' Buxton lined up in the centre of defence alongside the £120m man Richard Keogh. More on Buxton later.....

A rousing version of 'Mull of Kintyre' preceded the action, which started with an optimistic shot at goal practically from the kickoff by Andy Reid. This opening was as scrappy as most of the half as both sides had a fair share of possession but failed to look really threatening. Fouls by both sides lead to a series of free kicks, none of which really troubled either goalkeeper. John Eustace was booked for a foul, as was Andy Reid, and probably the best chance of the half was - unsurprisingly - from a Forest free kick, which was headed over by Britt Assombalonga.

The two main talking points of the half were the wonderful tribute that both sets of fans paid to the 10th anniversary of the passing of Brian Clough, and the serious-looking injury suffered by Chris Cohen. The applause for Clough rang round the stadium from all four sides and showed in what high regard he's still held, and will always be, by fans of both Forest and Derby. On the downside though, Cohen's injury, suffered in an innocuous-looking challenge, looked to be a bad one. The moment he went down clutching his knee we all feared the worst and although he limped off without the need for a stretcher, the outlook doesn't seem good. Robert Tesche replaced him and almost gave Forest the lead when his long-range effort whistled just wide of Lee Grant's post. With the out-of-sorts Andy Reid limping off as well - to be replaced by Ben Osborn - it wasn't the best of halves for the Reds.

The second half didn't start much better. Derby kept hold of the ball and, on the occasions Forest did have possession, they tried to get the ball forward too early, which was meat and drink to the visitors' Neanderthal defenders. Jake Thugston got booked for upending Henri Lansbury and a good run and shot from Antonio brought a save from Grant before the incident which seemed to spark the game into life.

During a stoppage in play for treatment to Will Hughes - who had been his usual East Midlands Derby self (which is to say he whined, moaned and threw himself to the ground a lot) - Forest's stewards were conspicuous by their absence as a fan jumped the barrier in front of the Trent End, ran (well, waddled) the length of the pitch and doffed his shirt in front of the Bridgford End before whirling it around his head. When he was joined by an even larger accomplice, the stewards finally sprung into action and - eventually - removed the interlopers from the playing area. Foolish to be sure, but it seemed to wake both sets of fans up.

And, thankfully, it woke the home team up as well. Forest pressed forward more and finally made the breakthrough when Michail Antonio's fine run and pass found Assombalonga in the penalty area. Despite seeming to slip, he turned Shotton and curled a lovely effort past the helpless Lee Grant to give Forest the lead. Barely minutes later it could've been doubled, as Antonio headed over from a fine Jack Hunt cross.

Rams' boss Steve McClaren reacted by throwing on a couple of subs and, finally, Forest's giving away of free-kicks came back to haunt them. Craig Forsyth's cross was headed against the bar by Keogh and, following the ensuing scramble, Nottingham born ex-perennial-transfer-target Leon Best forced the ball over the line to level the scores.

Next followed the almost-obligatory dismissal, and unsurprisingly Jake Buxton was the guilty party. After wrestling Assombalonga to the ground and conceding a free-kick the red mist seemed to descend and, as Chris Burke ran forward with the ball, Buxton just launched into him. Out came the second yellow card and off he trotted, knuckles dragging the ground.

Perhaps sensing a chance of victory, Pearce substituted the substitute Ben Osborn and replaced him with Lars Veldwijk, though the tall Dutchman didn't really see much of the ball. The last chance did fall to Forest but goalscorer Britt Assombalonga's header was straight at Lee Grant. Despite some eight minutes of stoppage time the spoils were shared as the game ended 1-1.

Notable Forest performances came from Antonio, who gave Ryan Shotton a torrid time all match, Assombalonga, whose tireless running got the reward it deserved and Robert Tesche, who looks a real find on a free transfer. He looks a similar player to David Vaughan in that he keeps it simple, keeps play moving and keeps possession. I was hoping that Forest's squad depth wouldn't need to be tested so early in the season and hopefully the injures to Reid and Fryatt aren't bad ones. Unfortunately though, I can't see Chris Cohen playing again in the foreseeable future.

But let's end on a positive note. How nice it was to see a City Ground crowd clear the 30,000 mark for the first time in ages. We remain unbeaten and top of the league. We've still not played our best yet and, when we do, we'll get better results than this one. There's still so much more to come from this team and that's a very exciting prospect for Forest fans.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Ram Raid

The first East Midlands Derby of the season is almost upon us and, as always, it promises to be a fascinating encounter. Perhaps not as dramatic as last season's - where home victories for each side led to the sacking of the respective away managers - but it'll be a gripping, blood-and-thunder affair all the same.

Forest come into the match in better form, sitting unbeaten atop the Championship table having dropped only two points so far, while Derby have made a solid start, the highlight of which has been the 5-1 drubbing of newly relegated Fulham. Indeed, as Forest take on Fulham some three days after the Derby match, the week will be a great barometer of the Reds' chances for the campaign.

Whilst the international break may have blunted the momentum of Forest's excellent start, the flip-side is that it will also allow tired and injured bodies to heal and rest. The likes of Jack Hobbs and Michail Antonio, who were nursing niggles after the Sheffield Wednesday match, should hopefully be fit again; while Hobbs, Chris Cohen, Andy Reid and Henri Lansbury - who have all only recently returned from long-term injuries - will surely be grateful for a few days recuperation following a busy August.

Derby fans will no doubt point to their 5-0 defeat of Forest at the iPro Stadium last season as evidence of their superiority; however, the Nottingham Forest they'll face on Sunday is - both on and off the pitch - a very different proposition to the one which lined up six months ago. It's quite possible that, of the team which kicked-off for Forest that day, only Karl Darlow will be in the starting XI come Sunday.

In fact, this time it's Derby who can point to injury problems, with summer capture George Thorne and highly-rated midfielder Jeff Hendrick both definitely missing. Forward Jamie Ward is currently a doubt too, though he may yet play some part.

Forest are yet to concede a goal at home this season. However, as so far they've only hosted Blackpool, who are awful, and Reading, who were awful, then not too much can be read into that. It wouldn't surprise me if Derby are the team to puncture that proud record. No visiting team will want to do it more. Still, if anyone can motivate a team to play to the best of their abilities against our neighbours from up the A52 then it's Stuart Pearce, and I've no doubt that complacency and overconfidence will not be issues for Forest on 14th.

Just what team Pearce will pick is anyone's guess. The 4-5-1 which started away at Sheffield Wednesday ensures we're not overrun in midfield, but at the cost of the impressive Matt Fryatt. With Derby's strong midfield it wouldn't be a surprise to see the same formation start against them too. On the other hand, it's just as possible that Pearce will retain the 4-4-2 which has served Forest well so far at home this season. How nice it is to have such options!

Whatever the formations, whatever the teams, it's sure to be a spectacle; and one which will only be enhanced by both sets of fans paying tribute to the 10th anniversary of the passing of Brian Clough - whose links to both clubs need no explanation. Come 3PM on Sunday one set of players will be parading the trophy which bears his name. Hopefully the match, and the occasion, will have done justice to his memory.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Window Shopping

As seemingly every other team in English football worked itself into a frenzy of buying and selling on Transfer Deadline Day, fans of Nottingham Forest could sit back and watch in beatific peace, happy in the knowledge that - for once - our business had been done early and done well. Whilst the greedy amongst us might have been hoping for one last surprise, it's fair to say that it wasn't really necessary. On a day where, historically, Forest fans would have been fretting over the need for a striker or left-back; there wasn't a murmur of discontent when the chimes of Big Ben marked 11PM and not a single new player had been paraded in the Garibaldi.

Though Deadline Day itself passed off without a whimper, the window as a whole had been busy and fruitful. Here's a summary of what happened:

Michail Antonio
Simon Cox
Britt Assombalonga
Karl Darlow
Chris Burke
Matt Derbyshire
Karl Darlow
Season-long loan
Rafik Djebbour
Contract cancelled
Danny Fox
Dimitar Evtimov
6 month loan
Matty Fryatt
Simon Gillett
Jack Hunt
6 month loan
Jonathan Greening
Louis Laing
Darius Henderson
Contract cancelled
Jamaal Lascelles
Season-long loan
Gonzalo Jara
Michael Mancienne
Jamaal Lascelles
Roger Riera
Jamie Mackie
Season-long loan
Robert Tesche
Radoslaw Majewski
Season-long loan
David Vaughan
Ishmael Miller
Lars Veldwijk
David Morgan
Guy Moussi
Marcus Tudgay
Note - Some of these transfer fees may not be entirely accurate as they were offcially recorded as undisclosed.

The sheer number of players moving to and from the club showed exactly what a job new manager Stuart Pearce had on his hands and it's testament to both he and the club's hierarchy that, as we reflect after the transfer window has closed, we can do so with arguably the strongest and most balanced squad we've had in many, many years.

Pearce saw where the squad had weaknesses and addressed them. The lack of goals was mitigated by signing three new strikers. The need for pace was acknowledged and remedied by signing two flying machines in a day. The need for cover for last season's main creative forces of Andy Reid and Henri Lansbury was noted and sorted. And the icing on the cake was persuading Henri to sign a new deal with the club, when it looked for all the world as if he were leaving.

This couldn't all be done without some cost and this came in the form of the sales of academy products Karl Darlow and Jamaal Lascelles to Newcastle United. However, even this was turned to the club's advantage with the subsequent purchases of Michail Antonio and club record signing Britt Assombalonga. If we'd have kept Karl and Jamaal and not signed Michail and Britt then the squad would've looked decent; but by making those sales, loaning the sold players back and bringing in the two signings, decent was transformed into pacey, strong and threatening.

Of course we've been here before with squads that look strong on paper, but this time it looks really good. We've got a few flexible players who can operate in a number of positions, we've got pace where it's needed, we've got guile and craft and a number of players who can turn a match in a moment and, most important of all, we've got cover. I can't imagine we'll have an injury list anything like last season's - I certainly hope not anyway - but if we do then this time round it seems we'd be better equipped to deal with it.

It's early days yet but already a number of the new signings look inspired. Chris Burke and Matt Fryatt have showed all the quality and experience we expected. Michael Mancienne has looked composed in defence, whilst Jack Hunt has offered a great attacking option from right-back. Michail Antonio can look clumsy, but his delivery has been good and his ability in the air at the back post has been an unexpected bonus and, in Britt Assombalonga, we've finally got a striker who will terrorise opposition defences. His pace and directness will cause problems against anyone in this league and, whilst he still has to hone his decision making at times, his work-rate more than makes up for this.

Hopefully, following this current international break, we'll have a fully fit squad to choose from. A squad that - as it gets to know itself and its manager more closely - will only get better. We're currently unbeaten yet haven't really played that well. If we really start firing on all cylinders out league.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Sheffield Steel

The Sheffield Wednesday team that lines up against Nottingham Forest on Saturday will be a far different proposition to the one which Forest defeated 1-0 in last season's equivalent match at Hillsborough. But so, for that matter, will the Forest side.

Both teams have made a strong start to the season and are currently unbeaten in the League and Capital One Cup - which is probably more than either would've expected at this stage. This fixture used to be a staple of the top-flight calendar, a usually entertaining match between two established clubs. However, I mean no disrespect to Wednesday when I say that it's some time since they've been challenging for a return to those lofty heights.

For Forest's part; given that they have a new manager and a very different squad, it was by no means certain that they'd start so well. But the new signings have settled in quickly and the team has definitely hit the ground running, and it'll need to maintain this form to have a chance of matching last season's result in South Yorkshire.

Wednesday striker Atdhe Nuhiu looks to be a real threat, and whichever central defenders line up in red tomorrow, they'll have to be on their mettle. Their recent win at Middlesbrough was as eye-catching a result as Forest's was at Bournemouth. Still, Forest aren't without weapons of their own and, should he be fit, the Owls will need to be wary of their former winger Michail Antonio, who has already netted four times for the Reds since joining earlier in August. Even if Antonio doesn't make the line-up tomorrow, Forest look to have plenty of other attacking options to trouble the home defence.

Reaching the first international break unbeaten - and ideally still top of the League - would represent a fantastic start to the season for Forest. I'm certain that Stuart Pearce will ensure that no complacency or over-confidence sets into the team. If they can perform up to their recent levels then it could be another good day for the Reds.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Spurred to Succeed

That a Capital One Cup 3rd round tie away at Tottenham Hotspur has elicited such interest amongst Nottingham Forest fans shows how long it is since the Reds were dining from English football's top table. After all; it's within the lifetime of many Forest fans - myself included - that Spurs were just another top-flight rival, one who Forest - FA Cup Final aside - enjoyed a pretty good record against. However, as I write this Forest and Spurs are separated by some 20 positions in the footballing ladder, sitting proudly atop the Championship and Premier League respectively.

Some of our more recent matches against Spurs have proved memorable for various reasons, so here's three of the biggest:

FA Cup Final (Wembley Stadium - May 18th 1991): Nottingham Forest 1 - 2 Tottenham Hotspur (AET) 

There's a school of thought to say that, if it weren't for Cup Final referee Roger Milford's lenience toward Spurs maverick Paul Gascoigne, Nottingham Forest might not have endured the wilderness period that they have done. If Milford had sent Gascoigne off for his two horrendous challenges - on first Garry Parker then Gary Charles - Spurs would've been down to 10 men and Forest might have won. Brian Clough, having finally captured the one trophy to elude him, might have retired and left Forest on a high, rather than the devastating, relegated low which he eventually departed to. That's joining a LOT of dots however, and we'll never know what might have happened.

What did happen though was a heartbreaking defeat in extra time, courtesy of an own goal by Des Walker. This after Spurs' midfielder Paul Stewart had equalised a brilliant Stuart Pearce free-kick - awarded after the second of Gascoigne's fouls, the same foul which was to put Gascoigne out of the game for the better part of a year. One can argue that, if Milford had booked Gascoigne for his first challenge, he might have done him a favour as well as Forest. Once again we'll never know.

Premier League (White Hart Lane - September 24th 1994): Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 4 Nottingham Forest

Following the aforementioned relegation, Forest were to spend just one season out of the Premier League before making a triumphant return by finishing 2nd in the Championship. After a strong start to their campaign, Forest were to face a stiff test away to Spurs. Or so it seemed on paper. It didn't quite turn out like that as a Spurs team boasting a forward line of German superstar Jurgen Klinsmann and ex-Forest man Teddy Sheringham were put to the sword by a sensational Forest display, and in particular their own striking partnership of Stan Collymore and new Dutch signing Bryan Roy.

Though Collymore didn't net that day, he set up the first goal for the industrious Steve Stone, who was a constant menace to Spurs throughout the match. Bryan Roy scored twice himself before a wonderfully audacious shot by Norwegian maestro Lars Bohinen put the cherry on top of a delicious cake of a performance near full time. Forest would finish the season in 3rd - still the equal highest finish by a team promoted to the Premier League.

FA Cup Round 5 (City Ground - February 19th 1996): Match Abandoned; rearranged match (City Ground - February 28th 1996): Nottingham Forest 2 - 2 Tottenham Hotspur; replay (White Hart Lane - March 9th 1996): Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 1 Nottingham Forest (AET, Forest won 3-1 on penalties)

In all my years supporting Forest, I have never known weather conditions like those which forced our FA Cup tie against Spurs in 1996 to be abandoned. What started as a light dusting of snow turned into a blizzard so severe that the match didn't even reach half time. The journey home from the City Ground to my mum's house, which usually took around half an hour, took nearly six times as long as my poor brother could only crawl along the snow-clogged roads in his Ford Sierra. We were lucky though, as many abandoned vehicles littered the streets where their drivers had left them, giving up the ghost.

The rearranged match nine days later was a cracker, with two sublime Ian Woan free-kicks cancelling out Tottenham goals by Chris Armstrong. Then the replay saw the spoils shared again; a 1-1 draw this time with Bryan Roy and Teddy Sheringham the Forest and Spurs scorers respectively. This resulted in a penalty shootout which Forest won 3-1, thanks mostly to three of the best penalty saves I've ever seen, by Forest keeper Mark Crossley. Annoyingly and typically though, Forest were to bow out in the next round, beaten 1-0 by Aston Villa with another ex-Red Franz Carr scoring the only goal.

There are many more fascinating historic matches between the teams, such as the bomb-scare League Cup semi-final in 1992, notable for a thumping Roy Keane header in the rain; and the 2-2 League draw at the City Ground which saw Jason Lee turning the game as substitute. Hopefully the forthcoming game will give fans of both clubs another treat. And, even more hopefully, we'll be playing Spurs on a more regular basis in the Premier League again soon. A man can dream...