Saturday, 19 October 2013

Nottingham Forest 1 - 1 AFC Bournemouth

The Curse of Kids for a Quid strikes again.

This was definitely a match to be filed in the archives as 'One of Those Games.' I remarked to my wife midway through the second half that it was like watching me play as Nottingham Forest on FIFA 14: pass pass shoot block pass shoot deflection block pass shoot block shoot miss goal kick. I wasn't even disappointed when the equaliser went in as it was so obvious it was going to happen.

Billy Davies, the ink still drying on his extended contract, had certainly picked an attacking side, with the only changes from the 3-1 win at Brighton being Djamel Abdoun and Gonzalo Jara replacing the suspended duo of Nathaniel Chalobah and Eric Lichaj respectively. Kelvin Wilson was fit enough to take a place on the bench following his absence due to a back injury.

When watching the officials warm up I was amused to see that one of them looked slightly overweight, with what hair he had left appearing a silvery-grey colour. I didn't expect him to be the referee! More on him later.

The match kicked off in front of a pretty full City Ground with a very respectable number of Bournemouth fans having made the long journey north. Their team started brightly too, with the striking duo of Lewis Grabban and the wonderfully-named Tokilo Rantie looking dangerous up front. The game's first chance fell to the latter, who latched on to an awful Andy Reid back-pass to race clean through, only to be denied by a brilliant stop by Karl Darlow.

This near miss woke Forest up and Abdoun made some decent runs down the right. One of these ended in a shot which Bournemouth keeper Stephen Henderson could only parry. Simon Cox was entitled to go for the rebound and did so, but caught Henderson in the process. From the way the Bournemouth stopper started thrashing around it was clear he was hurt and after a lengthy stoppage for treatment he was replaced by substitute Ryan Allsop. At the time of me writing this I hadn't read exactly what happened to Henderson. Hopefully he'll make a speedy recovery.

The stoppage, and another one for an injury to one of the referee's assistants, put the dampeners on what had been an exciting start. Things soon pepped up again though as first Simon Cox then Henri Lansbury missed decent chances to give the hosts the lead. Bournemouth continued to look dangerous on the break though and Darlow was forced to parry away another effort from Rantie.

Forest continued to toil away, passing nicely but with no end product and getting caught offside so many times I thought that Dexter Blackstock had snuck on when nobody was looking. But eventually the breakthrough came. Another shot was blocked before the ball fell to Lansbury and his long-range curling effort was beautifully struck, giving substitute keeper Allsop no chance. The Reds were then forced into their own change with the injured Danny Collins being replaced by Wilson. Bournemouth top-scorer Grabban hit the woodwork with a low shot during the seven minutes of first half stoppage time and Forest managed to get to the break with their slender lead intact.

Bournemouth were once again faster out of the blocks following the break but Forest started to gain control. The second goal just wouldn't come though. Chances were created but either blocked or squandered, with Darius Henderson (clearly not a good day for Hendersons) being the worst culprit. A fresh-air shot from a Cox pass was followed by an almost comical miss of an open goal after he'd stumbled past the visitors' goalie. Poor Darius wasn't having his best game.

The almost inevitable refereeing inconsistency was starting to frustrate too, with what looked like a brilliant challenge by Jara being punished, and what seemed like a blatant push on Abdoun being ignored. Darlow being booked for timewasting seemed harsh too. Biased? Me? Never. Forest did have the ball in the net for a second time as a Reid corner was headed in by someone. The goal was ruled out though, presumably for some pushing.

Unease abounded round the stands and it came as no great surprise when, just after five minutes of second half stoppage time was announced, Bournemouth drew level. Mark Pugh's low drive came after a spell of sustained pressure and, once again, the failure to kill off a game had cost Forest dear. Unsurprisingly Bournemouth slowed things down after equalising and the referee further frustrated the home fans by seemingly doing nothing about it, and the final whistle was met with a chorus of boos that were part anger, part disappointment.

Once again Jack Hobbs was outstanding. Strong and solid he also times his tackles incredibly well. A proper centre-half. Abdoun looked lively all game too. Lansbury took his goal brilliantly but an off day by our strikers arguably cost us the win. As against Charlton, a second goal would probably have secured the points. I mean no disrespect to Bournemouth when I say that. A one goal lead was always going to be tenuous - and so it proved - but I genuinely think a second goal would have been too much for the visitors to come back from.

We'll play worse than this and win for sure, and we'll probably play better and lose. But we're still at the right end of the table and there's still a long, long time to go.

Monday, 7 October 2013

The Season So Far - Part 1

The latest international break is upon us. For a few days at least, instead of wondering what Forest will do we can all worry about whether England will qualify for the World Cup or not. So, this seems like a good time to post a recap of the Reds' season so far.

Following another summer of squad rebuilding and an unbeaten pre-season, Forest went into their 2013/2014 Sky Bet Championship campaign full of expectation. As always, the Championship looked to be an open league. QPR appeared the stand-out contenders but, them aside, there were a number of teams that looked well equipped to challenge at the top end of the table. Having made nine signings during the close season, as well as trying unsuccessfully for up to four more on Deadline Day, Forest were certainly one of them.

The first four games did nothing to dampen those expectations. If anything they were increased as Forest kicked off with a hard-fought 1-0 win at home to Huddersfield, a professional away victory by the same score over Blackburn Rovers and a 3-0 home trouncing of Bolton Wanderers. And even though the Reds' 100% record was ended with a 1-1 draw at Watford the signs of encouragement were there for all to see, as Forest dominated a team who had easily beaten them twice last season and were expected to be challenging again this year. On their own patch too. Impressive stuff.

The Championship has a habit of kicking you in the nuts teeth though and Forest's next match brought their first defeat of the season, a 2-1 reverse at FA Cup holders and newly relegated Wigan Athletic. Then followed a remarkable run of three matches which provided 13 goals and 5 more points. Barnsley pegged Forest back twice at the City Ground before finally being vanquished 3-2, Middlesbrough took a two goal lead and looked to be on track to end Forest's unbeaten home run, only for the Reds to fight back for a 2-2 draw, and Doncaster twice led Forest at the Keepmoat before a late goal secured another 2-2 stalemate. Then came Derby Day.

In glorious sunshine by the banks of the Trent, Forest recorded their first win in five over local rivals Derby County, with a Jack Hobbs goal earning the spoils. A 1-1 draw at struggling Charlton brought things down to earth again before an excellent 3-1 win away at Brighton left Forest 4th in the table with only one defeat so far and 22 points already amassed.

Those are the cold, hard facts, but let's look a bit deeper.

Forest's season so far feels, to me anyway, very much like the close-season did beforehand. We've accomplished a huge amount but it seems like we could have done more. During the summer we signed (or re-signed for the pedants among you) nine players. These weren't just squad fillers either. Three top-class defenders in the form of Kelvin Wilson, Jack Hobbs and Eric Lichaj were recruited. Much needed width was added to the squad with Jamie Paterson and Djamel Abdoun joining up. Add to that the re-signings of Darius Henderson and Gonzalo Jara, and the acquisitions of Dorus de Vries and Jamie Mackie, and there's no doubt that Forest did impressive business.

For all that though, there still appeared to be gaps in the squad, most notably up front. Despite Forest having a number of strikers on their books, none of them seemed to be the mythical '20 goals a season' man that teams going for promotion often contain. Drawn-out attempts to sign Rafik Djebbour and Charlie Austin ultimately proved fruitless whilst the pursuit of Bakary Sako from Wolves still rumbles on. In fairness though, Forest have netted in every match this season so the lack of a dead-eye finisher isn't holding us back too much. Or is it?

It could be argued that missed chances against Watford and a missed penalty against Middlesbrough have cost us four points - points that could be crucial at the end of the season. We also had chances to go 2-0 up against Charlton which could well have killed the game off, but failing to take them meant settling for a draw once again. All this leads back to my original point: 22 points and 4th place after 11 games is a great start, but with a bit more cutting edge up front it could have been even better.

Having said that, looking at last season helps put this campaign in perspective and shows just what a good start we have made. After 11 games last season we were on a respectable 17 points, so we're 5 ahead of that. But when you look at the comparative results against the same teams from last season things look even better. With a bit of jiggery-pokery around the promoted and relegated teams, we're currently 12 points better off than we were in the same matches last season. Now THAT'S impressive.

So, there's no doubt that Forest go into this international break in fine fettle. With the memory of a great win still fresh in the minds, a bit of time for injuries to heal and fitness to be regained and - possibly - the opportunity to add another player or two to the squad, the season is shaping up very nicely indeed. I'll probably do another one of these recaps just after Christmas. If we're still around the same league position then January and the season beyond could be the most exciting we've had at the club for a number of years.

Wouldn't it be nice if, come June 2014, we could be cheering England on at the World Cup safe in the knowledge that Nottingham Forest were getting ready for their first season in the top-flight in a very long time? You bet it would.