Sunday, 24 November 2013

Nottingham Forest 1 - 1 Burnley

Another international break, another poor outcome for Nottingham Forest. This time not in terms of result, which was okay, or performance, which was very good; this time in terms of injuries to big players and the problems that may cause further down the line.

It was still days before the Burnley match when Andy Reid and David Vaughan returned to the club after picking up hamstring injuries - in training, annoyingly - for the Republic of Ireland and Wales respectively. Greg Halford also picked up a training knock and, in the match itself, the Reds lost Eric Lichaj and Chris Cohen. We wait nervously to find out for how long.

Luckily Jack Hobbs recovered from an illness in time to partner Jamaal Lascelles at centre half in time for the match. They'd need to be on their mettle to cope with the Championship's most prolific partnership of Burnley's Danny Ings and Sam Vokes. Or so we thought anyway. Elsewhere in the team, Gonzalo Jara moved into the holding midfield role alongside Henri Lansbury in a 4-2-3-1. The all-Jamie wing combination of Paterson and Mackie ran the flanks, with Radosław Majewski behind the lone striker Simon Cox.

A scrappy start gave way to some good Forest possession, though the hosts didn't create any clear cut chances I can recall. I'll explain why later. Then, against the run of play, the visitors were awarded a penalty when Jara handled a cross from the right. There were a lot of Forest complaints but I felt the referee had to give it. If it had happened at the other end I'd have been screaming for a spot-kick so I wasn't surprised it was given. Karl Darlow dived the right way but Vokes' shot was too well placed. 1-0 to the Clarets.

Whilst I sympathised with that decision, the referee quickly lost control afterwards, booking Lansbury and incurring the wrath of the home fans by seemingly giving us nothing. Even when he did book a Burnley player for a foul he still got it wrong, stopping play immediately instead of giving Forest the advantage for the offence.

Lansbury hit the bar with a great free kick and Forest didn't let their heads drop before, deservedly, they equalised late in the half. Jara's neat touch found Paterson who tricked his way to the byline before floating in a cross which Cox couldn't - and didn't - fail to put away for his second in two games. Just reward for another hard working performance. 1-1 it was at half time then.

The second half started with Nathaniel Chalobah replacing the injured Lichaj. Jara moved to right back with Chalobah taking his midfield berth, and the Chelsea loanee was immediately in action, producing a great block to deny a goalbound Burnley effort. The match ebbed and flowed but Forest looked the better team. I can only recall Darlow making one save while Forest went close with a header from Lascelles and a late scramble which stayed out somehow. I'm still not sure how. The aforementioned Ings and Vokes were both kept very quiet with Burnley's defence far the busier. They were impressive though, hurling themselves in front of a number of Forest efforts. The late introductions of Djamel Abdoun and Darius Henderson couldn't wheedle out a winner and the match finished as a entertaining draw.

For Forest, Jack Hobbs was his usual solid self alongside Lascelles who had, in my opinion, his best game yet for the club. He won everything in the air and helped snuff out the league's top scorer impressively. The sponsors gave him man of the match but I'd have plumped for Jara. The Chilean was solid in midfield before moving to right back at half time and doing equally well. He even had a stint at left back to replace the injured Cohen late on and didn't look out of place there. I really hope he stays with the club longer than his current one year contract.

Further forward Cox and Mackie worked hard again and I was delighted that the former notched another goal. If only Mackie was a touch faster he'd be a real handful. He takes up great positions and never stops running. Raddy had an off day but Paterson looked decent and set the goal up nicely. Chalobah looked awful at first, giving the ball away sloppily a couple of times. He improved though and showed at least some hint of why Chelsea rate him so highly. All in all it was a pleasing performance and a win certainly wouldn't have flattered us.

The reason for my first half lack of concentration was that, instead of being in my usual seat in the Trent End I was enjoying the comfort of the Directors' Box thanks to a fantastic birthday present from my wife. And sitting no more than about four rows in front of us was the Owner and Chairman himself, Fawaz al Hasawi.

I found myself watching his reactions to the game with fascination. He really did kick every ball with the team. I've supported Forest for years but he was out of his seat more than I was! Whatever Forest fans may think of his decisions and certain aspects of the running of the club, nobody can question his passion.

So the day ended with a result which was probably not as good as the performance deserved. Hopefully the cost to the team in terms of injuries won't be too high and they'll be able to build on a strong showing with a positive result against Reading next time out.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Nottingham Forest 0 - 1 Blackpool

There can be few pastimes that subject you to such a gamut of emotions as watching football. When your team is playing well, scoring goals and sweeping opponents aside then there's little that's more satisfying. However, when they're struggling for form, stuttering through matches like a Gareth Gates impersonator and lacking in confidence then watching football can be the very definition of frustration. Nottingham Forest's home defeat to Blackpool was just such an occasion.

I shouldn't be surprised, it was Blackpool after all. They've seemingly had an almost mystical hold over Forest for years. It was the manner of the game though, the lateness of the winning goal and the fact that Blackpool weren't actually that good. All these things conspired to leave me feeling like tearing out the little hair I have left.

Anyway, to the match. Billy Davies sought to shore up the Forest midfield and offer more protection to his defence by pairing new loan signing David Vaughan and Gonzalo Jara as the holding midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Darius Henderson was the loan striker with Henri Lansbury behind him and Djamel Abdoun and Jamie Mackie on the flanks. The back five was the same unit that started against Yeovil.

This formation can look negative but with the right personnel it can also be effective. The holding players should - in theory - take pressure off the defenders as well as starting off attacks, and if the front four are fluid and mobile it also offers a lot of attacking options. This game didn't pan out like that though.

Things started brightly enough. Mackie and Abdoun had decent runs and Vaughan seemed to settle in well, using the ball intelligently and keeping the team moving forward. Forest were playing the ball around nicely until they reached the Blackpool area; then things seemed to break down. A goalmouth scramble resulted in Henderson falling in the penalty area. Despite his protests nothing was given, just as it hadn't been a few minutes earlier when a Blackpool player had been nudged from behind in the Forest area. I actually thought we were lucky to get away without conceding a penalty. That luck didn't hold out long though.

Quite what Abdoun was doing in the left-back position I'm not sure. A more defensive minded player would probably have hoofed the ball clear but his instinct was to bring it down and play out from the back. This cost him dearly however as his mis-control allowed Neal Bishop to nip in and steal the ball. Abdoun pulled him back and referee Michael Naylor had little choice but to award a spot kick and send Abdoun off. The City Ground Penalty Curse seemingly applies to visiting players too though, as the previously clinical Thomas Ince saw his weak effort comfortably saved by Karl Darlow. The resulting scramble was cleared and Forest had survived, but were now a man down.

Understandably Forest offered less going forward while Blackpool had more of the ball but didn't make the extra man count as they might have. A header from a corner flashed wide and another shot was saved and scrambled away but Forest survived reasonably comfortably until half time.

The second half followed much the same course as Blackpool added further credence to the old chestnut about 10 men being harder to break down than 11. Greg Halford replaced the largely ineffective Henderson up front as Forest's attacking opportunities remained sporadic. Indeed his direct run resulted in a half-chance for Jara which the Chilean curled over the bar. The game dawdled along and it seemed that the Reds would hang on for a point. Returning ex-Tricky Tree Nathan Tyson's introduction was met with a mix of halfhearted boos, scattered applause and an overwhelming feeling of 'meh.' But, eventually the inevitable happened, and from the inevitable source.

Four minutes of added time had just been announced when Blackpool attacked again down the right. The ball ping-ponged around the Forest box and, seemingly via an offside attacker, landed at the feet of Stephen Dobbie. The house elf's low finish gave Darlow no chance and stole the points for the visitors. I'm not saying Forest deserved to win but to lose out so late was hard to take, particularly as Blackpool were, well, really not that good. So, there it was, another bag of no points.

Even amongst the disappointment there were still some positives to take from the game. Vaughan slotted in well and played the ball around nicely. Until his sending off Abdoun had looked lively and, apart from some wayward shooting Mackie had a decent game in his usual energetic way. Jara broke up Blackpool's play well but looked a bit lost going forward, but the screen of he and Vaughan meant the back four weren't being run at so often. The returning Lansbury's energy and quality were certainly welcome.

On the downside though, we looked toothless up front. Poor Darius looks bereft of confidence, spurning shooting chances for safe passes and seeing other passing attempts going astray. I can see why Davies put Halford on as substitute today as he offers more physical presence than Simon Cox or Matt Derbyshire, but it's hardly a ringing endorsement of their respective talents. The need to bring in a new forward remains a priority. Andy Reid and Radosław Majewski's quality was missed, but the team's current form even with them in it meant them being left out wasn't a great surprise.

So, a November which always looked difficult got off to the worse possible start with the unbeaten home record going up the Khyber. We need to pick ourselves up as soon as possible or our promotion ambitions will be going the same way.