Friday, 27 December 2013

Nottingham Forest 2 - 0 Queen's Park Rangers

Nottingham Forest finally ended their long, long wait for a home victory with a professional and pretty comfortable 2-0 victory over Harry Redknapp's (it's obligatory to call them that) Queen's Park Rangers at the City Ground on Boxing Day. QPR came seeking the victory that would've taken them back to the top of the table but history was not on their side as they'd never won at the City Ground. They never looked like changing that record to be honest.

A virus kept Simon Cox out of the Forest line-up meaning that Greg Halford was, again, deployed as a makeshift striker at the spearhead of a 4-2-3-1 formation. Andy Reid seemed to sit deeper alongside David Vaughan with Djamal Abdoun and Jamie Mackie patrolling the flanks ahead of full backs Eric Lichaj and Gonzalo Jara. With Jara, Halford and Lichaj all playing together I was tempted to start the chant 'We're just a team full of right backs.' I feel it would've been unlikely to catch on though.

The visitors were without suspended (shock horror) Joey Barton and injured former Forest target Charlie Austin. They still had a team packed full of experience though, including ex-Red Jermaine Jenas, and could also call upon a bench including Junior Hoilett, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Yossi Benayoun.

The first quarter of an hour drifted by with honours even before Forest started to get a grip on the game. A great run by Halford saw him through on goal but his low shot was kept out by the outstretched leg of Rangers' keeper Robert Green. Another Halford shot was blazed high over and Henri Lansbury fired just wide after winning the ball well on the edge of the QPR box.

For once this season Forest managed to turn a spell of sustained pressure into a lead. Jamie Mackie's hard work saw him win the ball on the left flank and give it to Abdoun. The bearded Algerian teased the QPR full back before firing in a lovely cross that Halford couldn't - and didn't - miss, and his close-range header gave Green no chance and Forest a deserved lead. This lead stayed comfortably in tact through to half time, though Nico Kranjcar curled an effort narrowly wide of Karl Darlow's left-hand post.

Rangers, presumably on the end of a wobbly-jowled tongue-lashing from Redknapp, came out stronger in the second half but, although they were enjoying more possession they were hardly beating down Darlow's metaphorical door. Indeed the clearer chances fell to Forest as Mackie's cross found Halford unmarked but he could only shoot straight at Green. Shortly afterwards the Rangers keeper dropped a Reid cross which eventually fell to the feet of Jack Hobbs. The defender's goal-bound shot was cleared off the line by former Forest loanee Clint Hill though and the score remained 1-0.

The match was all set up for a tense finish before, with ten minutes of normal time remaining, the pivotal incident occurred. A QPR corner was palmed clear by Darlow and the industrious Abdoun kept the ball in play deep in the Forest half. His long pass up the left touchline was aimed at Halford but his attempted flick never made contact, allowing the ball to find its way to Andy Reid who had a clear run on goal.

On the far side of the field the referee's assistant flagged for offside, much to the disgust of the Forest bench, but referee Keith Stroud overruled him and waved play to go on. Reid slotted calmly past Green with the outside of his foot and, following a discussion between referee and assistant, the goal stood. Having seen replays since the decision definitely looked correct, as Halford didn't touch Abdoun's pass before it reached Reid. I can understand Rangers' annoyance though as I'd have been disappointed if Forest had conceded such a goal.

Forest could've had a third as Reid fired just over from long range. Kranjcar's 25-yarder which went wide was QPR's only other effort of note and the game finished in a richly deserved and long overdue home win for the Reds.

The match sponsors made Andy Reid their Man of the Match and I'd definitely agree as he was excellent. Besides his usual creativity and the goal he worked incredibly hard and threw himself into challenges all night. It was hard to find fault with any Forest players in truth, though more clinical finishing from Halford could've made the margin of victory greater. Special mention also has to go to referee Keith Stroud who was, by some distance, the best officiator we've had at the City Ground all season. I'm not just saying that because of the second goal either - his calm authority kept the game under control at all times.

So, the January Transfer Window is nearly upon us and Forest sit well in contention in fifth place. If, if, if we could just get a prolific goalscorer to put away some of the chances we're creating and also, hopefully, sign David Vaughan at least until the end of the season, then we'd be pretty well placed to have a real go for the rest of the campaign. I really think there's nothing in the league for Forest to be scared of - they just have to believe it too.

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