Sunday, 28 December 2014

Nottingham Forest 1 - 3 Birmingham City

Let me start by wishing everybody who reads my blog a very Merry Christmas. I hope you've enjoyed my irreverent take on (mainly) the trials and tribulations of Nottingham Forest in 2014. 

Forest themselves decided to be a bit different this Christmas. Rather than treating their supporters to a feast of festive football, they instead chose to give the gift of goals to their opponents: six of them in fact, in two Yuletide matches. 

The human mind has the ability to block out unpleasent memories, therefore I can't recall the minutiae of the Reds' most recent capitulation to report on it properly. In summary though, it went something like this:

- We started badly
- We got a bit better
- We made some chances
- We missed them
- We gave away a shit goal
- We gave away an even shitter goal
- We gave away another goal, but should not have been penalised for the free kick that led to it
- We got booed off at half time
- We started the second half quite well
- We made some chances
- We missed them
- The referee made some shit decisions
- The linesman near me didn't make *any* decisions
- We scored an irrelevant consolation goal

Until David Cotterill's dreadful (from our perspective) brace, I didn't think we were playing too badly. Certainly the team selection made sense this time and we (mostly) seemed to be trying to play it on the deck, but the double blow of conceding two really, really poor goals was too much to recover from. So, where do we go from here? Let's start from the top:

I feel some sympathy for Fawaz al Hasawi at the moment. I get the impression (and it is just an impression and not based on any inside knowledge) that he really wants Stuart Pearce to succeed here. With John McGovern and Paul Faulkner to advise him, he may decide to be more patient with Pearce than he has with his previous managers. 

However, in a way he's painted himself into a corner with Pearce. If he were to sack Stuart then it could prove difficult to attract any decent replacement, as prospective candidates will see how quickly he dispensed with the services of Cotterill, O' Driscoll, McLeish and Davies and would understandably be wary. Not to mention the embargo. Sacking Pearce would also mean another compensation payment and another period of instability and upheval, as the backroom staff would likely go too, and that's the last thing the club needs right now. For all the current poor run of results, for the first time since al Hasawi took over the structure of the club is starting to fall into shape, and a lot of credit for that has to go to Pearce. 

For his part though, Pearce just has to get results to improve. In his defence, the triple injury blows of losing Chris Cohen, Andy Reid and Jack Hobbs were always going to hurt, but the squad at Pearce's disposal is good enough to be performing better than it currently is. So why isn't it?

The constant changes in personnel and formation can't be helping, nor can some frankly baffling team selections. It may not be the football hipsters' setup of choice, but the players we've got are suited to 4-4-2, so, in my opinion, we should play to their strengths, pick a formation and stick with it - injuries permitting of course. 

Still, no matter what team the manager chooses or how he sends them out, he can't do much about some of the awful individual errors or shocking derelictions of duty we've seen from various players this season. Short back-passes, backing off too much, aimless diagonal balls, stupid fouls and fluffed chances; we've seen them all. 

As for the players, there's no doubt that, in the majority of cases, they're underperforming. Simple as that. Starting at the back, Karl Darlow has fluctuated between great and gormless. He's pulled off some great saves and is generally strong at claiming crosses, but in a few cases he's been beaten by shots that have seemed eminently saveable. 

Eric Lichaj looks shaky and Jack Hunt's early promise has fizzled away, not that it looks like we'll be seeing him in the Garibaldi again anyway. At left back I'm not sure what's happened to Dan Harding but surely he deserves a chance ahead of Danny Fox now. I can't recall Harding having done too much wrong when picked this season, whereas Fox has looked as shaky as Lichaj, with the added annoyance of the Aimless Diagonal Ball. Neither Lichaj nor Fox has looked comfortable when playing as one of the back three in Pearce's occassional flirtation with 3-5-2. 

Michael Mancienne looks a shadow of the player who started the season so imperiously. Having to play alongside the inconsistent duo of Kelvin Wilson and Jamaal Lascelles may be to blame for this. Mancienne needs to stay at centre half though; he's looked a fish out of water in the matches he's played in midfield. The sooner Jack Hobbs is fit the better. Maybe Louis Laing should get a run-out against Rochdale?

In central midfield, Henri Lansbury has yet to achieve the heights of early last season, apart from in his number of yellow cards, which is truly spectacular. Ben Osborn, Robert Tesche and David Vaughan have all looked encouraging in certain matches, just not for enough of them. I'd certainly tie Tesche down to a longer contract if possible though, as a free transfer he's proved a shrewd acquisition. 

On the flanks we have the one major success story of the season so far: Michail Antonio. At times the former Sheffield Wednesday wide man has been unplayable. Pace, strength, a good cross and a strong finish - Antonio has them all. Just not always. Though if he did, he'd be Cristiano Ronaldo and he wouldn't be playing for Forest. His goals, assists and performances more than make up for his occassional klutz moments and there's never a dull moment when he gets the ball. 

The other wing hasn't been so good though. Chris Burke has yet to consistently show the form which always seemed to torment Forest when he played against us. Tom Ince just didn't work out and, in the matches he's started, Jamie Paterson has failed to justify the almost embarrassing clamour for him to play. 

In attack, Britt Assombalonga started like a train but seems to be short of confidence and a yard of pace at the moment. His goal tally is still impressive though and, considering he's playing at a level higher than he's ever played before, he's doing pretty well. I really like Matt Fryatt's industry and commitment and he's chipped in with a few goals too. As with Tesche, as a free transfer he was a smart signing. 

Dexter Blackstock will probably never recapture the form of a few seasons ago and, if his latest knee injury is serious, one has to fear for his future. Lars Veldwijk's not played enough to show us what he can do yet, and he may be one for seasons to come anyway. It'd be asking a lot of him to drag us out of our current hole. 

How the rest of this season will pan out is anybody's guess. It's only December. There's plenty of points to play for yet. A run of form could see us back into the playoffs, but one has to be honest a say it doesn't look likely at the moment. Will Fawaz stick or twist? Who knows? Probably not even him. Personally I'm torn. I desperately want Pearce to succeed at Forest and, for all the work he's doing in rebuilding the club, I think he deserves a little patience. Results have to improve though or Fawaz will have a big decision to make, and we all know he's not shy of making them. 

Whatever happens, I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015. Come on you Reds!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Nottingham Forest 1 - 1 Leeds United

When they weren't boring us senseless with their almost endless renditions of 'Marching on Together,' Leeds United's fans were tunelessly informing us that 'now you're gonna believe us, the Football League's corrupt.' Presumably, this was in reference to the League's rather clunky handling of Leeds' owner Massimo Cellino. The Football League may not be corrupt. They are, however, totally remiss in their commitment and obligation to provide a decent set of match officials each week. Yes, you've guessed it, once again Nottingham Forest were denied victory due to appalling refereeing decisions.

Following the 0-0 draw away at Rotherham United - in which Dexter Blackstock had a perfectly fair looking goal chalked off - it was back to the City Ground for the visit of the aforementioned Leeds. They, as Forest, are enduring an inconsistent run of form at the moment, beating Derby County one week before being thumped by Ipswich Town the next. Thus the omens for a wonderful match of free-flowing football weren't good.

As I was later to the ground than usual my first glimpse of the team selection was on the giant scoreboards and, to be honest, I was immediately baffled by it. It took until the second half for me to figure it out, and I'd be lying if I said I liked it. As it transpires, it was a five man defence with Michail Antonio (!) and the returning Jack Hunt as wing-backs. Kelvin Wilson, Danny Fox and Eric Lichaj were the centre-backs and Michael Mancienne was just ahead of them as the spare man (because THAT worked last time we tried it). Robert Tesche and Henri Lansbury completed the midfield with Dexter Blackstock and Matt Fryatt up front, meaning that leading scorer Britt Assombalonga was surprisingly left on the bench.

The first twenty minutes were as poor as I can remember at the City Ground all season. Forest seemed unable to string any passes together and the visitors were only marginally better. Then, out of the blue, it seemed that Forest had made the breakthrough, as an Antonio cross-shot was turned in by the knee of Fryatt. The assistant referee thought otherwise however and raised his flag for offside. From my lower Trent End vantage point I didn't have the angle to see if this was correct, but people in the stand soon said - presumably having been told by others watching at home - that the goal should have stood. Looking at Twitter in the half time interval confirmed that.

Things didn't improve for the Reds as Blackstock leapt to challenge for a high ball, landed, and immediately clutched his knee. Despite struggling on for a few minutes the luckless striker was replaced before half time. If he's suffered another knee injury then you have to worry about the rest of his season, and Forest's, as his absence would leave us very short of options up front.

There was one high point before half time though, as a little Christmas miracle arrived in the form of a Forest goal. Lansbury's corner from the right was headed on by Mancienne and Fryatt was able to put his previous disappointment behind him by turning it in at the far post. A proper poacher's goal this, and one that sent the Reds into the interval ahead.

Alas, parity was restored soon after the break as a Sam Byram run was unceremoniously halted in the area by the yellow-bearded Danny Fox. There was no disputing this decision - it was definitely a foul - and ex-Forest loanee Billy Sharp stepped up and smashed the ball straight down the middle. No subdued celebration from Sharp returning to a former club, though as he was only here for a (somewhat difficult) season, there was no real reason for him to be muted.

The equaliser spurred Forest on and Leeds keeper Marco Silvestri was forced into a couple of saves in quick succession; first from Hunt's rather scuffed effort and then from Antonio's excellent curler. Barely minutes later and the second moment of controversy arose as Fryatt had an effort disallowed for offside for the second time in the match. Perhaps foolishly, the replay was shown on the big screens and, once again, this suggested that Fryatt was level when he tucked the ball home. Cue righteous indignation from the home fans and chants of 'you don't know what you're doing' directed at referee Kevin Friend and his assistants. Cue fourth official informing the referee of his mistake...? Fat chance.

Silvestri was called into action a couple more times, repelling efforts from Tesche and Lansbury, and Karl Darlow was forced to bundle a Billy Sharp volley wide of the post, but the life seemed to have gone out of the game and it was no real surprise that it finished 1-1.

Where to begin analysing this one? After the debacle at home to Brentford I hoped that Stuart Pearce would never pick a five man defence again, and this performance didn't change my mind one bit. Antonio was wasted in having to track back, but still looked our most dangerous player, and Hunt never seemed to get to grips with the role, even though it should be suited to his style of play. Mancienne is a shadow of his centre-half persona in midfield and Lichaj and Fox both looked nervy, with the latter resorting far too often to aimless diagonal punts.

Lansbury wasn't bad and, for once, avoided a booking, whilst Tesche was industrious and found his man more often than not. He was our best player in my opinion. Blackstock offered little, though I feel really bad for him if his injury does turn out to be a serious one. Fryatt was impressive and deserved more than his solitary goal, but Assombalonga seemed out of sorts. Perhaps he was carrying a minor knock, which would have explained his original omission.

However, and as happens far too often, the last word goes to the officials. Yes it must be hard to keep track of things but there are elementary mistakes being made seemingly every game. The linesman nearest my seat seemed incapable of making any decisions for himself, looking to Friend for guidance even when an incident happened right in front of him - apart from when he wrongly disallowed Fryatt's 'goal' in the first half of course.

What's most frustrating is that there seems to be no accountability or responsibility taken after mistakes are made. Managers and players are expected to explain their decisions to the media, but the officials just slink off quietly and are back ruining another match the following week. I realise this sounds like sour grapes and if I'm honest it is, but mistakes like this don't just influence single moments or matches, they can shape whole seasons. Of course in an ideal world Forest would be playing so well that refereeing cock-ups wouldn't matter, but at the moment that's not the case. Inconsistency and ineptitude infuriates the fans but, in the Championship at least, we see it match after match. Is it going to take a drunken fan thumping an official before anything changes? It's certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.

Anyway, the busy Christmas period continues with a difficult looking trip to Middlesbrough on Boxing Day, followed quickly after by the visit of resurgent Birmingham City two days later. If Forest want to have any involvement at the top end of the table then they need to start winning again - and fast. The season isn't over yet of course, but every dropped point makes the gap to the playoffs harder to bridge. Many more games without victory and it could become insurmountable.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Nottingham Forest 1 - 1 Charlton Athletic

Nottingham Forest's draw against Charlton Athletic was, as they say in the business, a contest of more than one but less than three equal portions of 50%. To be honest. Forest's performance in the first of these portions was poor; poor enough that the second half improvement wasn't, in my opinion, enough to say that Forest deserved to win. A draw was probably the fair result, but it still feels like a disappointing one. 

Following the controversial loss to Birmingham City, the Reds were forced into one change due to Britt Assombalonga's suspension. Thomas Ince was recalled to the starting lineup to replace him. Stuart Pearce also chose to make another alteration in the form of Chris Burke dropping to the bench, with Jamie Paterson stepping up.

Sluggish starts seem to have become an unwelcome recurring theme of Forest's season and, with less than ten minutes on the clock, so it proved again. A lovely crossfield ball picked out Jordan Cousins, who in turn found Callum Harriot. His long-range shot crept past Karl Darlow - apparently with the aid of a deflection - to give the Addicks the lead. 

Forest's response came in the form of missed chances from Michail Antonio and Paterson, the latter of which followed a wonderful piece of skill. Ben Osborn saw an effort deflected wide as Forest tried to crank up the pressure, but without ever troubling tangerine-attired visiting stopper Nick Pope. At the other end, the dangerous Igor Vetokele turned sharply and ran at the retreating Forest rearguard before finding Lawrie Wilson out wide. Wilson's cross was met firmly by Vetokele but parried away well by Darlow and the rebound blocked by Eric Lichaj. This save proved important. A two goal deficit may have proved insurmountable. 

Shortly before half time, a foul on Henri Lansbury saw him poleaxed and clutching his back. Though he carried on playing, he seemed to be troubled again after taking a weak shot at goal and it looked like his afternoon was over. This proved to be the case as he was replaced right after the interval by Robert Tesche. 

The new half saw new impetus from Forest as Antonio rampaged down the flank a couple of times and sent over dangerous crosses which narrowly evaded Matt Fryatt. Thomas Ince blazed a great opportunity over the bar and Paterson appeared to be pulled back in the penalty area. However, nothing was given and, unsurprisingly, there was no benevolent fourth official to be seen. The sense of injustice which hung in the air was soon dissipated though. 

A Paterson cross was half-cleared and fell to Tesche outside the penalty area. The German midfielder took a touch to control the ball and slammed an unstoppable shot past the despairing dive of Pope. The subsequent extravagant cartwheel celebration nearly matched the quality of the strike - it really was a corker. 

Unfortunately, before Forest could build up a head of steam, the visitors had a spell of possession which took the sting out of the home side's efforts. Indeed, Darlow was forced into another good stop to deny Harriot a second. Dexter Blackstock replaced Ince and won a great header to find Fryatt, who couldn't quite bring the ball under control. Then Blackstock himself aimed a header toward goal but Pope saved it easily. Tesche had another shot blocked and Fryatt looped another header over and that turned out to be that. 

The second half improvement was impressive and meant we deserved a point, but we need to be starting matches better. In fact I can't remember the last time we scored in the first half. As numerous people said on Twitter, Pearce needs to deliver his half time team talk before we kick off each contest. But, for all the inconsistency we're still just three points off the playoffs. If we can begin to start matches in the manner that we end them, we'll soon start turning these draws into wins. We certainly need to. 

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.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Start the Car

So, the plan of getting injured players back to full fitness during the international break didn't quite go according to plan. Instead, Nottingham Forest were dealt the twin blows that both influential midfielder Andy Reid and defensive rock Jack Hobbs will be missing for the foreseeable future - around three months in both cases. Not the kind of news we wanted to hear and an unwelcome hark back to the injury situation of last season. The only positive to be taken from this is that, hopefully, both players will be fit again in early 2015 - just the right time to boost what will hopefully still be our promotion push.

Added to the revelation that Crystal Palace are now playing silly buggers over the permanent signing of Jack Hunt, it's fair to say that the break hasn't been the most fruitful for Forest. Still, at least nobody else got injured...

Anyway, it's back to the League and back in front of the Sky cameras for our next match; the always-tricky trip to South Wales to take on Cardiff City at the inspiringly-named Cardiff City Stadium. Although this is never an easy fixture, Forest's recent record here hasn't been too bad.

This time round we'll be facing a side who, after giving Blackpool their first Championship win of the season, will be lining up for the first time under their new manager; the ex Notts County boss and open Forest admirer Russell Slade. Hopefully his admiration for the Reds (our Reds, not his new ones) will stretch to letting us take the three points.

Cardiff have made a shaky start to the season following their relegation - which is why Slade replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the first place. However, they can still call upon a squad containing the likes of Peter Whittingham, Adam Le Fondre and Federico Macheda, to name but a few.

As yet it's not known if David Vaughan has recovered sufficiently to take any part in the match, so it's likely that Forest will line up with their away formation of 4-5-1, though presumably Matt Fryatt will be fit to start alongside Britt Assombalonga if Stuart Pearce does decide to go with two up-front.

In isolation, a draw away at Cardiff would feel like a pretty decent result. But it's been so long since we've won a match (even though we still haven't lost one) that, in the context of our current run, a draw would seem a little disappointing. The Bluebirds aren't - at the moment - as much of a threat as in previous seasons and a fully-firing Forest should be able to give them a decent game. Our last televised match away in the League saw a battling 1-0 win away at Sheffield Wednesday. A similar result and performance would do just fine.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Nottingham Forest 2 - 2 Ipswich Town

If I were asked to write a one word review of the 2-2 draw between Nottingham Forest and Ipswich Town I would, after careful consideration, plump for 'RrrrraaaAGGGGHHHHRgggghhhhr.' Indeed, this inarticulate, primeval roar of unadulterated frustration sums up the match more eloquently than any words I'll end up writing below. It was howled several times by several people as passes went astray, runs weren't tracked and chances went begging. Even after Michail Antonio's late, late equaliser hit the back of the net, there was still a sense that the three points had been there for the taking.

Ipswich were well organised and, when they weren't angling long balls to their giant forwards, played some decent stuff; but they didn't undo Forest with outstanding attacking play. Both of their goals were eminently avoidable. They came with a plan in mind and it very nearly saw them escape with all three points, though a draw was probably fair at the end.

Matt Fryatt made a welcome return to the starting line-up in place of Ben Osborn, as the Reds switched back to a 4-4-2 formation to provide support to Britt Assombalonga in the only change from the team that played Wigan. The visitors seemed to be playing three up front as Daryl Murphy and Connor Sammon flanked ex-Forest forward David McGoldrick.

After a bright Ipswich start, Forest came close to ending their scoring drought as Michail Antonio's free kick was headed against the post by Assombalonga. A Henri Lansbury corner missed everyone in the area as the visitors, despite their back line of giants, seemed to struggle with crosses. It seemed only a matter of time before Forest's run of goalless matches would end, and it was, but not in the way the majority of the crowd wanted.

A long ball down the flank by Cole Skuse found Murphy, whose clever flick inside took Eric Lichaj out of the game. He then turned Kelvin Wilson before curling in a low shot which, from where I was sitting, Karl Darlow seemed to dive over. A well taken goal for Murphy, but one which didn't cover the Forest defence in glory. It nearly got worse after the impressive Jonny Williams intercepted a poor Lansbury back-pass and raced through on goal, only to be stopped by a wonderful challenge from Michael Mancienne.

Midway through the half Wilson had to be replaced by Jamaal Lascelles. I didn't see an impact injury so I'm not sure why, and hopefully he won't be missing for an ever-recurring period of three weeks again. Lascelles looked a bit rusty to be honest and Lichaj was struggling down the right, but neither side could muster any serious chances and the half-time score remained 0-1.

The Tractor Boys again started the half well before Forest started to get a grip of the game. Robert Tesche was moving the ball around really well and Lansbury started to take more time over his passes, but it looked like being one of those days. Shots were blocked, runs were stopped and passes were cut out, before a nice move down the right saw Jack Hunt find Antonio. His first-time shot was on target but visiting keeper Dean Gerken produced a tremendous save and the ball trickled wide. The resulting corner came to nothing, but a few minutes later another one did bear fruit as Lansbury's centre eluded everyone apart from Robert Tesche, who stooped to head home his first goal for the Reds.

From here it looked like Forest would push on for the win, but minutes later they were caught out again. Ipswich had a two-on-one down their left hand side and oversized full-back Tyrone Mings' cross was headed home by Murphy again to restore the visitors' lead. This was a real kick in the teeth for the Reds and it looked certain that the unbeaten start to the season was juddering to a halt; a feeling which was intensified when Antonio rounded Gerken but saw his shot cleared off the line, and Assombalonga's effort from the rebound was improbably turned over by the Ipswich keeper. Mings then flattened Antonio in the box but the referee gave nothing and the game seemed to be up.

Tesche went close to a second goal before, just into the five minutes of stoppage time, Dan Harding, a late substitute for Lichaj, won another corner down the left. Lansbury's deep delivery fell to Antonio who crashed home the equaliser. It was too late in the day for either side to claim a winner and, in fairness, neither team really deserved one.

I don't often single out visiting players' performances but Christophe Berra was outstanding for Ipswich. Whilst Luke Chambers seemed to spend the entire match trying to find out if 'Assombalonga' would fit onto the back of his shirt, Berra was imperious, winning everything in the air and the majority of balls on the ground too. Gerken also deserves a mention for a couple of amazing saves.

For Forest it was a real mixed bag. Lichaj had an off day and Lascelles looked like he'd not played in a while. Mancienne was his usual impressive self while Fryatt and Chris Burke both frustrated; following up impressive play by misplacing a pass or dribbling into trouble. Antonio was, well, Antonio and Assombalonga worked hard for little reward. The Reds man of the match was undoubtedly Robert Tesche. In a frantic game he always seemed to have time to pick the right pass and it was great to see him netting for the first time for Forest. The sooner we can get his contract extended, the better.

So we get to the second international break of the season with Forest still unbeaten and level on points with top spot. This traditionally tight division seems even closer than usual, with nobody able to string a series of wins together and team after team spurning the chance to go top. Four points from four games may seem like a poor return now, but who knows how valuable they'll be come the end of the season?

Friday, 3 October 2014

Any Wich Way You Can

Ten games in to the Championship season and it's already shaping up to be as close as ever, if not even more so. Before this weekend's round of matches, just three points separates the top eight teams, with nobody seemingly able to take a firm grip of the league as yet.

Forest are a solitary point better off than this time last year, which isn't bad, but it feels like we could've sneaked a point or two more. What does make happier reading however, is the comparison against the same matches last season. For the purpose of this, I've assumed Fulham are QPR from last year:

Match                     2013/14 Result               2014/15 Result           Comparison
Blackpool (H)         L (0)                               W (3)                          +3
Bolton (A)              D (1)                                D (1)                           0
Bournemouth (A)   L (0)                                W (3)                          +3
Reading (H)           L (0)                                W (3)                          +3
Sheffield Wed (A)  W (3)                               W (3)                           0
Derby (H)               W (3)                               D (1)                          -2
Fulham (H)             W (3) (QPR)                   W (3)                           0
Millwall (A)              D (1)                               D (1)                           0
Brighton (H)            L (0)                               D (1)                          +1
Wigan (A)               L (0)                                D (1)                          +1

So, ten matches in we're some nine points better off than in the same set of matches last season. That has to be a positive and puts a better reflection on the last couple of results, though of course there's no doubting that we'd have preferred wins. Still, three draws on the trot isn't as bad as it first seems.

Anyway, on to our next opponents Ipswich Town. The Tractor Boys are currently nicely placed in that group of eight teams at the top, having made a solid start to the season. This has been helped in no small part by the form of ex-Forest striker David McGoldrick. Yes, the same David McGoldrick who seemed totally bereft of confidence and form during his entire spell with the Reds; who constantly seemed on the verge of great things, but never delivered them. Indeed he's flourished so much since leaving Trentside that, in the recent transfer window, it's reported that Ipswich turned down an £8m bid from Leicester City for him. Wow.

One would think that he'll be motivated to show Forest fans what he's really capable of on Sunday. Of course, we'll all be hoping that he reverts to the form he showed when lining up at the City Ground wearing red, rather than continuing his current hot streak. With Luke Chambers and Paul Anderson also in the Ipswich ranks there'll be a few reunions come Sunday afternoon.

The Reds will be hoping that Matt Fryatt, who returned as a substitute against Wigan, will be sufficiently recovered to take a place in the starting XI. This match may have come too soon for Andy Reid and David Vaughan though. Still, Fryatt's talent and versatility means he could take a deeper role behind Britt Assombalonga in a 4-4-1-1, as Forest look to end their current scoring drought.

After the Ipswich match we come to the next international break of the season. While these hiatuses are often blamed for stalling momentum, this one could actually do Forest a favour. If we can get a positive result on Sunday and get the likes of Reid, Vaughan and Jack Hobbs fit and well during the break, we'll return to action against Cardiff still near the top of the table and in great shape to push on.

Monday, 29 September 2014

A Wigan a Prayer

It's back on the road and back in action as Nottingham Forest continue their Championship campaign with a trip to the Springfield Park JJB Stadium DW Stadium to take on Wigan Athletic, who were, I think I'm right in saying, the only team to do the league double over the Reds last season.

Forest make the trip to the North West still unbeaten, but having been knocked off the top of the table due to their second consecutive goalless draw, this time at home to Brighton and Hove Albion. By a strange quirk of fixture-computer-generated fate, Forest will again be facing one of last season's losing playoff semi-finalists next up, and indeed another team that play in blue and white stripes. Spooky.

Much as with Brighton, Wigan haven't enjoyed the best start to their Championship season, languishing as they are in lower-mid table on eight points - again just as Brighton were. However, with the likes of Shaun Maloney, Callum McManamanamanaman and, er, James Perch in their lineup they're unlikely to be pushovers. Them being at home should mean they play in a more attacking manner than the Seagulls did however, which might play into Forest's hands.

None of the Reds' injured quintet of Chris Cohen, Andy Reid, Matt Fryatt, Jack Hobbs and David Vaughan are likely to play against the Latics so it wouldn't be a surprise if Stuart Pearce stuck by the team who laboured somewhat - but at least kept a clean sheet - against Brighton. The omens for this one aren't good though: Wigan inflicted Forests's first league defeat of last season and, if they were to repeat the feat this time round, the Reds record after their first ten matches would be identical to last term, with five wins, four draws and a solitary loss.

Still, let's not be too downbeat. Forest are more than capable of getting a result in this match and - as mentioned earlier - with the onus being on Wigan to attack, the opportunities might arise for Forest to hit them on the break. A return to winning ways would be most welcome and would see the Reds nicely positioned ten matches in. Get the next couple of matches out of the way, get to the next international break and get the injured players healthy again and things will look a lot more rosy.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Nottingham Forest 0-0 Brighton and Hove Albion

About the only positive I can take from this game is that we got one more point than we did in last season's corresponding match. Other than that, there was precious little to get excited about as Nottingham Forest stuttered to their second consecutive goalless draw in the league, courtesy of their worst performance at the City Ground this season. 

As expected, Stuart Pearce recalled the players he'd rested against Spurs on Wednesday night, meaning that the likes of Karl Darlow, Michael Mancienne and Britt Assombalonga returned to the starting lineup. Robert Tesche and David Vaughan were picked as the deeper midfielders, but the latter got injured - again - in the warm-up, and his place was taken by Ben Osborn. Osborn could perhaps have counted himself unlucky not to have started anyway, after his impressive performance at White Hart Lane. 

Brighton also started with one up front, in the form of Craig Mackail-Smith, while his fellow attackers Chris O' Grady and Joao Teixiera both started on the bench. My hopes for this match weren't high when I found out that Robert Madley was the referee, and it pretty much panned out as expected. 

The visitors opened up brightly, with Darlow forced into an early save, before Forest started to exercise some control. However, though Brighton were happy to let the Reds keep possession in their own half, as soon as they tried to play through the Seagulls, the shutters were well and truly put up. As a result, chances were at a premium, and the only save of note that visiting keeper David Stockdale had to make was from a deflected Robert Tesche effort. Bar having to clear a few long balls, Karl Darlow was also relatively untroubled and it was no surprise when the first half finished goalless. 

Things didn't change much after the interval, with Sami Hyypia's men happy to soak up pressure and hit Forest on the break. A couple of their more dangerous attacks ended up with offsides, and a dangerous cross saw Michael Mancienne divert the ball just wide of his own goal. 

Lars Veldwijk's introduction nearly bore fruit, as he just couldn't stretch to convert a dangerous centre, and Mancienne headed over late on when well placed, his attempt thudding into the turf before clearing the crossbar. In the end a draw was probably fair, though disappointing. 

Considering most of the team was rested midweek, this was a strangely lethargic performance. Henri Lansbury in particular was out of sorts. Kelvin Wilson completed another 90 minutes and was deservedly named the sponsor's Man of the Match. The creativity and endeavour of Andy Reid and Matt Fryatt respectively was sorely missed, and the sooner they're back in the starting XI the better. 

Still, we remain unbeaten and in an automatic promotion position, so things aren't that bad just yet. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Brighton Breezy

Before looking forward to Forest's next Championship match - at home to Brighton and Hove Albion - here's a very quick recap of the 3-1 defeat  - our first of the season - away at Tottenham Hotspur in the Capital One Cup.

Looking at Stuart Pearce's team selection before the match it would be easy to say that he wasn't taking the match seriously. However, to do so would be doing both he and the players he picked a massive disservice. Pearce insisted that he believed whatever team he picked would be capable of winning the match, and indeed as late as 70 minutes into the tie, it seemed that could well be the case.

Spurs dominated possession in the first half but failed to really trouble Forest, who went closest to scoring after Ben Osborn's wonderful run ended with a thumping shot which rattled the crossbar. After the break Forest saw more of the ball and looked totally comfortable against a home team who still boasted a £26m striker in their line-up, and it wasn't a huge surprise when the Reds took the lead.

Some good running by Lars Veldwijk saw him chase down a deflected shot before he looked up and pulled back a great ball into the six-yard box, where d├ębutante Jorge (is it pronounced 'George' or 'Hor-gay?') Grant was waiting to sweep it home.

This stung Spurs into a response, but it took a wonder-strike from their substitute Ryan Mason to level the scores. As the inexperienced Forest team tired, Spurs went ahead through aforementioned £26m man Roberto Soldado before Harry '3 Points' Kane wrapped up the points victory with a late goal. Pearce's pragmatism was totally vindicated as the team he sent out did him, themselves and the club proud.

So it's back to the bread and butter of the League, and Saturday's helping of Lurpak-covered Hovis sees an opportunity to avenge last season's last-day loss against Brighton and Hove Albion back on Trentside. That victory saw the Seagulls swoop into the final playoff place at the expense of premature pitch invaders Reading, before succumbing to eventual runners-up Derby.

Brighton's indifferent start to the season under new manager Sami Hyypia might suggest something of a playoff hangover, though they did progress to the fourth round of the Capital One Cup this week with a comfortable away win at Burton Albion. Still, as with any team in this division, Forest would be foolish to take their challenge lightly. Craig Mackail-Smith and recent signings Sam Baldock and Chris O'Grady suggest they're capable of scoring goals; whilst long-term loanees Gary Gardner and Joao Teixeira are impressive names in midfield. This won't be a walk in the park - far from it.

However, for Forest the likes of Britt Assombalonga, Michail Antonio and Michael Mancienne should have benefited from their midweek rest whilst Andy Reid and Jack Hunt may be back in contention, though this match has probably come too soon for Matt Fryatt and Jack Hobbs. Presuming Fryatt is still injured, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Forest persisting with their 4-5-1 formation with the likes of Lansbury and Reid getting forward in support of lone-striker Assombalonga.

The Championship table is now starting to take shape. If Forest's more established players can consistently display the passion and commitment that their replacements did against Tottenham, then they've got every chance of remaining near the top.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Run of the Mill

The matches certainly come thick and fast in the Championship. Barely have we caught our breath following Forest's thrilling 5-3 victory over Fulham, than it's time to look forward to their next match. That's if you can call the anticipation of a visit to Millwall 'looking forward.'

Alongside the London club's famously warm welcome, we'll also face the prospect of playing a team managed by perennial Forest nemesis Ian Holloway. Suffice to say, this will be yet another match in which the Reds can take nothing for granted.

Following the Lions' easy Championship survival after Holloway was installed as manager, they've made a steady if not spectacular start to the 2014/15 season. However, regardless of their form, The Den is never the easiest place to go and Forest will have to play better than they did against Fulham if they've any hope of returning to Nottingham with all three points.

Captain Chris Cohen will obviously be missing this match, but it remains to be seen if any of the other injured trio of Matt Fryatt, Jack Hobbs and Andy Reid will be able to play any part. Hobbs' solid assurance alongside Michael Mancienne would certainly be welcome as I think makeshift centre-back Danny Fox struggled against the twin threats of McCormack and Rodallega.

That being the case, I can see Fox moving to left-back to be replaced by either Kelvin Wilson or Jamaal Lascelles - should either of them be fit enough to start - with Eric Lichaj possibly missing out. I can also see the same 4-5-1 formation as the last few matches being employed, though hopefully to better effect than against Fulham. If David Vaughan is fit then he could be drafted in to shore up the midfield.

Last season's meeting ended in a 2-2 draw and a similar result wouldn't be too bad, but this match probably fits into the 'games you should be winning if you want to achieve promotion' category.' We've got the personnel to win matches like this, there's no doubt about that, we just need to keep the belief and concentration.

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.