Friday, 31 January 2014

Nottingham Forest 4 - 2 Watford

What a match.

What a crazy, crazy match.

Five minutes into the second half, with Forest trailing 2-0 to a seemingly well-drilled Watford side and with no hint of what was about to transpire, the atmosphere inside the City Ground was as miserable as the weather. Our Hobbs-less defence was at sixes and sevens. Our Vaughan-less midfield lacked any control or cohesion. But one capitulation/rousing comeback, two substitutions (Yes, two. Simon Cox was already on by then, pedants), and four goals later and the mood couldn't have been more different.

The night started with Forest's three transfer window signings (striker Rafik Djebbour and defenders Danny Fox and Kevin Gomis) being presented to the chilly City Ground crowd. None of the three would play any part though. This meant that Forest lined up with Greg Halford once again the lone striker, Dan Harding and Eric Lichaj as full backs and Jamaal Lascelles returning at centre half. Gonzalo Jara moved into midfield alongside Guy Moussi with Djamal/Djamel (delete as appropriate) Abdoun and Jamie Paterson once again on the wings. Billy Davies also named the most ridiculously attacking bench, with no fewer than five strikers and one attacking midfielder. Oh, and a goalkeeper. That bench would prove vital before the night was out.

It was clear very soon after kick-off that Watford had set their stall out to defend deep and try to hit us on the counter attack, though it was they who had the first effort as Troy Deeney sent a rasping shot just over. Danny Collins headed against the bar following an Andy Reid free kick and, as Watford failed to clear, Abdoun sent a looping volley just wide. Shortly afterwards a poor pass from Collins played Moussi into trouble, and his stray ball allowed Watford a shot which was deflected behind. From the resultant corner Hornets' centre half Gabriele Angella tried an audacious flick which beat Karl Darlow and the despairing head of Jara on the line to give the visitors the lead. Forest had failed to heed their warnings, as Angella had already been allowed a couple of good chances.

Though Forest were enjoying more possession they couldn't do much with it and were forced from side-to-side as Watford defended deep, though Halford still managed to head a Reid free kick over from a great position. So it was no surprise that the half time score remained 1-0 and the Reds trudged off in disappointment.

Things went from bad to worse early in the second half. Following some early Forest pressure which saw a Reid shot parried away by Manuel Almunia, Watford broke to the other end and won a free kick. Once again, Angella was given far too much space and he succeeded where Halford had failed to put Watford 2-0 ahead. This appeared to be game over as Forest never looked like breaking Watford down. How things can change!

The comeback began when Simon Cox tapped in a smart Moussi header from Jara's deep cross and this seemed to galvanize the Reds and rattle the visitors. Forest cranked up the pressure and threw on (not literally, that would be silly) Darius Henderson to bolster their attack. He soon made his mark by stooping to head in a sublime Reid cross to draw the sides level. Game well and truly on.

As Forest continued to press and Jamie Mackie was readied for action, I remarked to the chaps sitting behind me that we were due to win one of these games (meaning a comeback from 2-0, us having previously rallied to draw against Middlesbrough but fall short against Reading). I also flippantly suggested that Mackie would score the winner.

Mackie's impact from the bench was immediate, as his harrying and effort put more pressure on the now-creaky Watford defence. And, when his run and cross fell to Andy Reid on the left, it seemed somehow fate that Reid should loop in another great centre to allow Mackie to head Forest into the lead. Three substitutes and indeed three strikers all scoring for Forest. How often has THAT happened?

And the fun still wasn't over. A Jara through ball evaded Henderson and fell, via a Watford defender, to Simon Cox. He finished with all the precision of a man who knows his team had just bought another striker to hand Watford another 4-2 defeat and seal the points for Forest. Wow.

So, after all that excitement how did we actually play? Darlow could do nothing about the goals and made a great save late on. Harding tried hard but doesn't offer enough going forward and our whole defence looked shaky at times. Both Jara and Moussi fluctuated between excellent and abysmal. Whilst Jara's form seemingly changed at random - one tidy piece of play followed by a terrible pass into touch - Moussi's game changed as soon as he'd set Cox's first goal up. He seemed to grow in confidence from that moment and was impressive for the rest of the match. All three substitute strikers took their goals very well, with Cox's second a particular highlight. But, once again, my man of the match was Andy Reid. His outside-of-the-foot cross for Henderson's goal alone was worth the accolade and he was always prompting and creating.

With our three new signings (and any further ones) to come in and the likes of Henri Lansbury and Kelvin Wilson to return our squad looks really strong now. Our place in the playoffs seems pretty secure so I really hope we can push for automatic promotion. At our best we're a match for anyone in this league and whilst first place may be out of reach, second is definitely up for grabs. So come on Forest - go grab it.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Communication, Communication, Communication

When Fawaz al Hasawi concluded his takeover of Nottingham Forest in the summer of 2012 I'm sure he didn't think that a few million pounds spent on players would let the Reds waltz straight back into the Premier League. Equally, I'm not sure he knew exactly what he'd let himself in for. He's certainly finding out now. 

If anyone reading this thinks I take pleasure from that then they couldn't be further from the truth as I'm fully supportive of Fawaz and his management team. I do, however, think that, in terms of communication with the fans, something needs to change. 

Shortly after Fawaz took over he used his personal Twitter account to confirm the permanent signing of Adlene Guedioura, then during that close season he announced all of Forest's signings the same way. For a fan base who had suffered a difficult season, the low point of which was the tragic and untimely death of previous owner Nigel Doughty, this was something new and exciting and quickly elevated Fawaz to hero status. 

The season started well and Forest were placed just outside the playoff places when, following a 4-2 victory over Leeds United, it was announced that then-manager Sean O'Driscoll had been sacked by the club. For the first time, some fans began to question Fawaz's judgement and motives using the same medium of Twitter and, to be frank, I don't think he was expecting it. 

The January of 2013 is probably best forgotten. The appointment of Alex McLeish certainly didn't appease fans. Nor did the acquisition of Kuwaiti goalkeeper Khaled al Rashidi or the Deadline Day failure to sign George Boyd. Add to that the stuttering performances of the team and the Forest camp was, understandably, not a happy one. 

McLeish was promptly relieved of his duties and former manager Billy Davies was brought back to the club. Results picked up and a late run saw Forest only miss out on the playoffs on the last day. Despite this upturn in fortunes some people still weren't happy. And that's fine, people of course have their own opinions. But it's also part of the problem. Whatever actions the owner of a football club takes, it's highly probable that some fans won't like them. It's how they express this dislike that causes the issues

Fast forward to January 2014. Forest are once again well placed, this time in the playoffs and enjoying an 11 match unbeaten run. Billy Davies has talked about strengthening the team but, as yet, the presumably-imminent signing of Algerian striker Rafik Djebbour has been the only new arrival.  I say 'presumably-imminent' because, as I write this, it hasn't been officially confirmed, despite the player himself claiming to have joined. Worse still, popular and impressive defender Jack Hobbs has been recalled by his parent club Hull City. I won't go into the full details of that deal - I'd need another whole blog post to do it - but, in short, Fawaz tweeted that he had agreed a deal with the Hull chairman for Hobbs but, a few days later, he was recalled.

The Hobbs revelation prompted more feedback to Fawaz via Twitter, as it was bound to. Some of it was politely questioning but a small portion was sarcastic at best and downright rude at worst. To further inflame the situation, fans of other clubs went as far as changing their own Twitter profiles to appear as Forest fans and send their own comments to Fawaz. All this combined to prompt in return a series of tweets from Fawaz expressing his disappointment with a small number of fans and, via his advisor Jim Price's Twitter account, a request from Billy Davies himself to respect the man who funds the club out of his own pocket. Were these actions the right thing to do? Probably not. But, as a Forest fan it disappoints me that both Fawaz and Billy felt the need to do it.

We all want to know what's going on at the club, but there are two inescapable facts that we, as fans, have to get our heads around:

1) We can't be told everything.
2) Things change. What might be true today might not be true tomorrow.

We need to recognise this and try to exercise some patience - however difficult that might seem. Fawaz - for his part - needs to try and recognise some of the comments for what they are. If he is guilty of anything it's perhaps underestimating the passion of football fans in this country, not realising the lengths that opposition fans go to in order to rock the boat and maybe being over-sensitive. For a man as obviously passionate about football and Forest as he is though, that's probably not an easy task.

So, how can this situation be remedied? The easy answer is for Fawaz to leave Twitter but why should he? He had his account before he bought Forest and he shouldn't be forced out because of the actions of a few. My personal preference would be that he uses his personal account for just that - his own personal use - and protects it so he can choose who follows him. Trouble-causers from both our own club and our rivals will soon tire of having their follow requests denied. In addition he could reactivate the old @NFFC_Chairman account which was briefly used by Omar and use that to announce signings and news, whilst also endeavouring to not get too downhearted by whatever comments he might receive.

Whatever Fawaz and Forest do there will be some people who don't like it, but the overwhelming majority of Forest fans are supportive of him and his attempts to take us back to the Premier League and that's the message I'd like to end this post with. Ignore the few and enjoy the support of the many - because the many are happy and grateful for what you've done for the club.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Nottingham Forest 4 - 1 Blackburn Rovers

This was one of the oddest matches I've ever been to. Although we ran out 4-1 winners we never looked comfortable. Indeed it wasn't until Andy Reid's last minute strike hit the back of the net that I was sure we'd actually claim the points.

We were awarded two penalties, which we actually scored, and, as usual, we managed to create a load of chances. We also managed to give away a number of chances. This was a match that could've easily ended in a defeat rather than a convincing victory. On such fine margins are matches and seasons decided.

Upon hearing the team news I certainly wasn't optimistic, as we were fielding the most makeshift of defences with all four of our first-choice back four missing, and, for that matter, the in-form Jamaal Lascelles as well. This meant a reshuffle throughout the team as acting centre-forward Greg Halford partnered Danny Collins at centre-half. David Vaughan and Jamie Mackie returned in midfield with Simon Cox taking Halford's place up front. Blackburn's star striker and rumoured Forest target (if only) Jordan Rhodes was on the bench as he hadn't fully recovered from a foot injury. This went some way to cheering me up.

After a scrappy few minutes Forest started to take control, pass the ball around nicely and create chances, with a Halford header and a Cox shot going wide and long-range efforts from Vaughan and Henri Lansbury being well saved by Rovers keeper Simon Eastwood. Then Andy Reid's long ball found Lansbury in the penalty area and the Forest midfielder was bundled over by Grant Hanley. From my distant seat in the Trent End it looked a penalty but the visiting fans weren't happy. In the absence of Djamal Abdoun to steal his thunder, designated penalty taker Lansbury hit his shot low to Eastwood's right, and the ball squirmed under the keeper's body to give Forest the lead.

Following the goal Forest seemed, inexplicably, to sit back and give Blackburn far too much space, though aside from a free kick which went over, they didn't really use it. Just after the half-hour mark Forest were awarded their second spot-kick of the match as Adam Henley brought down the slippery Jamie Paterson. Lansbury stepped up again and thumped this penalty hard down the middle to double Forest's advantage. And then, as before, the Reds retreated into their shell. So much so that it was no surprise that Rovers pulled one back. When Forest couldn't clear a corner properly the ball fell to ex-Leicester winger Ben Marshall who was allowed time and space to curl home an excellent long range effort. This was the last action of note in the first half and the score remained 2-1 at half time.

It very nearly changed in the visitors' favour just after the interval, when Karl Darlow was forced into an excellent save to deny Tommy Spurr an equaliser. Rovers were now firmly on top and it seemed only a matter of time before they drew level but gradually Forest came back into the match. Gonzalo Jara fizzed a well-struck shot wide and Cox missed another good chance, this time sending a header past the post. Rovers sent on Jordan Rhodes and I started to fear the worst again.

Salvation came in the slight form of Jamie Paterson. The young winger claimed his fifth goal in three games as he danced into the area and slid a shot into the bottom corner to restore Forest's two goal cushion. We were still giving Blackburn too much space and I still wasn't sure of the win though. At least not until the final minute of the five minutes stoppage time when Andy Reid, who'd been strangely out of sorts in my opinion, crashed home a fourth goal to wrap up the points. Another home win was in the bag - importantly so too as the other top teams all won as well.

So, how did the lads do? Collins and Halford were pretty good at centre-half. Harding was OK too though didn't get forward as well as Jara on the other flank. Cox and Mackie were their usual selves and Lansbury was once again excellent but the star of the show was undoubtedly Jamie Paterson. His direct running and trickery troubled the visitors all afternoon and, once again, he took his goal brilliantly. He thoroughly deserves his run in the side at the moment and is looking to be an inspired signing.

We're still nicely placed in the top five. If we can sign David Vaughan - either permanently or until the end of he season - ensure nobody is sold and maybe, just maybe, add a striker to our ranks; this January could prove to be a brilliant springboard to the rest of the season.