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.

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