Besides the obvious plus point of the result, there were three real positives that I took out of Nottingham Forest's latest victory - the 4-0 drubbing of Reading. The first was that we still look like we can play a lot better, as despite the result Reading enjoyed a lot of the ball. The second was that the team we fielded still wasn't our strongest by some way. The third.....I'll come to that later.
Following Tuesday's smash-and-grab win away at Bournemouth the Reds were back on Trentside, and forced into a change as a knock to rumoured Reading transfer target Jack Hobbs meant a recall for Dan Harding at left back, with Danny Fox moving to the centre of defence. Jack Hunt was recalled at right back and Michail Antonio once again lined up on the left side of midfield. Despite having played in a training match midweek, none of Henri Lansbury, Jamaal Lascelles, David Vaughan or Kelvin Wilson were deemed ready for a place on the bench, though new signing Robert Tesche was named amongst the substitutes. Reading included Forest old boys Chris Gunter and Simon Cox as expected.
The opening exchanges were quiet to be honest, with both sides passing well enough but not creating any clear chances. Then Forest started to get on top and Reading keeper Adam Federici saved bravely at the feet of first Britt Assombalonga then Andy Reid. The increased pressure eventually told when Assombalonga's great hold-up play found Chris Burke on the right. His pinpoint cross was headed in - via the underside of the crossbar - by Michail Antonio for his second goal of the season. Antonio outjumped Gunter at the far post....as a certain blogger may have suggested would happen earlier in the week...
To Reading's credit however they finished the half strongly, with Simon Cox dragging a decent chance well wide. This was after he'd been subjected to the harsh, but amusing chant of 'He's Simon Cox, he's always offside' by the Lower Bridgford End. Anyway, despite their pressure Reading couldn't muster an equaliser and Forest went into half time a goal to the good, but not looking totally comfortable.
They were a lot more secure just two minutes into the second half though. More good play from Assombalonga found Hunt wide on the right and another great cross was converted by Antonio for his and Forest's second. And it wasn't much longer before they netted again, as Antonio turned provider this time to drop yet another good centre onto the head of the tireless Matt Fryatt who nodded home comfortably.
This settled the match as a contest and there was only ever going to be more goals for the home team. Assombalonga blazed over when well positioned but soon after got the goal that his all-round play had deserved when he prodded home after an old-fashioned goalmouth scramble following a corner. The four goal cushion, and the unseasonal hail-and-rain storm which broke out mid-half, meant Forest somewhat took their foot off the gas, though Eric Lichaj - who had replaced Dan Harding at half time - still forced Federici into another good save. At the other end a Nick Blackman shot, which was well smothered by Karl Darlow, was as good as it got for the visitors, and the game ended in rain and gloom as a comfortable home win.
The aforementioned Darlow save was the only one I can remember him making as he enjoyed another quiet afternoon. Jack Hunt was once again excellent as was Michael Mancienne, and Dan Harding had a strong first half before being replaced, possibly due to injury. Fox was solid though one very casual pass to give away possession in the second half may earn him a Pearce tongue-lashing.
Chris Cohen was more influential in central midfield than Andy Reid and Burke was again impressive down the right. The highest praise must be reserved for the three goalscorers however. Antonio had a really good game, even though he still looks at times like he has no idea what he's doing. His two goals were well taken and his cross for Fryatt's was a proverbial peach. He wins a lot in the air and tracked back well to support his full back today.
Assombalonga and Fryatt look to have the making of a really good partnership. As well as their goals they both work so hard for the team; closing down defenders, getting back to challenge and producing clearing headers. If they both stay fit for most of the season they're both going to get a decent amount of goals. Opposing defences certainly won't relish playing against them.
Remember my third cause for optimism? It's that, although we have the same amount of points as this time last season, in the comparative matches against the same teams we're some nine points better off. Games we lost last time round we've won this season. If we keep that kind of sequence up then we'll be doing OK.