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.

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