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.