Saturday, 8 November 2014

Nottingham Forest 2 - 1 Norwich City

As the fourth official held up his board with the red number four brightly proclaiming the number of minutes of stoppage time to the leaden Trentside sky; I sat mulling over what to write about what seemed like another match without a victory. It would be hard, I thought, to criticise the team for their efforts today, even if we'd only managed a draw. Two minutes, one goal and a maniacal celebration later however, and it was a moot point. The long wait was over. Three points were in the bag.

Having started Wednesday's defeat against Brentford with no recognised strikers, Stuart Pearce this time named two, with Matt Fryatt recovering from a tweaked groin (ooer, matron) to partner Britt Assombalonga up front. The team was set up as a conventional 4-4-2, with Jack Hunt recovering from his midweek injury to start at right back, but Daniel Fox not, and being replaced by Dan Harding at left back. Jamaal Lascelles partnered Michael Mancienne at centre half. The midfield quartet consisted of Michail Antonio, Robert Tesche, Ben Osborn and Tom Ince.

Norwich could afford to leave the likes of Nathan Redmond and Gary Hooper on the bench and still name a lineup that looked, frankly, rather worrying. The striking partnership of Lewis Grabban and Cameron Jerome in particular looked like it would cause the Reds defence some bother.

Considering both teams must have been pretty low on confidence, the opening exchanges were rather exciting, with ambitious attacks at either end. A driving Antonio run saw Russell Martin take a fancy to his shirt and try to remove it, earning a very early booking. At the other end Norwich looked to hit Jerome with long passes behind the Reds defence. An Antonio cross found Ince at the back post, and his fizzing shot, er, fizzed narrowly over the bar. Forest had shown more gumption in the first 15 minutes than they'd managed all match against Brentford, but then got hit by a sucker punch.

Some neat interplay between Martin and Jonny Howson found the Canaries midfielder in space in the penalty area. With no defender around to close him down he had the time and space to plant a low shot past Karl Darlow and give the visitors the lead. The early confidence almost visibly drained from the players, and Norwich proceeded to take a grip on the game, though without really troubling Darlow again. Assombalonga's speculative long-range free kick which flew over the crossbar was as close as Forest came to drawing level and the teams trooped off at half time with the score still 1-0.

The interval saw another Forest fan win the 60" TV on offer in the Golden Goal Challenge, and Jamie Paterson go through the kind of vigorous warmup routine which suggested he'd be starting the second half. And indeed he did, replacing Tom Ince.

Early Norwich pressure in the second half thankfully came to nothing, though Darlow was forced into a decent save to palm Grabban's stinging effort round the post. Forest then started to wrest back control of the game, Fryatt and Osborn in particular buzzing round and harassing their opponents, something that was sorely missing against Brentford. Consequently, Norwich started to look shaky and sit deeper, which further encouraged the home team.

Just after the hour mark, Pearce rolled his last two substitute-shaped dice, replacing Hunt with Eric Lichaj and Harding with Henri Lansbury. The first change seemed logical, as Hunt appeared still appeared to be struggling, but the second was rather baffling and a bit harsh on Harding. I wasn't sure if the plan was to play three at the back - and I'm still not sure now. Lansbury lined up on the left at any rate, with Paterson moving infield.

Chances came and went but still a goal wasn't forthcoming. Both Antonio and Assombalonga headed wide from excellent crosses. City keeper John Ruddy stuck his hand in Lascelles face but wasn't punished, and Lansbury shot over from Ruddy's misplaced kick. Norwich sub Kyle Lafferty got booked for hacking down Mancienne and it looked for a while as if the Reds would again have to finish a match with ten men, but the Reds defender recovered and, soon after, the breakthrough came.

A long ball forward was chased down by the industrious Fryatt, and his low cross was swept home by Assombalonga for his tenth goal of the season. At first glance it looked like a slight miss-hit but the replay made it appear a calm finish. To be honest nobody cared - the relief was palpable.

Norwich immediately won a corner from which nothing came, a Forest counterattack saw Assombalonga hesitate when seemingly clean through and end up having his shot blocked, Tesche was forced to concede a foul as City broke down the other end and Bradley Johnson fired over following a scramble after the resultant free kick. This was breathless stuff and either side looked like they could win.

Lansbury did well to track back and concede a corner and, when it was cleared, Forest broke again. Paterson's pass found Assombalonga just in the Norwich half and instead of bearing down on goal, he picked out Antonio with a super through-ball. The Reds winger surged into the box and, with fantastic composure, slid the ball under Ruddy to give Forest the lead. The ground erupted, and following celebrations which, in my case resembled a kangaroo on acid, whistles began immediately as the home fans implored the referee to end the match. Frantic Norwich pressure saw Alex Tettey line up a last-gasp shot which Lichaj flung himself at to block, and that proved a fitting end to a much, much-needed victory, Wowzers.

This was a vastly improved performance - which admittedly isn't saying much. The defence looked better but still let Norwich play through us a bit too much for my liking. Fortune favoured the brave with Pearce's substitutions today though, and the extra midfield impetus that Paterson and Lansbury supplied ended up making the difference. Osborn had probably his best game for the Reds and Fryatt's constant harrying and running got the reward it deserved with the assist for the first goal. Assombalonga tucked away his chance nicely and his pass to find the again-impressive Antonio was the juiciest of peaches. That Wednesday we signed those two players is looking more and more important every week.

The slightly more seasoned Forest fan may remember Pearce's first game as caretaker manager all those years ago, in which a late Alf-Inge Haaland winner saw the Reds come back to defeat Arsenal. This match reminded me a lot of that one. Now follows another international break and a chance to rest and take stock. I might even watch the Leicester City Appreciation Football League Show tonight.

Nah - probably not.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Nottingham Forest 1 - 3 Brentford

The rather spiffing Seat Pitch are hosting my match review of the Brentford debacle. Though it could just as happily have been hosted in a wheelie bin,

Anyway, if you wish to relive the agony again, knock yourself out here:

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Brent Cross

Anyone foolish enough to be writing off Nottingham Forest's season already should take a look at the League table this morning and note who's top. It's Bournemouth. The same Bournemouth who Forest beat 2-1 on their own turf. The same Bournemouth who, after a great start to the season, hit some patchy form and plummeted down the table. They've now strung together six wins in a row, so if they can do it, why can't we?

Admittedly, at the moment we don't look anything like being capable of that but I'm sure Bournemouth's fans felt the same after slumping to a 3-1 home defeat to Leeds United. My point is, things can change very quickly in the Championship. We've found that out to our cost recently; but if we could manage a few good consecutive results we'd soon be back on the rise.

Our first opportunity to do this comes with the visit of Brentford. Now I'll have to be honest and confess I don't know much about Brentford other than they play at Griffin Park and their nickname is the Bees. I'm guessing that's more to do with the first letter of their name than any resemblance to the insects, as I've never seen any red-and-white-striped bees.

Anyway, they'll be another team that we cannot take lightly. After all, their last result was a comeback victory against already crowned champions and League Cup winners former League leaders Derby; and while I may be being flippant, I grudgingly admit that the sheep won't lose too many this season. Therefore any team that does beat them has to be treated with respect. It also has to be said that Brentford are on the same points as us, so we've absolutely no right to treat this as a guaranteed win.

Quite how Forest will line up against the Bees is anyone's guess. Matt Fryatt (groin) and Kelvin Wilson (family bereavement) could both be back in contention and the 3-0 reverse against Huddersfield would suggest that improvement is needed at both ends of the pitch. The presence of Tom Ince allows more flexibility up front and in midfield as we could, for example, push Michail Antonio further forward to partner Britt Assombalonga and have Ince and Chris Burke on the wings. Or have Ince just behind a front one (or two), That's for Stuart Pearce to decide.

His biggest job however may not be selecting the XI to start, but rather to instil some confidence in those he does deem best for the job. Back-to-back defeats and first-minute goal concessions are never good for the psyche (or the Psycho!), so Pearce and his coaching staff need to build the team back up and remind them that, when they were proudly perched on the top of the table just a few weeks ago, they were there on merit.

This is a test for Pearce, there's no doubt about it. However, in my opinion anyone questioning his suitability for the job needs to have a long, hard think about things. This isn't just sentimentality speaking, it's practicality too. We've all seen first hand that constantly chopping and changing managers is not a recipe for success. We need to pick one man, stick with him, and let him build the team, and indeed the whole club, to get where we want to be. Nobody will be more driven and committed to do that than Pearce. When Forest were first relegated from the Premier League he stuck with us, and ultimately reaped the rewards. As an England player and former captain he could've moved to many clubs, but he showed patience and loyalty. As fans and as a club, we owe him the same.