Sunday, 18 January 2015

Benny: King

Some passages of football commentary are so good, so well judged, so emotive that they end up transcending the action they describe and lodge themselves in the very folklore of the sport itself. Probably the most famous example of these is Kenneth Wolstenholme's unforgettable "He's got...some people are on the pitch, they think it's all over. It is now," as Sir Geoff Hurst crashed home his hattrick goal to seal England's World Cup victory in 1966. In more recent times, we've enjoyed Martin Tyler's wonderfully elongated "Agueroooooooooooooo" which perfectly encapsulated the most dramatic finish to a Premier League season, as the Argentine forward netted the ultimately League-winning goal for Manchester City against QPR.

At around 14:00 on Saturday 17th January 2015, another phrase was added to the annals of commentary history. It may not have had the worldwide, or even nationwide resonance of the two examples above, but to fans of Nottingham Forest it was every bit as enjoyable as the other two were to followers of England and Manchester City. The commentator was Bill Leslie. The words were: "Osborn...DOESN'T NEED HIM." The event: a stoppage-time winner from a Derby-born player at the home of Forest's local rivals Derby County in the Sky Bet Championship. 

It might seem like hyperbole to compare Osborn's goal to those of Hurst and Aguero, but its importance to Nottingham Forest cannot be underestimated. It may have been the goal that saved Stuart Pearce's job. It could turn out to be the goal which reignited Forest's season. It may yet turn out to be neither. But it did, at least, restore the fans' pride in their team and club and give them a sweet, sweet moment to celebrate in a season which has had more than its share of disappointment. 

In the days building up to the match there was little to suggest it would end this way. The majority of Forest's supporters feared the worst, their Derby counterparts expected the victory. However, at either end of the A52 there were pockets of fans who had a suspicion it might not turn out like that. The stock local derby cliché of form going out of the window was trotted out as, here and there, a few people thought that the unlikely could just happen. 

Forest's starting lineup contained, thankfully, leading scorer Britt Assombalonga, who had shaken off the muscle injury sustained against Sheffield Wednesday. Matt Fryatt and Michael Mancienne were less fortunate though, so Kelvin Wilson partnered Jack Hobbs at the centre of defence while the returning Henri Lansbury was the most advanced of Forest's midfielders. Loanees Todd Kane and Gary Gardner both started the game. Derby were without Jordan Ibe, recalled by parent club Liverpool, and the suspended John Eustace, but could still call upon the likes of Chris Martin, Johnny Russell and Jamie Ward, with the latter two having been thorns in Forest's side before. 

The opening exchanges were typical local derby stuff, high on intensity but low on quality. Forest were holding their own and indeed should have been awarded a penalty as museum-piece lookalike Jake Buxton grappeled Michail Antonio to the floor in Derby's 18 yard box. Predictably, nothing was given, and even more predictably soon afterwards Forest fell behind. Russell's flat corner evaded the head of Martin but Henri Lansbury, who was guarding the near post, could only divert it past Dorus de Vries to give the hosts the lead. 

For the next ten minutes the game seemed to be following a well established pattern as Derby looked to press their advantage. A Hobbs blunder nearly led to a second goal and de Vries had to be alert to tip a deflected shot over the bar, but the expected Forest collapse didn't happen. Indeed the Reds finished the half well, with Assombalonga's shot skimming narrowly over Lee Grant's crossbar. With the half time score at just 1-0 this wasn't over, not by a long way. 

The visitors' cause was further helped as Jeff Hendrick replaced the injured Will Hughes at the start of the second half and, slowly, inexorably, the Reds started to wrest control of the game from their opponents. Penalty box scrambles gave half-chances to Antonio and Wilson, both of which were blocked. It looked - yet again - like being "one of those games" until Forest won a free kick wide on the left. Osborn's delivery wasn't cleared by Richard Keogh (see file for Zamora, B) and ended up at the feet of Assombalonga who, despite the uncouth attentions of Buxton, steered the ball under Lee Grant to give Forest a fully deserved equaliser. 

There was no telling how the match would finish now. Cyrus Christie sent a shot just wide for Derby and Chris Martin somehow stayed upright long enough to loft a late lob over the bar. It looked like a creditable draw would be the outcome until Wilson won a strong header which Robert Tesche helped into the path of Osborn. The young midfielder scampered forward and, as the home defence stood off, drove a left-footed rocket past the dive of Grant and into the net for his first senior Forest goal. Pandemonium. Or, as the youngsters would say: "scenes."

Seldom can a manager, or, for that matter, an owner/chairman, have celebrated a goal so much. Stuart Pearce knows the importance of this fixture and just how much was riding on this game so it's hardly surprising there was such an outpouring of emotion when the winner flew in. It wasn't quite 1996 penalty against Spain, but it wasn't far off. 

The important thing for Forest now is to use this boost as a springboard for the rest of the season. Satisfying though it was (and it REALLY was), it'll mean nothing if the team lapses into previous poor performances. They've shown they can play well, now they need to show they can play well consistently. 

But this isn't a time to dwell on previous disappointments. Nor is it a time to give too much coverage to the unpleasant incidents after the match. It's time to enjoy a dramatic, surprising yet thoroughly deserved victory. And for that, Ben Osborn, Nottingham thanks you.

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