Sunday, 13 September 2015

A Co'g in the Machine

The day before transfer deadline day, I asked someone - who would've known - if there was any likelihood of any incoming players at Nottingham Forest before the window closed. This person confirmed that manager Dougie Freedman was hoping to bring a striker (and an attacking midfielder) to the club. When I enquired about the chances of this deal being completed, I was told that Forest were confident, as nobody else was likely to want him. Hardly a ringing endorsement. 

When the name of this striker was revealed as Chris O'Grady, I wasn't as disappointed as some, as I remembered him having a decent game and scoring against us for Barnsley a couple of seasons before. It's fair to say that his career had stalled though, following a £2m move to Brighton and Hove Albion. 

As the deal was completed on deadline day, the entirely ridiculous but entirely predictable Twitter backlash was in full swing. Some observers were guaranteeing our relegation, as we were bringing in O'Grady to replace Michail Antonio - whose move to West Ham United was edging ever closer. If you looked at the numbers you could see what they meant: Antonio had scored 15 goals in the previous season and assisted almost the same amount - from wide midfield; while O'Grady's return was 1 solitary goal. Numbers, however, don't tell the full story. 

Anyone who had seen Forest play this season would have realised that asking a still-maturing 18 year old Tyler Walker, or a worn-and-torn, twice-long-term-injured Dexter Blackstock to play up front alone against strong, rugged, experienced Championship defenders was expecting too much. They needed help and, working within our well-publicised restrictions, O'Grady was the man. 

I won't lie; first impressions against Queen's Park Rangers were not too favourable. Good hold-up play was spoiled by poor layoffs which failed to find their targets, and a neat turn was rendered pointless by lacking the pace to escape a defender. Gradually though, O'Grady grew into the game. A couple of neat, chipped passes from Matt Mills were controlled and given smartly to more gifted teammates; and a lovely ball through the legs of a defender set Eric Lichaj through on goal. 

Then, after Forest had fallen behind in the second half, came the moment which turned the game. O'Grady chased down an awkward-looking back-pass and pilfered the ball from Rangers' keeper Rob Green, who had failed to control it. Green hauled him down and the referee was left with no option but to give the penalty and dismiss the hapless goalie. Henri Lansbury dispatched the spot-kick and Forest were back in the game. 

The best was yet to come though. A flicked headed pass from O'Grady found fellow debutant Ryan Mendes. The Cape Verdian (yup) scampered away and his threaded pass released the third of Forest's deadline day acquisitions, striker Nelson Oliveira. His low drive eluded the Rangers' substitute goalkeeper and gave Forest an unlikely but welcome victory. Cue one Man of the Match award and a pleasingly emotional interview for O'Grady, and a thoroughly satisfying debut was at an end. 

It would be foolish to get too carried away after one game, just as it was foolish to write O'Grady off before he'd kicked a ball in the Garibaldi. I don't see him being a prolific scorer; indeed I'd be surprised if he reached double figures this season. However, he seems to know how to play in Freedman's preferred system, and if he can continue to show the strength and effort he did against Rangers, and chip in with the odd goal as well, then he'll prove a few Forest fans wrong. For the team's sake, let's hope he does. 

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