Nottingham Forest got the new season off to a winning start against Bristol City on a sun-drenched afternoon at The City Ground. James Bolton reports.
After weeks of anticipation, Forest finally kicked off the new season with new owners, new players and a new manager. Sean O’Driscoll handed league debuts to Danny Collins, Greg Halford, Dan Harding, Simon Gillett and Adlene Guedioura (again) who lined up in something akin to a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Forest were quickest out of the blocks but took a while to work their first real opening. A deep Radi Majewski cross from the left-hand side found Dexter Blackstock, but stretching, he could only find the side netting.
Majewski then went close himself, as he latched onto a loose ball from a Forest corner and fired a fierce volley on the turn that went just over Tom Heaton’s crossbar.
Bristol City gradually began to get a foothold as the second-half progressed. They, like Forest, were keen to keep the ball on the ground. Albert Adomah pounced on some slack work from Lewis McGugan, but Camp comfortably saved the shot.
Forest then created the best chance of the game. More neat play down the left allowed Andy Reid to cut inside and deliver a stunning ball with his right foot into the heart of the six-yard box. Under pressure from former Red Greg Cunningham, Blackstock headed wide.
In a game that was lacking a bit of conviction, a controversial incident provided a spark. After play was brought to a halt when Guedioura went down injured, a drop ball was given. Gillett stood off, and Cunningham made an enemy of himself by running towards the Forest goal and drawing a foul. A fracas ensued and Reid raised his arms at his former team mate. Both Reid and Cunningham were booked and the Bristol City left-back was booed for the rest of the afternoon.
The first-half was fairly even, with few goal scoring chances being created. Early in the second half the ball was in the net, but Blackstock was flagged offside after beautifully controlled Harding’s long ball on his chest and volleying in.
Brendan Moloney then tried an audacious long range effort from distance and McGugan appealed in vain on two separate occasions after tumbling following tricky runs into the box.
A reverse ball from Guedioura in the final third created space for Moloney, but his cut-back was completely missed by McGugan, who subsequently went off injured. Majewski fired over from the loose ball.
Forest finally broke the deadlock on 71 minutes. Gillett made a dogged tackle on the edge of his own box released Guedioura, who passed to Reid as he lead a four-on-four counter attack. The Irishman released the ball at the perfect moment to find Simon Cox, who cut the ball back for Guedioura to side foot into the goal.
Reid brought the best out of Tom Heaton moments later, forcing him into a terrific diving save from a free kick from 25 yards out. Blackstock also fired over from a tight angle, after lively work from Cox.
For the final 10 minutes Forest, unfortunately, sat back slightly. Bristol City brought on a familiar face in the shape of Paul Anderson as the visitors looked to pile on the pressure.
O’Driscoll brought on Jonathan Greening and Jamaal Lascelles to help solidify the defence, and other than a Marvin Elliot bicycle-kick, Forest closed out the game reasonably comfortably to pick up a win on opening day for the first time in six years.
With Omar and Fawaz Al Hasawi watching from the stands, they could be very satisfied with the performance. The back four, particularly Man of the Match Danny Collins looked stubborn and hard to break down. Gillett was impressive in the holding role, putting in the type of performance we used to see from former captain Paul McKenna.
Blackstock led the line well and linked up well with the sprightly Cox when he came on, perhaps the very early signs of what could be a prolific partnership.
After the game in a post-match interview with BBC Radio Nottingham, Fawaz Al-Hasawi confirmed talks are on-going with multiple targets who, crucially, are right wingers. A couple more additions and Forest should be very well equipped to cope and, hopefully, thrive in what we know is a demanding, highly competitive division.