An entertaining game at the Reebok Stadium saw Forest share the spoils with Bolton last night. But the manner of the performance is likely to excite fans with an indication of what’s to come…
If there were any lingering doubts about the new era at Nottingham Forest – and the potential of what’s to come – they were quickly put to bed last night.
A mesmerising 30 minutes saw Sean O’Driscoll’s side dominate a recently relegated Bolton team who were utterly bamboozled by Forest’s movement and passing. The home team worked their way back into the match after exploiting their strengths down the flanks, and a physicality surviving from the Sam Allardyce days, but still didn’t look entirely comfortable in this new division.
While Owen Coyle set his team up in a flat 4-4-2, opting for Chung-Yong Lee and Chris Eagles as the wide players, O’Driscoll continued Forest’s fluid midfield with a 4-3-1-2 formation that saw Simon Gillett sit in front of the back four. Flooding the centre of the pitch with runners and swift, one-touch football showed that if the Reds can maintain that kind of play over 90 minutes they will walk all over lesser sides.
Lewis McGugan’s spectacular 30-yard drive opened the scoring as Forest had seven attempts on goal – four on target – to Bolton’s one in the first-half hour. Unlike Huddersfield on Tuesday, the early pressure saw a goal and there could have been two or three.
The work rate was phenomenal, right across the team as they harried and harassed Bolton, with Andy Reid and Simon Cox particularly outstanding. Cox looks to be an excellent purchase in only his second full game; he drops deep to look for the ball, links well with Dexter Blackstock – who was somewhat isolated last night – and never stops running, often seen clearing the ball from defence.
Clearly there’s still work to be done in improving our finishing, maintaining our gameplan and dealing with physical sides. But on this showing there’s much to be hopeful about. Sam Hutchinson got some minutes as he came on for Adlene Guedioura while Daniel Ayala should return soon – Danny Collins was again outstanding at the back but the defence needs time to gel and playing the ball out wasn’t always as simple as it might have been.
Our full-backs providing the width gets around the lack of wingers but it only worked intermittently as Bolton targeted the wide positions, penning back both sides, notably Brendan Moloney who often had both Eagles and Sam Ricketts coming at him. It says something that despite their chances Bolton’s goals were both preventable – Kevin Davies’ foul on Collins and Halford’s miscalculation our undoing. But the character to keep playing football, keep their heads and score an (exquisite) equaliser shows a Forest unrecognisable from this time last year.
A draw away at Bolton, at any point in the season, is a good result and with just Wigan and Charlton to play before the international break, O’Driscoll and the players have time to work together as well as integrate any new additions. As the manager stressed before the game, “this is a team in transition.”