Despite events off the pitch taking all the focus this week, Nottingham Forest managed a convincing performance against Birmingham City — despite losing 2-1. Matt Russell offers a fan’s eye view from St Andrew’s.
January has become a staple of Forest fans’ diet now. Like most transfer windows, the one just gone was filled with speculation and gossip, both idle and non-idle.
It was nice to escape the claustrophobic bubble of Twitter and get back to something more palpable: football. In Chris Burke, Birmingham had a somewhat forgotten remnant of the transfer window excitement, lost amid the Boyd farce. But he soon reminded exactly why he had seemingly been McLeish’s number one target as he inspired – no other word can aptly be used – Birmingham to victory yesterday.
A defeat and equivocal post-match conference may have done much to deepen the mood around the club, but on the pitch, the players played with all the verve, composure, and style that is missing off it.
In the first-half, neither side had particularly set the game alight. It had been a decent and even half, nevertheless as both sides stroked the ball across the pitch looking for an opening, patient passing perhaps not being a word often associated with McLeish in recent times.
When Reid finally found his dancing Irish feet after 15 minutes of cumbersome touches, he started to play the sort of balls that highlighted Henderson’s own cumbersome nature.
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Just 45 seconds from time, Burke stepped up to fire a beauty in off the crossbar leaving Sharp to rue his own profligacy after missing two excellent chances. Burke should have been closed down, but given recent defensive calamities, this seemed a small one – it was just a moment of (£500k+) brilliance.
After being pegged back for first five minutes of the second half, McLeish changed things quickly bringing on Majewski for Moussi. The French midfielder had been solid enough, but once Majewski came on Forest really began to tick as he floated across the pitch linking up particularly well with Sharp and Reid.
As the half wore on, the players’ movement around the area became quicker and more confident. The few times Darlow did get the ball in the half, he would quickly roll it out to set up another attack, while Harding (who also produced two stunning tackles in the game) and Reyes got forward plenty, albeit with a reticence to cross themselves.
Had Butland’s shot-stopping been at the same standard as his kicking, Forest would probably have scored four or five.
Halford missed a free header from six yards out and Butland saved smartly from several Forest attempts, including Majewski’s snap-shot from two yards. The tempo was upped further with a couple of quick counter-attack attempts, but throughout most of the half, Forest played the role of the home team, camping out in the Birmingham half.
Two defensive mistakes almost cost Forest two goals, though. An otherwise impressive Halford let Wes Thomas through, who thankfully showed all the composure of a Bournemouth reserve, before an even more impressive Reyes (it’s good to finally have a classy South American full-back) lost out to Redmond, who set up none other than Burke. Poetic justice or something equally embittering, I’m sure.
Sharp’s last-minute penalty was the least the players’ efforts deserved. It was great to see that even in the last five to 10 minutes, McLeish’s Forest were still passing the ball around looking for openings. On another day, Forest may well have won that. Fate in the form of Burke delivered defeat in what was otherwise an encouraging display from Forest.
You can follow Matt on Twitter: @MattRussell3
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