With other results at the top of the table going the right way, Nottingham Forest beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-1 and moved into the play-off positions. Scott Eley offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground.
My last match report was the dismal 0-3 home defeat to Watford. After an encouraging draw at Pride Park the previous week, the Watford game, in my eyes, was the biggest of the season so far; the last opportunity to stake a claim for the play-offs as we entered the final third of the season. As I reflected on the game afterwards, I offered my final thoughts to Fawaz Al Hasawi that ‘continuity and perseverance is the right formula’.
It just goes to show why I’m not the owner of a football club. Incredibly, seven games later — following the sacking of Alex McLeish, the much maligned failed eye test of George Boyd and a significant sweeping of the brush behind the scenes — Forest have emerged as a real promotion candidate. Sending a stern message out to those looking over their shoulders in the play-off positions, William McIntosh Davies is back and he’s coming after you…
It was important that Forest got out of the traps early after the stuttering performance against Ipswich. Just like midweek, patience again would be required against a Wolves side fighting for their lives.
The opening exchanges were played out as if both sides were still part of the FA Cup weekend. It was refreshing to see that both were out to attack from the off. Sako was clearly the major threat Wolves carried and, although I wasn’t convinced about his technical ability, the sheer strength, speed and presence of the man would need Gonzalo Jara Reyes to be at his best. Thankfully it was to be the case, the South American’s endurance came out clear winner against the heavyweight in the end.
Forest started brightly, with Andy Reid looking dangerous in the centre of the midfield diamond. His clever movement behind the Wolves backline almost rewarded Simon Cox with a much-needed Forest goal only for the effort to be ruled out for offside. Henri Lansbury’s magical turn and shot inside the box deserved more than the deflected effort that resulted in a corner. There is no doubt that Lansbury has magic in his boots.
Wolves responded with aplomb and Sako was causing problems, forcing a number of corners that would test the aerial ability of the Forest defence. Forest saw out the Wolves pressure and took the lead through Lansbury following some patient play down the left. Ignoring the home crowd’s willingness to force the play, Cox and Adlene Guedioura combined for Lansbury to lash home from the edge of the box.
Wolves again fought back and were desperately unlucky not to find an equaliser when Sako’s free-kick crashed against the bar from 25 yards out. The substitution of Dexter Blackstock clearly disrupted the flow of Forest’s game. The lack of aerial and physical threat allowed Wolves to get a foothold in the game and with Lewis McGugan coming on as replacement, the midfield rotational cogs had become over congested.
For a good period of the game afterwards, Wolves were becoming an increasing threat. Forest began to pay for the enforced 4-5-1 tactic that Billy went with. The positivity had been sapped out of our play. Forest stuttered without a target man to hold the ball up and it wasn’t a surprise that Wolves did force an equaliser through Matt Doherty, heading home from Sako’s corner that Karl Darlow could only help the ball into the net. I’ll admit, without Darius Henderson on the bench, I felt the winning run would be coming to a halt.
Surprising then that just a few minutes later, Lansbury produced the game’s magical moment. Receiving the ball from a cleverly threaded Guedioura pass, Lansbury swiftly turned and passed the ball into the bottom corner of the net from the edge of the box. Goalkeeper Carl Ikeme could only watch with the rest of the Wolves supporters at the sheer precision of the finish. Forest were, in my opinion, lucky to be back on top but the quality that Lansbury is now beginning to show is that of a match winner. Exciting times ahead indeed for the Forest man.
After the goal went in, Billy Sharp was told to get his tracksuit back on and Greg Halford told to strip off ready. Would Halford be brought on as a third centre-half? Perhaps replace Chris Cohen at left-back? No, Halford went up front to be that aerial and physical threat that was so badly lacking after Blackstock’s departure. Halford, who represented England Under-21s as a centre-forward was relishing his cameo opportunity to silence the Wolves fans, who booed his introduction the game.
It has to be said that Halford was unlucky to sit the game out after suspension but he played a vital role in allowing Forest to see the game out in some comfort. Wolves’ giant centre-halves were now having to work again and Halford was linking up the play and causing a nuisance. A swift break found Halford and Cox in a two-on-one position and as Halford knocked the ball past Stephen Ward, the former could only foul the Forest man as he burst through after the ball. Red card for Ward. No arguments.
McGugan’s fizzer from 35 yards tested Ikeme and forced a corner that started to generate a period of pressure that had been absent since the first-half. Forest wrapped the game up in the dying moments following a great move down the right. Cox, Lansbury and Jara Reyes all exchanging passes before McGugan swept the ball home in emphatic fashion, a crowd pleaser of a finish that cannoned in off the bar.
At the final whistle, Wolves could probably count themselves unlucky, playing their part in an entertaining game. Forest were convincing winners in the end but the lack of a target man and natural goalscorer in the starting XI is of slight concern. Hopefully Henderson will return to the fold in the near future.
Whilst Lansbury will take the plaudits for his two fine goals, my man of the match went to Danny Collins. The Forest skipper seems to have been through a torrid time of late, with his confidence taking a real battering at the hands of the Forest boo boys. His indecisiveness becomes contagious at times but yesterday was a return to form that was pleasing to see. For the majority of the game, Collins was sound in the air and in anticipation, key features of his game. His experience will be vital in the final run-in.
The walk back over Trent Bridge was in stark contrast to that from the Watford game. The away supporters could only sing of visiting Shrewsbury on their trudge back to the station whilst rejuvenated Forest supporters were checking results, Championship standings and looking forward to the huge game at Hull next week.
The Billy Davies rollercoaster continues, scream if you want to go faster…
You can follow Scott on Twitter: @29Eley
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