Remember when Forest used to lose games?
I jest, but it genuinely does seem like a completely different collection of footballers that used to frustrate under Sean O’Driscoll and collapse under the weight of their own depressive pointlessness under Alex McLeish. I made my feelings on Billy Davies fairly clear in the last of these reports I wrote for Seat Pitch – for the record, I still think he’s an arsehole, but he’s doing remarkable things for our team, so I’m happy for him to be an arsehole if that means this run carries on. And in any case, me thinking he’s an arsehole shouldn’t matter even a little bit.
Turf Moor is, as an estate agent might say, a ‘rustic’ place. There are wooden seats in the away end – a nod to a bygone era when Burnley were European heavyweights. One sympathises. A detail that I particularly enjoyed was the rows of seats towards the back of the stand that had relatively new wood as the backs for the seats – the idea of the club deciding that some updates were required, but eschewing the fancy modern plastic seats, is strangely comforting. Plus, it’s about the only ground I’ve managed to get phone signal in, and they played ‘Wake Up’ by Arcade Fire before the game, so it gets the thumbs up from me.
The game that 2,405 of us had come to watch, however, was not quite so good. Davies made six changes from the side that nicked a point against Brighton, which was sensible considering the short amount of time between the two games, but it seemed clear from fairly early on that this would not be a particularly fluid performance. Indeed, Davies apologised after the game, but there was no real need to – this was never going to be a classic, and anyone who expected otherwise is a fool. A fool with high standards, mind.
We had been promised the finest hoofball from Sean Dyche’s Burnley, and although that wasn’t quite in evidence, the home team were rather… functional. But quite effectively functional, for throughout they managed to frustrate the passing from Forest’s midfield diamond, making the neat but slightly off-kilter interchanges between Henri Lansbury, Lewis McGugan and Andy Reid a little impotent. Indeed, the latter of that trio played (in the first-half at least) like he’d been punched in the head several times before stepping onto the field, his touch heavy, his decision-making clouded.
However, it wasn’t the midfielders that did play that preoccupied as Forest uncertainly passed back towards the defence for the 273rd time, more one that was out. Adlene Guedioura missed out after a whack on the head on Saturday, and one hopes he will be back soon, for while we all like Guy Moussi, Forest simply aren’t the same team with him at the base of midfield. When Guedioura picks up the ball, he tends to get rid of it fairly quickly, swiftly starting attacks from deep, but when Moussi gains possession he’s sluggish, tentative and looks like any touch will be the one to dribble off his shin and put Forest in trouble.
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As poor as Moussi was, McGugan was lively. It’s almost worth having Davies back for the impact he has on Lewis – it’s like the manager whispers a secret magic word into his midfielder’s ear before every game that sets off some spark. In the season and a half Davies wasn’t Forest manager, McGugan was a listless shadow of the player we know he can be, but now he has five goals in the last five games. Crucial goals too – without them, Forest would be seven points worse off.
Indeed, McGugan’s scoring streak is making up for the lack of goals from Forest’s strikers, which remains a concern. Since the turn of the year, strikers have contributed just three goals – a Billy Sharp penalty against Birmingham, and two for Darius Henderson, against Huddersfield and Hull. While it may have been for the good of the team, it didn’t help in this respect that Sharp seemed to spend much of his pulling left, rather than sniffing around for Dexter Blackstock knock-downs or defensive mistakes. It could be that the formation currently deployed is not particularly conducive to creating chances for strikers – with little natural width and most of the play being funnelled through the centre, it needs some pretty intricate passes and some quick-witted forwards to snap anything up. That, or Forest’s strikers are just playing like pillocks at the moment. I’m not sure. This doesn’t matter as long as McGugan, Radi Majewski (another man missed) and Lansbury are scoring, but sooner or later those goals will dry up too.
Anyway, never mind the strikers, it didn’t especially look like anyone was going to score for Forest in this one, and a late, late penalty – quite literally the last kick of the game, something that seemed to amusingly infuriate Dyche, who I can’t look at without recalling him as part of that Chesterfield side that beat Forest in the FA Cup in 1997 – saved a rather important point and continued this remarkable run. Many around me thought Lansbury played for the foul that the dreadful referee Nigel Miller (no relation, I assure you) gave, but at the time I thought it looked one of the few correct decisions the official gave all afternoon. Having seen the replay however, I’m inclined to side with the majority. I probably should have been nervous as McGugan stepped up, but the form he is in at the moment, I didn’t doubt him.
Other observations include: Karl Darlow is getting more and more confident, a brilliant save from Junior Stanislas and a decisive claim after rushing off his line, cutting out a through-ball brilliantly, were particular highlights; there was an amusing irony in Lansbury basically getting Ross Wallace booked for kicking the ball away in the first-half, before being booked himself for kicking the ball away in the second; Marvin Bartley took Chris Cohen out with an especially cynical forearm smash to the head, one of the countless things the referee missed; the choreography of the Forest coaching staff in taking it in turns to emerge from the bench to bawl-out the officials is a joy to behold.
So are we all ready for the play-offs? Because if Leicester are the biggest threat to Forest’s position in the top six, it’s basically in the bag, chaps. Things are going so well for Forest at the moment – unbeaten in nine, stealing points we have done little to deserve – it’s difficult not to start thinking about the horrors/joys that lie ahead. As my dad noted after the game, this run is either going to continue straight through to May, or just stop dead in the most horrific fashion imaginable. Whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting.
You can follow Nick on Twitter: @NickMiller79
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