Nottingham Forest victories don’t get much more meaningless or low key than beating Walsall 2-1 in a pre-season friendly. But it’s difficult to envisage a way that Tuesday’s encounter could have gone any better. David Hughes offers a fan’s eye view from the Banks’s Stadium
To make such a fixture worthwhile, it is crucial that the opposition provides a meaningful challenge. Any doubts on this front were dispelled from the outset – the hosts had beaten Leeds on Saturday and started confidently, retaining possession well in the early stages.
They could have taken the lead on seven minutes had Troy Hewitt not dithered and wasted his chance, but as it happened the breakthrough came a minute later. And it was a fine goal, Sam Mantom seizing upon a loose ball before curling past Karl Darlow from just outside the box.
One of the reasons people attend pre-season fixtures is to catch an early glimpse of any summer signings, and there were several starting for the Reds. Jack Hobbs looked solid, as one would expect of a player who enjoys a healthy reputation at this level – not the quickest, but physical, imposing in the air and well organised. Stephen McLaughlin isn’t really a new signing, but is still unfamiliar to many fans, and he was neat, linking up well with Dan Harding on the left without really imposing himself on the game, before being substituted at half time. But it was Jamie Paterson who proved most eye-catching against the team that sold him – his end product was lacking on occasion, but he was consistently lively and eager to show for the ball and run at defenders.
It was Paterson who squandered Forest’s first clear-cut chances as they worked their way back into the game. He latched onto a precise Dexter Blackstock through-ball after good work from Adlene Guedioura, before first seeing an effort blocked by Saddlers keeper Richard O’Donnell, before dragging wide from eight yards when the ball eventually rebounded back to him. Paterson then curled another effort just over on 25 minutes after a lay-off from McLaughlin.
However, when the equaliser did come three minutes later, it was the product not of new signings but two of Forest’s forgotten men – Dan Harding curled a precise cross to the far post, where the suddenly and inexplicably prolific Matt Derbyshire rose to head firmly past O’Donnell.
Harding was putting in an encouraging display, and almost gave Forest a lead shortly before the break. Receiving the ball on the touchline from McLaughlin, the left-back nipped past a defender before letting fly with a ferocious left-footed drive from 30 yards that flew past O’Donnell and crashed back off the right-hand post.
After an even first period, Forest brought on Raddy Majewski, Andy Reid and Simon Cox at half-time, and the injection of quality told after the break.
Reid was first to threaten, firing a trademark dipping effort just over from 25 yards. Then, just after the hour mark, Majewski danced his way past a couple of defenders at the edge of the box before laying off to Cox – the Irishman powered his effort across the six-yard box just past the far post.
Walsall weakened as the match wore on, but remained a threat. Hobbs and the quietly impressive Lascelles made way for new signing Eric Lichaj and Danny Collins, and Collins almost gifted the hosts a second when a weak clearance found Kieron Morris, who curled his effort just wide. Then ex-Forest striker Craig Westcarr almost burst onto Andy Taylor’s long ball, forcing Darlow to rush off his line to smother.
But Forest were passing the ball with increasing confidence, and took a deserved lead on 74 minutes with a stylish strike. Reid fired the ball into Cox just inside the area, who managed to direct a cushioned header perfectly back into Reid’s path for the Irishman to smash a volley past the helpless substitute keeper Seb Usai.
And Reid almost added a third in the dying moments of normal time, firing a sweetly struck first-time effort just wide after good work down the right from substitute Henri Lansbury, who is sporting a bold but questionable Neymar-esque Mohawk.
Along with Greg Halford, Darlow was one of only two players to play all 90 minutes and proved solid throughout. The big keeper was still on his toes to prevent an injury time equaliser, when he saved smartly down to his left to repel James Baxendale.
Team: Darlow; Harding (Cohen 75), Lascelles (Lichaj 62), Hobbs (Collins 62), Halford; Gillett (Moussi 62), Guedioura (Majewski HT), McLaughlin (Reid HT), Paterson (Lansbury 75); Derbyshire (Cox HT), Blackstock (Greening 75).
You can follow David on Twitter: @DaveHughes1990
Image: Courtesy of nuttakit/FreeDigitalPhotos.net