Despite coming back from two early first-half goals, Nottingham Forest slipped to sixth as they lost 3-2 to Reading. Steve Wright offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground…
Forest began the week in fifth place in the Championship, having secured 27 points from their 16 league games. On the one hand, it is a good position to be in with a third of the season gone and puts the club in amongst a very competitive group that looks set to create yet another exciting promotion battle this season. On the other, form has not been great since the opening three games of the season and a run of injuries has caused a sense of panic amongst some fans that without reinforcements they might miss out.
The problem for Forest – and it is one they share with other Championship clubs – is that they have elevated promotion to a necessity and in a league well stocked with sides supported by either parachute payments or wealthy owners, as well as a couple of impressive wildcards, it simply cannot be guaranteed.
Knowing that we cannot afford to maintain anything like the current squad without the continued free-spending of the club’s owner, and that his willingness to keep allowing his wallet to leak funds is likely to be time bound, every chance to secure three points must be taken and individual games have been instilled with must win stress levels.
It means that every refereeing decision is met with seething anger, any player who might make a mistake is hounded and every event – whether a missed chance or an injury to a player – is experienced with a magnified sense of crisis. There is no opportunity to enjoy the journey, the progress and development of the club, or even time to consider that journey and plan its route.
It is a stressful and tiring way to follow football. There are highs but there are also by nature lows and with the result being the be all and end all those lows are crushing. There can be no consolation in defeat because nothing but promotion has any meaning. It is a failure of approach that the club has suffered for most of the last 15 years and it doesn’t look like ending any time soon.
With Chris Cohen suffering a cruciate ligament injury that will keep him out for the rest of the season, joining Wilson and Collins on the long term treatment table, Forest’s defensive resources have been stretched a bit. But first a word about Cohen.
It is a huge blow to the club to lose such an important player who not only performs his role consistently in the team but also leads with a quiet determination which carries players and fans alike when a game is going badly. He is also universally liked and respected by fans and having only recently returned from one bad injury it is truly saddening on a personal level to see him suffer another. Best wishes to you skipper.
Cohen’s place in the side was handed to Dan Harding who as ever looked weak in defence when Reading dominated and strong in attack when Forest did. Often a scapegoat he was not the reason for defeat in a game which was largely lost in the opening 30 minutes during which Reading tore their hosts apart with their passing and pressing.
Forest were 2-0 down before they started to settle but as the half drew to a close they had exposed a weakness in defence that probably explains why Reading try to start games very much on the front foot and in the attacking third. Simon Cox scored his third goal in three games following great work from Mackie on the right and chances of a comeback looked good with Reading’s defence creaking.
At half-time Reid and Henderson were brought on for Paterson and the very disappointing Majewski and immediately Reid’s quality and Henderson’s mobility and strength had an impact. It was an outstanding performance from Henderson in fact and he capped it with a superbly taken goal to level the scores as Forest dominated the early stages of the second period.
Although chances came to take the lead, noticeably Mackie striking the post when he probably should have scored having being put through by an excellent pass from Cox, the scores were still level when Forest visibly ran out of steam halfway through the half. Frustratingly, Reading immediately took advantage of the drop off and scored with their first attempt of the half after which the game largely petered out.
It means that Forest drop to sixth and must now watch their rivals play out a game in hand over the remainder of the weekend. It also means that Forest are on a long run of relatively poor form given the summer’s investment. They undoubtedly miss Kelvin Wilson – any team at this level would – but excluding the first three games in early August Forest have secured just 18 points from 14 games.
And this is where it comes back to what the club are trying to achieve and how. Having sacked managers and spent money the stall has been set out for promotion but at the moment Billy Davies doesn’t look like delivering. The talk is of spending more money in January and traditionally his teams go on good runs between January and March — the season is far from over and promotion is far from being written off — but there is a sense that we are going down the same route that has caused such frustration for the past decade and a half.
Maybe Forest will go up, or maybe if they don’t they will spend more money until they do find a way, but as under his last tenure it doesn’t feel that the club will move forward under Davies and the lack of a convincing narrative alongside the antagonistic personality of the main protagonist is making this a difficult period to enjoy.
There is a long way to go and there will be many twists and turns before the end of the season so for now we have to overlook the longer term and hope this works out. Billy isn’t going to change and at the moment Fawaz looks very much behind his manager so there is a chance that the combination can deliver the promotion that the club is longing for. Yet whatever happens over the next six months there is a discomfort that I just can’t shake.
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