In front of the TV cameras, on Boxing Day evening, Nottingham Forest offered one of their best performances of the season so far, as they defeated a lacklustre QPR side 2-0. Nick Miller offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground…
The prospect of the Boxing Day game against QPR did not, I fear I must confess, fill me with great glee. This was partly due to Ashes-related sleep-deprivation, but also partly because it promised to be a grim affair, given Forest’s recent aversion to scoring goals, and QPR’s dislike of conceding them.
The potential for excitement didn’t exactly sky-rocket when the teams came in, with Greg Halford up front for Forest and no Charlie Austin for ‘Arry’s boys. The odds were on a turgid affair, and also on me either dropping off in the Brian Clough Stand or forcing my way onto the pitch after one dead-end Djamal Abdoun run too many, destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked. Tiredness can do that to a man.
If you have small children, then feel free to use this as a cautionary tale for Junior about not relying too much on preconceptions, because this was probably the most enjoyable Forest game of the season – not just due to the prospect of everyone’s favourite triffic, top top manager being throughly irked by a (correct) refereeing decision.
Forest lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and one of the most striking things about the performance was that, some switching and swapping of flanks aside, Billy Davies largely resisted the temptation to fiddle around with the system, one of his more infuriating in-game habits. Whether that’s because he decided to stroll down the path of patience, or because his plan worked more or less straight away is unclear, but either way Davies deserves credit for masterminding the Forest win.
After a slightly sticky first five minutes or so, Forest’s movement was hugely impressive, with a positional fluidity that meant it was difficult for QPR’s players to track runs made by Andy Reid or Henri Lansbury or Abdoun, which may serve as confirmation that is Forest’s strongest midfield presently available. There is a pleasing balance, with five very different players complementing each other very nicely.
Someone who doesn’t pay too much attention to life below the Premier League recently expressed surprise to me that Reid is still playing football, much less now a playmaker after a manager finally recognised he’s not a winger anymore. Reid was of course terrific, dropping deep when required to orchestrate things, and it’s notable that he is often the first player offering a colleague a passing option – when others stand around idly expecting the ball to come to them, Reid goes to get the thing himself.
While Reid, in the tragic absence of Chris Cohen, might be Forest’s most important player at the moment, not far behind him is Jamie Mackie. It might be an indicator of how useful he is to a team that when he was subbed in the closing stages, the visiting fans rose to applaud their former player off. QPR have some fine attackers, but you couldn’t picture many of them doggedly winning the ball back to set up Abdoun for his superb whipped cross, right onto the head of Halford for Forest’s opener. Not overburdened by skill, Mackie will run and run then run some more, creating just as many opportunities as a slide-rule pass by Henri Lansbury or devilish cross by Reid.
At this point it’s probably worth requesting that Davies pops sniffing around unrealistic targets like Shane Long on the old backburner in January, and instead concentrates on securing David Vaughan for a period longer than his current loan. Vaughan brings the control, tackling and tenacity to the Forest midfield that has been lacking since Paul McKenna left, and he also has the advantage of being willing/able to pass the ball more than five yards, something that escaped McKenna. If nothing else, it might stop Davies chasing after Grant Leadbitter for the whole transfer window again. Who would’ve thought that, of the two loan midfield signings this season, Vaughan would be more useful than Nathanial Chalobah?
As good as Forest were in the first-half, QPR were desperately poor. Harry Redknapp’s men are third in the table and it’s hard to see them not eventually winning promotion, but they have by a distance the most talented and expensively-assembled squad in the division, and an excellent manager as well. They should be clear at the top of the Championship, which in some respects speaks to the tough and unpredictable nature of the division, but also hints at some problems with how they are approaching the season.
Aside from a 20-minute spell at the start of the second-half, QPR looked sluggish and uninterested, like a collection of players who are killing time for the next few months until the formality of the promotion that their talent supposedly deserves is confirmed. Reid’s goal was a case in point, as their defence simply stopped when the offside flag was raised, rather than when the referee blew his whistle – they were careless and unprofessional, something that might explain why they’re not running away with the division.
In the ground, and from my position in the Brian Clough Stand, it was difficult to work out exactly what happened with the goal. I, like the QPR defenders, turned away when the linesman’s flag went up, and confusion reigned when the referee gave the goal. As it turned out, the decision was perfectly correct, as Halford did not flick Abdoun’s pass on and thus Reid was onside, despite protestations from Joseph Barton and even our own John McGovern that because the opposition had stopped, the goal was unfair. Bulls**t of course, and the only thing that outshone QPR’s carelessness was Reid’s opportunism.
Other observations: Rob Green had to deal with the usual ‘You let your country down’ chants from a few wags in the crowd, which apart from anything else is strange because what is essentially an exasperated chide from a teacher to an errant pupil (‘You’ve let me down, you’ve let your mother down…’) is now a football chant; despite being right-footed, Eric Lihaj doesn’t treat the ball like a small child nervously dealing with barking dog, which puts him one up on Dan Harding at the moment; could Karl Darlow not play quite so well while on television please? Scouts might be watching; Halford may not be a striker, but God bless him he’s willing, and while his finishing certainly leaves plenty to be desired, he’s a handy man to have around; Davies seems to wear the same shirt/v-neck blue jumper/suit combo whatever the weather – reports that his body is impervious to changes in temperature are currently unproven. Maybe that’s something Natalie Jackson can ask at their next pow-wow.
Life is not perfect at Forest, but this is the wonderful thing about football. For 90 minutes, as your team is thoroughly outplaying probably the most expensively-assembled team the second tier has ever seen, all those problems fade away, just for a short while.
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