The return of Stuart Pearce – and Chris Cohen – captured the hearts and minds of the City Ground faithful on Saturday. But the sight of Andy Reid back in a red shirt had Andrew Brookes enthralled by that magical left foot
It was all about Him. The man with the magnificent left foot. The fans’ favourite who left but then came back to the fold. The man who dominated the opening day of the season.
The new manager? No, I’m talking about Andy Reid.
Yes, Pearce was always going to take the headlines from his first game back in the City Ground hot seat – and his raucous reception was a brilliant way to kick off a season – but, once the dust settled, the on-pitch matters were all about our mercurial Irish talisman.
Everything came through Reid as he helped put his former charges to the sword.
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At times in the first-half he appeared to have the ball on a string – with it barely spending time apart from that magic wand of a left foot.
Yes, he may be ‘all left foot’, but what a left foot! Reid has such control of this footballing magic wand that he’s able to play ‘right footed’ passes with a dextrous bend of his ankle.
He relished having wingers to spray balls out to, and eager strikers with energy and movement to interchange with. At times it gave hope that we have shed off the pedestrian plodding attack that held us back in the last campaign.
It’s no coincidence that it was his rasping shot that helped to break the deadlock on the 25th minute, the effort coming off the post to gift Michail Antonio a debut goal.
I read a pundit’s verdict of Reid last season that suggested that if had he ever had the chance to play in Italy he would’ve been coached into a top-drawer playmaker.
It’d be churlish to say ‘Andrea Pirlo’ – but it’s the classy playmaker role in that sort of mould that he’s made his own now at this level as he’s migrated from the wing play of his early days.
Almost as impressive as his passes and pirouettes were his tackles. This was a tenacious display in which he did the ‘ugly’ stuff pretty well – even throwing in a momentum-checking foul in for good measure. Hardly something to wax lyrical about I know but how many times have you been sitting in the stands tearing your hair out as our midfield does a more-than-passable statue impression as an opposition player runs through unchecked?
Yes, we don’t want Michael Brown levels of fouling – but unless you are streetwise in the Championship you’ll be bullied into submission by even the most average of outfits; as we’ve learned the hard way under Calderwood and McClaren.
Even as our attacking threat faded away in the second-half Reid kept chasing, tackling, twisting, turning and passing – ensuring that we didn’t sleepwalk into letting Jose Riga’s side back into the game.
In one sense Pearce can rest easy that his team talks can come down to four words. ‘Give it to Reid’. But he’ll be mindful of the fact that the opposition could boil theirs down to the even-more-succinct ‘Stop Reid’.
That’s where you’d like to think that the creative burden can be shared a little by the currently-injured duo of Lansbury and Vaughan.
You’d also like to hope that the likes of Burke – who scored a superb curled second to seal the win – Antonio and Paterson can stretch teams on the flanks to the extent that they will struggle to crowd out the middle of the park. Effective wide men also give Reid the perfect outlet if he gets the ball in tight midfield areas.
Reid’s partner in crime for this curtain raiser was Chris Cohen. He returned after so long at left-back that it was something of a surprise to see him in his previous position.
In a way though the spell at left-back – and he may well return there if circumstances dictate – could have improved him as a midfielder, with his tackling and reading of the game both enhanced by taking on a defensive role.
I thought Cohen often lacked the composure on the ball to match his lung-busting energy and that meant he struggled to impose himself on games unless assisted by a McKenna-style general by his side.
This game saw him rise to the challenge – with his energy and work rate freeing up space for Reid to dictate.
Of course it’s easy to rush to a judgment after one game. Let’s not patronise Blackpool. They may have been hastily put together after a tough summer but the side contained quality and promise in the likes of Orlandi and Delfouneso.
But it is fair to say we will have tougher tests ahead. Whether the midfield has enough defensive toughness remains to be seen, while Pearce is also sadly yet to be able field his first-choice defence as last season’s injury woes hang over to the new era.
Mancienne looked good although had little to do save for mopping up a couple of the stand-in Fox’s positional mishaps.
When it came to new signings, the strike force also showed flashes of promise. Assombalonga looks to be the sort of forward who is not happy if even five minutes of a game goes by without him getting a shot away – as is befitting of a hungry big-money signing.
Fryatt, so long a player on the Forest radar, displayed a clever touch and will surely relish playing with Reid once the two develop an understanding.
All this must have offered cheer to the smartly-suited Psycho, who really looked to be relishing his return to Trentside.
I once saw him crouched like a cricket slip-fielder, looking as though he fancied running on and defending a set-piece himself. Towards the end of the game he was so keen to grasp the ball that he nearly took it off a Blackpool player while it was still on the field and in play.
He’s lucky not to have had to sign a player with the passion, desire and sheer class of Reid.
Let’s hope he can continue to get the best out of him.