A brace from Michail Antonio and goals from Matty Fryatt and Britt Assombalonga saw Nottingham Forest beat Reading 4-0 to retain their place at the top of the Championship. James Bolton offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground…
There were two changes to the Forest side which earned an unlikely victory at Bournemouth in midweek, with Jack Hobbs and Eric Lichaj making way for Jack Hunt and Dan Harding.
The first quarter of an hour was pretty uneventful. Former Reds Chris Gunter and Simon Cox quickly reacquainted themselves with a jeering A Block, as fans took exception to some dramatic diving and a late tackle on Chris Cohen.
On 17 minutes, with neither side really finding their stride, Forest took advantage of the first opening of the game. Chris Burke’s deep cross from the right was met by Michail Antonio, who rose above Gunter and looped a great header back across Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici.
Pearce said post-match that he wasn’t really happy with the team’s first-half display. We didn’t really impose ourselves on the game and other than a Danny Fox header from a corner, didn’t really threaten the Reading goal.
Likewise, in a fairly forgettable half, Karl Darlow was not tested. Jordan Obita, Aaron Kuhl and Simon Cox all failed to find the target with the small sightings of goal the Royals were able to create.
Lichaj came on at half-time, replacing Harding at left-back and, within a matter of minutes, Forest doubled their lead. Britt Assombalonga spread the ball out wide to Hunt after some good hold-up play, and the marauding full-back whipped in another deep cross to Antonio, who again got the better of Gunter to bundle home a side-foot volley.
After netting his fourth goal of the season, Antonio then turned provider, dinking in a delightful cross from the left, which was met by Matty Fryatt, who ghosted between the Reading centre-halves to emphatically head home his second goal in as many games.
The unsung hero in the opening hour was Assombalonga. His strength and power leading the line was tremendous, with all three goals owing a great deal to his hold-up play and ability to spread the ball out wide. It was fitting then that the striker continued his blistering start to life at the City Ground by prodding in the fourth. A pinball in the box from an Andy Reid corner provided chances for Antonio and Fryatt to add to their tallies, but as with all good strikers, Assombalonga eventually found himself in the right place at the right time.
Reading’s inexperienced midfield, with an average age of just under 21, really struggled to create any significant opening. A one-two between Nick Blackman and Cox drew a smart, low save from Darlow from the former’s effort, but the clean sheet never really looked in doubt.
Substitute Jamie Paterson and Lichaj could have piled more misery on Nigel Adkin’s side, but good saves from Federici kept the scoreline at 4-0.
It was Forest’s largest league win since the 6-1 thrashing of Huddersfield back in February 2013 and continues the excellent start to Pearce’s reign.
Post-match Pearce hailed the way in which the new signings have gelled together so seamlessly. In defence, Hunt adds dynamism and vigour at right-back, with Mancienne looking a very competent player at this level. In midfield, Antonio is providing the pace and goals on the wing we’ve not seen since Garath McCleary’s departure. The creativity the likes of Burke and Hunt provide takes some pressure off Andy Reid, who was pretty much a sole source of genuine inventiveness at times last season.
Finally, our forward line looks rejuvenated with the arrivals of Assombalonga and Fryatt. The often sluggish and wasteful performances from the likes of Messrs Cox and Henderson have been replaced by craft and composure in front of goal.
To sing Assombalonga’s praises one final time, he was probably my man of the match. Tireless running, industrious hold-up play and a terrific defensive contribution (he must have headed clear three or four corners) means he might just be worth every penny of that record transfer fee.
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