A staggering game last night saw Nottingham Forest take a 2-0 lead before going 3-2 down to Fulham, only to be rescued by a wonder goal from Michail Antonio, a hat-trick from Britt Assombalonga and Jamie Paterson’s first of the season as the Reds triumphed 5-3 to stay top of the league. Roman Filipowicz offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground…
Sometimes you just have a bad feeling about things. You know, like Han Solo in the garbage chute in Star Wars. That’s pretty much how I’d been feeling about the Fulham match for days, minus the garbage. And, up until the 76th minute of this topsy-turviest of matches, it seemed that my bad feeling was justified. For, until a sublime piece of skill changed the course of the match, it looked like we were heading for defeat.
Back to the beginning. A long time ago in a gal… hang on, sorry. Following Sunday’s breathless East Midlands derby, Stuart Pearce was forced to shuffle his pack with Andy Reid, Jack Hobbs and the luckless Chris Cohen joining Matty Fryatt on the injury list. Danny Fox returned at centre-half with Robert Tesche making his first league start and joining Ben Osborn in a five-man midfield. Those changes aside, it was as you were. Fulham had a lot of unfamiliar names in their line-up, but a striking duo of Ross McCormack and Hugo Rodallega looked dangerous on paper.
Indeed the visitors fairly flew out of the blocks, registering three shots on target — the last of which nearly squirmed through Karl Darlow’s legs — almost before the strains of Mull of Kintyre had died down. Forest’s first meaningful attack saw Michail Antonio dumped to the ground wide on the left, and from the resulting Henri Lansbury free-kick, Britt Assombalonga stole ahead of his marker to steer a header inside the post and give the Reds an undeserved lead.
This settled the nerves somewhat and 10 minutes later the advantage was doubled. Another marauding Antonio run was unceremoniously halted, this time with Shaun Hutchinson taking a leaf out of the Jake Buxton Big Book of Defending and hacking the Forest winger down just inside the box. A yellow card, and some treatment later, and up stepped Britt again to plant his penalty past the despairing dive of Primark-panted Fulham keeper Gabor Kiraly. Two goals up without playing well. It’s easy this football lark.
Only it isn’t, of course; because the visitors started to get into the game again. Another 10 minutes later and Antonio blotted his copybook by playing a risky pass square across his defence. Intended recipient Jack Hunt got pilfered and pulled his man down, allowing McCormack to step up and curl a beautifully precise free-kick into the corner to half the deficit. This set the tone for the next half an hour at least, as Forest became palpably twitchy. Passes went astray, runners weren’t picked up and it was some relief when we limped into the interval still ahead.
This relief didn’t last long however. Following a half-time break which saw a wonderful video montage tribute to Brian Clough, and also what looked like a remote controlled helicopter circling the stadium (yes, really), both teams picked up where they’d left off. So it was little surprise when a whipped cross from Fernando Amorbieta cleared Fox and found Rodallega, who sidefooted home to draw Fulham level. And it was to get worse.
Pearce introduced Kelvin Wilson in place of Eric Lichaj and moved Fox to his more natural berth at left-back, but it made little difference. Fulham were belying their poor league position, with Scott Parker running the show and McCormack looking something like he had at Leeds last season and, when Osborn lost possession in midfield, the ball fell to Rodallega who played in his strike partner again. McCormack’s shot deflected past Darlow to give the Londoners a deserved lead.
This prompted another Forest change, with Jamie Paterson replacing Osborn, and finally some urgency came into the home team’s game. Fulham slowed things down, which was probably the wrong thing to do; if they’d have pressed forward we were there for the taking. Even as it was, Darlow had to make a couple more saves before the moment that turned the match.
While the imposing figure of Lars Veldwijk waited to come on, a diagonal ball from Michael Mancienne found Antonio with his back to goal on the edge of the area. He plucked it out of the air and turned in one movement before curling a great low shot into the corner. Stunning — and just the fillip the Reds needed. With the team and crowd re-energised the contest turned again and two minutes later Forest were back ahead. Chris Burke’s cross found Assombalonga unmarked and, after his header rebounded off the upright, he reacted quickest to slam home the rebound for his hat-trick and eighth goal in seven league games.
One got the sense that the scoring wasn’t finished though, but thankfully it was Forest who provided the coup-de-grace. Antonio threaded Paterson through and he showed great composure to cut inside his defender and slot the ball under the tracksuit-bottomed one to seal the points. Phew. We’re Nottingham Forest, we’re top of the league.
Coming back from 3-2 down this was a massive result. After the twin blows of the Cohen injury and Derby equaliser a defeat here could’ve caused huge damage, but this team has character, skill and goals. The shaky defending will give Pearce cause for concern, and there’s only so long you can keep not playing well and winning, but winning we still are. Seven games in to the season and we’re unbeaten and top — we can’t ask for much more than that.