After going a goal up, Nottingham Forest finally succumbed 3-1 to Tottenham Hotspur as Stuart Pearce’s side bowed out of the Capital One Cup. Matt Russell offers a fan’s eye view from White Hart Lane…
Last night was the magnificently sought-after Tottenham Hotspur XI v Nottingham Forest XI. One side featuring a £26 million striker and England’s saviour-that-never-was for the World Cup; the other, a 19-year-old full-debutant and a left-back more used to being subbed at half-time than playing at right-back.
After Saturday’s disjointed display at Millwall, I began to feel like an anathema to Forest away from home following an opening spell of solid if unspectacular defensive mettle.
Pessimism was brought on more by a Harding/Fox full-back combination than by any threat of Tottenham’s, although both players excelled. Particularly encouraging since, in Lennon and Townsend, they were facing two wingers quick enough to cause problems even if they weren’t necessarily skilled enough.
In all honesty, the abiding memory of the first-half was Osborn’s fleet-footed fox-trotting around the Spurs team before crashing an effort off the bar in a run that is, I believe, now a necessity to describe as Messi-esque. Given that that’s the case, Townsend was Eugene Dadi-esque and apparently Man of the Match. That sounds about right.
Osborn and Grant, who grew in stature, were impressive as part of a midfield triumvirate that rotated defensive and attacking duties accordingly. Grant was understandably nervous early on but grew into the game and has surely pushed himself further forward in Pearce’s estimation and not just because of the tap-in which, for 10 minutes, had us all hoping.
Veldwijk up front was a nuisance and, when he was able to support his strength with guile, showed all the makings of a threat which finally paid off after an hour when he shrugged off a challenge and pushed the ball into the box finding Grant to slot home.
Perhaps the only player who did disappoint in that first-half was Paterson, but this is arguably owing to the reputation he has already forged. While Grant and, to a lesser extent, Osborn were constantly looking to play others in, Paterson could be accused of trying too much. Frustrating though this was, he nevertheless remained our main outlet and his pacey running, like a flame alight, often drew two or three people towards him.
There is not much to say about Spurs’ goals: Ryan Mason’s fantastic long-range effort probably looked even better pitch side than in the upper tier at the opposite end (and it looked pretty great there); Soldado seemed to score somewhat fortuitously after being somewhat less fortuitously played onside by Lascelles; and the last goal was a, thus far, rare memento for Harry Kane.
Essentially we sat back and they suddenly looked like they realised there was a match to win. Although the stats show Spurs dominated overwhelmingly both in shots and possession, the reality was far more even.
For most of the first 70 minutes Forest were controlled, letting Spurs pass across the area, content to try and hit them on the counter. The last 20 minutes, our players got a little tired and must just have felt a bit sorry for those sitting bored in the Spurs end so we let them have a few goals.
Having been unconvinced by the merits of five in midfield in the games against Millwall and Derby, Pearce got his tactics almost spot-on against a Spurs team full of internationals. I mean, bringing Lamela on is just taking the piss. Still, he’s no Blackstock.
And as a side-note, the incentives to the Academy players to see Lascelles, Osborn and, importantly, Grant on the pitch, with Burke and Walker on the bench cannot be understated. It showed confidence from Pearce to play them in quite a big game and they fully vindicated his decision. Hopefully we’ll see a lot more of them this season.