Three second-half goals saw Nottingham Forest beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-0, giving Stuart Pearce his second straight league win after that barren patch. Dan Watson offers a fan’s eye view from Molineux…
The last time I visited Molineux was just before I moved out to Australia where I spent the remainder of the 1990s. That third round League Cup tie in the 1994/95 season was a classic encounter played out on a crisp, clear but very cold and dark late October evening. Forest were going great guns under Frank Clark in the top flight whilst Wolves had built a head of steam under Graham Turner’s stewardship in the (then) First Division.
Fast forward then 20 years to a drab, grey, unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon in the Black Country. Many other things have changed in the intervening years. The respective clubs now occupy mid-table positions in the second tier of English football after promising starts to the season; Wolves as a promoted side who have recently lost their way and Forest dropping like the proverbial stone after losing key players and confidence following the 1-1 draw at home against Derby.
What hasn’t changed in those 20 years, however, is the size and scale of Forest’s away support. Back in 1994 the Reds’ travelling army had filled the lower tier of the (now) Steve Bull Stand. Fast forward to Saturday and they had done it again with 2,500+ souls from Nottingham occupying the entire length of the pitch, buoyed without doubt by the ending of the winless streak against Norwich a fortnight before.
The Wolves support, despite their promotion from League Two and their initial good start, were not quite so willing to brave the November weather for the visit of their conquerors from that October night 20 years previous. Despite the crowd of over 25,000 being their highest of the season, the peripheries of the home stands betrayed plenty of empty old gold seats.
Gone too, was the vociferous atmosphere I had remembered from my last visit. That night was the only time in 37 years I felt truly intimidated by the ferocity and volume of noise created by a home support. Along with Wolves’ slide down the table, the siting of the family section adjacent to the away support looks to have dented Molineux’s hostility somewhat. The efforts of a number of eight- or 10-year-old lads waving their gold flags in the family section at the Forest support didn’t really add to what was a subdued pre-match atmosphere, however this wasn’t helped by the first-half performance of the boys in red and white.
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Forest started brightly enough with Antonio having a crisp shot from outside the area, parried by the Wolves keeper in the first couple of minutes, and Lansbury hitting the post with a rasping shot from 25-30 yards out. After 10 minutes or so though, Forest seemingly took their foot off the gas. Lansbury and Osborn lost control of the middle and gave Wolves the impetus to gain a foothold that saw Forest chasing shadows for the majority of the half.
Another difference to my memories of 20 years ago was that then, the home crowd would have turned up the decibels to urge on their boys in ‘old gold’. This time, however, the only time the home crowd ‘mute’ button was switched was over-ridden was when they thought they’d ‘scored’ from what was clearly an offside position. Normal service was resumed however, once they’d seen the linesman’s flag.
Not that the Forest boys were ‘making all the noise’. The travelling army never got going in the first-half probably as a reflection of the increasing nervousness of Forest’s play during the remainder of the half. When, late on, Darlow was almost caught in possession, dilly-dallying over a simple clearance, it seemed that the last 10 minutes of the Norwich game might have been a one-off after all. The overheard conversations at half-time indeed confirmed that these thoughts were echoed by many others in the Reds vast support.
In the game 20 years prior, Forest cruised to a two goal first-half lead but were pegged back after the break by a resurgent Wolves performance before a certain Stuart Pearce saved the Reds’ blushes late on with a deflected free-kick. Thankfully, there was to be no such turn of events when Forest deservedly took the lead their vastly superior second-half performance so deserved.
Whilst it wasn’t his actions on the pitch that won the game this time, arguably it was clearly whatever Psycho said to his players during the break that did the trick on this occasion. From the off, Forest incessantly pressed Wolves in possession forcing them into the mistakes that increasingly provided the Reds’ players with the ball with which they subsequently utilised in, arguably, their best performance this term.
Antonio and Burke got wide, found space and ran at the full-backs. Britt, and particularly Matty Fryatt, fought for and held the ball up front bringing a revived Lansbury and increasingly assured Ben Osborn into the game. What little Wolves offered going forward was dealt with effortlessly by Fox, Lascelles, Mancienne and Lichaj, who, in contrast to standing off Sako in the first-half, got tight and forced him increasingly deep and central. Forest looked like a different team to the previous 10 games; they were full of invention, full of energy, busy and most importantly, confident.
The goals took their time coming but, responding to their almost total domination on the pitch, the travelling army, despite the complete intransigence of the Wolves supporters, took matters into their own hands and created an atmosphere, as they had against Norwich, which provided the players with that added confidence to go forward with confidence.
It was now a matter of time until the first goal went in. A delicious passing move down the left saw Britt tap in from Fryatt’s pinpoint cross and it immediately felt like game over. When Fryatt deservedly headed in a corner two minutes later, many of the Wolves contingent seemingly agreed and began to depart en masse to the catcalls of the now delirious Red masses.
Lansbury’s classy finish and celebration for the third put the icing on the cake and, having been initiated by a pinpoint cross-field ball from Osborn to provider Antonio, provided what was, and must be, the blueprint for Forest in this game and those to come. All three goals resulted from different styles of play.
The first was the result of pinpoint, one-touch, passing and movement. The second was good, old-fashioned strength and determination at a set piece. The final, and most aesthetically pleasing, showed how vision, quick thinking, pace and ability can turn defence into a goal within seconds.
Hopefully, now Forest can build on that blueprint and begin a concerted effort at pulling back the reins of the top six that, on this showing at least, highlights they are clearly capable of doing. If they do, then maybe my next visit to Molineux will be more like my previous one; in a cup tie with Forest a top tier side led by Stuart Pearce and roared on by another sold out away allocation.
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