An abject first-half display, and a Ross McCormack hat-trick, meant an encouraging second-half performance wasn’t enough to prevent Nottingham Forest losing 3-2 to Fulham. Billy Sexton offers a fan’s eye view from Craven Cottage…

They say to avoid clichés like the plague… but sod it, Forest’s performance at Craven Cottage on Wednesday night can only be discussed bearing in mind a few of football’s finest phrases.

“It’s a game of two halves”

Forest seem to have a problem getting in to gear as of late. And by ‘as of late’ I refer to the last 22 matches. In fact, the last time the Reds got out the blocks well was when they defeated Fulham 5-3 at the City Ground way back in September (when we topped the league table – sigh).

As with the Derby game, the starting XI looked like they hadn’t bothered with a warm-up before kick-off at Craven Cottage; the first-half showing was lethargic, sloppy, lazy and full of questionable tactics (more on that soon). Forest found themselves three goals down within 35 minutes, all courtesy of £11m man Ross McCormack. Five of McCormack’s eight league goals have come against Forest this season, and sloppy marking by Gary Gardner allowed the former Leeds man to curl home his first of the evening.

Kelvin Wilson was caught napping as the ball was lofted over to Hugo Rodallega, who set up McCormack’s second. From an experienced defender, you really expect much better, especially after just 18 minutes. An unfortunate deflection gave McCormack his hat-trick and, if it weren’t for two fantastic saves by Dorus de Vries, it could have been five by half-time. A well-rehearsed Henri Lansbury free kick gave Forest a glimmer of hope, but it says it all when a set piece was the highlight of Forest’s first 45.

Whether Stuart Pearce went ‘Psycho’ at half-time or there’s something in the oranges, Forest came out for the second-half a changed team. Lansbury notched his second, and Britt Assombalonga was unable to steer home a close range header to bring it back to level pegging. The manner in which Forest pressed Fulham in the second-half was very impressive; fast-flowing football, utilising Ben Osborn and Michail Antonio’s skill and pace in running at full-backs.

It beggars belief how Forest are able to appear to be a different team game-to-game, half-to-half, but regardless of how encouraging the second-half display was, the damage had already been done. Forest ‘simply’ need to start better. In far too many games (Cardiff, Huddersfield, Rochdale, Birmingham), the Reds have found themselves trailing at half-time, with three points becoming a hope, rather than a possibility.

“If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there”

The long ball game (or should I say ‘kick and hope that Britt or Michail get on the end of it’) isn’t consistently working for Forest, and the sooner the team stop playing it, the better. Assombalonga isn’t a striker without quality; his performance hasn’t dropped off as the season has progressed – the fact that he is the league’s third highest goal scorer is testament to that. Rather, his supply is waning, and he spent most of the first half against Fulham running for ambitious long balls.

It’s no coincidence that Forest look more threatening when they utilise the pace and quality (it’s there somewhere, trust me) of their attacking midfielders and maintain a high intensity going forward – this was the most impressive part of their game against Fulham and Derby. Admittedly with Fulham, there was a sense that the Cottagers dropped off in the second-half, they knew the game was all but won. However, the fact that Forest snatched victory at Derby and gave Fulham a fright is testament to the Reds’ style of play.

“Managing expectations”

A vital part of being a Forest fan is managing expectations. Whether it’s suggesting that the team needs a season before challenging for promotion, to being confident that Pearce had bought shrewdly and created a genuine title contending team, with over half the season gone, it’s safe to assume that Forest will finish in a similar position to last season (another sigh).

“But we deserve to be in the Premier League… We started so well!” Regardless of history and performances, the club needs stability more than anything. Despite Danny Mills being made to look like a bit of a plonker at the weekend, Pearce’s tactical ability is questionable – you only need to look at his use of one substitute in the entire Fulham game, and not bringing on the likes of Paterson to inject some new life into a side chasing the game.

Having said that, the club needs firm ground more than it needs late play-off surge and whether Pearce is the man to take us to promotion in the future remains to be seen. Yet he has not yet lost the dressing room, and he’ll have to conceive a love child with Rammy before he loses the fans. Fawaz may have been trigger-happy in the past, but it seems that even he realises the need for stability. Results may be disappointing between now and the end of the season, but lets build on the squad foundations Pearce has put together and progress next season. Who knows “it could be our year…”

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