Dougie Freedman’s near-perfect start ended as Nottingham Forest lost 2-1 to Charlton Athletic, leaving the Reds 11 points adrift of the play-off positions. Christian Brown offers a fan’s eye view from the Valley…
You can always rely on Forest to cheer you up.
It was all going so well. The Reds were on a six-match unbeaten run, winning five of those. An incredible 19 goals had been scored. Freedmania had spread like gravy on a tablecloth. Derby’s season had showed signs of derailing. I was happy. The fans — amazingly — were happy. Everyone was happy. Then we had to go and ruin it by losing 2-1 to Charlton Athletic, best known nationwide for being softer than candy floss.
However — and now for the Hollywood film twist — despite the season being pretty much over in March for the first time… well, ever, the loss DIDN’T cause a meltdown of sorts. And with good reason too, as for large portions of the game, Forest were the better side. It’s not often you lose a game and come away with more positives than negatives. In fact, this is probably about as frequent as the solar eclipse, so we may as well make the most of it.
We’ll start with a negative. Ultimately, two defensive errors cost Forest the match, and the first came within the first five minutes. While Jamaal Lascelles has recently had assault charges against him dropped, he may be facing new ones after savagely and needlessly flying into Charlton striker Tony Watt on the edge of the box. To make matters worse, the forward was running away from goal and at best would have got a shot off from range. Lascelles’ challenge was reckless, preventable and, oh so unnecessary, and it didn’t take long for it to haunt us.
It goes without saying the set piece was in ‘nothing but net’ range, and sure enough, Frederic Bulot calmly stepped up and expertly placed it past the reach of Karl Darlow. I’m sure the goalkeeper had better plans to celebrate his 100th appearance for the Reds, but football can be a cruel mistress. At this stage, I wasn’t too concerned. This season, Forest have come back more times than Lazarus had to, so it was no great shock to see an immediate upturn in performance — nor was it to see an equaliser.
The equaliser itself though, was divine. There were lots of things Stuart Pearce did during his managerial spell that I disagreed with, but signing Michail Antonio certainly isn’t one of them. Antonio picked up the ball on the left wing, before cutting in past the entire Charlton right-hand side with such pace and power it can only be described as like a chainsaw through butter, before delivering an absolute sledgehammer of a strike from outside the box that beat goalkeeper Stephen Henderson. It was absolutely magnificent, and we have yet another Goal of the Season contender in the bank.
However, Antonio soon turned into a partial villain — albeit for about 20 seconds. We are going to have to accept that Antonio won’t always track back, and with the amount of times he gets us goals or assists, I guess in a warped way he’s sort of earned the right of not having to all the time. And to be fair to him, last night he was pretty solid defensively apart from one moment. And guess what happened in that one moment? The Forest curse of bad luck struck again.
Danny Fox found himself in a lose-lose situation, as he faced a two-on-one with Lawrie Wilson bombing down the right on the overlap. This option was used, and from that a ball came in and a worryingly unmarked Bulot swept home his and Charlton’s second. Now, Fox got a lot of stick for this, but I don’t really see why. If he’d gone to cover Wilson, then he’s basically given away a free cross on the edge of the area which could have equally led to a goal as the man in possession has more time to pick a pass. Stop the cross, stop the goal, etc. If he closes the man with the ball down, then it’s going to go to Wilson anyway and the same result happens. You also have to question what was going on in the box for Bulot to find space without a blue shirt in sight, but had Antonio tracked back on this occasion, the issue is solved and Forest probably don’t concede.
Fox gets a lot of abuse, and in some instances rightfully so, but this was easily one of his best games in a Forest shirt. Defensively, he was sublime. I lost count of the amount of times he had to bail out Antonio by getting stuck into the right-winger, keeping the ball and then finding feet after. There was also one occasion where Charlton broke through the middle, Fox sensed the danger and swept over to put an end to it. A classy performance from the number 13.
The words ‘classy performance’ cannot be attributed to Matty Fryatt however, who shamefully missed Forest’s best chance of an equaliser in painful fashion. After a beautiful cross came in from the left, Fryatt had timed his run impeccably, and had ghosted in-between Charlton’s two centre-backs. The result? A free header — surely he had to hit the target? Right? RIGHT?! Wrong, as despite having enough time to watch the entire James Bond collection before returning to the field of play, his effort flew into the stands. If ever there was a moment to sum up our season, it was that.
That said, there were numerous positives. While our final ball repeatedly let us down — one Chris Burke corner went straight into the side netting for example — we’re playing on the floor, and doing it well. We kept the ball tremendously, especially under pressure in defensive areas. We did all the right things, but unfortunately it didn’t come off. Ben Osborn is getting better with each performance, and even Lars Veldwijk had a good game when he came on. On one occasion, he held off three men before spraying an inch perfect ball out to the wing. There is hope yet for the big Dutchman.
Barring a miracle, this season is finished. As horrific as it is to have our season over with two months left to play, to use an infamous expression, it is what it is. Our chances of finishing sixth are about as likely as Gino Padula being inducted to our Hall of Fame. However, with Freedman at the helm, there is no reason why next season can’t be one that ends in glory, as we will win far more than we lose playing like we did last night. Hopefully now we’ll see the likes of Tyler Walker make the step up, as with nothing to lose, it’s a good time to blood youngsters in as there’s no pressure on them. Let’s just hope for some more Keogh-tastic defending down the A52 so we’ve still got a derby for next season.