Bouncing back after defeat to Charlton Athletic, Nottingham Forest beat title contenders Middlesbrough 2-1 as Dougie Freedman continues to impress. Brandon Reeves offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground…

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Whether the ‘P’ word happens this season or not; I would love to enjoy the final few weeks of another helter-skelter season by the Trent, watching the team continue to do what they are doing under Dougie Freedman. The players are playing for the badge and for each other, that’s all you can ask for given the situation.

A nagging topic of conversation with friends and my dad, among others since Dougie has brought about the fine form the Reds are in, keeps on coming back to the old manager. The other ‘P’ word: Pearce.

There are the same players but largely contrasting form and levels of performance. There are the people who like to defend Pearce and say it’s the players’ fault he was sacked, which in a way it was. But where there’s the 50% of players fault, there is the other half of Pearce’s portion of blame.

From my view, a young fan who never watched Pearce at the club as a player, I probably never felt the same affinity with Pearce as older fans that did, so I found it easier, earlier, to voice concerns and lose faith. I could obviously understand and get onside with him at the club; I saw what good he was doing and could tell that the integrity and stature of the man unified the club and its fan base. I was well aware of his status.

But, there were the deep flaws that plagued his short tenure as manager: the constant tinkering with line-ups and tactics held the team back, and the players clearly didn’t have the confidence in him or his staff. That translated to the pitch so direly.

It isn’t fair to stick the boot in though, and at least he can have that memorable Derby day at Prideless.

This is where Dougie comes in. Middlesbrough visited the City Ground with the chance to go top with a win, but knew the danger of playing the Reds in their current form, especially on the back of a defeat and the fact that Bournemouth died a death here a couple of weeks previous. Beware the wounded animal. It was going to be good test of Forest’s bouncebackability under Freedman.

They showed that in abundance. Freedman showed his tactical nous as he set up the team well to stifle Middlesbrough and play on the break. Boro had much more of the ball but didn’t manage to break down the Reds’ solid rear-guard supported by the hard-working Michael Mancienne and Gary Gardner sitting in front.

Middlesbrough’s biggest threat was down the right through the regularly overlapping Spurs loanee Ryan Fredericks who escaped the attentions of Antonio and Lichaj up until his untimely departure through injury.

It was from the right where the game’s opening goal came from. A short corner routine found Grant Leadbitter who wriggled his way past Antonio and cutely chipped the ball to the back post, it hit the far post and bounced in off of Mancienne’s back. 1-0.

An unfortunate setback but despite the lack of the ball, Forest were looking the more threatening and were encouraging. Antonio was looking dangerous on the counter, and Middlesbrough finding it difficult to deal with him.

Forest finally got on the scoreboard in a way that has become incredibly enjoyable recently. It isn’t about when we will score, it’s about how good Gardner’s goal will be. And it was the young Villa loanee, the human highlight reel himself, Gary ‘goal of the week’ Gardner.

Todd Kane prodded the ball forward to Lansbury at the top of the ‘D’ who teed up Gardner, and the man in form struck a sweet side footed curler out of the reach of Dimi Konstantopolous into the top corner. 1-1.

The pattern of the game was set. The first-half was an interesting spectacle, seeing both teams compete eagerly. It was difficult to separate them but you felt that Boro were there to be shot at despite their domination of the ball.

Skipper Henri Lansbury went off at half-time with an injury and was replaced by Ben Osborn, one of Forest’s bright young things. Well, the first 15-20 minutes of the second-half was drab. Neither team got a hold of the ball nor got into their rhythm of play, it was difficult to watch.

Boro were patiently probing, getting the ball wide, crossing it in, seeing it cleared. Patient probing, ball goes wide, crossed in, cleared away. Probe, wide, cross, clearance. Forest were working noticeably hard to stop Aitor Karanka’s men, and it was working.

Forest forayed into Boro’s half on the break irregularly, tenaciously trying to get a goal while safeguarding Darlow’s goal. Before Forest got the second, there was a penalty appeal for Forest where Tomas Kalas was accused of handling a Michail Antonio cross that bounced up off of his leg and onto his arm. I couldn’t call whether it was a penalty or not, Antonio seemed adamant but the referee wasn’t having any of it.

The game-winning goal came from a throw in in our own corner. Lichaj hurled it down the line, Blackstock simply flicked to Antonio, he brought it down and gave the ball back to Dexter who invited Antonio to burst past Emilio Nsue onto a pass, force his way into the box and pull it back for Blackstock. Dexter on his 150th club appearance, who took the armband from the injured Lansbury, received the ball on the back foot and had acres of space in the penalty area. With little backlift he managed to generate enough power on the scoop towards goal that beat Konstantopolous for the match winner. 2-1.

This dents Middlesbrough’s promotion push slightly, although they are one of four teams on 66 points. I can’t and won’t call it, it’s tighter than ever before with 10 games to go. Forest are nine points off the top six with Watford, Wolves, Ipswich and Brentford still to play among others. Freedmania is running wild brother! (Shameless Hulk Hogan reference). However the season ends, we might have a team to be proud of and a team we look forward to watching next May. Bring on Leeds.


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