M“Forest helped local rivals Derby to go top of the Champioship...”
Jeez, Sky Sports News. Talk about harshing our (quite mild) buzz. There we were, quite satisfied with a solid point at one of the better teams in the division, and you have to go and ruin it.
And it was a pretty solid point against a team who have inexplicably managed to keep pace at the top of the table despite averaging a manager every three games this season. Especially since Forest were largely dreadful for the first hour, and were startled awake like a snoozing yokel on a wooden porch, spooked by a rattlesnake.
It was always going to be interesting to see how Forest would line-up without the suspended Henri Lansbury, and indeed given the midfielder's listlessness thus far this term, whether it would make the slightest difference. The answer to the first question was in a 4-1-4-1 system with Robert '7/10' Tesche sitting in front of the defence, while the second...erm...not really.
Watford dominated the early spells and Odion Ighalo's opener had, to say the least, been coming. It was troubling how easily Watford managed to open the Forest defence, with a curious amount of space appearing between the unusually-poor Michael Mancienne and the not-quite-so-unusually poor Eric Lihaj. Matej Vydra should probably have scored a few minutes earlier after being courteously waved through by an assortment of theoretical defenders (although at times it was tricky to see exactly whether they knew what they were supposed to be defending), only for Karl Darlow to smartly deny him. Indeed, if it wasn't for the Geordie Shore-quiffed keeper, Forest would have been put very firmly to bed long before Michail Antonio could launch his latest rescue act.
The jittery defending continued throughout the game, and it was perhaps most troubling because many of the hairier moments came when there was little ostensible danger. Mancienne, Kelvin Wilson and Lichaj managed, on several occasions, to put Forest in some danger when trying to bring the ball out of the back, their tentative steps inviting pressure from a Watford attacking line most willing to provide it. Wilson's poor form has been evident for the whole season (when he's been fit), but if his ennui spreads to Mancienne (who could quite easily have been sent off in the first half) then we could have a serious problem. At the moment, Stuart Pearce has to at least consider putting Jamaal Lascelles in ahead of Wilson, who simply isn't the same player as he was in his first spell at the City Ground. It should probably tell you something that the much, and for the most part fairly maligned Dan Harding was the best player in the back four.
Ahead of them the central midfield trio didn't do a massive amount wrong, but just didn't do a massive amount right, either. Ben Osborn produced a few nice touches but his passing was errant too frequently (his pass completion rate was 72%, if you pay attention to such things) and conceded the penalty with a clumsy shove (so maybe scratch the 'didn't do a massive amount wrong' bit for him), David Vaughan was busy and will hopefully stay fit, while Tesche was his usual tidy self. The problem with these three playing together is none naturally break forwards, meaning that Britt Assombalonga was left running largely on his own up top, and boy did he run.
It was, therefore, left to the wingers to save a point. I keep waiting for Michail Antonio's form to drop away as history and assorted Sheffield Wednesday fans tell us it should and will, but it hasn't happened yet. His start to his Forest career may basically be a statistical outlier, but it can lie as far out as it likes for as long as it likes. The first goal was that wonderful combination of persistence and skill, hunting down the ball then brushing past a couple of challenges, before a delightful improvised finish from a silly angle. The toe-poke is, as any right-thinking human should know, a truly noble art.
And the second was all down to Chris Burke. The Scot is a curious player in that he can be utterly anonymous for 95% of the game, as he was at Vicarage Road, but then come up with something remarkable and game-changing, as he did at Vicarage Road. Picking the ball up well inside his own half, Burke very much appeared to take the ball out of play, but the linesman disagreed and waved him on, and on he went with gusto, barreling down the flank, dancing past a challenge with a vaguely unconvincing stepover, before clipping the perfect cross to the back stick where Antonio was waiting to head home.
Forest could have won the game, but given the way the first 60-odd minutes went Watford will probably think that a point was a mugging enough. While it is perhaps a shade troubling that Forest didn't lumber into gear until they were already losing, and that's now six league games without a win, the nature of both the performance and the opposition means we should be happy with the point.
That won't be the case on Saturday against Blackburn, though. A win there please, Stuart.