When plans were hatched to convene from various parts of the country for Wolves v Forest a few weeks ago, this looked like it would be a top-of-the-table clash. Alas, after a couple of runs that we can chalk up as 'trying' for both sides, which featured defensive uncertainties and humiliating hoyings for Forest and Wolves, it was more a scrap between two teams trying to find their way again.
Occasionally, it does seem as if, for his team selection, Stuart Pearce adopts/adapts a technique that David Bowie used to use for writing lyrics. Old Ziggy Thin White Stardust would write down disparate phrases, cut up the piece of paper then arrange them in a random order and set them to music. Pearce appears to do a similar thing, seemingly chucking random names onto his teamsheet with no obvious logic. Going away to face a team who usually play five in midfield? No problem: Psycho's Team-O-Matic Randomiser says play 4-4-2 with Ben Osborn and Henri Lansbury in the middle, nary a ball-winner in sight.
Still, magnificently, gloriously, it worked. Either this football business is a complete crapshoot and nobody knows anything, or Pearce just knows more than us. Possibly both.
Perhaps this is the benefit of keeping it simple. In this age when everyone is so much more 'informed' (which, obviously, doesn't mean they understand the game better) about football, we can get hung up terribly on matters like formations and tactics and approaches and so forth. After the game Pearce said Lansbury wasn't due to be in the side, but the midfielder's performances in training convinced him Lansbury deserved another chance. Maybe, particularly in a division like the Championship which seems to be governed by chaos and margins are desperately fine, putting your best players in approximately the right positions is all you need to do well.
In the first-half, things weren't quite so hot. It was an entertaining game with both sides having spells of dominance, Wolves having a goal disallowed and Carl Ikeme pulling off a pair of quite superb saves to deny Lansbury then Matty Fryatt. Wolves were probably very marginally the better side, despite right-back Matt Doherty being made to look like a 'Nam veteran after Michail Antonio ran at him a few times. That cold, dead look in his eyes. You weren't there man, you weren't there.
The thing that troubled most during the first half wasn't quite so much that Forest suffered a few dicey moments at the back, but more that those dicey moments were almost always self-inflicted. Dangerous passing across the back four handed Wolves a couple of chances, Karl Darlow went walkabout for reasons passing understanding at one point, England's Jamaal Lascelles just looks terrified at the moment, while Danny Fox's instinct to play 90% of all passes/throws backwards is infuriating. It's especially irksome given that his main strength is supposed to be going forwards.
Still, all was level at the break, and there was enough promise in the performance to suggest that the coming 45 minutes wouldn't be entirely awful. And that assessment, as is too frequently the case from your humble correspondent, turned out to be ludicrously pessimistic.
For Forest were superb in the second 45 minutes. Sure, Wolves didn't show up with only Bakary Sako showing anything approaching threat, gumption, skill or pace (debutant Danny Graham just looked happy to get out of the house), but arguably that's because Forest didn't let them do anything else. Osborn and Lansbury controlled things in the middle, and almost more important than the result was the nagging feeling that the latter may well be back. Lansbury has been desperately frustrating this season, some way below his best form when Forest have needed him to be better, but he seemed to have his swagger back at Molineux, those slipped passes coming off far more frequently and his confidence visibly growing. A fly in the ointment was that he picked up another booking, so he could do with knocking that on the head, but let's not be too picky for the moment.
Antonio was threatening as usual, Britt Assombalonga once more displayed he has the smarts to go with his marvellous girth, while Fryatt's runs were as intelligent as ever. The only vague disappointment was Chris Burke, whose right foot appeared to be magically replaced by a wet fish whenever he was called upon to deliver a final ball.
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And the goals. The lovely, delicious goals. The first came about from one of the best moves you'll see in the division all season, passes ticing and tacing this way and that, delicately creating space and easing the home defence apart enough to leave Assombalonga completely free in the six-yard box to tap home his 11th of the season. He could arguably scratch his crotch and belch for the remaining 28 games of the season and his debut campaign at Forest could still be deemed a success. Maybe.
The second was a vaguely odd affair, a rasping corner nodded in via a flick off the bar by Fryatt, who got his head to the ball seemingly after Antonio had ducked just in front of him. The third was another delightful affair, with a smashing switched pass by Osborn finding Antonio who shunted it across the box, a couple dummied allowing Lansbury to stroke home with the sort of power that tells you his timing and confidence is back. Forest really should've had a fourth too, Jamie Paterson batting an easyish rebound over the bar.
No matter. We left Molineux looking forward to that Saturday evening sore throat/blissful satisfaction combo that can only come from a Forest win. More of this please, Forest.