In some ways, perhaps it was best that the penalty that saw Forest consigned to defeat against Birmingham City was not as controversial as it initially appeared. There was little doubt that Britt Assombalonga had handled the ball on the line. The fans saw it, the players saw it, and the fourth official saw it. Only the referee and his closest assistant managed to miss the offence. You can moan all day about the means, but not the end. It should not overshadow what was another poor performance.
"It took a while for the decision to be made but eventually the right one was and we accept that," Stuart Pearce said after the game. "We'll never be a football club that bemoans the match officials. I saw Britt handball it and so did the fourth official behind me. I'm not quite sure how the referee and his linesman, who were closer, could not see that but fair play to the referee. He has admitted he couldn't see the incident." Quite – nothing to see here. Of greater note was Pearce’s post-match assessment that Forest were deserving of a point, but no more. I’m not sure I’d even go that far.
"We've got a lot of hard work to do before the Charlton game next week," was Pearce’s frank assessment. "The players need to show me they're up for the fight. We're not going to use the penalty as a smokescreen or an excuse for why we haven't taken something from this game. We didn't play well enough. That is the bottom line."
Pearce is right, too. The Reds were desperately poor during the first half. There were notable improvements after the break, but not sufficient to negate the conclusion that after two steps forward this was a large jump backwards. After returning to form against Wolves, Henri Lansbury again seemed ineffective, and received his customary booking. Lansbury is good enough to show greater maturity and consistency. It's a statement that could be said about numerous players in red.
Forest registered more possession than their opponents, but Birmingham preferred to play a direct style that appeared to catch us off guard. They enjoyed just 43.5% possession and completed just 322 passes compared to Forest’s 432, but had 17 shots at Karl Darlow’s goal and registered ten corners to our two.
Without sounding ungrateful or arrogant, when you look down the list of the Forest team yesterday in comparison to their counterparts, there really is no excuse for such under-performance. David Davis, Demarai Gray, Andrew Shinnie, Paul Caddis, Jonathan Grounds. Are Birmingham’s players of greater ability than ours? No. Did they show more fight, concentration and quality? Oh yes.
Every player at Championship level is good enough to be part of a promotion-winning side – it’s that sort of division. The small differences are made by giving players the confidence and belief that in crunch situations, the moments on which matches sway one way or another, they will make positive choices. The right pass, the right decision, the right run to track your man. Being hyper-critical for a moment, is there anyone else other than Assombalonga and Michael Mancienne amongst the club’s high-profile players that have made those right decisions this season?
What I’m about to say is a grumpy Sunday morning moan of the highest order, but other than against Reading and Wolves, Forest are yet to put in an impressive display this season. We have played well in patches, of course, such as during the last 15 minutes against Norwich, but that remains insufficient for a side chasing promotion.
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The manager now has a decision to make for the visit of Charlton next weekend, with the suspension to Assombalonga. One option is to push Michail Antonio further forward and start Jamie Paterson. Paterson has been left out in the cold this season, but only Ben Osborn created more chances than him yesterday, and he only had 27 minutes to impress.
Even if Pearce keeps Antonio on the wing and starts Dexter Blackstock or Tom Ince instead, Paterson surely now merits a chance over Chris Burke? Against his former club Birmingham, Burke completed just five passes in the opposition half, the lowest of any Forest player, and had just 23 touches of the ball in 63 minutes and yet lost possession 11 times. Burke has moments of excellence, but they are being lost in the rough right now.
Until Charlton on Saturday, supporters would be forgiven for again being unimpressed by a side that had seemed to respond after a terrible run of form. Pearce will know that he must demand more from his high-profile players. It’s becoming a ‘broken record’ statement.