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Match report: Nottingham Forest 1-3 Brentford

At one point of this teamselectionshambles, a defunct Chinese lantern that once burned so bright gently fluttered dejectedly to the ground. Sometimes, this stuff just writes itself

Richard Heathcote

Can it really be 50 days since Forest last prevailed in a game of football? Can it really be six weeks since that home game against Fulham? Is it actually a month and a half since the bucket-load of goals that game produced? This all happened before it was known that flying drones over football grounds can cause international incidents.

Let’s not beat around the bush, Pearce’s team selection was further out there than a Byrds song on acid. Michael Mancienne got the nod to step out of the back four and play as a shielding midfielder, Ben Osborn was tipped a wink in favour of Robert Tesche and Britt Assombalonga was tasked with making sure the water bottles were full. Michail Antonio was to be the focal of the strike force. This was brave/revolutionary/a massive gamble.

After five minutes watching Antonio bustle around up front and scuff a shot wider than the Trent, the mind wandered back to the halcyon days of the infamous ‘Greg Halford’ experiment, in which the tall one was utilised as a striker. It was thought we'd banished this memory from our collective memories and chalked it up as a mass hallucination that we all agreed to never speak of again. To be fair though, Antonio got better as the game wore on.

The problems were at the back. As one, the Forest defence stood back and admired Moses Odubajo’s nice, shiny boots (after all, they were well nice with personalised stitching and everything) and once they’d done staring at them covetously, he’d waltzed through and Jon Toral had blasted the ball into the net. In the whole scheme of ‘setting yourself up not to concede and keeping it tight at the back’, this event wasn’t quite what was anticipated.

With a goal conceded, Henri Lansbury decided that he wanted no further part of it and promptly got himself booked. One could be forgiven for thinking that he was hoping for an early bath but he fell just short of his desired outcome.

At this point, a defunct Chinese lantern that once burned so bright gently fluttered dejectedly to the ground. It is difficult to ignore the symbolism and sometimes, this stuff just writes itself. If you are struggling to decipher the meaning here, I suggest you switch off the device from which you are accessing these words and go and switch on a television with moving pictures and everything that you have a chance of understanding.

Eric Lichaj came on for the injured Jack Hunt. It’s fair to say that the less written about his impact upon proceedings the better. Let’s just say that his first touch was significant, just not in a good way.

Half-time. Just the one television in the Trent End and a record twenty minutes to acquire a pathetic excuse of a warm drink. It had to get better.

With Assombalonga relieved of water filling duties and called up to run around on the pitch, the initial team selection was consigned to the draw containing the memo entitled 'sign Eugene Dadi'. Let’s hope that this draw remains closed for a few more years yet. Credit to Pearce though: he tried something radical and leftfield in an effort to stop the almighty rot, surely preferable to repeating the same thing over again and expecting a different outcome. It was a gamble that he was big enough to recognise as a mistake.

But before any of the plans for the second half could be implemented, Kelvin Wilson decided that the task ahead simply wasn’t hard enough and scythed down Alex Pritchard for an indisputable penalty. Good work, Kelv. Said penalty was duly dispatched with aplomb before I'd even ripped open my rare half time treat of a Dairy Milk wrapper. We’re Nottingham Forest; I want to go home.

This wasn’t good. Andre Gray held off Mancienne with ease and then twisted Wilson's blood more than a twisty blood thing before shooting narrowly wide.

Not to be outdone, Danny Fox fired narrowly wide. Antonio forced a good save from Button. Fox fired narrowly wide again but then went down with what looked like a serious injury which, having made three substitutions, left Forest to play the remaining ten minutes or so with ten men. Just how many mirrors did He Who Shall Not Be Named smash on his way out? Maybe He is still around. Maybe His presence lingers on. Perhaps He is using the dark arts to make our defenders do very odd things.

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Nonetheless, Antonio smashed one in. Suddenly, there was urgency about the team. It was on. The comeback of the decade. Chances were created. Britt smashed one of them over from close range. That was about it.

Brentford deserved their win; they made us look like a team that were low on confidence and hadn’t won for ten games. Oh. Right. Yes. I take your point.

It could have been much worse. How? The fans could have turned on the team, even the manager. We’ve all seen it happen. But if there is one good thing to come out of this teamselectionshambles, it’s that the fans stuck by the team and the manager. Of course there were the odd boos and the occasional jeers when a pass was misplaced but, like at Huddersfield, the chants went on, the flags were waved and even Eric Lichaj was acknowledged in a positive way for getting forward and persisting after a truly hellish initial contribution to the game. All this and little Benny Osborn who never stopped demanding the ball and trying something positive. There seemed to be a feeling that this was what we’ve got and we’re going to stick with it, no matter how hard it may be.

In many ways, that offers some comfort in these grim, dark and cold times.