Watching these two teams face off was a bit like watching two eager young things on a blind date: one party initially keen and enthusiastic to begin with, doing all the talking and liberally pouring the wine until the other party eventually plucks up the courage to seize the wine bottle, order the puddings, change the topic of conversation from house prices to preferred ‘formations’ and call for a round of Jagermeister. Eventually, both decide to round things off with a filter coffee and an After Eight, dignity intact.
Without the suspended Britt Assombalonga, the line up took the shape of a 4-2-3-1, which is fast becoming the new 4-4-2 in its ubiquitous use. Thomas Ince, Michail Antonio and Jamie Paterson supporting Matty Fryatt up top provoked much nodding of heads in approval. A slight reservation was mentally noted at the thought of Henri Lansbury and Ben Osborn as holding midfielders. A lack of experience and a second yellow card to follow the obligatory and compulsory first booking for Henri would leave little Benny Osborn scampering around even more than is physically possible.
Naturally, Henri got his first yellow card after eight minutes. Eight minutes! Oh, Henri. Henri, Henri, Henri – what can the matter be? How do we solve a problem like Lansburee? Henri was only surpassed in his ordinariness by Ince, who once again failed to retrieve his thumb from his posterior, to pull his socks up, to roll up his sleeves, to find his game-face, to…well, to be the Thomas Ince that once ripped through Championship teams like me whizzing through the talky bits involving Steve Claridge on The Football League Show. Increasingly, it’s looking like this one needs to be safely tucked away in the already groaning cupboard labeled ‘underwhelming loan deals’.
The first goal duly arrived on ten minutes. Cut and paste the description of recent goals conceded at home (Brentford’s first and Johnny Howson’s for Norwich) and stick it right here. Once again, the Forest back line was dazzled by the fancy footwork of a member of the opposition, this time, Callum Harriott. Once again, they duly stood back in order to get a better view, thus allowing aforementioned member of the opposition to dispatch the small round thing into the stringy net type thing.
The first half played out to the sight of Charlton boss Bob Peeters prowling the touchline, reminiscent of Tony Soprano checking on the welfare of the ducks who took up temporary roost in his back garden in Season One, enjoying the family pool. I miss Tony. I really miss Christopher. But I especially miss AJ. In this fantasy of Mafiosi Championship football managers, Stuart Pearce would be Johnny Sack: composed, powerful but easily capable of busting faces, especially should one besmirch the appearance of his wife. By all accounts, a ‘sit-down’ was arranged at half-time: "We had one or two critical words, constructive ones, and it was a case of saying, ‘look, you’re doing yourselves a disservice – you have to take what you’re doing on the training pitch into matchdays.’ Pearce said some words. Skulls were cracked.
Robert ‘7 out of 10’ Tesche predictably and sensibly replaced Lansbury and did what all ‘7 out of 10’ midfield players do: won more challenges than he lost and passed the ball to a team mate, in a forward direction. Not only that but he cracked in a belter and did a somersault, both enjoyed mightily by the now awake and fervent crowd.
If football were like the marketing wing for the pissy alcoholic beverage would have us believe, every home game would be like the recent Norwich victory - or at least the final five minutes or so - but this is reality, so cut them some slack and give them some room. Although Forest looked strong, the Addicks were hardly hanging on for dear life as we stamped on their fingernails.
Some perceived this as a ‘must-win’ game: it really wasn’t. Sure it would have been nice to chalk up a ‘routine’ home win, after which we would no doubt hear much anticipation that the boys would ‘kick-on’ from here. Yet pleasingly, the focus has shifted a little away from obsession with promotion and play-off talk. It seems that the majority of fans are actually enjoying being a Forest fan again, encapsulated by the terrific vocal support and flag-waving, both home and away. Of course, a few more wins would make the sherry go down a little easier on a Saturday night (yeah, sherry - try it, it’s nice) but we don’t seem to be whining and moaning and slapping ourselves hard around the face with a wet fish just because we aren’t in the top six. This is a good thing and who knows, with expectations lowered and pressure dampened, we may even start to see the team evolve and develop into a winning machine. For now though, the second half renaissance will do.