This was the first game to unfold in front of the newly named ‘Peter Taylor Stand’, a day before the 25th anniversary of the passing of the great man. It seems fitting to imagine a shadowy figure hunched in a seat towards the back of the stand, making snap but razor sharp judgments on some unsuspecting player, either placing them on the path to European glory or consigning them to further months of reserve team football. No doubt he would have offered some perceptive insights into today’s performance and whispered the name of the player who would make the difference into the gaffer’s ear.
There were moments that reminded all present of how much this team assembled by Dougie Freedman is very much a work in progress. The front three of Chris O’Grady, Nelson Oliveira and Ryan Mendes were all snapped up on deadline day and although each of them bring something new and very much required to the team, it seems that a little work is still required on the training ground in order to get each one tuned in to ‘Work Together To Score A Goal For Forest’ FM. In summary, Forest were energetically wasteful.
Oliveira and O’Grady took turns to spearhead the attack but when the Portuguese was operating on the left side, this resulted in lots of teammates pointing, cajoling and shouting, all stemming from the desire that he be elsewhere – specifically, further back so as to help out his left back Daniel Pinillos. On another occasion, Oliveira watched wistfully as a flick on from O'Grady sailed harmlessly into an inviting space of the field. Furthermore, O’Grady twice went for goal from a difficult angle rather than squaring for either of his forwards to take advantage of their superior position. Maybe all three of them are so desperate to score goals and leave a legacy, leaving this desire to manifest itself in opting for rampant capitalist power and greed over a more benign socialism. Or maybe, they’re just snatching at chances a little – probably the latter.
Hull played out from the back effectively and cleverly dealt with Forest's pressing as Michael Dawson calmly orchestrated things and cleverly lured a posse of red shirts towards him, exhibiting the seductive powers of a Venus Fly Trap before dinking the ball up to the halfway line and thus engineering a swift counter attack. Damn him for generally getting in the way, heading balls clear and kicking balls away all damn afternoon.
Throughout the first half, the game ebbed and flowed with chances at both ends meticulously carved but wastefully spurned until Shaun Maloney (by the way, when did he rock up at Hull after leaving Wigan Athletic and apparently turning out for Chicago Fire?) went down in the box after a rather gentle tug from Matt Mills. It looked softer than an Andrex puppy dog after a sustained hour of belly rubbing but nonetheless, a tug was evident. It did seem curious that the assistant referee, who was nearer to the incident than the referee, gave nothing and stood stoically while the referee – a Mr Nigel Miller – whistled, pointed and generally gesticulated in the direction of the penalty spot.
Hull striker Abel Hernandez elected to do a Henri Lansbury and blast the ball down the middle. We all know how such things can turn out and fortunately for Forest, a spread-eagled leg belonging to Dorus de Vries prevented the ball hitting the net. From the resulting corner, Chris O’Grady was clever. Realising that Mr N Miller was unlikely to award another penalty just after such a contentious one, he played his Joker card and pretty much cleared out Michael Dawson as the ball sailed into the box. Dawson was furious – Forest fans felt it was sound defending. Fine lines and all that.
The goal that ultimately decided this contest could and should have been avoided. As Moses Odubajo advanced down the Forest right hand side, Matt Mills came across from centre back to provide support for his right back, Eric Lichaj. But Mills, clearly frustrated, seemed more intent on taking both the ball AND Odubajo and succeeded only in conceding a corner when perhaps a cool head might have dealt with the situation more effectively. We’ll return to this theme later.
Maloney was in no mood to mess around and swung in a corner quickly – it was flicked on at the near post and touched over the line by Hernandez while most Forest players stood around scratching their heads and looking befuddled. It seems incomprehensible that Hernandez wasn’t in an offside position since there was no Forest defenders anywhere near the epicentre of this goal. On the other hand, offside or not, having zero defenders anywhere near the goal area when defending a corner perhaps isn’t the best method to employ in such a situation.
After the restart, Hull settled down and at times looked comfortable. That’s not to say that Forest didn’t cause Steve Bruce’s men some deep moments of anguish though. Oliveira forced Allan McGregor into a fine save and was even decent enough to acknowledge the Hull keeper’s acrobatics. He then tracked all the way back to his own goal line before he and Mills somehow contrived to concede a corner. Sometimes it’s just not your day.
To confirm this sentiment, Michael Mancienne – rapidly improving in a midfield-holding role – was withdrawn with hamstring problems. He was replaced by Kyle Ebicilio – who was also withdrawn with hamstring problems. That’s the second time the young Dutchman has entered the fray as a substitute only to be hooked off. This was probably a blessing though since for the period that he was on the pitch, he couldn’t do a single thing right.
Chances came and went at both ends until Matt Mills decided he’d just about had enough of avoidable goal concessions, hamstring injuries, home defeats and referee’s decisions going against him and let all his afternoon’s frustrations out in the form of a forearm battering to Chuba Akpom’s head. This was a far from cool solution to the afternoon’s issues and the red card brandished means a few defensive headaches for Freedman in terms of team selection next time out.
All of which means it’s now just the single solitary one home win from 10 games for Freedman at the City Ground. Away form is encouraging and Forest fit right in with the current trend sweeping the nation in terms of away wins. Once again, there was enough on show here to suggest that the tide will turn, as it was another game decided by the finest of margins. Besides, David Vaughan continued his excellent form and Mendes looks a heck of an exciting player. However, there is some tinkering to be done yet.