Crank up the wibbly-wobbly special effects that signify a flashback and grab my hand. It’s nearly six years since Dexter Blackstock ripped off his shirt in delight to mark that last minute winner against Bristol City that effectively kept the club out of Dodge that is League 1.
Since then, a lot of water and pleasure boats have passed under Trent Bridge in this painful metaphor of Dexter’s career. He’s endured wretched luck with injury, been farmed out on loan to Leeds United and in-between times, has scored the occasional towering far post header while conceding numerous free kicks for climbing. It would have been little surprise if he had been quietly ushered out of the door by either Stuart Pearce or Dougie Freedman to Huddersfield Town. But his performance and winner whilst wearing the all-important piece of fabric around his upper arm was pleasing to see and reminded us all that he has a role to play in the long-term absence of Britt Assombalonga. Having said that, it’s a good job he managed to dig the ball out of his feet and scoop it into the corner since he took it from the magic left foot of the on-rushing Benny Osborn who would have no doubt larruped it into the roof of the net.
After a relative period of non-tinkering with the team, Freedman acknowledged how knackered some of the lads were on Tuesday evening against Charlton Athletic and decided to freshen things up a little: Osborn was relieved of his duties of scampering around like a cat chasing a torchlight and Michael Mancienne returned to patrol that part of the pitch just in front of the central defenders, which is convenient since he is one himself. Despite such changes, to eke out a win against an impressive Middlesbrough team is no small achievement: the biggest test of any relatively new manager’s reign comes after the first inevitable defeat so with this in mind, the Boogiemeister knocked this examination paper out of the park.
But it wasn’t a stroll around the park while soaking up the sunshine, devouring an ice cream and feeding the deer. Grant Leadbitter’s cross to the far post deflected off Mancienne, resulting in the ball nestling snugly in the Trent End net. No matter. Gary Gardner promptly decided to maintain his one-man crusade to win Goal of the Day in The Championship and curled a beauty into the corner.
The second half saw Boro enjoy most of the ball and although there were a few hairy moments, they were kept largely at arm’s length – scarily reminiscent of the performance against another title chasing team in the shape of Bournemouth. Forest ceded possession and looked to break forward – a tactic utilised wonderfully well as Michail Antonio had the Boro defence desperately looking around for a big red panic button to push on numerous occasions. From one such foray, Blackstock converted what turned out to be the winner.
Despite the fact that the Teesiders have a miserable record at the City Ground, this was in many ways another impressive performance. Although Forest were pegged back for long periods, Freedman's team counter-attacked with purpose and just as importantly, numbers with midfielders arriving on the edge of the box after inroads were made down both flanks. In short, this wasn’t simply a case of hoof it to Antonio and hope for the best. If there were a concern though, it would be that a long-term reliance on playing in such a manner against superior teams might produce such joy for only a limited time. Nonetheless, when it’s this effective, let’s enjoy it.
Although the league table still suggests that expectations should be kept hermetically sealed, this is emotionally dominated and logic defying football and in the immediate aftermath of that post-win sunshine, it is difficult to not find oneself scrutinising the fixture list and indulging in an extended hypothesis of ‘what if?’ with the remaining games.