Since the time of yore, the importance of starting a game of football well has been drilled into the head of each and every young boy and girl who ever set foot on a pitch between the age of 5 and 14. Imperatives such as, ‘let them know who you are’ and ‘win your personal battles’ were the popular rallying cry, echoing around recreation grounds up and down the nation.
Sadly, such advice appears to fall on deaf ears at the City Ground. All too often, opposing teams have recently come to the City Ground and weaved elaborate and pretty circles around the team in red within the opening stages. The offenders? Step forward, Bournemouth, Middlesbrough, Rotherham and latterly, Watford.
Maybe it’s the insistence on playing ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ (the City Ground is many things but a jungle, it is not and it is far from being ‘the’ jungle). Maybe it’s the jumping in and out of little hoops during the warm up that knackers the players out. Maybe it’s the extra long huddle that most opposing teams tend to do these days that sends our lads into a frenzy of panic. Maybe…oh frankly, I don’t know, but it would be really lovely to see our lot get right in the grill of the opposition’s faces for once and put them on the back foot: let them know that if they want to stride away from Nottingham with any points stuffed up their jumpers, they’re going to have to fight for it. Perhaps even have to fight dirty and resort to wedgies or Chinese burns.
As it was, the highlight of the early stages, from a Forest perspective, came when Troy Deeney picked up Watford’s mascot to move him into the right place for the pre match photo and plonked him right on to the assistant referee’s toes. Luckily for him, he wasn’t wearing open toed sandals – otherwise it could have been nasty.
After that, Watford went about their business with verve and determination. A standard corner routine – you know the one, near post flick on to a lad at the far post to nod in – undid the Forest defence early on and by the time the interval ambled nonchalantly into view, it was 2-0. In between times, either team could have scored at least three goals each in an entertaining and open game. Some audible booing accompanied the half time whistle, which was surprising and frankly, unjustified. Admittedly, the team were two goals down at home and appear to be embarking on another of those ‘runs’ in which they specialise. But Forest weren’t particularly bad; it’s just that Watford were particularly good. They moved the ball swiftly from back to front, committed men forward from midfield and did those pesky quick triangles on the edge of the Forest box which caused panic, confusion and were highly effective in drawing the defence out of position in order to create gaps of the Watford type. In short, a better team and a good team. It’s worth repeating that Forest have played much worse this season….so much worse on some occasions.
Arguably, a turning point of sorts came when Kelvin Wilson flipped and kicked out. It should be remembered that he has a bit of previous with this type of thing, notably away at Sheffield United when he stuck one on Greg Halford. Admittedly, Halford does have one of those faces but such an act really doesn’t help anyone. Were Wilson to have shown a little more quality and consistency throughout the course of this season, the home crowd might have offered sympathy and harassed the referee. However, any anger was directed towards Wilson for being so reckless and practically kissing goodbye to Forest retrieving anything from the game. Disappointingly, Wilson has been a million miles away from the seemingly classy centre back with a wealth of experience that Forest fans thought they’d signed on his return to the club.
Nonetheless, silver linings and all that jazz as Michael Mancienne was withdrawn from his midfield role to play at centre back with Jack Hobbs. Surely its time to bin this whole Mancienne in midfield thing and consign it to the drawer labeled ‘Grant Holt on the left wing’. Indeed, after Wilson’s enforced departure, Forest looked more balanced and assured. Watford were sweating and looking jittery as Forest created chances. It’s probably better not to seek out footage of Michail Antonio’s miss – it looks even worse on the tele than it did in real time.
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Credit should be paid to Eric Lichaj who has turned it around over the course of the season and plays with commitment, even though he sports the haircut of a kid who’s mum dragged him into a barbers and gave the hairdresser a picture of a roughed up raccoon and gestured to the bemused coiffeur while simply ordering, ‘that’. Indeed, it was his buccaneering run that led to the free kick from which Gary Gardner casually crashed one in.
In terms of the opposition, that Adlene Guedioura unsurprisingly proved that he’s really rather quite good. But then again, we kind of knew that anyway. Worryingly, Todd Kane and Gardner looked to be amongst the more solid performers for Forest – two loanees who may not tread the turf again once the flip-flops are on and the towels are laid out. Whisper it but furthermore, the Chuba Akpom thing doesn’t seem to be working out.
After the game, Dougie Freedman once again made it difficult not to warm to him in his seemingly genuine pride in being manager of the football club. He’s under the impression that he’s got a two-year contract to carry on being so. Now, we’re not saying that he sounds a bit naïve but someone might want to tell him about the flat earth thing or the whole Tooth Fairy scam. He might get time to implement his ideas, take the club forward and utilise the young talent at his disposal. But then again, he might not.