Mystical forces, superstitions and karmic comebacks are all entities in which the average football fan places a certain amount of belief, even if deep down, they know that they are simply convenient factors to blame or explain a sometimes unexplainable game.
But Walsall proved in midweek that there really must be something to such forces by extending their frankly ludicrous unbeaten record against Forest to 12 games. Given the context, it seems somehow appropriate that such unfathomable auras are paid forward in Forest chalking up their unbeaten record against Rotherham to 16 games. Clearly, this record isn't old skool vinyl but galvanised metal.
Of course Danny Collins, one of three ex-Trickies plying their trade for the Millers, wormed his way onto the scoresheet in front of the Trent End as he nodded home after 13 minutes from a corner. Doris De Vries and Matt Mills fumbled around with each other in the six yard box just long enough for Collins to make the net bulge. It wasn't particularly surprising given the lethargic start by Dougie Freedman's men. The only surprise here was that it wasn't a 90th minute winner from Collins.
Confidence drained away from the Forest players, replaced by fear of of making a mistake. After such occurrences, team selection is shoved under the microscope. The deployment of Michael Mancienne at left back was troubling: a predominantly right footed centre back shifted from defensive midfield at the expense of the under fire Danny Fox. Few would argue that Fox needed to be hauled out of the firing line but slotting Mancienne in there simply magnifies the age-old left back issue. It is to be hoped that Daniel Pinillos is good enough to hold down a place in this position.
Initially, Mancienne struggled since all the opposition needed to do was to station themselves in such a way as to prevent him using his right foot to get the ball to Michail Antonio. Nonetheless, Mancienne grew into the game and by the end, some were hailing his performance as one worthy of Man of the Match. Defensively, a strong case can be made for this but going forward, Mancienne looks, understandably, like a kid on their first day at big school.
Agree Lansbury has had a fine game... Very good. But Mancienne head and shoulders man of match for me #nffc— Paul Taylor (@nottmtails) August 15, 2015
Fortunately for Forest, Jamie Ward's industry and persistence paid off just before half-time as he made inroads to hang a cross in the air just long enough for Matt Mills to assertively bang the ball in with a firm header. After a half in which Kelvin Wilson, Mills and de Vries looked as if they had suffered a mass dose of amnesia and forgotten each others' names, this was a welcome relief.
The second half was better though and after Antonio's 61st minute goal, neatly slotted in after a cross from Chris Burke rattled around the box, Forest suddenly looked a decent team, having visibly grown in confidence led by Henri Lansbury in the middle of the park. None of those Lansburyesque 'kick the opposition into the air early doors - receive a booking and then look subdued' antics from him today - just a quietly determined and effective performance. We might well miss him if/when he goes. (Let's face it, it's a case of 'when'). Post Antonio's goal, there was really only one team going to win this.
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Antonio himself did well despite Rotherham often doubling up on him in and effort to subdue his threat - understandably so given his antics against them in this fixture back in March. But once again, the team looked only too reliant on him to dig into his bag of magic tricks and pull out a rabbit or one of those never-ending strings of handkerchiefs. Tyler Walker, given the nod ahead of Dexter Blackstock to spearhead the Forest attack, looked game and made some intelligent runs but all too often, he was asked to pluck a chest-high ball out of the air and hold it up. He was able to do this when the ball came into his feet but less so when it was aimed higher. It's no wonder though since clearly, this is not what he's about as a striker - a barrel-chested chunk of a man he most certainly is not.
All of which leads one to wonder about the insistence (not just at Forest but at most clubs) to play just one striker up top. Admittedly, the front striker is often supported by two attack minded players in a 4-3-3 formation - in Forest's case, support coming from Antonio and Ward/Burke. The good old fashioned partnership of a front two has fallen badly out of favour. The thought occurs that young Walker is perfectly suited to working off the scraps served up by having Blackstock alongside him in that classic 'big guy/little guy' partnership. Sure, such a formation would mean rejigging behind and perhaps require Antonio and Ward/Burke to play more as up and down wingers, which might well nullify their effectiveness. Regardless, one wonders whether we will see the best of Tyler Walker in the role of lone striker. Let's hope so since the boy has a lot to offer.
It was lovely to see Oliver Burke scampering boyishly out of an Enid Blyton novel and onto the City Ground pitch in the 85th minute to replace his young mucker Walker. He did well too and with a stronger finish to his lung bursting dash forward, might have notched a goal, to be celebrated with lashings of ginger beer and Victoria Sponge cake.
At first glance, a rather mundane win against most peoples' favourites for the drop but imagine a world in which Forest lost this game...yeah, it's not a pleasant one considering the anaemic display against Brighton and the bizarre Walsall effort. In addition, the club once again managed to alienate a sizeable chunk of their supporters as some missed the kick off due to a sluggish service in the distribution of season tickets. As it is, a win helps us to be more optimistic, just as Fawaz Al-Hasawi encouraged us to be.
@fawaz_alhasawi1 loosing ?— Clarets Turf (@claretsturf) August 13, 2015
Turn those frowns upside down, people.
In many ways, this was an important win after a rather tepid start to the season. Based on Freedman's post match comments, there are still more than a few positional adjustments to be made in terms of team selection and squad:
The period ahead looks to be one of adjustment and flux.