At around 80 minutes into what, in the end, turned out to be an entertaining encounter, there was a spell of a couple of minutes where Nottingham Forest didn’t touch the ball. At all. However; rather than the crowd expressing their discontent – as might be expected – they did the opposite, applauding, cheering and shouting their encouragement. Because Forest were trying. Running, chasing the ball, pressing high up the pitch and not allowing their opponents Charlton Athletic a moment’s peace – much the same as visiting teams do to Forest all too often. I say it turned out to be an entertaining encounter because, to be honest, the first half was pretty forgettable. The second half was a vast improvement. Anyway, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first…
Forest lined up without last season’s joint-top-scorer and player of the year Michail Antonio. Whilst an early rumour suggested he was injured – and, indeed, he may well be – Dougie Freedman gave the real reason after the match. It’s been done to death elsewhere so I won’t go into it here. The Reds kept the same back five that played against Rotherham. Dexter Blackstock replaced Tyler Walker up front and Oliver Burke took Antonio’s berth on the wing.
As mentioned above, the first half was an unremarkable affair. Lots of passing and possession for both sides but not a huge amount of penetration (ooer, matron). The visitors probably had the best chances, with their blonde bombshell striker Simon Makienok heading two good chances wide, the second one from a brilliant cross from Cristian Ceballos. For Forest, Dexter Blackstock glanced an equally impressive Eric Lichaj centre wide and both Chris Burke and Henri Lansbury pinged long-range efforts off target. The half ended scoreless and this was a pretty fair outcome.
Early in the second half Forest made a couple of changes. Blackstock didn’t appear to be injured as Tyler Walker replaced him, but Jamie Ward looked more worrying as he broke down for the second successive match. Rumours are that his well-documented hamstrings are playing up again and he may be out for a few weeks. This would be quite a blow as his energy and tenacity have been impressive for the Reds so far. Anyway, Jorge Grant took his place meaning that – pleasingly – the Reds had three Academy players on the pitch.
It soon told too, with Grant in particular looking dynamic and full of running when he came on. His dribbling and movement were impressive, with just his final touch letting him down on occasion. That’ll come in time though. Forest started to play the ball around nicely and carved out a couple of chances, with Lansbury firing just wide from outside the box and Grant blazing a really good opportunity over from close in, following an excellent move down the right. At the other end, Dorus de Vries made a couple of tremendous saves; first from another Makienok header and then – even better – tipping Patrick Bauer’s effort over following a corner. In the end though, neither side could find a breakthrough and the game ended goalless. On the balance of play, the result was about right.
Although Forest didn’t force Charlton goalkeeper Tom Pope into a single meaningful save, it’s really hard to criticise their performance. The team that finished the match is a million miles away from our first choice XI but put in a real shift in the second half and those fans who attended the match clearly appreciated it. The back four was – on the whole – solid. Lichaj and Michael Mancienne were fine at full-back, Matt Mills was decent – but for one awful foul – and Kelvin Wilson dealt with the beanpole Makienok pretty comfortably. In midfield, Lansbury once again ignored the doubts over his own Forest future to perform impressively whilst David Vaughan – given a run of games – is starting to look more like the player we had on loan. The Burkes both worked hard on the flanks with Oliver’s pace in particular impressive. Blackstock was quiet up front but Walker again looked the part, though he might have done better with a reasonable chance late on. Antonio’s exclusion forced us to play the ball around more and at times we did it really well, creating space and moving fluently. A little more composure and a bit more cutting-edge and this is a game we could’ve won.
Manchester United proved a few years ago that you can win something with kids. Whilst our latest young crop might not win trophies, if they keep performing like they did against Charlton they’ll win acclaim and they’ll win over the fans. At the moment, that’s all we can ask.
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