The moment when you stare down at the array of bits and pieces procured from a Scandinavian warehouse can be a frightening one. Somehow, some way, all of these things laying motionless on the floor need to be coaxed into life and knitted together in order to replicate whatever it was that you felt would make your life complete were you to have one of your very own. But putting the right pieces together in the right order often occurs only after much argument and recrimination. There is also the risk that some of the pieces might just vanish, never to be seen again, just as you start to figure out a way to slot them all together. Such is the task staring down the guy in the hot seat at Nottingham Forest these days.
Despite a hugely disappointing day, there were some slithers of promise to grasp close to the heart. Michael Mancienne is improving in midfield - for the most part, looking neat and tidy in his passing and combining with David Vaughan well who himself had one of his better games.
There can be denying that the love afforded to Tyler Walker is not misplaced. The boy can play, but he needs the right service. He often shapes to make runs behind the defence or across the back line in order to create one on one situations. But sadly, precious few of these are forthcoming and according to whoscored.com – only one through ball was attempted during the whole game (the knock on from Dexter Blackstock’s head from a long punt from Dorus de Vries which lead to the goal?). It was no surprise that he looked mightily effective after being shunted out to the right wing but that isn’t necessarily a reason for him to be played out there, more of a case for his strengths to be utilised more effectively. Admittedly, Forest did cause problems when they went direct with Blackstock and Michail Antonio paired together up front and lumped the ball into the midst of the Kerplunk pot. Such a strategy will surely not be resilient enough to consistently trouble opposition defences were it to be employed each game though.
Antonio himself has been and is on the wrong end of some sharply pointed comments regarding his effort since the whole ‘will he/won’t he?’ speculation started. It is worth remembering that his body language has always been languid - he has always played in fits and starts and ultimately he, along with Walker, still looked Forest’s most dangerous threat. There were times when he was bustled out and his tantrum in the first half was a truly epic and comedic one. Yet opposition teams are, as a matter of course now, doubling up on him. An alternative way to try to fashion a goal is required by this team, whether he stays or goes.
In the likely event of him leaving, more opportunities for youth will arise. It was lovely to see Ben Osborn, Jorge Grant and Oliver Burke running up and down the touchline warming up. It was equally heartwarming to see Gerry McDonagh make his debut. Hearts swelled with pride when Tyler Walker was announced as Man of the Match. Given the circumstances of injuries and embargoes, the Academy and its products was always going to play a huge role this season. Post match, Dougie Freedman spoke of how it was, "a little bit too early for them but that’s where we are".
Apart from the chilling choice of vocabulary echoing Billy Davies’ notorious "it is what it is" assertion, Freedman may have a point. As much as we desperately want to see an exciting and successful team comprised of young Academy players chomping at the bit and tearing the opposition into tiny pieces, we don’t want to hang them out to dry and set them up to fail. All of these players are indeed ‘one of our own’ and the thought of turning against any of them is utterly unthinkable at this stage. But we all know how frustrated crowds get come those dark, cold days of November and December. Freedman’s chances of getting through the season without finding a P45 stuffed into his top pocket may well hinge on how successfully he integrates such players.
More can reasonably be expected from some of the more experienced players in such trying times though. There can be no denying that this wasn’t a game that Jack Hobbs will remember fondly. He was struggling from the start – not struggling with an injury, just struggling. Kenwyne Jones did exactly what Kenwyne Jones does to put Cardiff in the ascendency – he rose above Hobbs from a dangerous cross to nod down into the net. What happened to the rock around which we were going to fashion an unstoppable barricade? Some may point to the recent speculation linking him with Leeds United but in truth, his form has been patchy for a while now. It is suspected that at some stage in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Jack Hobbs sat bolt upright in bed, sweating profusely, at the spectre of Kenwyne Jones.
Freedman himself alluded to the precision of Jones’ finishing in his post match comments:
"The difference, in a nutshell, was that they had two very good strikers, who got them goals, and an excellent keeper who kept them in the match."
Cardiff did indeed have two strikers that caused Matt Mills and Hobbs a few headaches, to say the least. But Russell Slade’s team was set up to play to their striker’s strengths.
Freedman drew out his comparison between each team’s attacking threats further:
"I cannot be disappointed in the way we are playing or in our spirit, because we gave it a go. We have a lot of young players and that was the difference today, when it came to our decision making in the opposition box."
Such a view seems unnecessarily harsh and we can only hope that Tyler Walker isn’t a sensitive soul whose confidence might be damaged by such comments. In fairness to Freedman though, it is difficult to suggest any viable alternatives apart from a radical formation reshuffle from his seemingly favoured 4-3-3, which has been rehearsed during pre season. It’s probably a little too early in the season for tipping the recyclables along with the waste and the bin.
David Vaughan felt that Forest were unlucky not to get a point:
"We’re disappointed to have lost the game, especially considering the manner in which we lost the goals. It was a good fight back in the end though and we were unlucky not to get a point out of the game."
But to do so, a team must perform with more assurance at the back and a more sustained threat up front.
Besides, Cardiff were a decent team, slowly emerging from the turbulence of relegation from the Premier League, the trauma of readjustment to life downstairs in the Championship and the slow but necessary process of trimming down the squad size. Like Brighton, they look like they have reasonable aspirations to bother the top half of the league. Where does that leave Forest? Probably a notch above the horribleness served up by Bolton and Blackburn on Friday night.
Maybe fashioning those disparate Ikea parts into the wondrous completed artefact you saw in the showroom that you felt, on acquiring possession of it would make your life complete, is a more difficult task than anticipated. Maybe the pieces and parts supplied by Ikea aren’t as shiny and alluring as first suspected. Maybe those pieces could help by jumping up and down and making themselves known when they are required, rather than just laying dormant, strewn around on the floor just waiting to be picked up and utilised.
The transfer window shenanigans on Tuesday loom large as we stare vacantly at a whole two weeks without a game. Such events are shaping up to be the determining factor regarding which direction the season travels. Let the circus begin.
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