With the stealth of a crawling missile, Dougie Freedman's Forest have strung together a run of 11 games unbeaten, stretching back to late November, to stride tentatively into the top half of the Championship. It matters little that Bolton gave their hosts more than a helping hand after being reduced to ten men after only ten minutes - as the old adage goes, you can only beat what steps out into the road in front of you.
Freedman persisted with Nelson Oliveira up front but switched a few things around by letting Oliver Burke loose on the right side and slipping in Jamie Ward behind the front man. In the engine room, Gary Gardner and Robert Tesche deputised for the injured Henri Lansbury and suspended David Vaughan. They squared up against one-time Forest target Darren Pratley and recent Forest loanee Liam Trotter.
The gap in quality was soon apparent as the home side started much the stronger and when Ward raced through the middle of the Bolton defence, he seemed to have initially applied too heavy a touch. A tap of the turbo speed button allowed Ward to nick the ball past Bolton keeper Ben Amos, only to be tripped. As harsh a punishment as it seems, there could only be one outcome under the current rules and Amos made the long and lonely trudge to the dressing rooms with the only silver lining being that he got the big communal bath to himself for 80 minutes, in which to splash around for a bit. For whatever reason, Bolton really do have problems keeping their full compliment of players on the pitch at the City ground:
Nelson Oliveira cared little for this and promptly slammed the ball into the net to notch up his 7th league goal of the season. Against opponents enduring a torrid run of results and barely believable issues off the field, the afternoon opened up a world of possibilities for Forest - all of which seemed attractive. Jamie Ward got busy buzzing and bustling in equal measure while Ben Osborn showed his development into a very handy left sided player gathered apace. Indeed, it was Ward's industry that lead him to swinging over a delicious cross from the left for Burke to power in a header while Bolton's defence (most notable, Dean Moxey) paused for a while to slip in a quick game of Sleeping Lions. With just fifteen minutes on the clock, it looked like a Sisyphean afternoon stretched ahead for the Trotters.
Rather surprisingly, this signalled Bolton's best spell of the game as they kept the ball and knocked it around with something approaching confidence, probably thanks to that extra zip that being reduced to ten men usually gives a side. Their collective heads stayed upright and although it looked unlikely that they would take anything from the game, there seemed little chance of them being on the receiving end of a right old spanking. Darren Pratley almost made their job a whole lot harder though after picking up the ball and walking away with it, causing a bit of pushing and shoving. In such circumstances, the last thing his team needed was for their numbers to be reduced even further so to even be within a whiff of such handbags seemed ill-advised at best.
The second half played out largely as a training game: Forest simply waiting for the right moment to punch forward and make their superior numbers count. Such a tactic bore fruit as numerous good chances were created, only to be spurned. Ward was making Cristiano Ronaldo look positively chilled about adding to his goal tally as he was a never ceasing whirlwind of running and shooting. Eventually, his efforts were rewarded as he notched only his second goal for Forest in the 82nd minute.
Such a goal was required since Forest nemesis Stephen Dobbie lurked menacingly on Bolton's bench.
The home crowd may well be disappointed that a larger haul of goals was not accumulated against such opposition. In fairness though, a bundle of very good chances were created, just not converted. Besides, a three goal win and a clean sheet for a team that has been struggling to score more than once in any game and to shut out the opposition is to be welcomed, regardless of the circumstances.
On occasions, frustration was vented at the home side's insistence of hauling every player back to defend corner kicks. On the surface, this does seem a needlessly defensive tactic to adopt, especially against ten men. However, the idea behind such a move is to have at least three players running at the opposition defence should the ball break, rather than one or two players stood stationary on the halfway line. Besides, that beautiful Michail Antonio goal against Norwich City last year originated from a Norwich corner against which Forest had - you guessed it - everyone back.
That's not to necessarily defend such a tactical deployment, just to point out that it might not be as defensive as it seems.
It may not have felt it at the time but the victory was pretty comprehensive:
As for Bolton, it doesn't seem as if a lack of heart and desire is the root of their myriad problems - more a lack of quality.
Where to for Forest now? Regardless of what happens up at Middlesbrough next Saturday, the previously listing ship has been well and truly steadied and a place in the top half of the table (their first this season?) will make satisfactory reading for manager Dougie Freedman.