As the mist rolled in from the Trent at around 7.45pm, it was clear that some had decided to give it a miss.
In many ways, understandably so. There is little left to play for and home wins - nay, goals - have been in short supply for a while. Above all else, those who did show up wanted to see a sustained performance. A goal would be lovely. A win would be splendid.
In fairness, they got all three.
Chris Cohen got the nod at left back in order to give Bojan Jokic a breather while Chris O'Grady was paired up top alongside - actually just ahead of - Nelson Oliveira. With a run of midweek games looming on the horizon, David Vaughan was allowed take time out to deliver bread in a sepia tinted Hovis ad.
The early stages were open and verging on frenetic with both defences looking like they had a mistake or two in their locker. Chances were created, gifted by both defences and missed at both ends. Nonetheless, Dougie Freedman's team were game and showed desire to get forward, helped largely by the pace of Ryan Mendes. Indeed, it was he who ran the ball down the pitch on the counter attack after one of many Preston free kicks broke down. Mendes scampered away with barely a defence in front of him and both Ben Osborn and Oliveira in support. It should have been so easy - all he had to do was pick the right pass at the right time and a goal was inevitable. And you know what? He did just that as Super Benny squared Mendes' pass across the face of the goal for Oliveira to slide in.
One up at half time and deservedly so, regardless of Simon Grayson's view.
When you look back on the game, it's always interesting to see who got their man of the match, and the fact that it was their goalkeeper then it speaks volumes of what's happened tonight.We were very comfortable first-half - they never really threatened us and we kept the crowd quiet, we had some half chances but we were undone by an unfortunate bit of play - we had a shot that deflected, and suddenly before you know it they're counter attacking against us like that they can do with the pace they have in their team and we've conceded.
The referee - a Mr Mark Brown - had recently given Vaughan his marching orders on a midweek at the City Ground against Birmingham City and the theatrics of Joe Garner shone a light on his decision making again. Garner played like he always has done - determined to either win numerous free kicks or get a defender red-carded. Score a goal? In good time but must achieve objective specified above first. This was nothing new from him - it was always thus. He was just indulged more when he was with us since it didn't seem like he ever got a sustained run in the team.
Many inside the ground took great exception to some of Mr Brown's decisions but one which lingers most was the moment when he stopped play owing to Matt Mills being down after a challenge. On the face of it, all well and good but context is all. It just so happened that while Mills was down, his team mates broke with three players darting forward against two back-peddling Preston defenders. To stop play and award a free kick wasn't a tight call but instead a lack of awareness of the game going on around him. THIS was the decision which stuck in the craw more than most. Moreover, it happened again in the 81st minute too. So much for letting the game flow.
Mendes continued to run around like a Tasmanian Devil in the second half; darting hither and thither. At one point, he killed the ball stone dead as it fell out of a dark and unforgiving sky - evoking the spirit of Zidane. He then fell over.
Moments later, he found himself bearing down on goal at a wide angle but still managed to smash a volley - evoking the spirit of Marco van Basten at Euro88. It sailed over the bar.
Infuriating in his decision making and timing, Mendes did though stretch the opposition defence by running beyond them at pace - something which has been sorely missing in the final third for Forest this season. He's not the answer to our goalscoring woes but he may well be part of the solution. What's more, he offered the referee a good old fashioned handshake as he was hooked off - not a modern footballer's bloke raised clasp of a handshake but a good old fashioned handshake that intimated, 'Thank you for turning up to officiate this game, sir.' All for that.
Aside: Whatever the phone light thing was in the 61st minute, it can go in the bin. Thanks.
But that's not to say that the win was easy pickings. Not of the first time, Dorus de Vries saved the day and in doing so was awarded Man of the Match. The save he pulled off from a header evoked the spirit of Gordon Banks saving from Pele. No flippant pun this time - it really did. How he scrambled down to his right to stop the ball right on the line from a far post header remains a genuine mystery.
As time ticked on and De Vries was called into heroic action yet again, bums got twitchy. In order to defend a corner, Forest pulled everyone back, much to the ire of some. As it was,
de Vries gathered and threw the ball out to midfield from whence Benny, Mendes and Nelson legged it forward at high speed against a wafer thin defence, creating a chance for O'Grady. He fluffed it and missed but that's not the point here.
The point is that bringing everyone back doesn't mean that the team are NOT looking to attack. Indeed, such a tactic arguably invites a heightened number of opposition defenders into the box, creating perfect concessions to spring a counter attack. Furthermore, the pace of the counter attack can be increased when players are running forward from all angles rather than staying stationary on the halfway line. Of course, inviting more and more opponents into your own penalty area isn't necessarily the best way to defend a corner but really, how many goals are scored from corners these days? (According to some, less than 2%)
More evidence required? Michail Antonio's winning goal against Norwich last season came direct from Forest defending a corner. The deciding goal in this very game too arose from players running from deep after an opposition attack broke down.
Such a tactic seems very frustrating and unilateral but as long as the underlying plan is to spring forward and not to simply stay rooted in your own penalty area like statues, it should be tolerated.
Ultimately though, this was a deserved win and a decent performance to boot. Not sparkling. Not spectacular. Not uncork the champagne style win. But a much needed win, nonetheless. Anything less than this in front of 16,747 fans would have caused severe disgruntlement.
Nottingham Forest's lowest home league attendance since April 8, 2008, 1-1 draw vs Bristol Rovers in League One.— Daniel Storey (@danielstorey85) March 8, 2016