Forest, without a win in 3 league matches, playing inconsistent and disjointed football could not have been more ready for the international break. The extra time gave Karanka an opportunity to discuss with his players what was going wrong and how to improve. Many issues regarding coherence and chemistry on the pitch would, for sure, be solved by time. However, they also came to the unanimous conclusion that the stand -out problem was a lack of consistent intensity, especially at the start of matches. And, finally, it was nice to see much of the endeavour that goes on behind the scenes reflected on the pitch in some physical, aggressive Forest performances capped of by spits and spurts of eye-catching, fluid attacking football. The depressing clouds of doom and gloom surrounding the City Ground have been temporarily blown away, after an incredible September ( well, after September 2nd anyway) picking up 3 wins and a draw out of 4 games- leaving us in the healthy league position of 9th and only 2 points off the play-offs. The optimism from the start of the season has returned- but in a slightly more hesitant and considered form.
Forest, evidently, took the intensity advice on board, as we saw a well-devised pressing game by The Reds against Swansea, with the mighty Ben Osborn as the poster boy for aggression and fight, his commitment inspiring fans and teammates alike. Forest attacked Swansea with verve and impetus, unprecedented for us away from home this season, and, doubtless, deserved to emerge victorious at The Liberty Stadium, but only returned with the underwhelming draw. 3 points were much-needed, so it was gutting to collect just the 1 after one of the performances of the season. The only downfall being incision and composure in the final pass/shot. Ben Osborn, once again at the forefront of things, was this time the main culprit for profiglacy. His performances summed up Forest’s week.
3 points had evaded Forest too many times, so a win on Wednesday night was paramount. Forest scraped through after a nervy final 5 minutes, when Steven Fletcher’s audacious effort deflected beyond Pantilimon. It was a scrappy game, with lots of individual errors but, by and large, Forest controlled the tempo of the game, and enjoyed the majority of possession. Forest were not magnificent, but they did not have to be at their very best against a deflated Sheffield Wednesday side. Forest, once again, pressed well and were up in the faces of Wednesday, right from the first whistle, and their endeavour carved out an opportunity for Cash in the 1st minute, but he sliced into Row Z. Forest teased crosses in towards Grabban all night long, and Sheffield Wednesday couldn’t cope.
Saturday brought a different challenge. A dogged Rotherham United who had recently troubled Frank Lampards unspeakables. It was another scrappy game and a frustrating day where Forest were mediocre. We struggled to penetrate The Millers’ deep, compact back line, and only really started to slice through them when Matty Cash and Joe Lolley came on. Rotherham will trouble many teams this season with their resilience, and definitely have what it takes to stay up. Once again the desire for Forest was present, but not the quality unfortunately. Nevertheless, The Red’s prevailed with a satisfying 3 points after a rainy, miserable Saturday. We then maintained our momentum, and earned a place in the round of 16 of the Carabao Cup against a demoralised, deflated Stoke side. It has been a great 2 weeks for Forest, but there is evidently much to improve upon. Regardless, The Reds remain unbeaten at the City Ground- which is quickly becoming a fortress. 27,266 have, on average, turned up to each home game this season- the 3rd best attendance in the league.
Areas to improve
Killing off matches. Forest could have been punished for their reluctance to kill teams off when the momentum is on their side against both Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke. It is almost as if they feel sorry for the opposition and don’t want to rub salt into the wounds. This flaw is without doubt related to their lack of composure in front of goal. Time and time again this season, Forest have tried to pass the ball into the net, consistently choosing the wrong option on the final pass. However, when we do pull the trigger it is always a lash instead of a calm, calculated placement.
Forest have looked particularly strong off the ball in recent weeks- harrying the opposition with their press and forcing countless errors. Yet when we have a lot of time on the ball in possession, players freeze for some reason and don’t move into space. Our class has only shone through when the play is fast paced and instinctive. We must learn to play with that same urgency when building attacks.
Realistic goals for this season
Is it completely ludicrous to say that I hope with all my heart that we don’t get promoted this year ? It is not unlikely that Forest could scrape into the play-offs this year. Anything can happen from there. So say we were to pull of a Huddersfield-esque miracle and make into the Premier League, would we be ready ? Absolutely not. We would finish rock bottom, our key men would depart, fans would fall out of love with the club and it would be a disaster and a return to the gritty, gruelling Championship*. Back to square one. It is a marathon not a sprint. In my opinion, it would be a disappointment not to finish in the top 10. I also believe that we are more than capable of pushing for a play-off spot this year. It is all about next season for me. If Karanka doesn’t get us out of this hellish division by 2020, the pressure will start to mount.
*That was maybe a minor exaggeration.
The rest of the Championship
You have to put Leeds as favourites for the title this year. Graced with a world-class manager in Bielsa, they look as formidable a team you’ll see in the Championship. They are the Real Madrid of English’s second tier- full of individuals who can change a game in the blink of an eye. Samuel Saíz, Ezgjan Alioski, Kemar Roofe and Pablo Hernandez are Premier League quality. But don’t write off Tony Pulis’ well drilled Middlesborough. Few teams will score past them this season. Wigan are also capable of major shocks. At the other end of the table, i have already mentioned my faith in Rotherham. Stoke also need to be careful- I know people feel he needs more time, but i feel Rowett has to go. I was sceptical about his appointment in the first place. He doesn’t exactly strike you as a particularly charismatic man. Something tells me that the best cure for Stoke at the moment is a new manager who can rip into their complacent, snobbish attitude, and give them a right kick up the backside. They have Premier League standard players, but they came in to the Championship thinking it was certain they would go straight back up even if they only gave 50% effort, and were punished for it. Is it time for Big Sam ?
Forest player ratings
Costell Pantilimon- 8/10: Kept 2 clean sheets out of 3 games, and has generally commanded his area well. It helps when you are 6’7. A few times, he has looked nervy when the ball is at his feet, but I put that down to the outfield players as I think at this level goalkeepers shouldn’t be expected to be skilled with their feet- they should stick to using their hands.
Danny Fox: 7/10: Danny Fox never ceases to amaze me. He was seemingly done and dusted last year after a horrendous performance in the FA cup against Hull but Karanka kept his faith in him and he was one of Forest’s most impressive players towards the end of last season. 14 signings and two new centre-backs later, Fox is still the main man. His flying tackles, towering headers and signature move: the left footed, over-the-top diagonal, pinpoint ball makes him a crowd favourite. 2 clean sheets from 3 league games is not bad at all.
Michael Hefele (The Rhino)- 7/10: In my last piece on Forest i wrote about how Hefele struck me as clumsy and prone to errors. But over the past couple of weeks I have noticed what a valuable player he is. He is constantly barking orders and commanding the defence. The suppression of 6’5 beast Atde Nuhiu of Sheffield Wednesday was also vindication of his fearlessness and immense physicality. The Rhino has earned the reputation as the ‘hard man’ of Forest.
Saidi Janko- 8/10: Janko has had a very impressive start to life at the City Ground. He is like an upgraded Darikwa. Fast and dynamic on the ball, but more robust defensively than his Zimbabwean colleague. Delivers quality crosses into the box. He is reminiscent of Man City’s Kyle Walker.
Jack Robinson- 7/10: He has made that left back spot his own after some more solid performances, with the pick of the bunch against Rotherham. A reliable defensive asset.
Ben Watson- 7/10: Looks a lot more like his combative old self- commanding the middle of the park, determination inspiring teammates.
Jack Colback- 7/10: Had an outstanding performance against Sheffield Wednesday and looked strong against Swansea and Rotherham too. He is such a clever player, he can always sense where the danger will be and works tirelessly for the team. Nottingham Forest’s Kanté. For some reason though, he can’t play well alongside Ben Watson this season.
Michael Dawson and Tobias Figueiredo-6/10: Both only featured against Stoke, where they had to stand up to an onslaught late on as The Potters sought to take advantage of the extra man. Dawson dealt with Crouch well. Can’t say much about these two though.
Adlène Guediora- 5/10: He has looked sluggish and out of sorts on his return from injury. No doubt, he will soon find his find his feet again. When this man is firing on all cylinders, Forest look a different side.
Matty Cash- 6/10: Cash hasn’t really been able to maintain that blistering form from the start of the season. Has been wasteful at times, but is always a nuisance for defenders.
Joe Lolley- 6/10: Anonymous against Swansea, but then came on against Rotherham and used his direct running to get in behind the defence. Looked at his best against Stoke with some fine link up play and meandering dribbles in what was a lively Lolley display.
Gil Dias- 5/10: Has looked clumsy and uncomposed recently for some reason. Definitely not at his sharpest.
Joao Carvalho- 8/10: He is really starting to grasp life in the Championship and prove why we spent 13 million on him. He can unlock defences with his passing and can mesmerise defenders with his trickery and deft touches. A wonderful finish against Sheffield was the highlight of a great week for Carvalho. He doesn’t shy away from tackles too and isn’t the foreigner that “won’t fancy a wet Tuesday night at Stoke”, like many expected.
Ben Osborn- 9/10: The versatile Ben Osborn encapsulates the expectations that follow when you sport The Garibaldi. His desire and fearlessness is second to none. I just doubt whether he has the quality in the final third to play at left-wing. Any club, though, would happily have a Ben Osborn in their squad.
Daryl Murphy- 7/10: Featured only against Stoke where he shone with a thumping strike.
Lewis Grabban- 7/10: 2 goals in his past 2 league appearances will be a massive confidence boost after a poor start to the season. Grabban can easily bag 20 for Forest this year.