October, to put it bluntly, has been more of the same for Forest. Without doubt, a clear improvement on last season- the 2-0 away win at Middlesbrough being one of the highlights. But underwhelming nevertheless. It has been painful to see us dominate 1 week, then choke the next. Forest were never promotion contestants this season, despite the contradicting opinions of some deluded fans, pundits and owners. Yes, owners- Marinakis is said to have exhorted his ambitious goals for the season: “Promotion or nothing”. Quite what the “nothing” part means eludes me, but the “promotion” part is ridiculous considering Forest haven’t finished in the top 10 for 5 years. It is a long term project, and it is concerning to see that our owner is not on board with that. We can’t possibly spend £30m on players in the summer- 5 of which having never experienced English football- and expected to be a fully functioning, winning machine. The rare fabulous performances are carrots. Regardless of Forest’s current situation, there will always be peaks and troughs to a Championship season such is the competitive nature of the division.
The month began relatively positive with the Red’s picking up a hard-fought point at Ewood Park. A strange football match- or ping ping match shall i say. The two teams exchanged spells in domination throughout, but neither could hold onto their lead after a missed penalty for Grabban.
A struggling Millwall arrived at the City Ground in midweek, and not only was it a game where Forest chucked away their 2-0 lead but a game with a bizarre floodlight failure- postponing the match for 15 minutes. We could only manage a draw after a post light turn off bombardment from The Lions. Millwall’s physicality and directness was too much for Forest- they were second best throughout.
With a point to prove, Forest marched into The Riverside- who’s residents haven’t yet seen their team concede at home- with no fear. There was a real spring in their step, a purpose to their play as they dispatched Middlesborough. The 2-0 victory was Forest’s best performance of the season, displaying all the qualities we know that they possess. In the first half and large parts of the second, our creativity in possession and speed on the counter attack mesmerised The Boro. Joe Lolley was in spectacular form as he fired home one of the goals of the season. When on the receiving end of a last gasp effort from Middlesborough, however, we defended stoutly and managed to subdue any danger. A 5 star performance that sat Forest in the play-offs and only 6 points off leaders Sheffield United.
Fresh, tactically prepared and yearning to go after the international break ? No. Forest were a mess as they fell prey to Farke’s fledglings. Sluggish, disjointed, erratic. 3 words that summed up our day. It seemed as though a few were still basking in the light from The Riverside, however Norwich fans would argue that Forest’s capitulation was solely down to their brilliance. And it would be difficult to disagree. Although suspect defensively, they were lightning on the counter-attack, incisive in their passing and exploited space with ease. In all honesty, they were a joy to watch*. Todd Cantwell is definitely a star in the making.
*Obviously not for Forest fans.
Forest, defiant as ever, responded emphatically with a 3-0 win at Bolton in the Championship. Admittedly, Bolton were poor and lacked any real idea or purpose. Nevertheless, any win away from home in the Championship is a valuable one, regardless of opposition. And an especially important victory as it would stand us in good stead for the trip to Ellen Road on Saturday. Rumour has it that Marinakis came to training and gave the players a dressing-down pre-Bolton. He certainly comes off as a firy individual.
Dirty, Dirty Leeds. A calamitous referee decision robbed Forest of a landmark victory against high-flying leeds. The ball clearly struck Kemar Roofe’s hand- but a near fossilised linesman somehow did not spot it. Although deep down, Forest fans know that they were extremely lucky to get a point out of this game, never mind three. Leeds dominated possession throughout, and played some eye-catching football. We rose to the challenge though, and our stout defending suppressed Leeds to very few clear-cut opportunities. But our possession play was another story… Yes, any team is going to have to live off scraps against Leeds’ high press but Forest were especially unrelaxed and jittery in possession. It all felt so forced.
Faulty possession play
One thing you can’t fault Forest for this season is their aggression and superb work rate. But on the ball, we have let ourselves down. Karanka’s system is a reactive one with two defensive midfielders. It allows us to devastate teams on the counter-attack; we have shone when the tempo is fast paced and the play is instinctive. But when teams sit back and afford us time on the ball, especially at home, we begin to procrastinate in possession. One thinks of Rotherham at home, of Birmingham at home, Norwich at home and even Bolton away. The build up play is slow, forced, predictable. At the moment, Karanka’s first 11 is based upon too many runners on and off the ball like Dias, Cash, Lolley and Osborn but not enough possession-based players. Not in any way, shape or form am I incenting a shift in system, but we just lack that extra dimension to our game.
Karanka can address this issue by making Guediora a staple in his team. When the Algerian Wizard is on fire, Forest look a different team. He adds impetus and a superb range of passing -two defensive-minded midfielders ( Colback and Watson ) can be too negative at times. Perhaps Karanka should also give Gonçalves another chance. He looked impressive in pre-season, but hasn’t quite had the game time to make his mark. He seems more of a possession-based flair player, a Bernardo Silva rather than another Raheem Sterling.
Over the past couple of months, Forest have thrown leads away like Juventus have Champions League trophies. Norwich came from behind to beat us, Millwall nicked a draw, so did Leeds on Saturday, West Brom did earlier in the season and Stoke nearly fought back in the Carabao Cup. The problem at the beginning of the season was the way we started games, but it is now the way we end them. It’s a matter of ruthlessness in front of goal and taking advantage of your spell in dominance. No team can rest on a 2-0 lead in the Championship.
Stopping the rout-one
Particularly against Millwall we saw an achilles heel that has plagued most Forest teams during their prolonged spell in the Championship. Defending against direct, ‘get it in the mixer’ teams. When balls come into the box, Forest are very unorganised. Millwall abused this tactic, and caused havoc in the final 15 minutes at the City Ground. It may be a case of personnel: Dawson’s leadership helped settle the shaky defence in a long ball bombardment against Bolton, so maybe he is one piece of the answer in our quest to thwart the route-one beast which permeates through the streets of Nottingham. Or even search for a new goalkeeper as Pantilimon can’t command his area when crosses come in, despite his height.
Costell Pantilimon- 3/10 : The Romanian lampost has had an absolute shocker of a month. Wayward distribution, reluctant to start counter attacks, and can’t manage his defence when crosses come into the box, as I have just mentioned. His monstrous height may even be hindering his goalkeeping capacities- he is so slow and stiff when diving. You know his time as Forest’s no.1 is coming to an end when pleas for Jordan Smith’s return can be heard. Yes, he has been that bad.
Jack Robinson-9/10: Robinson, who came on a free from QPR, is proving to be one of the bargains of the season. His spectacular month, which was capped off with a goal against Leeds, comes off the back of a solid start to the season. The broad-shouldered scouser does not only have the tenacity of a terrier, but has the defensive guile of an experienced left-back- unlike Osborn. Well, apart from his silly red card against Middlesborough.
Danny Fox- 6/10: A little shaky against Millwall and Norwich, but has otherwise had a decent month.
Michael Hefele- 5/10: Karanka is still yet to decide on a centre-back pairing, but The Rhino has not had the best month where he has featured multiple times in a leaky, unorganised defence.
Tobias Figuerido- 7/10: A really positive month for Figuerido who has formed a solid partnership with Dawson. His calmness on the ball and ability to play out from the back is Premier League standard. Yes, he can overplay at times but he is still only a 24 and, in my opinion, has the potential to grow into a top-class defender.
Michael Dawson- 8/10: If it weren’t for his age, he would start every match. His leadership and organisation skills are invaluable as we saw against Bolton. Two components sum him up: a heart and a head.
Saidy Janko- 6/10: Started the month like he finished the last one but eventually lost his place to Darikwa.
Tendayi Darikwa-5/10: Started against Middlesborough which meant it would be unfair to drop him for the next couple of games. I’m not a fan of his. He is too rash defensively and gives possession away so cheaply. Dreadful against Leeds where he was completely unsettled by the high press. Karanka seems to have a soft spot for him though.
Jack Colback- 8/10: Colback has been superb once again. He breaks up play, keeps it simple and initiates attacks- a pivotal player for Forest. Good news for Forest is that Rafa Benitez is still showing no signs of interest in the 29 year old so we should soon be able to get him signed on to a permanent deal.
Adlène Guediora- 6/10: Hasn’t quite been firing on all cylinders like he was at the start of the season but as I mentioned before, is an extremely valuable player for Forest.
Ben Watson- 6/10: Those of you who follow this blog will know my feelings about Watson, but to be fair to him he hasn’t been too bad this month. He has only started 2 of the past five games and one of them was the magnificent victory against Middlesborough where he and Colback dispelled the myth that they can’t play together. But, unfortunately for the ginger duo, the subsequent Norwich debacle proved otherwise.
Joao Carvalho- 5/10: An enigma so far at the City Ground. One minute he looks to be settling in: deft touches splitting defences, 2 magnificent goals against Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall and is even getting in to some defensive work. Next minute he is over-elaborating on the ball, plodding round the pitch and doesn’t look half the player we know he is. But we must remember he is only 21 so has a lot to learn and is bound to have dips in form every now and again.
Matty Cash- 5/10: Cash has failed to maintain his blistering form from the start of the season. Hasn’t been as ruthless in front of goal.
Gil Dias- 5/10: Has had a slightly improved month, with some lively displays- but largely ineffective. Always tries do go on a long dazzling runs, but often blunders straight into a wall of defenders.
Ben Osborn- 5/10: Difficult to criticise Ben as he always gives 110% for the shirt. He has been sloppy in recent matches, but is always a useful squad player due to his versatility.
Joe Lolley- 9/10: The shining light in a difficult month for Forest. An incredible dribbler, he just glides past opponents and has a superb defensive work rate.
Lewis Grabban- 8/10: We expected the goals to come pouring in for Grabban and he hasn’t let us down. Not only has he scored 8 goals in his past 7 league games, but has held the ball up extremely well.