words: David Marples
“The first half I thought was a good game of football,” said Mark Warburton in his post match interview. Indeed it was. The two teams laid out a neat and tidy buffet of precisely cut triangle sandwiches and carefully arranged crackers while diligently tidying up crumbs or spillages with the minimum of fuss.
Neither team were interested in going long; only with moving the ball around in order to create space in wide areas and thus attack it with heft and fury. It was a half of football that belied its status as a Championship fixture given its wealth of patient build up play and intelligent movement. The long diagonals for a Premier League striker such as Peter Crouch or Christian Benteke were notable for their absence. It was clear that the 25,000 or so at the City Ground were witnessing two good teams.
Yet as is often the case in such games between two evenly balanced sides, Wolves had just that little bit more nous and penetration to secure three points – perhaps just a Rizla paper’s width more quality in the shape of Diego Jota and Ivan Cavaleiro – the latter, although occasionally frustrating, offering a glimpse at what Middlesbrough’s Adama Traore might be were he to exhibit a smidgeon more composure at the crucial moment.
A lot is said and written about best times to score a goal and in the context of this game, the away side opened the scoring at a very good time from their perspective: a minute or so into the second half. Cavaleiro put the ball on a dime for Jota to swing the pendulum in Wolves’ favour. Jota was a right old pain the posterior for the home defence all afternoon and it is worth remembering that Athletico Madrid felt it worth forking out £6.5m for him after only 41 appearances for the impressive Pacos Ferreira in Portugal. This is a Wolves side boasting some serious talent that didn’t come cheap.
Jota’s opener meant Forest had to chance their arm a little more having made a concerted effort to tighten up at the back, starting with a back four rather than a three. Sadly, there lacked a sense of urgency and pace in Forest’s passing – it was a little ponderous and labored on occasions and any misplaced balls were pounced upon by the away side and swiftly manufactured into a dangerous counter attack. Consequently, the home side created precious few clear-cut chances and on the few occasions that space was found in wide areas, the cross was either misplaced or easily mopped up by the away defence. The fact that Mustapha Carayol’s speculative shot ended up rippling the net was perhaps as much a surprise to him as it was the home fans.
Having leveled the score, this young home team chased for a win yet with the passing radar a little faulty and slow for the duration of the second half, Wolves punished the home side for one too many errant passes with an assured finish from Jota despite Matt Mills and Armand Traore employing something akin to all-out and no holds barred martial arts in an effort to prevent the winning goal.
Forest can take some comfort from going toe-to-toe with a very good Wolves team for 45 minutes. Liam Bridcutt is improving with each game he plays, almost making home fans forget that they are currently without the injured David Vaughan, which is testament to Bridcutt’s recent performances. Although another two goals were conceded, the defensive formation and selection looked more comfortable with each other and maintained a solid shape throughout.
On the other hand, very few presentable goal-scoring opportunities have been created in the last two games against Sunderland away and here at the City Ground against Wolves. The two goals scored are largely down to errors on the opposition’s part. In the final moments, Warburton threw on Jason Cummings to partner Daryl Murphy up front and one again wonders about how to get the best out of a mouth-watering amount of talent going forward, especially when one recalls that Ben Brereton is currently being stationed wide on the right. That’s not to say that a forward line comprising all three should be employed, and certainly not to say that Murphy should be replaced since once again, he impressed immensely, just that with the current set-up, a central defender faced with Murphy need not concern himself with balls in behind him – as long as he or his full back stops the cross from wide, he will face few surprises. The pattern of play for attacks is akin to a baby being rocked gently from side to side. The ‘goals for’ column is respectable yet at home, Forest have found teams difficult to break down.
The porous nature of the defence is well documented yet it is questionable whether a change in personnel would shore things up. Some clamour for the inclusion of Jack Hobbs and/or Danny Fox yet this has been employed and done little to prevent the ‘goals against’ column being troubled. Perhaps a bit of patience is required in this area, especially regarding Joe Worrall and it is worth noting the development of Jamaal Lascelles since his move to Newcastle United. Written off by many, he has grown into a leader of a Premier League club and what’s more, a fine central defender. Worrall, at 20, is younger than Lascelles was in his final season at Forest. In other words, look what Worrall might be in a few years. In the meantime, be patient and allow him to, as Brian Clough might have said, ‘learn his trade’.
Nonetheless, in terms of performances, there wasn’t a lot wrong with this one and patterns of play are clearly evident, in stark comparison to the kamikaze and random nature of performances a year ago, which eventually led the club into a dark and foreboding hole.