words: David Marples
Back in 1066, a power vacuum presented itself after the death of King Edward the Confessor in January. Nature abhors a vacuum and predictably, various parties fought for it to be filled.
King of Norway, Harold Hardrada, had his eyes on the prize and duly rocked up off the north coast with 300 ships and 11,000 Vikings in tow. He sailed up the River Ouse and seized York. Anglo-Saxon king of England, King Harold Godwinson, had a problem; should he march north and confront Hardrada before he could consolidate his hold on Yorkshire? Or should he remain in the south and prepare for the invasion he was expecting from France by William Duke of Normandy - yet another contender for the throne? Stick or twist?
He was an ‘all-in’ kind of guy and decided to twist and practically frog-marched his army to York from London, a distance of 185 miles in just four days. Catching Hardrada complete unaware, Godwinson’s forces destroyed the Viking invaders to the extent that they required only 24 of the 300 ships to carry the survivors back to Norway. What’s more, Hardrada took an arrow to the throat.
From Godwinson’s perspective, this was one big headache solved. Yet as is often the way, another problem promptly poked its head out from under the parapet. That pesky chancer, William of Normandy, seeing how stretched the English army was, landed his Norman invasion fleet on England’s south coast. You know the rest: arrows in eyes, England came under Norman rule and someone got very busy with a needle and tapestry.
Managing a football team is sometimes like trying to make a very small blanket cover a king size bed or like Godwinson, trying to fight two battles on different fronts. Just when Aitor Karanka thinks he’s solved the problem of his team’s inability to keep clean sheets so he can start focusing his attention on scoring goals, they go and start conceding them again.
Just like at Millwall, Forest conceded early and in doing so, gave themselves a mountain to climb. After only seven minutes, Boro hoisted a corner in to the Forest penalty area. A bout of penalty area pinball followed after which Daniel Ayala decided enough was enough and promptly swung the ball into the net beyond Costel Pantilimmon without ever really having it under control.
A second goal on the half hour mark pretty much killed Forest off. A long throw plunged in to the near post and was headed on into the penalty area. Forest struggled to clear their lines and Stewart Downing slotted home.
Moments later, it was almost three as again from a corner, Adama Traore planted the ball firmly and squarely on to George Friend’s head. Luckily for Forest, Ben Osborn was on hand to clear the ball of the line.
“A slow start again,” lamented Lee Tomlin. “You concede sloppy goals and you get punished.”
The frustration felt by those who’d travelled up to the Riverside was shared by Tomlin: “We’d been working all week on it. We get told before the game and a few days before the game what they’re about. They don’t do anything special.”
Indeed. Well-executed set pieces are nothing special and from a Tony Pulis team are wholly expected; yet they still need to be dealt with. In order to do so, a degree of organisation is required but alongside this, a splash of old-fashioned bloody heart and desire to win the ball and kick it away – very hard - at the right time. On occasions, this seemed oddly lacking on Saturday.
In fairness, the defensive unit has served the team well for a period and a sound defensive base doesn’t suddenly become a very poor one after a couple of away defeats. But the nature of the early concessions against Millwall and Middlesbrough is an awkward throwback to the times when Forest conceded early, frequently and painfully under Mark Warburton.
Furthermore, when you aren’t scoring goals at the other end, the pressure to keep clean sheets becomes more intense. As we all know, goals change games and if, for once, Forest were able to get the first one, the nature of the defensive task ahead changes as the opponents adapt their strategy to score a goal – perhaps they become ever so slightly more desperate and gung-ho. The pressure shifts from the defence to the attackers to do their job and in doing so, maybe defending comes just that little bit easier.
It seems that much of the emphasis to break the opponents down and put the round thing in the stringy thing lies with Tomlin. At one stage in the second half, he went very deep to receive the ball – so deep in fact that he found himself in a centre back position. At that stage, the thought occurred that perhaps Forest were too reliant on him to make things happen and as talented a player Tomlin is, he can only do so much. Tomlin himself seems to love the responsibility though: “I’m enjoying playing football. I can play my game. The gaffer loves the way I play; he lets me play my football. I work hard for the team but it’s not about me, it’s not about single players, it’s about the team.”
Besides, Joe Lolley posed a substantial threat when he got on the ball and the introduction of Barrie McKay and Ben Brereton helped to fashion some decent chances in the second half. Yet by this stage, Forest were chasing the game like a confused kitten while the home side were perfectly content to exploit the gaps behind and were it not for another hilariously miss-firing Britt Assombalonga performance, they would surely have added to their total.
With each performance, Karanka learns more about his team as he sizes up individuals in terms of their ability to contribute to next season. His next challenge is to not only fight off the Norwegian Vikings but also see off the invading Normans; a difficult task but not insurmountable.
Issue Seven of the award nominated Bandy and Shinty fanzine is on sale now. Featuring a lengthy and exclusive interview with Forest legend Frank Clark, it's a 90s special so take our hands and join us for a trip down memory lane to when football shirts were baggier than a Happy Mondays groove and more lurid than wasp vomit. Re-live that memorable European sojourn: Paul McGregor's goal, Steve Chettle scoring in Munich and all that. You can buy a copy from MSR newsagents on Radcliffe Road or order one here.