words: David Marples
If the second half against Reading felt transformative, the performance at Loftus Road confirmed the feeling that it’s getting better, that you have to admit it’s getting better, a little better every time.
Forest boss Aitor Karanka made minimal changes from midweek with only Matty Cash starting ahead of Kieran Dowell. While a defence consisting of a raw Portugese lad playing only his third game in English football, two maligned defenders who have yet to enjoy a sustained run in the team and Ben Osborn, one could be forgiven for thinking there might well be goals in this game. And so it proved.
QPR boss Ian Holloway lamented his side’s start to the game: "We started so edgy it was unreal. I could almost feel people hesitating when the ball dropped instead of going and snapping onto it like we have been - and we've done all season, to be fair, particularly at home.” Yet this does Forest something of a disservice since in layman’s terms, they were ‘on it’ from the start.
After a big scare at the other end when a Matt Smith header from a corner did a Geoff Hurst in 1966 and all that, Forest promptly went up the other end and staged a wonderful homage to the goal they scored against Reading: Joe Lolley passed inside to Lee Tomlin around the penalty spot and the ball ended up in the net. There was a fluency going forward and understandings between couples sprung up all over the place: Danny Fox and Tobias Figueirido at the back, Jack Colback and Ben Watson in the middle and Lolley and Tomlin, despite this sounding like a children’s TV programme in which two men-children get themselves into various scrapes each week while trying to build a house, with hilarious slapstick consequences ensuing. Fortunately for Forest, their partnership on the field is characterised by fluency and menace.
The feeling at half-time persisted that QPR would improve but they barely had time to allow their half-time brew to get much beyond the epiglottis when Ben Brereton capped off some excellent approach play and fed Tomlin who casually took a touch and promptly curled the ball powerfully into the very top corner of the goal. Hugs in the away end. Hugs on the pitch. Hugs on the sidelines. Hugs and hygge all round.
Forest were just getting started. Moments later, Tomlin squared to Lolley who scissor-kicked the ball home, precipitating audible boos from the home end – a truly delightful sound from the perspective of the away end.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. Forest struggled to defend corners convincingly and it was from such a scenario that Massimo Luongo poked home from close range to offer the home team a glimmer of hope. In truth, QPR should have scored from another corner straight after but the resulting shot only served to trouble the away fans in the upper tier.
For once though, none of this seemed to faze the away team – they promptly went up the field and did what they’d done best all afternoon – took successful pot-shots, resulting in goals. Kieran Dowell – on for Lee Tomlin – smashed a shot towards goal which was too hot for Alex Smithies to hold so Matty Cash converted the rebound to notch his first goal for the club, resulting in a proper ‘look at his face, just look at is face’ moment. Cash converter.
QPR weren’t quite done and Matt Smith scored a textbook far post towering header straight out of the Dexter Blackstock guide to towering headers. Why on earth QPR didn’t play more long diags to the far post in order to get Smith one on one with Osborn, only Holloway knows. Yet as the QPR fan in the pub afterwards explained, that would require even a rudimentary understanding of the concept of tactics on Holloway’s part. Buoyed by this goal, QPR tried their hand at playing more long diags to the far post in order to get Smith one on one with Osborn. This proved effective as Smith won a header, knocked it down and received the ball back for a very presentable chance. Fortunately for Forest, his effort flashed just wide of the post.
It mattered little in the grand scheme of things though and Ben Brereton, who had worked ridiculously hard all afternoon, scored the goal his performance deserved. He won the ball on his own, cut inside and curled the ball delightfully into the far corner – a very Ben Brereton kind of goal. They’re the best ones.
Lee Tomlin’s two goals – three in two games – will hog most of the attention and deservedly so. He is the street urchin of a footballer to Kieran Dowell’s fragile silkiness. He scraps, he moans, he whines, he occasionally loses the ball but above all, he makes good things happen going forward. At the back, Costel Pantilimmon does a hugely convincing impersonation of Peter Shilton in the way he steps out of his box to wag an accusing finger at one of his defenders – any one of them, whoever is nearest – whenever the opposition comes remotely close to breaching his defence.
That’s not to say there is no place for talent like Dowell and Jordan Smith in this team. Fellow youngsters Cash and Brereton have truly stepped up to the plate under Karanka’s stewardship, suggesting that the door is in no way shut for young talent. It’s just that at the moment, a bit of heavy ballast in the middle of the park is required to get through this sticky patch.
The result goes a long way to eradicating long and hard bouts of staring at the league table but more importantly, the performance put an awful lot of smiles on an awful lot of faces.
Having beaten QPR 9-2 on aggregate, do we now get to keep them?
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.