words: David Marples
No matter how neatly you organise your pen, your ruler, your bottle of water, your Casio watch and the examination papers plonked unceremoniously down in front which now eye you menacingly, you can never quite line each item up in perfect ninety degree angles. Besides, even when you do think you’ve nailed it, the graffiti etched into the desk from ghosts of the past cannot and will not be hidden.
No matter which you look at it, the first half was as poor as we have seen from Forest this season; no amount of tidying or rearranging can disguise this. Manager Mark Warburton admitted as much: "We were really poor first half. We didn't show any tempo or intensity.”
In contrast, Reading manager Jaap Stam saw things differently: "I'm pleased, it's a good win and not an easy game playing against a good side who can play good football,” he declared. "We made a good start to the game and tried to press them high up the field and forced mistakes from them at certain periods.”
So who was right? As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between. As heart-warming as it is to see very nice things said about this Forest team, Stam reached for the nearest draw labelled, ‘How to beat Forest’, pulled out the post-it note reading, ‘press them high up the field and wait for them to make mistakes’ and stuck it on the whiteboard in the dressing room for all his players to see.
Of course, such a tactic – on its own – is not necessarily a guarantee of three points. Yet when the opposition turn in a performance lacking any pace, invention or bite, the chasm between the two sides will be wide.
The first half is probably best swept under the carpet or stuffed down the side of the sofa with the biscuit crumbs. There wasn’t even anything revelatory about it – no ‘five things we learned’ to see here – not even a ‘one thing that was quite interesting’.
Things improved in the second half. The tempo was quicker and things started to happen, most notably, Vito Mannone saving with his feet, his head and on one occasion, even his hands. Perhaps things might have panned out differently if he hadn’t got his stupid fat head in the way of a goal bound effort from Ben Osborn. Yet soon after, Reading found the post-it note from the dressing room, took a moment to re-read it and went and scored another goal.
And then another one.
There is little point in wagging an accusatory finger at individuals; so very few played anywhere near their potential for more than an ever so brief period of time. It is rather tiresome to heap praise at the feet of Osborn but he deserves it so he can have some more. Weirdly, watching the highlights suggests that Forest were just a sliver of luck (or a Mannone head) away from scoring a few goals and just a Jordan Smith shaped higher concentration level away from conceding fewer goals. Yet it felt and looked worse than this for the duration.
Hey-ho. Three points from two away games is, in the wider scheme of things and set against just the two away wins from the whole of last season, fine.
Occasionally, we all walk into the kitchen, drop the dirty plates on the floor, spill the milk and stub our toe. Let’s just try really hard not to do it again.
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