words: David Marples
Five minutes gone and one down away from home after a set piece. Hang on, was the summer all a dream? Are we stuck in a time loop and trapped in August 2016 to December 2017? Is Mark Warburton still in charge? Did all those signings really happen? Is that *squints* Bobby Ewing coming out of the shower as if nothing ever happened?
Apparently not. But after five minutes of play in this shiny and pristine new season and despite a huge turnover in playing personnel, it was all eerily familiar. Then again, with four players making their debut, a soupçon of bumbling is to be expected.
Yet this early setback didn’t evolve into all out tedium, as it has occasionally done so in the past. It took a little time for the wheels to be greased; some Dawsondiaglongraking balls didn’t quite find their target and even when they did, they weren’t quite taken in their stride. Yet Aitor Karanka’s team stuck to the plan. Ben Osborn and Tendayi Darikwa were not restrained by the half way line and support was always offered - mostly inside - by their respective wide men (Diogo Gonçalves and Gil Dias respectively). As the first half grew, so did Forest.
Were it not for the early concession, the opening 45 minutes represented a decent - if unspectacular - afternoon’s work. Aside from a few dangerously whipped in crosses, Forest looked like they were growing in confidence, albeit without really troubling the Bristol goal. Daryl Murphy dillied and dallied too long when put through by Gonçalves and elected to switch the ball to his more trusted left when larruping it with his right might have yielded a happier outcome but the game calmed down after a frenetic opening.
After half time, everything changed.
“I'm happy especially with the second half - everything in pre season has been almost perfect, said Aitor Karanka. “The team didn't realise the Championship started today - it's been a wake up call.'' By half time, the wake up call was heard, acknowledged and chucked across the room in a typical display of morning grumpiness.
Daryl Murphy echoed his manager’s discontent: “we were disappointed in ourselves in the first half performance. Second half we showed what we can do. I'm delighted - we started pressing a lot higher and started to force errors from them''.
This was certainty the case as within a minute of the restart, Murphy ran, passed the ball then ran some more to the six yard line and did what he does best - nodded in with a delicious header to bring his team on level terms. It is testament to Murphy’s ability to take such chances that as soon as the ball was carefully flighted into the box, a goal looked inevitable, despite the replay showing the opportunity to look anything but straightforward. Besides, apart from learning about the importance of set pieces, waistcoats and inflatable unicorns, we also learned from this summer that every team needs an Olivier Giroud to do the mucky stuff for the good of the team.
The tide well and truly turned. Osborn blocked a cross in the right back area and somehow won a corner. All three Portuguese lads - we are still very much in the era of ‘the Portuguese lads’ at this stage - hassled and harried a Bristol defender until he lost possession. A seemingly high proportion of Bristol’s attacks floundered on the rocks of the ballboys’ hands down the touchline. In short, the home team seemed to lack a cutting edge without the departed Bobby Reid.
Although the aerial bombardment continued, Forest looked more sprightly. Sometimes ‘running around a bit more’ really is an effective tactical move.
As the game wore on, it became apparent that the away side simply possessed more quality in their ranks. Lewis Grabban and Joe Lolley came on from the bench and both immediately looked a right old pest for the home team’s defence. Jack Colback didn’t even get a run out - talk about quality in the squad. Maybe the key for Forest though was João Carvalho who consistently found space and kept the ball - such a difficult task when deployed as a classic number 10. As he improved his overall contribution, so did the team. Thanks to the summer recruitment, Forest have quality in spades. Quality in abundance. Quality in a big bundle of spades.
Here’s to digging for victory.