words: David Marples
It was on the back of a quiet but very sturdy run of results that Forest boarded the coach to Ewood Park. Historically, this is not a happy place for the Reds and given that Blackburn Rovers’ unbeaten home record stretches back to just over a year while Forest’s last away win was that bizarre 5-2 win at Loftus Road against QPR, it looked like one of those games from which a point would be considered a decent return.
The away side looked bright and spritely in the opening exchanges and profited from a penalty award after Michael Hefele’s impersonation of Harry Maguire attacking a corner in the World Cup. More memorable than Lewis Grabban’s miss was João Carvalho and Adlène Guédioura rushing to pick the striker’s chin up from the ground – a gesture that speak volumes about his team mates’ faith in him to score goals and the spirit currently engulfing the squad. Forest manager Aitor Karanka was pleased with the opening, if not the penalty miss. “I thought we started really well and when we missed the penalty, we were down. We came onto the pitch in the second half a little better.”
Over the course of the first half, the pendulum swung in favour of the home team and it was only Jack Colback’s triple pike from a highboard to head away a Bradley Dack shot that prevented Forest going a goal behind.
Early in the second half, Carvalho headed across goal neatly for Grabban to convert and score his third goal in four games – a healthy return for a player who has his detractors. While his hold-up play – or lack of it – against Stoke City in the League Cup in midweek when his team were crying out for him to keep the ball and relieve the pressure was a source of frustration, he has the knack of putting the round thing in the stringy thing. Consider him the inverse of Jason Lee whose work rate and selfless harrying means that Forest fans will defend his honour to this day. (It is also worth noting that despite the mockery surrounding Lee’s goalscoring, he was joint top scorer in a team that finished 9th in the Premier League and reached the quarter finals of both the FA Cup and League Cup in 1995/96.) Consider which you would prefer: A striker who scores goals but doesn’t run around, or a striker who runs around but doesn’t score many? Naturally, a striker who does both and finishes like Marco van Basten is ideal but sadly, they don’t grow on magic striker trees.
Besides, there are the shoots of a healthy and fruitful understanding developing between Carvalho and Grabban with the former always looking to slide the latter through on goal or find him the box. And to grab the ball to take a penalty after missing two previously – one in the same game – commands a degree of respect. Even if his body language might suggest otherwise at times, Grabban really really wants to score goals.
Going a goal behind simply wouldn’t do from the perspective of the home side who promptly went upfield and applied some very thorough and sustained pressure, culminating in a possibly fortunate equaliser and a well-worked second goal.
If Forest were to get anything from the game, there was no time or space for a meek surrender and perhaps the most pleasing aspect from their perspective was their refusal to walk quietly away, a sentiment echoed by Karanka. “We have to be pleased with the overall performance because the spirit of the team - we keep going until the end. We had chances until the last second, but I think it's a good point. The players showed a very good attitude.”
Forest went for it and having leveled the scores through Grabban’s penalty, were about as satisfied with a point as an eight year old child who gets a cartridge pen for Christmas rather than the BMX bike he had strenuously specified. Both Hefele and Guédioura came close to winning the game in the closing minutes but come the final shakedown, a point apiece seemed fair, supported by each team’s equal number of shots on goal.
It was a coherent and at times adventurous away performance by Karanka’s team with Joe Lolley the heartbeat of everything good. Put simply, he makes things happen, either through chasing down or blinding skill, epitomised by a run from his own half after a one-two with Ben Osborn which ended with him bearing down on goal and forcing an excellent save from David Raya in the Rovers goal.
After the disappointment of the away performance at Brentford and earlier at Wigan, it is clear to see an improvement in application and attacking intent from more recent ones at Swansea and Blackburn.
Issue Ten will be with you in early November.