words: David Marples
This was Nottingham Forest’s first consecutive clean sheet since a shade over a year ago - 53 weeks to be precise. That achievement was secured following a 3-0 demolition of now Premier League Brighton and Hove Albion, which itself followed a very hard-earned away point at Wigan Athletic on a day when football was certainly not the winner. Yet with a double sized pristine sheet laid crisply on the bed, Forest promptly went and lost at home to Brentford - conceding three in the process - and then away at Burton Albion. Grim.
For Aitor Karanka’s team, it’s now six games unbeaten which goes some way towards erasing the memory of that miserable run in late January and early February of three defeats in which they failed to score a goal. And if that’s not weird enough, those three defeats came straight after the impressive win at league leaders Wolves. Karanka’s period of watching, listening and learning after his appointment seems like time very well spent with each passing game.
Gary Rowett came to the City Ground with a plan. The diminutive Ben Osborn was targeted with long balls over his head for Andreas Weimann to chase. After some initial joy for the visitors, the tactic, much like the game itself, became less effective as it wore on. While the contest contained more blood and thunder than a 1980s American heavy metal band video, quality was at a premium. It was a day when well-drilled defenses ruled with Danny Fox for Forest and Andre Wisdom for Derby outstanding.
Derby County – and Gary Rowett especially – seemed deeply peeved about the red card for Sneinton lad Tom Huddlestone. While the second yellow card he received for pulling back Lee Tomlin seemed harsh, Tomlin would argue that this was simply one too many times he was hacked, pulled back, bundled over and simply fouled. Besdies, it wouldn’t be an East Midlands derby without the odd red card here and there.
It was very much a case of ‘if only’ for both sides: if only Ben Brereton had squared his ball to Matty Cash with a touch more conviction, or even just put his head down and smashed the thing as hard as he could. For the visitors, if only Costel Pantilimmon had not got his stupid big body in the way of the shots that arose amid a flurry of pressure just before halt-time.
But both parties can take something away from the game and get on with the rest of their respective seasons. For Derby, they will see the clean sheet and away point as the first stepping-stone in halting a slide at a crucial stage of the season. As for Forest, some very firm foundations are being hammered into place, especially in terms of defensive organisation. If extremely masculine high fives and roaring with mouths as wide open as Andy Murray after winning a crucial tie-break are good enough for Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini after an important save or block, they are certainly good enough for the increasingly rock-like triumvirate of Pantlimmon, Fox and Tobias Figueirido (Toby Figs). If you can’t score a goal, take great pleasure in preventing them.
Forest can now focus on maintaining their current unbeaten run without the need to glance nervously in their rear-view mirror for objects that might appear closer and bigger than they appear.
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.