words: David Marples
A body stands on one end of a seesaw, rooting that end firmly to the ground.
In front of a rain-drenched and sunshine-draped City Ground, Nottingham Forest confirmed their status as one of the most difficult teams to beat in this division against a Stoke City team that appears to be operating below the sum of its parts.
Nonetheless, the home team found the opening third of the game heavy going and found it difficult to maintain much meaningful possession in the opposition half as Ryan Woods out-Jack Colbacked Jack Colback. Woods, on loan from Brentford with a view to a permanent switch, was excellent in moving the ball forward and it was he who picked up the ball deep in his own half, scuttled meaningfully through midfield and released Benik Afobe with a wonderful ball, putting him clean through against Costel Pantilimmon. Hold your own ‘red card vs dive’ debate here.
A body edges up one side of a seesaw, lifting that end off the ground.
As the game progressed, Aitor Karanka’s team found more intensity and penetration down the flanks. Tendayi Darikwa – outstanding throughout – made it to the touchline before crossing for João Carvalho to shoot, denied only by Ryan Shawcross sticking out a spider-leg.
“In the first half I do not know if we had too much respect for them, with their Premier League players,” said Karanka. "But at half-time I told the players that we had to play our way, that we had to be brave and want the three points, and the second half was much better.”
A body takes a step over the middle of a seesaw, tilting it decisively.
Forest took the initiative and looked dangerous when the full backs raided and doubled up with the wide players who for the main part, had chalk on their luminous boots. Lewis Grabban somewhat surprisingly snatched at a chance after a chronic bout of dillying and dallying in the Stoke back line, preciptitated by crippling indecision by goalkeeper Jack Butland. Yet it was Butland who arguably earned the visitors a point as it was he who quickly ate up the space in front of Grabban when presented with a sight on goal and who somehow pawed a Joe Lolley effort away which was arcing towards the top corner of the Trent End net.
When Stoke manager Gary Rowett said that, “We defended excellently, we just didn't find that last finish,” he was clearly pointing a big old finger at Saido Berahino who just like he did in the League Cup, fluffed his lines when presented with a very presentable opportunity to make a sizable dent into his unwanted goalscoring (or lack of it) reputation.
In many ways, the ebb, flow and panoramic view of the game was similar to that against then league leaders Sheffield United a week previously. All that was missing for Forest on this occasion was a decisive piece of magic to turn the game in their favour. Although Lolley produced such quality with his strike from the edge of the box, Butland fished out his own morsel of quality and slammed his own nine England caps down on the table. Checkmate, mate.
All of which means that while goals in recent games are coming slightly harder to come by for Forest, they are increasingly adept at not conceding them – rather like a body standing in the middle of a seesaw striving to keep it level. The last four league games have seen only one goal conceded and that should come with a big old asterisk since it was that one against Leeds scored by that cheeky scamp, Kemar Roofe.
There is a sense that this team is now bedding down, sticking on its favourite pyjamas and getting settled for a long dark night on the sofa, ready to consume the winter schedule. In a league which sees Leeds beat Derby 4-1, Derby beat West Brom 4-1 and West Brom beat Leeds 4-1, being obdurately hard to beat while having the quality to unpick mean defences are increasingly valuable commodities.
Issue Ten will be posted out to subscribers in the next few days. It will be available to buy from our website for non-subscribers very soon. In the meantime, you can pick up a copy from MSR newsagents on Trent Bridge where you will also find loads of Forest books and memorabilia to stick on your Christmas list.