words: David Marples
Schadenfreude can be, by its very definition, a tough gig for something or someone else.
Norwich City manager, Daniel Farke, got a bit antsy as he faced a long coach journey eastwards without a clean sheet or a point to ease the dark night ahead.“ We controlled the whole game, we calmed the whole stadium down and had everything under control,” he said. “But the only thing that was missing was a goal.”
Tell you what, Daniel, as John McClane said in Die Hard, “Welcome to the party, pal”. We’ve been controlling large portions of the game away from home all season yet coming away with nothing but a broken heart. For the most part, Championship football is am unrelenting slog, especially once the clocks turn back and the midweek games kick in. The performance turned in by Farke’s lads had more than a touch of the Forests about it – kept the ball well, looked neat in possession and some bewilderingly good movement going forward – but as we well know, sometimes you need a little bit extra to nudge yourselves over the line.
It is precisely this which was the most pleasing aspect of the result: Forest were a little short of their fluid selves for the most part yet thanks to some resolute defending, hung in there and displayed that extra little bit of nous to convert what looked to be their first draw of the season into a fourth consecutive win at the City Ground
Farke also claimed this was the Canaries’ best away performance of the season, which is interesting since this was far from Forest’s best home performance of the season. Having won the last four of the previous five meetings with Forest, Norwich started strongly and did everything they could to prevent Jordan Smith rolling the ball out from the back. In the past, this has posed insurmountable problems for Forest but pleasingly, this didn’t seem to faze the team or upset their rhythm too much. Smith’s distribution was generally excellent and more often than not, his lofted kicks out wide or even further lofted kicks down the middle, found their target. And when Smith was able to escape the press, Joe Worrall was in the right place at the right time to get things moving. The twenty year old was commanding throughout and it is telling that the generally impressive Nelson Oliveira dropped deeper as the evening wore on in order to find space to create.
In truth, there wasn’t a lot of goalmouth action and when the walking thorn in the Forest side that is Wes Hoolahan blasted one over from the edge of the box in the second half, one suspected that Norwich probably weren’t going to score. The game seemed to be heading towards a draw – Forest’s first of the season – when Mustapha Carayol burst down the right and laid on an inviting cross for Daryl Murphy to prod home, having edged ahead of Christoph Zimmermann. Call it nous, savvy, experience, brawn, intelligence, desire…call it all of those things but whatever it was, it was another difficult finish made to look rather simple by the big Irishman.
Carayol’s introduction in the 69th minute for Barrie McKay added a bit of zip to Forest’s attacking proceedings. Some see this as proof that Carayol should be starting yet another way to look at it is to take heart from the fact that there are some very effective options chomping at the bit on the sidelines.
Crucially the win, in difficult circumstances, was another important step in the evolution of the team. While not quite an ugly win, it certainly wouldn’t win any beauty pageant competitions. The pattern of the game bore a resemblance to the win at Sunderland earlier in the season but this was against a half decent team - not Sunderland.
If you wanted reassurance that Mark Warburton had a plan B, this performance and Mustapha Carayol was it. If you wondered whether certain players could learn from errors and come back strong, it was here on display. If you didn’t think Forest would be able to stumble across a win when a draw looked most likely, this suggested otherwise.
To reiterate a point made more often than a finger wagging middle manager, the signs are that this team has and will continue to evolve and progress. There will be some bumps in the road but the signifier of confidence that the team will continue to improve is that they have thus far avoided one of those seemingly obligatory horrendous runs in which goals are scarce and points are as hard to come by as a Cadbury’s Time Out chocolate bar.
Say it loud. Say it proud. Like the most perfect and aesthetically pleasing quadratic equation, Forest win some and they lose some. Go shout it from the rooftops - Forest are solid mid table.
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Issue Six celebrates the mighty John Robertson and contains an exclusive interview with the great man. If you ever bought a pack of Panini stickers there's a wonderful article in there which will transport you back to that beautiful feeling of ripping open a new pack and seeing a shiny in there. Remember Ron Atkinson noodling around in the away dugout? That away game against Dynamo Berlin? All this and so much more.
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