words: David Marples
Seconds before Lee Tomlin smashed Joe Lolley’s square ball into the Trent End net, it was put to me that this was another of those occasions on which it was ‘not our night – we could be playing all evening and never score.’
It certainly felt that way. This wasn’t uttered with anger or disappointment at the second half performance – more resignation that even when we do come out and give it a right old go, the football gods sometimes, as is their irrelevant want, decree that the ball simply will not cross the goal line. No reason or rational explanation – just as simple as ‘not tonight’. When Tendayi Darikwa slammed his shot against the underside of the bar and then seconds later was denied by a barely plausible goal line clearance, it certainly felt as if Forest would get no reward for their second half performance. Yet when Tomlin equalised in the 85th minute, the sense of relief was palpable. Thank Christ, the lord, the stars and the wibbly wobbly timey thing that acts as cosmic glue for that.
If the second half performance deserves a bucket load of credit, the first half showing was worthy of little more than a large and childish raspberry. When Omar Richards fired through a gaggle of players to put Reading in the ascendency, it was no more than the away team deserved. As for Forest, they played like a team who were barely on first name terms with each other – which under the circumstances, is quite understandable. Manager Aitor Karanka was most displeased with the first half performance: “We needed to be more aggressive because we were losing every single challenge in the first half.” Given the absence of a league goal at home since early December, Forest were in danger of losing not only challenges in the middle of the park but also the game and a sense of belief. Given Karanka’s post match interview, it seems that some strong words were spoken – maybe even hollered – in the dressing room at half time.
Simply put, Forest played with more aggression and belief in the second half, allowing them to move the ball forward quicker and into more threatening positions. Tomlin was finally able to start dictating the waves and patterns of Forest’s approach play and although not everything he tried came off, he kept on trying which for a player who doesn’t look quite look fully match fit, is pretty impressive. Lolley too started to find more penetration with his runs rather than blind alleys, creating space and chances for the home team.
With such a large injection of new players into the mix, it seems curious to see Ben Osborn deployed at left back. That’s not to say that he is a liability in that position, more to say that such a situation is indicative of the squad still being a way from balanced and suggests that Karanka felt that other positions required more urgent reinforcements above the perennially problematic left back position. Chuck in the fact that this year, while Forest have struggled to score goals, let alone pick up many points, they have somehow managed to chalk up wins against Arsenal and league leaders Wolves away from home.
Football is really weird like that sometimes. Just when you think your team won’t ever score a goal ever again, they go and pat you on the head and whisper ‘it’s going to be alright’ sweetly and gently into you ear.
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 joins us for a trip down memory lane to when football shirts were baggier than a Happy Mondays groove and more lurid than wasp vomit. You can buy a copy from MSR newsagents on Radcliffe Road or order one here.