words: David Marples
Sooner or later, it happens to everyone. Just like Neil Tennant sang in ‘Love Comes Quickly’ and with the inevitability asserted by Gloria Estefan regarding the rhythm, it’s going to get you. A stint in League 1 for every once decent but now middling Championship club lies lurking in the shadows, especially one in its seventeenth season.
Ipswich Town find themselves at the bottom of a particularly deep furrow for which a significant amount of ploughing is required. All they have going for them is Paul Lambert’s faith in and willingness to utilise the kids.
In stark contrast, with the halfway point of the season galloping into the foreground, Forest are very much, as they say, in the mix.
Much has been said and written about the impact of Aitor Karanka’s signings yet what has perhaps gone under the radar is the improvement he has coaxed from his players. The most obvious of these is Tendayi Darikwa who now patrols his right back area with the forcefulness of R. Lee Ermey’s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman with boundless energy while also developing the art of the whipped cross. When Saidy Janko landed into the team from Mars and got his feet right under the table, Darikwa got busy improving and has turned in some heroic performances, none more so than against Ipswich in which his forward play - previously underwhelming - has now developed so much that it was the source of the two goals that comfortably saw off Paul Lambert’s team.
In the other full back position, Jack Robinson too has quietly evolved into the reliable and consistent left back Forest have yearned for after years of chronic inattentiveness in that area. Although Yannick Bolasie gave him a tough time on Wednesday evening, he won’t be the only one and since his debut against Bury in the League Cup, his development mirrors that of Darikwa’s – steadily spiraling up a staircase.
Likewise, Matty Cash has always had the energy and pace to trouble any opposition without necessarily damaging them. Yet in his performance against Aston Villa, he not only outran his opponents, he hurt them too with his intelligent movement and eye for a goal. Although rested against Ipswich, Gil Bastião Dias stepped up and showed that he too is hopping onboard the improvement train with a more measured and controlled performance than he has previously offered.
Even wise old hands like Jack Coback and Adlène Guédioura are not immune to improvement. In recent weeks, Colback has been encouraged to shuffle forward ten yards and get involved in the attacking fun while Guédioura is increasingly doing the simple things just as effectively as the spectacular. Danny Fox’s development too should not go unnoticed, despite his current injury.
And for all the frustration directed towards Costel Pantilimmon, normal service was resumed here with another clean sheet.
Even Lewis Grabban has arguably improved. His ability to score goals was never in doubt yet it is his movement that has unquestionably evolved since those swelteringly hot August days. It is frightening to consider that he has also managed to miss three penalties, despite cleverly pulling away with a nifty run to get himself into pole position in terms of the division’s top scorer table.
Simply put, there exists another narrative beyond that of the new signings: it is one of tangible improvement in a number of players over the course of the season. Long may it continue.
Issue Ten is out now and available to buy here and MSR newsagents on Trent Bridge and Angel Row where you will also find loads of Forest books and memorabilia to stick on your Christmas list.
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