words: David Marples
The last time Forest went four games unbeaten was back in November 2016. Under Philippe Montanier, the Reds drew at home with QPR then saw off Ipswich Town and Barnsley away from home before that very weird night against Newcastle United. Come to think of it, the 5-2 win away at Barnsley could also be stuffed safely away in the drawer labeled up ‘X-Files’ too.
That was then; this is now. Forest’s disposal of Birmingham City precipitated the binning of Blues manager Steve Cotterrill who came across a little aggressive and arsey in his post match interview with the BBC. Little surprise there. As for Aitor Karanka, the wheels are starting to turn freely now after being seemingly wedged with a big door stop for a while.
After juggling around with a few players, Karanka seems pretty much settled on his starting eleven, with even the substitutions easy to read. As a result, the team seems settled and partnerships established over the last few weeks are now flourishing. Indeed, the opening goal was all about such partnerships: Ben Watson won the ball in midfield and nudged it to midfield partner, Jack Colback. He prodded it forwards to Lee Tomlin who deftly helped it on to Lolley who had already built up a head of steam. In the blink of an eye, Forest had gone from a midfield battle to precisely the situation they relish: Lolley and Ben Brereton running at a three man defence with Matty Cash lurking wide just in case he’s required.
While Lolley’s shot lacked precision, it still found the bottom corner after unconvincing intervention from Blues’ goalkeeper, David Stockdale. It is worth noting Brereton’s movement as Lolley bore down on goal: his run created the space for Lolley to get his shot away and he was there just in case Stockdale spilled the ball. Under Karanka, Brereton has once again flourished after being handed back the central striking role.
Brereton is not the only player to show significant signs of improvement under Karanka: take a bow Matty Cash who is now often finding himself with space ahead of him rather than being required to beat a man from deep. A word of praise for Danny Fox who looks increasingly less likely to do something silly and Ben Osborn at left back who is making the perennially tricky position for Forest look rather straightforward.
In freezing conditions, Forest lacked the slickness of the previous weekend’s demolition of QPR yet with Costel Pantilimmon and Ben Watson barking orders and pointing fingers, they stuck together and resembled a cohesive unit when not in possession. Particularly delightful was witnessing Tobias Figueirido giving his fellow defenders the mother of all rollockings for not closing down the danger on more than one occasion while exercising controlled and assured composure moments later. Matt Mills displayed one of these attributes in his time at Forest but much less so the other.
Forest’s second goal was part Birmingham City shooting themselves in the foot yet equal parts excellent play by the home team. Ben Osborn and Joe Lolley hunted Maikel Kieftenbeld like a pair of velociraptors, ultimately forcing the away team to concede a throw-in on the halfway line seconds after they had a free kick in Forest’s half. From the throw, Osborn did a Pirlo and sailed the ball across the pitch to the unmarked Cash who displayed elegance and aplomb to smash the ball home. Clever boys.
The concession of a late goal from a corner was particularly frustrating yet in fairness, City’s set pieces carried a threat all afternoon.
Admittedly, the unbeaten run has seen Forest come up against the divisions also-rans and strugglers yet there is a feeling that we now know what we’re going to get from this current Forest iteration: solid at the heart of defence, increasingly coherent and organised pressing in midfield with neat combinations to get Lolley and/or Cash running at the opposition defence. All of which means we can enjoy the remainder of the season and look ahead to the future with a huge dose of optimism and, in light of the excellent season ticket price structure, embrace that loving feeling once again.
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.