words: Jordan Whatman
Seconds after kick off Matthew Cash wiped out the man on the ball. That was a decent metaphor for our performance for the following 25 minutes; aggressive, pressing high, stifling. Brentford were reminiscent of Forest under Mark Warburton, a manager both sides have shared. Brentford’s Bentley always wanted to play the ball out short from the back, and both of his options were always occupied by opposition forwards. We played with an intensity that is nigh on impossible to maintain for 90 minutes, and did ourselves a massive favour by taking advantage of that spell. It paid off after a quarter of an hour when Lewis Grabban looked to have ran down a blind alley. David Bentley smothered the ball but Lewis Grabban jaunted on to his left and slotted from close range.
I had a chuckle to myself when young Yates found himself 20 yards from goal with the ball laid off for him early on. I could see his whole life flashing before his eyes ‘what do I do if I score, here, now, on my debut?’ I could see him already telling his mam, his gran and anyone else who would listen how he'd rifled it into the top bin at the same moment he kicked it out innocuously for a goal kick. That moment of innocence aside, he had a cracking debut capped with a man of the match award. For anyone who hasn't watched him play, he's a six-footer with a sharp pass and a willingness to get heavily involved. If there's ever an opportunity to play Yates, Yacob and Colback in a midfield three, O'Neill should do it. Not really for footballing reasons but so we can all watch with horrified fascination as they turn the centre circle into a pit of blood and thunder.
There were other bright moments in that first half. Cash speared a long throw into the box and took everyone by surprise, especially Joe Lolley whose subsequent effort on goal was dull and nonplussed. Lolley reinforced the message that his contract extension is a seriously impressive bit of Forest business moments later. His bursting run on the break allowed him to serve Leo Bonatini’s first Forest goal on a silver platter, on his home debut nonetheless.
The intensity dropped off from there and the run up to the halftime whistle saw Brentford turn the screw without finding goal. Costel Pantillimon’s goal mouth became subject to an increasingly thorough dental examination and he made a couple of strong saves in rebuttal. One of those was from a particularly threatening free kick, and we emerged from the first half unscathed.
The second half saw the introduction of Diogo Goncalves for the first time in... a long while. He replaced Bonatini and looked lively; all the talk of him wanting a move away from Forest in January amid talks of being unsettled seemed unfounded on the basis of his candour. A whole stadium cried out in anguish during his most significant involvement. He was played through on goal, rinsed the goalkeeper and drilled the ball hard and low at the target. It was the perfect renaissance, Diogo’s Return, it had all had a lovely ring to it. Brentford had a man on the line though, lurking with intent, and it was repelled without a second thought for our Diogo. He has clearly forced himself into O’Neill’s thoughts on the training pitch and a dangerous cameo here will no doubt see him feature next time out. What will be interesting to see is if both Goncalves and Joao Carvalho can quickly force their way into a system under the new manager which is perhaps not immediately suited to their style of play.
As the game grew older, Brentford became increasingly hostile in front of the Bridgford End. A short corner was worked around a few sleepwalking red shirts and Pantillimon found himself beaten by an arrowhead strike, only to be rescued by the post. In the past, Forest have been guilty of wilting under pressure and this game had that feel to it for long periods. There was a general feeling that ‘it was coming’, so when Lewis Grabban found himself putting the ball on the penalty spot the crowd gave a collective sigh of relief.
I did anyway, because I had completely forgotten about Grabban’s penalty record. His tickled effort was comfortable for Bentley to parry which, as mentioned, was not entirely new. It was the follow up header from Ben Watson that had me hunched with head in hands, it was denied brilliantly on the double save. The impending notion that our visitors were due an equaliser only intensified from that point on. There was a murmur of discontent in the stands and a couple more hit and hope balls from back to front on the pitch.
That’s about the time we won a corner and scored what turned out to be the winner. In my own parlance, it was the first of what is hopefully many ‘Wagamamamia!’ moments. Molla Wague’s header shortly after entering the field of play was the catalyst for that much needed exhalation of relief around the ground. O’Neill had opted to withdraw Cash in exchange for another of our January signings which saw Osborn climb the pitch to left midfield, Robinson slotting into his preferred full back role from central defence and the new man taking up the vacated centre half spot. Wague found himself in a newly assembled defensive partnership with Alexander Milosevic, who deserves credit for a solid game in defence.
Brentford got a deserved goal in somewhat bemusing fashion. The Bees were moving it around the edge of the Reds 18 yard box with a slick composure that has seen them score goals, goals and more goals over the last 5 games when Canos popped in a consolation strike. He slotted it with all the composure my mama displays when she’s on the arcade machines in Blackpool, nobody around me seemed to immediately realise it was a goal even when he wheeled away in celebration. Understandably, a few fellow reds felt that we were in for some late tragedy on Trent side at this point, but the side held firm for a crucial 3 points.
In summary, it was a game of relative excitement in our first home win over Brentford since 2006. You sense there is still much to come from this side under the new manager, with few certainties since his arrival pertaining to his team selection and style of play. One thing that is fairly certain however, is that ‘Keano, give us a wave’ will never happen.
I hope it does, against Derby in our next home game in the twilight of a 5-0 barnstorm against Lampard’s bouncers... but let’s consider that an additional extra to what will hopefully be a competitive finish to the season.
Issue 11 is imminent.