Such were the words of Mark Warburton after a laboured performance eventually saw off League One opponents Shrewsbury Town in the 1st round of the Carabao Cup. His short summation pretty much sums up the evening.
The first round of the League Cup should be all short sleeves and flip-flops but the game played out under swirling and incessant rain, resulting in numerous slide tackles which wouldn’t look out of place on the water slide of your uncle’s back garden who nipped out to Argos to get one since he thought it’d make the BBQ even more fun for the kids. On occasions, both teams struggled to judge the weight of their passes as the ball frequently skidded out of play when it should have found the feet of the raiding full back. On other occasions, it trundled to a standstill like Robert Rosario attempting to make an incisive run. With the ball like a greasy chip and taking an extra second or so to bring under control, tackles flew in quickly and it truth be told, it was the away team that were particularly effective at stealing the ball in the midfield area as Forest were a little ponderous in possession.
The team selected ensured pretty much the whole squad has been utilised in the opening two games. Regardless, the starting XI was a neat combination of experience and youth, operating as a 4-3-3. Executing the passing style of Friday evening’s opening against Millwall was always going to be tricky in such conditions, a fact realised early on by Danny Fox whose first two touches were raking balls looking for either Jason Cummings or Apostolos Vellios. Nonetheless, passing out from the back appeared to remain a priority for this entirely changed back five from the one that started the season. Mark Warburton has options aplenty when it comes to team selection after constructing what looks to be the most balanced squad we’ve had for a while.
In such a formation, it isn’t necessarily the case that the central striker is the focal point of attacking play. Like Daryl Murphy on Friday, Vellios occasionally looked a bit lonely as build up focused around releasing wide men Mustapha Carayol and Jason Cummings and if neither of these were far enough up the pitch, the full backs certainly were – especially Eric Lichaj. It was from such a ploy that the first goal arose with Carayol released down the left flank and allowed to progress into the penalty area before being felled with a rather clumsy trip. Carayol himself baggsied the ball and stuck it away. Nerves were settled.
Prior to this, nerves were jangling a bit as Shewsbury were having joy winning the ball quickly in the middle of the park and moving it forward. Fortunately for the home side, confidence evaporated like a pack of party rings at a kids party whenever they approached the penalty area and Dimitar Evtimov in the Forest goal was largely untroubled until the closing moments.
The game played out like this up until the hour mark – possession quickly won and lost for both sides and although the home side looked to have more of a goal threat, the visitors were enjoying a larger slice of possession. This changed with the withdrawal of Kieran Dowell - replaced by Ben Osborn - and immediately Forest enjoyed a five-minute spell of possession in the opposition’s half. He scurried around in that way he does, taking responsibility by offering to receive the ball like a Martini advert and spraying it wide when necessary. Simple but highly effective. Nerves steadied a little, culminating in Cummings’ well-taken debut goal after some sprightly interplay through the middle. The young Scot looks desperate to do well and thoroughly enjoyed getting off the mark.
One too many tackles from the Forest defence in their own area resulted in a penalty for the visitors as Shaun Whalley slotted home with ten minutes to go. For the first time, the home defence looked a little stretched but a bit of grit, rolled up sleeves and a slice of fortune saw them safely into the next round. Just as well really; few of the rain-soaked crowd fancied another 30 minutes of soggy socks.
All in all, the performance was rather disjointed but then again, this was effectively the first game of the season for this starting XI so a degree of rustiness was always to be expected. By and large, the principles of play established from pre-season and the opening game are abundant throughout the squad, meaning that whoever comes into the starting line up should slot in seamlessly.