words: David Marples
It was always going to be interesting to see what might happen should Forest get their noses in front before half-time in a league game. Having done so against Newcastle in the League Cup, we saw a confident and coherent display, despite the shenanigans in the closing minutes. In the event of such an opening goal, it was hoped that Forest would be able to assert their style onto the game without having to chase it down like a mad March hare. When Lewis Grabban nodded in Ben Osborn’s free kick just before the interval to put the home team in the ascendency, the stage was set and Forest didn’t disappoint.
The tone was set early on when Jack Colback found himself running beyond the last Sheffield Wednesday defender, a situation precipitated by the opposition totally rejecting the notion of any kind of pressing whatsoever. For them, gegenpressing might as well be an old fashioned mangle or a hipster term for avocado on toast, such was their refusal to even swing a leg at any Forest player in possession of the ball until they crossed the halfway line. This led to their defence pretty much standing on their goalkeeper’s toes and any forward Forest player receiving the ball with their back to goal since space behind the Owls’ defence was non-existent.
It was a curious approach and were Wednesday able to execute a successful counter attack and take the lead, one which might have served them well. Yet to maintain such a strategy even after going a goal behind allowed the home team to build up a head of steam and work pretty triangles in wide positions high up the pitch.
Were Forest able to pass to one of their own rather than floating balls harmlessly high and wide of their intended target in the early stages, they might well have had more of a lead to show for their first half efforts. Adlène Guédioura spooned a few balls out into touch and Osborn’s radar was curiously off kilter in the opening exchanges, most obviously when a corner of his was more suited to Peter Crouch on a stepladder than any person of average height. Yet when Guédioura ripped off his mask, tore his shirt and went all Doctor David Banner, such fripperies ceased and business commenced.
With a goal ahead – and just before half-time, despite the cliché remains a delicious time to score - Forest were able to take control of the second half, thanks partly to Wednesday’s reluctance to press high but also to the intelligent movement of both full-backs. Jack Robinson has evolved immeasurably even in the short space of time since his debut and Saidy Janko looks blissfully happy bombing down the right, laying a cute ball inside then galloping even further into enemy territory. Such effective width allowed Osborn and João Carvalho to exploit the space created. In short, Forest were able to do what they’ve been unable to do for any sustained period, which is get in the other half and play football.
Wednesday manager JosLuhukay was magnaminous in defeat:"I'm very disappointed and I think over 90 minutes Nottingham deserved to win. Steven Fletcher got a goal, but we didn't make any real chances today to win the game. On the ball we were very poor, we had no passing, no combinations, no real chances in the last 30 metres, we weren't there."
The disappointment at allowing Fletcher to notch a goal was trumped by firstly surprise at learning that Fletcher was still with Wednesday and not Cardiff City or QPR and also the pure, utter and unadulterated filth of the build up to Carvalho’s goal. The interplay between Osborn and Carvalho possessed the power to separate childhood sweethearts – it would be totally understandable were a husband to pack their bags, walk out the door and go make a new life with Osborn’s back-heel.
It is a little early to claim that corners have been turned since so many more lurk ahead in very quick succession but it seems that the team proved not only to the home supporters but also to themselves that they are capable of not only playing some pretty football but winning games of football too.