words: David Marples
The world-renowned ballet dancer and choreographer Rudolf Nureyev once said of his dance partner, Robert Tracy, “I would like to hire a theatre just as as to have people watch Robert jump”.
For a modern equivalent, imagine Ian Woan saying of Kieran Dowell, “I would like to hire a football stadium just as to have people watch Kieran receive the ball on the turn and glide away from his man”.
There is much common ground to be found between Woan and Dowell. Both have a left foot with an arts degree strapped to it. Both have a languid gait giving the impression of laziness or on some occasions, a severe bout of can’tbearsed. Both speak in a very scouse accent. One more thing - both score very good goals.
In a recent podcast, Dowell was urged to impose himself on the game – use his tall frame to avoid being bundled off the ball so easily. While he certainly didn’t quite go around dropping Paul Scholesesque challenges at the home of Hull City, he did write his name in jet-black thick Sharpie pen all over this game. Regarding his first goal, as soon as the strike left his foot, it was called in from the away end, such was the precision of the drive. For his second, he made a difficult chance look remarkably easy and when the chance to claim his hat-trick presented itself from the penalty spot, he calmly slotted in despite fears he would try a Panenka. The boy has something special and we should cherish him while we can.
Having been asked to take up a wide left position, Ben Osborn also excelled. Again. The thinking in deploying him out there was perhaps to aid the very right-footed Eric Lichaj at left back in giving him an easy outlet rather than asking Lichaj to bomb down the left and provide a cross with his weaker foot. One gets the impression that if you asked Osborn to go and perform a menial task such as ‘go and pick up some sticks’ in order to keep him busy while you got on with sawing the timber in order to build a log cabin, he would return minutes later with several truckloads of neatly whittled and uniform in length bundles of sticks, each one tied with neat red ribbon.
This was Osborn’s 89th consecutive game for the Reds in a team that has seen more rotation of players and line-ups than a helicopter blade factory and he almost capped it off with a perfect goal, brushing the crossbar with an exquisite volley after an 18 pass move, all stemming from a pinpoint piece of distribution from goalkeeper, Jordan Smith.
I could watch Osborn, Dowell and Barrie McKay knock a battered orange or a rolled up pair of socks to each other on a training pitch all day long.
It was a fine team performance all round with Jason Cummings deployed up front at the expense of Daryl Murphy. The young Scot was game, ran all evening and even found time – in-between the running – to execute a vital goal line clearance.
It looks to be a tough gig playing the lone forward in a Mark Warburton team – rather like being asked to support The Housemartins at the Adelphi Club in Hull circa 1986. You won’t get threaded balls in behind to chase. You won’t get crosses whipped into the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ to finish. Yet you will get balls fizzed into your feet while a hulk of a Championship defender whacks your heels. You will be expected to control the ball, find space and then lay it off. In other words, you will be asked to play a vital role in the possession game, all without a sniff of a one-on-one situation that strikers live for. Murphy does this exceptionally well and it is increasingly easy to understand why Warburton plays him as much as he can. Cummings’ performance strongly suggested he is improving in this regard. Ben Brereton, it is to be hoped, is repeatedly being sat down and told to watch and learn this role as it will make him a phenomenally good player in the medium to long term.
The late appearance of Tyler Walker for Cummings perhaps belied Warburton’s belief that Walker too can learn how to be a more complete striker and it was he who was unceremoniously bundled over for the penalty decision. Seeing Walker stride on to be marked by Michael Dawson, who partnered Tyler’s dad in the 2002-03 season, certainly made Forest fans of a certain vintage feel the nip of mortality at their heels.
This was a pleasing performance all round though. The defence, superbly marshaled by Joe Worrall, seemed to enjoy defending: throwing themselves at shots and producing Colin Hendry in his pomp type blocks. Indeed, all across the back line, including Jordan Smith, produced strong individual displays. And yet…Forest still conceded two goals.
Jarrod Bowen’s sumptuous strike from the edge of the area was nigh-on unstoppable yet it came just six minutes after David Vaughan’s withdrawal. There is a school of thought of the belief that Forest win with Vaughan in the side and lose with Vaughan out of the side. While it’s not as simple as that, it is difficult to reject outright such a notion.
What Warburton’s team did particularly well was to avoid conceding early in the game while under a spot of pressure. As half time approached, Forest did their usual Forest thing and clicked into gear, looking increasingly comfortable and started to create chances. After the break, that comfort increased, despite the two Hull goals and while it was anything but a walk in the park, there was a sense that Forest were in control.
Hull manager, Leonid Slutsky saw it slightly different: "We controlled the second ball zone. We played really right. We had a lot of chances and we missed them.
"If we had equalised when the score was 1-0, it would have been much more easy for us. We tried to come back from 2-0 and 3-1 down.”
If ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’, Leonid. If ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’….
While his pre game statement, “We must beat Nottingham Forest” wasn’t quite the baiting battle cry that it might otherwise have been received as, it certainly didn’t do any harm in offering this young Forest side some motivation. Towards the end of the game, Walker, Dowell and McKay confidently exchanged passes – that’s an average age of 21 – all choreographed by the wise old head of the team: the 23 year old Ben Osborn. Not only is this team in its infancy, some of its constituent parts are also very young too.
It matters little that Hull City were far from the strongest team Forest have faced this season; it matters more that such a performance and result was clear evidence that the footballing principles being laid down by Warburton can yield results. While it is indeed rather lovely to be a point off the play-offs, the bigger picture here is that the groundwork and foundations for the future are being firmly laid down.
*We learned something new at Hull City’s stadium. A squidgy stress ball is classified as a dangerous weapon and you will be threatened with ejection if you so much as take it out of your pocket. You have been warned.
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