words: David Marples
It doesn’t matter how they go in as long as they do so.
Never has this been more appropriate when Ryan Yates bundled the ball into the West Brom net after six minutes. It was a very welcome goal for a number of reasons. It rounded off a superb counter attack arising from a high press which maybe secured confidence that the game plan would be effective. Also, this was also the first time the net bulged away from home since Matty Cash swept in at Norwich on Boxing Day.
Boxing Day. That all feels an awful long time ago now. Not only a different year but a different era.
Yates confirmed – as if it needed confirming – that he is some player. Despite his rangy gait, which makes him appear to clunk across the turf rather than majestically glide, he possess all those qualities that our neighbours over the river and those Irons from north Lincolnshire told us about. His desire to win, to get his foot in, to pass the ball and to drive forward conjures memories of a young Irishman eating up the turf in a Forest shirt that always looked a size too big or him in the late 80s. Odd how life works pans out as that now wizened Irishman looked on from the touchline.
As grumbles rumbled around The Hawthorns, Forest’s shape was a thing of beauty – like a neatly drawn house with a solid base, neatly aligned walls standing at right angles to the base and a perfectly formed pointed roof which spearheaded through the murky sky.
Forest defended narrow with both Ben Osborn and Joe Lolley tucked in just ahead of their respective full-backs and refused to be pulled wide when not in possession.
But when possession was won the team, evolved quicker than Optimus Prime from a lorry to a sentient superhero. With the midfield three pressing like a pack of hungry dogs, Yates, Lolley and Osborn got on their respective bikes faster than a triathlete emerging from water to support Lewis Grabban whenever Jack Colback won possession, which he did with frightening frequency.
Naturally, the home side – chasing third place – eventually woke from the hangover that was meted out to them in the opening 20 minutes and worked themselves back into the game. Despite a central defensive partnership having barely had the time to shake hands with each other, the back five were resolute and turned in a disciplined and big-hearted performance both individually and as a unit.
Like most games at Championship level, it was one of if onlys. If only Grabban had dispatched the chance that fell to him in the second half. If only someone had just wellied the ball into space before West Brom equalised. If only Dwight Gayle hadn’t stepped on an unfeasibly large spring buried into the turf with a minute or so to go, propelling him into the air like a demented swan. If only Joe Lolley had tumbled to the ground theatrically in order to draw attention to a frankly unreasonable request for the shirt off his back.
It is clear that Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane have not been simply standing around on the training pitch for the last few weeks admiring the snowdrops but have instead been busy instilling a rigid shape without the ball and an aggressively quick attack with the ball high up the pitch.
Ryan Yates has set himself a very high benchmark and if those are the standards demanded, it promises to be an interesting run of games ahead.
Issue 11 will be with subscribers early next week.
Hang on to your hats - it's a doozy.