words: David Marples
For the duration of the game, an electronic buzz was audible. Its source was a speaker, perched high in the away end. Low in pitch yet unrelenting, it persisted throughout.
Perhaps it was the hum of expectation that exists for Forest this season: ever-present and unceasing. Or maybe it was the buzz of excitement borne of the summer recruitment. If you are more Morrissey than Marr, you could see it as an ongoing reminder of the team’s lingering frailties to defend corners or if you are more Chance the Rapper than Ghostface Killah, a symbol of the side’s obdurate resilience to remain undefeated this season.
Forest are yet to get their noses in front early on in a game, although they are quite proficient in falling behind to an early goal away from home. Costel Pantilimmon seemed to resemble a hoarder refusing to have a clear out of his overstuffed home, despite being strongly urged to do so by surrounding council inspectors, as a corner swung in as early as the second minute. In retrospect, a total and utter clear out of anything in front of him would have been advisable.
A moment of brilliance from João Carvalho and a smart finish by Matty Cash reduced the arrears after ten minutes. Carvalho cleverly robbed Sam Morsy of the ball, skipped over him and released Cash, road-running down the right, who dispatched the ball into the net with precision.
Yet Forest never really quite settled and were harried, harassed and hustled expertly throughout, culminating in Antonee Robinson skipping down the wing, slaloming past a few half-hearted challenges and delivering a cross that Will Grigg would probably have converted were he not pulled back. It was a tough first half to watch and that electronic buzz came to resemble that nagging feeling of impending away day defeat.
The second half was more even, reflected in both the equalizing of the various match stats and the eventual conversion of the late penalty. Come the shakedown, Aitor Karanka’s team looked reasonably assured in the middle two quarters of the pitch: it is just those really important front and back quarters appear to need more attention. The vulnerability from set pieces at the back is a nagging concern yet carving out clear scoring opportunities, certainly on this showing, seemed to be a problem too. Getting the ball to Carvalho is a good starting point from which to try and score a goal but when he is closed down - as he will now increasingly be – so efficiently by opponents or he simply has an off-day (these things happen from time to time and should not necessarily be the trigger for a player to be lambasted and discarded), the team’s attacking threat is oddly nullified. Indeed, Cash’s goal arose from an opposing player ever so slightly overrunning the ball, from which Carvalho and indeed, Cash, punished expertly. The current set-up is proficient in working the ball wide and getting behind the opposing full backs owing to well-worked overloads but seems still reluctant (or unable) to slide balls through the middle for Lewis Grabban to attack. Maybe a little more variety going forward will unlock stronger defences.
The thing is though; we are barely into the first bend of the track and still working out who should run which leg and in which order. The stuttering performances are no doubt a manifestation of the huge influx of players, which in itself raises expectations sky high. Karanka has tightened up a previously porous defence, despite the annoyingly avoidable early goals conceded away from home so far this season. Besides, hard-earned points away from home at Bristol and Wigan – two places at which Forest have traditionally struggled – is not a bad return.
It is often said that the Championship rewards consistency and especially, those that are hard to beat. It might not have been fireworks and big all-night bangers so far; more like sparklers that intermittently yet pleasantly fizzle. Yet the toffee apples remain uneaten and the Guy is still being stitched together.
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