Watford 1 Nottingham Forest 1 (25/08/2013) 25/08/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
1- In my head, we always draw one-all with Forest. It’s kind of an unwritten rule. Not strictly true in reality of course; nonetheless a glimpse at the record books reveals ten such outcomes in the last 30 league encounters spanning almost 30 years. It feels as if I’ve seen at least that many.
Not unreasonable then that we should be looking for new and creative ways to draw one-all with Forest whilst keeping the punters interested, and this was surely as engrossing a one-all draw as any that went before it. Faced with the challenge of making something old hat seem interesting and exciting again, you have a couple of choices of course. One of those is a sort of “best of”, bringing back the stars of all previous 1-1 draws between the sides… thing is, the only remarkable thing about 1-1 draws is their mundanity, and whilst Big Brother might get away with wheeling out past victors for yet another series, trotting out the most mundane contributors to the most mundane outcome was never really on the cards here. (“At left back for Forest today, Gregor Robertson! Give him a big hand Forest fans! And in midfield for the Hornets, welcome back Paolo….” VERNAZZA!). Incidentally whilst Richard Short is guilty of many crimes – such as not knowing how to pronounce our own players’ names, but don’t let’s digress too far – the “shout the surnames” thing is not one of them. Like cheap tickets and denim jackets with AC/DC badges stitched to them this trend comes from the Bundesliga and is therefore sehr cool.
Another option in terms of making something mundane seem exciting is to create the illusion of novelty by adding bells and whistles, like David Blaine making Harry Houdini’s escape stunts seem superficially all the more remarkable by repeating them whilst humming Depeche Mode’s back-catalogue through a kazoo, for example. This was the path we followed – not with kazoos, sadly, but with Marco Cassetti twice offering Forest cheap possession with careless hospital passes across the face of our box. ”The same lessons as Reading” might be a recurring theme… the slow start here was, in fairness to Cassetti, evidenced in particular by the failure of Iriney to take a couple of steps away from his marker and offer any kind of easy pass for the Italian. Nonetheless, faced with the lack of a simple pass there are better alternatives than presenting possession to the opposition, much less opposition as obdurate, well-organised and equipped to defend a one-goal lead as Forest. Marco was a joy last year, but has been caught a number of times this season already; with Belkalem entering consideration and Ekstrand and Hoban both to return to full fitness, his position might be under pressure sooner rather than later.
2- Having started slowly and yielded that soft goal, it should be acknowledged that we made a better fist of the first half than we had done at the Madejski a week ago. A different sort of game, of course, and an opponent that was always going to be much better at defending a one goal lead, and away from home… consequently they offered far less of a goalscoring threat than Reading had. Nonetheless, we got into the game and got some passing going, and if we hadn’t really looked desperately like pulling that goal back we reached half time with some brownie points.
It was always going to take something special to penetrate that rearguard, and that something came from the boot of Lewis McGugan who curled a perfect, unstoppable, impossible free kick around the Forest wall, bending into the top corner having been heading wide of the target. Marvellous. Forest fans will no doubt be citing the old adage about ex-players scoring against you; significantly, Henri Lansbury didn’t score for Forest but then he’d only been on loan at the Vic – perhaps that’s why he only hit the post having been the beneficiary of Marco Cassetti’s second Depeche Mode moment. ”Former loanees always hit the post against you” – worth investigating. Forest fans might not be the most reliable guide as to The Way Things Are in any case… “you used to play for a big club”, they sang at Lewis McGugan, evidently not realising that he only ever featured in a trial game for Chelsea – he never actually played for them competitively.
3- And whilst we’re discussing Forest, no great surprise to see them every inch a reflection of their abrasive, obnoxious and utterly charmless manager. Worth remembering that Forest were a right narky bunch last season, so this isn’t all Billy Davies’ work, but my word… niggly fouls, leaving-ins of the boot and treading of fine lines taken to an art form, aided and abetted by a perverse refereeing perfomance from Oliver Langford who was absolutely determined to keep his cards in his pocket for as long as possible. There’s an argument for saying that if he’d booked Chris Cohen for taking an in-flight Ikechi Anya out in the first thirty seconds as he probably should have done, Forest might not ended up with as many as five bookings. Not much of an argument though, however superficially logical – this was too systematic, too much part of Forest’s game plan, and a chronic under-representation of the number of cautions their play could have earned from another official.
As an aside, it’s interesting how many clubs are currently operating against their historical “type”… you could probably count Watford playing sexy tippy-tappy football in that list, certainly Billy Davies’ inherent dishonesty doesn’t feel like a natural fit at Forest much as this is his second stint. West Ham fans being subjected to Allardyce is of course hilarious, but might lose its charm if we actually had to play them.
4- As at Reading, we were considerably more effective in the second half. To what extent the manager takes credit and to what extent Forest legs tired from quite frantic closing down in the opening period is open to debate. Perhaps, as my brother argued, the visitors were so comfortable with a Plan A that was serving them demonstrably well both earlier in the game and in the opening weeks of the season that they hadn’t bothered learning a Plan B… certainly the defensive solidness that characterised their opening forty-five minutes was gone. Fabbrini twisted and turned and defied attempts to steal possession; Murray, on for the tiring McGugan, looked every inch as comfortably-fitting a cog as you’d hope – albeit he missed perhaps our clearest chance, firing straight at Darlow after Deeney’s dummy had bought him a chance; Pudil, perhaps a surprise selection but thoroughly effective in the absence of any wingers to worry about, roared down the left. Deeney, again… subdued. Cumbersome, even. As at Reading, a bit of a concern – transfer window or otherwise.
Which isn’t to suggest that Forest were under the cosh. Indeed, theirs were the better chances and Almunia’s claim to the Man of the Match award as strong as anyone’s – his performance crowned by what TV replays revealed to be a stunning save to deny Ishmael Miller, pushing the big striker’s shot on the break onto the inside of the post. From the far end of the stadium, that was in all the way.
5- But again… as at Reading… our attacking play has an irresistible feel to it already, and this will only improve as the forwards in particular get used to playing together. Yes, the defence needs to sort itself out but this was better… silly passes are easier to sort than general chaos, and there wasn’t much evidence of that, albeit Forest had no need to commit forward for much of the game. As Zola has stated…. and in the context of having given a goal start to a very confident and solid side, in the context of that quite bizarre lack of protection from the officials… not a bad point at all.
As 1-1 draws with Forest go.