Forest picked up their first away point of the season, in what can only be described as classic at Villa Park.
The meeting of two former European champions outside of the top flight, is possibly a world first but certainly lived up to its billing. It was a welcome relief not to hear “Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that,” from either set of supporters.
Having no points and no goals on the road this season, the task ahead was made harder by the withdrawals of Chris Cohen and Britt Assombalonga. Many fans like me were happy to settle for a point before a ball had been kicked. Throw in; the amounts of cash that Villa have been paying for their new signings and a draw would be an excellent result.
Philippe Montanier started with a 4-3-2-1 formation that included a debut for our new keeper, Vladimir Stojkovic. The Serbian would have secretly been preparing for a busy afternoon, considering that Forest hadn’t kept a clean sheet, in all competitions this season to date.
As the game got evolved, it was clear to see that there was little between the sides in the way quality, despite the mega bucks spent by the home team. That said; with Apostolos Vellios leading the line on his own, Forest posed little threat in the final third. Aston Villa slowly began to find their rhythm and almost took the lead through Ross McCormack, he hit the post from Jonathan Kodjia’s cross. Kodjia himself came agonisingly close soon after, but was denied by a wonderful, sprawling save by Stojkovic. It was reminiscent of the Gordon Banks and Pele moment, at the 1970 world cup.
Matty Cash was forced off due to injury which saw the inclusion of Thomas Lam and the rotation from wing to wing by Osborn and Mustapha Carayol, who was also making his Forest debut. Despite the upheaval, the away side made it to the break on level terms and without yet conceding.
The second period can only be described as explosive; ignited by the thirty yard wonder goal by Vellios. I have criticised him massively this season, the goal has done him no harm but I won’t be swayed by this alone. Also worth noting is the composure of Pajtim Kasami’s initial ball out of defence, that began the whole move. Jordan Ayew almost replicated the brilliant strike just minutes later; the Villa man saw his effort crash against the crossbar.
At this point I began to genuinely believe that the win and its accompanying clean sheet were on the cards, but within a matter of minutes the game had turned full circle. Ross McCormack found space to bring the home side level, tucking the ball under Stojkovic with ease. Rudy Gestede had not long replaced Gary Gardner, before he pounced to put Villa ahead. If you watch this goal again, look out for the cheeky shove that he gives to Eric Lichaj, prior to Ayew’s ball into the box. Although Lichaj gets close to the giant striker, that initial push created just enough space for Gestede to swivel and score. That is the tangible difference between Gestede and the likes of Vellios, those little actions off the ball are key to succeeding in the Championship.
Despite going behind, I was very impressed by Philippe Montanier’s decision to move Henri Lansbury into the so called number ten role. Having switched to a 4-4-1-1 of sorts, Forest looked considerably more comfortable. Cast your mind back to the end of last season when Paul Williams was in charge; he set up in the very same way and engineered our biggest away win of that season. Lansbury is a different animal when he plays off the striker, and I will be the very first to praise him after performances like this. It’s no secret that I have criticised him consistently throughout my columns, simply because he doesn’t always show what he’s capable of.
On Sunday he certainly excelled and was worthy of the captains arm band, his equalising goal in the 87th minute was sublime. Hideberto Pereira produced a stunning run from his own half, weaving in and out of tackles. He then played a neat one-two with Vellios before finding Henri Lansbury; the skipper burst into the box and curled his effort on the outside of his boot into the top corner with graceful technique.
The referee, who was poor throughout the entire game, sent off Pereira for over celebrating the equaliser. Forest however, held on to their first away point of the season and learned some valuable lessons.
Still early days and despite the leaky defensive record, Montanier continues to entertain us all. He’s recruited a decent goalkeeper and discovered Lansbury’s best position; add Nicklas Bendtner to the fray and things look good going forward.
Look out for my next blog about the Danish striker, later on this week.