Nottingham Forest produced their best display of the season with an excellent victory over Birmingham City last Friday night.
The pre match build up was overshadowed by the ever growing hostilities towards Chairman and Owner, Fawaz Al Hasawi. Then came the news of an imminent investment package from an American consortium, led by a man called John Jay Moores.
There was a collective sigh of relief as the news regarding the Americans filtered through and it appeared to have buoyed the players too. Whether that is true or not I’m not sure but they certainly approached this game differently.
With Philippe Montanier banned from the touchline, he sent out his players in a 4-1-4-1 formation which included a start for David Vaughan, as the holding midfielder. This seems to be Montanier’s favoured selection of late despite being winless in the last seven matches, in all competitions. Right from the off, there was a real purpose about the home side and it seemed to have paid off in the 8th minute. Henri Lansbury’s free kick found the back of the net but was eventually ruled out for offside; it was dubious to say the least because the Forest players had all made it back for the anticipated restart before it was disallowed.
Birmingham began to raise their game and were winning the individual battles well, their forward play was very one dimensional though. The red’s defence soon wised up to the long diagonal balls aimed at Lucas Jutkiewics and the tide began to turn. After a decent passage of play, Nicklas Bendtner crossed for Eric Lichaj, who’d made a surging run into the right side of the box. The man from Chicago showed superb composure to chest and then flick the ball past his marker before firing into the top corner. It was a goal that Assombalonga would have been proud of given the high level of skill involved. It was also enough to give Forest a half time lead; surely this time they could build on it as opposed to the recent reversals from winning positions.
It was interesting to see how often Ben Osborn and Mustapha Carayol switched wings and also how pivotal David Vaughan is to the team. Vaughan was excellent throughout and there can be no reason what so ever to exclude him from the side against Blackburn. In fact, I can’t think of single Forest player that didn’t play well; there was a real intensity and zest about the team, for the first time in a long while. Nicklas Bendtner suffered ankle ligament damage following a filthy, off the ball incident and was replaced by Apostolos Vellios. The Greek striker took just six minutes to make his mark; he nipped in between three blues defenders to poke home Lansbury’s exquisite, first time cross. Both scorer and provider have come in for some criticism from me this season, but they didn’t put a foot wrong in this game. Vellios now has five goals to his name but I still believe he would benefit from being part of a forward two; his real strengths lie in around the six-yard box like those of Michael Owen. Although not quite the finished article, he’s certainly silenced a few critics (myself included) and you can’t argue against the leading scorer. It’s a nice problem to have now that there are three strikers in contention for a starting place, stark contrast to last season indeed.
City certainly tested the resolve of the Forest players when Ryan Shotton’s excellent cross was headed home by Jutkiewics in the 70th minute, but the home side were not to be outdone this time. With just eight minutes remaining, substitute Hildeberto Pereira scored an absolutely amazing goal to seal the win for Forest. The Portuguese full back had only replaced Armand Traore minutes earlier, what happened next was breath taking. He started a run from his own penalty area, skipping past opposing players as he did so, he then played a one-two with Osborn before firing home having run the entire length of the pitch. Certainly a candidate for goal of the season!
That effectively ended the match as a contest and it was thoroughly deserved, I really don’t have a negative word to say about the whole affair. I have criticised the substitutions of late but Montanier certainly got them right on Friday; with both Vellios and Pereira finding the net after coming on.
I don’t know whether the performance levels had anything to do with the manager’s touchline absence or if it was to do with the impending investors, but it was the best I’ve seen this season. Hopefully the manager will go with the same shape and personnel against Blackburn this evening, he could do a lot worse after that performance. The key to the success of the side is the inclusion of Vaughan in the holding role; the lad’s a natural in that position and we are a far better side when he plays.