Gary Brazil got off to a winning start in his second spell as Nottingham Forest manager, and he should be given the rest of the season along with Jack Lester in my opinion.
It may not have been the prettiest victory, but Saturday’s win over Bristol City provided enough evidence that fifty-four-year-old Brazil is tactically good enough. Despite only winning two of his previous nine games as caretaker boss back in 2014, the experience has served him well and he looks a far more confident candidate. Another big plus is the appointment of Jack Lester as his assistant, the two of them clearly read from the same hymn sheet as far as the NFFC academy is concerned.
Given the pre-match protest against the Owner of the club and the sale of Henri Lansbury to Aston Villa, the visit of struggling City would not be an easy task for the rookie pairing. However, Brazil made some bold decisions and more importantly opted for square pegs in square holes. Jamie Ward was the most surprising starter on Saturday following a massive U turn regarding his loan agreement with Burton Albion. It beggars belief that the Northern Ireland international, who starred at the recent European Championships, had been pushed out of the club whilst the likes of Carayol, Dumitru and Lica were welcomed with open arms.
Gary Brazil went with a 4-2-3-1 formation, one that would have been frowned upon by many supporters earlier this season. I suppose it goes to show how fickle us fans can be at times because with two holding midfielders and alone striker, you’d be forgiven making references to defensive Dougie all over again. In all fairness, the home side played some decent football at times and Bristol rarely ventured into the Forest half during the first 45 minutes. Jamie Ward provided the first real chance on 14 minutes after drawing in three defenders before shooting wide from 25 yards out. Chances were scarce for the reds despite having the lion’s share of the possession, and there lay the problem. From defence to the final third, we looked decent but had little in the way of end product. Britt Assombalonga looked uninterested if I’m honest, and he failed to offer the midfield an outlet on more than one occasion.
The Forest management team opted to send out the same eleven for the second period but they nearly got caught cold by former red Jamie Paterson, the midfielder planted his half chance past the post. It certainly had the desired effect because Assombalonga finally burst into life and forced a great save from Giefer at the opposite end. Paterson then missed an even better chance before Matt Mills left the field through injury. He was replaced by Nicklas Bendtner, who was welcomed by a large chorus of boos by the home supporters. It’s not his lack of goals that are the issue but more his application and work rate; I said he’d be a good signing for us but he has well and truly proved me wrong. At least he was a free transfer!
I was impressed by the quick tactical switch following the withdrawal of Mills; Gary Brazil immediately dropped Mancienne into defence and went 4-4-2. Remarkably, Bristol City began to dominate following the change but were pegged back by a moment of sheer quality. Ben Osborn scored and absolutely audacious goal in the 67th minute and one that will not be forgotten for a long, long time. Forest were awarded a free kick on the edge of the area, Matty Cash rolled the ball to Osborn who flicked it up and unleashed wonderful half volley into the top corner of the net. It was as close to Matt Le Tissier’s effort against Wimbledon as I’ve ever seen. If you’re name comes up in the same sentence as the former Saints legend, you know you’ve done something special.
Despite some atrocious refereeing and fifteen minutes of sustained pressure by the away side, Forest held on and took all three points and more importantly jumped above Bristol City in the Championship table. As I said at the outset, it wasn’t the prettiest of displays but there was a good balance to the side, with the appropriate players in the right positions. Eric Lichaj and Matty Cash revelled in their natural habitats, with the latter having a fantastic game. Ward gave us somebody to hit on the wing and he linked up nicely with Pinillos, who is getting better with every game following his injury woes. Michael Mancienne was once again outstanding, both in midfield and back in defence. It was also good to see Matt Mills replicate the kind of form he produced last season, his partnership with Jack Hobbs was key to thwarting the giant front two for City.
What impressed me most about the first game of Gary Brazil’s tenure was the attention to detail and the common sense regarding player selection. His post-match interview with BBC’s Robin Chipperfield was a joy to hear. He spoke at length about the tactics to counteract Bristol’s front two of Abraham and Djuric and the aerial threat from set pieces and especially the long throws. Something that I never heard once from Montanier when he was the boss. The Frenchman had 26 games in charge at Nottingham Forest and despite his misgivings, we never dropped into the relegation zone. That’s why I’m absolutely certain that given the 19 remaining games, Gary Brazil and Jack Lester will produce better results and cement our Championship status in the process.