The new look Nottingham Forest kicked of the Championship campaign with a fortunate victory over newly promoted Millwall on Friday. Regardless of the victory, it feels great to have our club back in the hands of our loyal supporters.
The buzz around the city before the game was fantastic and to have a sell out crowd for the opening day was testimony to the efforts Evangelos Marinakis. I walked to the ground from town and stopped for an obligatory pint in Hooters where a large group of Millwall supporters had gathered, given the fierce reputation of their fans, it’s fair to say I was a little apprehensive. However; to my surprise, they were chatting away to pockets of Forest fans as well as the Police in attendance.
Another pleasant surprise came in the form of the breathtaking display of colour in the Trent End; Forza Garibaldi were the architects behind the sea of red and white, something that hasn’t been seen at the stadium for a very long time. The meticulous effort and endeavour that went into this project was commendable and well revered by almost every supporter in the stadium. I did see one unsavoury comment in protest at the Forza masterpiece though, if you don’t like it; I suggest following a club closer to home pal; Forza Garibaldi is here to stay!
And so to the football; Mark Warburton surprised me when he set up with a 4-1-4-1 formation for the first game, simply because he’s flirted with two up front in pre season and especially because he now has the personnel to enforce this tactic. Three debutants were in that starting line up too; Murphy, Darikwa and McKay. Something that sent alarm bells ringing for me personally was the deployment of Ben Brereton out wide on the right. I watched him in pre season and he looked like a fish out of water on the flank.
As the game elapsed it was clear to see that Millwall were the more comfortable of the two sides and within the first seventeen minutes they’d squandered three great chances to take the lead. Throughout the first half it was clear to see the centre of midfield was virtually nonexistent, Clough and Osborn both struggled to establish any kind of presence and this massively hampered the efforts of Daryl Murphy in front of them. I heard a few moans and groans regarding Murphy’s contribution but he’s not the most mobile of strikers, therefore he craves decent service. As the home side struggled to create any cohesion Millwall wasted another glorious chance to score and one that would cost them dearly. Just a minute later and five before half time, Barry McKay capped a solid debut with a wonderful goal. The Scotsman cut in from the left and drove his 25 yard effort in of Archer’s right hand post, all about taking your chances!
The second period was slightly better for the Reds but we were guilty of overplaying from the back, there seems to be a Pep Guardiola mentality creeping into Warburton’s mindset. I’m all for playing the right way but I think this is a risky strategy, one that Jordan Smith struggled with massively on Friday. His only real flaw is his footwork but he’s been told to become sweeper keeper by the gaffer. It’s no secret that the Forest boss doesn’t rate Smith but I’d tread carefully with this because if Manchester City are anything to go by, the grass aint always greener!
Cometh the hour, cometh the man, only just in the case of 19 year old Kieran Dowell. The Everton loanee slipped into the midfield and provided exactly what we’d been missing. He showed great strength and began to link up the forwards with ease. If he’s not a starter against Brentford I’ll be very surprised.
Naturally, given the bombardment we’d received from Neil Harris’s men, Mark Warburton decided to shut up shop and protect the points. He did so by swapping Mills for Murphy and going with three centre backs, more evidence that he does have a plan B in his locker. Ok; it was risky but it paid off so I’m not going to moan about it!
There was a collective sigh of relief by the Forest faithful at the final whistle, a real smash and grab of a win if we’re honest. Despite the poor performance, I’m not going to berate the manager or the players because there’s a long road ahead and game week one will not make or break your season. There were real positives though, the performances of Barry McKay, Kieran Dowell and my choice for man of the match, Tendayi Darikwa. The club is going in the right direction, with the right people in attendance so I’m happy to be realistic about whatever this season throws at us.
Finally; it was brilliant to have pre and post match beers with the Millwall supporters, who were an absolute credit to their club. If the Lions play half as well as that this season, they’ll be in the top half of the table for sure.