Following a five game derailment of our promotion aspirations, the wheels were put firmly back on at Hull in a convincing 2-0 win on Boxing Day. Forest returned to The City Ground in search of a much needed home victory against Wigan Athletic on Sunday afternoon. For all of our exploits away from home, we have been far from convincing at The World Famous this season and I’ve been at that point where I would take a 1-0 scrappy win all day long just to get some momentum back in the season. That’s exactly what Sunday bought but still the performances are nowhere near where I would want us to be. There are a number of rumblings about the manager’s negativity and style of play but I guess it comes down to your personality and outlook on life. I’m definitely a half glass full type and with us sat in 5th, with a game in hand, I’m fairly optimistic about our chances IF we can get our act together at home.
Sabri’s team selection raised a few eye brows on Sunday but understandably, this was our second game in consecutive days and I’ll be surprised if that midfield trio starts many more games this season. Samba Sow, Thiago Silva and Joe Lolley were all key to success at Hull on Boxing Day and so they were a big miss but we have to look after the teams assets. Whilst Joe hasn’t been at his best this season, it was more evident how much he is missed against Sheffield Wednesday and the first hour against Wigan. My real disappointment at kick off was seeing Joao Carvalho taking up his spot on the left hand side of midfield. We needed to change things up at home and I think we’d be foolish not to give Joao more opportunity in his preferred 10 slot given the looming transfer window and talk of his departure. Alfa Semedo played well on the left for the first 35 minutes at Hull (until Sow had to be replaced) so it was disappointing for me that Sabri went for a more conservative approach against a side that were bottom of the league. Joao remains untapped potential and for him to go without realizing this is a huge issue for me. Seemingly bought to have the side built around him, he has now played under three managers with a similar approach. It doesn’t make much sense from a recruitment point of view. It’s a tough call because if Forest do not have adequate money to spend in January and we are offered anywhere near the rumoured £10m then we clearly need players on the pitch now, ready to make an impact if promotion is the key this season. For the record, I’d like to keep Joao. He needs more time and nurturing to see if he can truly cut it in The Championship.
With two match winners on the bench in a Lolley and Silva, it did seem the game plan would be to still be well in things for an hour and release the pair. Thankfully it worked out because the overall team performance had a lot left to be desired..
The first half was pretty forgettable from a Forest perspective as Wigan were given time to play and get into some dangerous areas to threaten our goal. Paul Cook’s side played some decent football and I must say I found it mildly amusing, reading the stick on Twitter he was recievng from disgruntled Wigan fans at full time. It was in stark contrast to the criticism on the #nffc timeline! Make no bones about it though, we were played off the park by Wigan for large parts of the game and it’s a good job they are pretty toothless up top. Wigan created a number of decent situations for themselves, mounted pressure from corner kicks but they didn’t really trouble the Forest goal until the final 20 minutes of the game and the introduction of boy wonder Geldhart. A bit about him in a moment.
It took Forest about 40 minutes to register an attempt on goal when Carvalho volleyed over following our first decent passage of play. Forest really should have been 1-0 up going into the break after some nice one touch passing found Ryan Yates in the box; his deft chipped cross to the unmarked Lewis Grabban should have brought the opening goal but incredibly, Lewis missed his header from 5 yards out. He almost got too good a connection on the cross as he tried to bury the chance into the bottom corner; only to see his header pull wide for a goal kick. It was a huge let off for Wigan but on the balance of play, it would’ve been a bit harsh on the visitors.
The second half didn’t start too brightly and it wasn’t a surprise to see the double introduction of Lolley and Silva for Yates and Carvalho. It was a bit harsh on Carvalho to see a) his attitude questioned by fans on his disappointment of his substitution and b) Sabri deploying Silva straight away in the No.10 position. Joao looks really deflated with how things are going, this much is true. I see issues with his lack of impact, fitness and general conditioning but suggestions that he doesn’t care are well wide of the mark. The Forest bench camera confirmed exactly what I saw in the final 35 minutes; he was off the bench remonstrating with the referee when Lewis Grabban got caught in a scuffle with Wigan’s collosall centre back (Kipre) and he was just as delighted with Brice Samba’s penalty save. He went straight over to change congratulate him at the final whistle. Team mates who don’t care, simply don’t do those type of things.
Kicking and heading every ball 👊
— Nottingham Forest FC (@NFFC) December 30, 2019
Anyhow, enough on my defence of Carvalho. Whereas he couldn’t influence the game, Lolley and Silva certainly did within moments of coming on. Lolley took off on one of his trademark runs with his first touch of the ball and he certainly looked happier on the left hand side of the attack. He ran with real purpose and his performance was a huge plus from a pretty shabby all round showing. Thiago Silva sprang into life immediately and was instrumental to better ball retention. Wigan were far from out of things though and Byrne missed a great chance when he was clean through on goal following a counter attack that stemmed from a Forest corner.Wigan were made to rue the golden opportunity to take the lead as moments later a great delivery into the box from Silva saw Tobi Figueriedo score with a cracking header. It was a great set piece and at that point, I thought it was reward for a more attacking approach.
Forest really should have been looking to kill the game off and a few more half chances could have gone in on a better day; Lewis Grabban was unlucky with an audacious attempt to chip the Wigan keeper following a mistake. The introduction of Joe Gelhardt really gave Forest something to think about. It was a day for impact off the bench and Gelhardt terrorized the Forest attack in the final quarter of the game. A couple of tantalizing runs saw him skip past a number of challenges as Forest’s defence couldn’t cope with his strong running. Alfa Semedo was clumsy going to ground to concede a penalty as Geldhardt had seemingly run the ball out of play. He certainly brought the foul but if there was ever a lesson for staying on your feet than hopefully Alfa has learnt it. A huge save from Brice Samba saved the day, getting down well to parry away Josh Windass’ penalty.
Gelhardt looks quite the prospect and having seen him do the same to Hull earlier in the season, he reminded me a little of Wayne Rooney when he first came onto the scene at a similar age; fearless. Sensing Forest’s nerves, Wigan went full gung-ho and a raft of shooting opportunities in the Forest box led to a massive handball shout as Joe Williams shot was blocked by Ben Watson. From where I was sat right behind the goal in Lower Bridgford, Watson seemed too close to the shot to do anything about getting his arm out of the way, if it indeed struck it. Wigan continued to probe and Joe Garner had a good chance to steal a point at the end against his former club; but he headed over when well placed from 8 yards out. The crowd had mustered up plenty of encouragement from the stands in the second half to see the players through and it was great to see the full time reaction from all concerned. It wasn’t great but given recent form, I don’t think anybody saw back to back wins coming over Christmas for Sabri’s men.
Whilst Sabri has his critics, he managed the players with knocks correctly and in a side without our better players and a makeshift left back and left midfielder, we did well to come out of the game with a 1-0 win. Yes I want champagne football but Wigan played plenty of that without reward. We have to be patient and hopefully Sabri will address the issues at home; he certainly alluded to it in his post match interview with Robin Chipperfield on BBC Radio Nottingham.
TEAM PERFORMANCE: 5 – disappointingly, we couldn’t control the game with poor ball retention.
SAMBA: 7 – Match saving penalty save. Looked composed throughout albeit some wayward goal kicks in the 2nd half.
CASH: 8 – Outstanding performance from Matty. 100% as ever and just the commitment I want to see from players when we’re not at our best.
CHEMA: 6 – Strong in the tackle which I like a lot but going forwards, he gave the ball away a bit too often.
WORRALL: 6 – Better from Joe once more. Seems to have reduced the errors that had started to creep back into his game. Important.
FIGUERIEDO: 8 – MAN OF THE MATCH – Big performance from Tobi and the no nonsense defending is exactly what the team needs right now. Cracking header for the goal.
YATES: 5 – Young Ryan struggled to make an impression on the game that we know he can. Seemed to be chasing shadows for a lot of the game and couldn’t get close enough to Wigan’s midfield.
SEMEDO: 5 – Wasn’t Alfa’s best afternoon although he picked up in the final 20 minutes or so. Got lucky with Samba’s save as it was a clumsy tackle to concede a penalty.
WATSON: 6 – Steady enough but when the midfield was lacking any invention, a spark was needed. Needed to be quicker and braver with distribution out from the back.
CARVALHO: 5 – played out a wide and struggled to get into things. Surprisingly his best moments came when he got into central areas. Needs to be played at 10.
AMEOBI: 5 – Disappointing afternoon for Sammi. The good, the bad and the ugly (all in one movement) on a number of occasions!
GRABBAN: 6 – Kick started a better period of play in the 1st half with some good individual work. Still wondering how he missed that first half header…
LOLLEY: 7 – Instant impact from Joe with determined running.
SILVA: 7 – Great delivery for the goal and we looked a whole lot better when he came on.
ADOMAH: 6 – Made a better contribution coming on for the final moments. Much better Albert.