Sabri Lamouchi’s Nottingham Forest were keen to recover from last season’s Championship hangover against Queen’s Park Rangers in their season’s opening game at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium. Up against former Reds Manager Mark Warburton, the 2-0 defeat left many Forest supporters questioning the owner’s decision to back Lamouchi over the summer.
Following a perfect storm of an overly cautious approach, individual player mistakes, and poor recruitment in the January transfer window; eyes were on any significant changes to Lamouchi’s approach for the forthcoming season.
Whilst the Frenchman’s brand of football has been widely criticized, upgrades to the squad had given cause for optimism. Having been allowed to bring in his backroom team; the former Rennes manager cannot have any complaints that he hasn’t been backed by the Forest hierarchy. Concerns also remained as to whether existing squad members had recovered mentally from Stoke City’s final hammer blow of the last campaign.
Having failed to sign Luke Freeman in the previous January transfer window, the on-loan Sheffield United playmaker was the key addition to Lamouchi’s line up. Throughout his 74 minute Forest debut, Freeman showed a number of clever touches on the ball to suggest that he will have a prominent role at the base of Forest’s forward line; a missing ingredient in Lamouchi’s set up to link midfield and attack. With only 20 minutes of preseason football under his belt in a red shirt previously; Freeman was eventually withdrawn as Forest chased the game for an equalizer with the deficit at 1-0. It was an encouraging start to life at The City Ground for Freeman but no more than that on initial evidence.
Tyler Blackett, a permanent capture from Reading had a promising debut at left-back. Having been given a start over Yuri Ribeiro (a surprising omission from the Forest squad), Blackett showed his qualities with a solid defensive performance but shone further with the ball at his feet. Blackett delivered measured crosses into the QPR box; and only a guilt-edged miss from Lewis Grabban prevented him from claiming an assist on his first outing. Blackett had a solid debut and was certainly one of Forest’s better performers in defeat.
Lyle Taylor, another summer capture from Charlton Athletic, had the final quarter to exert his influence on the game alongside Lewis Grabban. Taylor showed glimpses that he hasn’t chosen Forest over other suitors to play second fiddle in the attack. Following Grabban’s four efforts off target including three bad misses by his standards, competition for places in the forward area will be no bad thing for this Forest side as the season progresses. Taylor will fancy that he can do better with the same ammunition.
Academy graduate Jordan Gabriel, another surprise inclusion at right-back over experienced performers Tendayi Darikwa, Carl Jenkinson, and the emerging Jayden Richardson; had a steady if not spectacular full league debut. Whilst the 21-year old was caught out defensively in moments, he physically possesses the qualities to succeed at Championship level. Gabriel’s inclusion suggests that he will have further opportunity to impress before a decision is made on whether he is to go out on loan.
Despite the promise of the new additions to the Forest squad, their collective hard to beat mentality which served them so well for two-thirds of last season wavered after the opening half. Unwanted habits returned with costly lapses in concentration that blighted their run-in.
With nothing between the teams on 54 minutes, Tobias Figueiredo got the wrong side of Lyndon Dykes in the Forest penalty area, clumsily bringing down the Scotsman when the danger appeared to be manageable from a defensive perspective. Ex-Livingston man Dykes converted the resulting spot-kick to put Rangers ahead on his league debut for the Hoops.
The route one nature of the goal was ironic in many respects; Mark Warburton was heavily criticised for his lack of plan B during his time as Forest manager. His failure to move away from his free flowing football approach ultimately cost him his job in January 2018.
''We need to be more focused, we need to be more consistent''.
Sabri Lamouchi reflects on opening day defeat to QPR with Colin Fray.
— BBC Nottingham Sport (@BBCRNS) September 12, 2020
Whilst the goal deficit brought out a far brighter response from Forest, they lacked quality in front of goal. Playing with greater tempo and more emphasis to hurt the Rangers backline, Sammy Ameobi showed once more that he is Forest’s go-to player in creating opportunities. Ryan Yates crashed a shot off the crossbar following a melee in the box and Grabban missed a headed chance from 6 yards when it looked easier to hit the target. Following another good run down the left-hand side from Ameobi, his cut back on 84 minutes really should have brought an equalizer; Grabban blazing over from 8 yards with the goal at his mercy. It was a day to forget for the new Forest captain. Whilst his general play was efficient for a solitary striker, his misses ultimately cost Forest the chance of securing at least a point that they most probably deserved.
As Illias Chair emphatically sealed a good win for Warburton’s men at the death, there were certainly more questions for Lamouchi to ponder. Whilst there had been an adjustment to the formation to accommodate a No.10 within the Forest line up; the lack of fluidity up until the point of going behind will be of continued frustration to their supporters. With no shots registered on target in their opening two displays of the season, Lamouchi will be desperate for a win to come sooner rather than later. His summer signings may well prove to be the calvary he’s been waiting for in turning his sides fortunes around.