I’d missed the Barnsley game yesterday having endured Notts Outlaws press the self-destruct button in the 20/20 finals day at Edgbaston. Whilst I was still coming to terms with how they managed to blow the equivalent of a 3-0 lead with ten minutes to go (sound familiar?); I’d taken the plunge with an ifollow subscription so that I could watch the game back retrospectively. I know the EFL get their fair share of criticism but giving fans this kind of access is spot on. I was chatting to a Villa fan about TV money dictating to English football at the cricket and I couldn’t share his view about hating Sky Sports. It would be completely hypocritical when I’m watching Forest at Blackburn from the comfort of my own sofa next Tuesday evening.
As bewildering as The Outlaws combustion was on Finals Day, my face must have looked equally as confused when a notification of Ben Watson’s goal appeared on my phone around 4 o’clock. I had to re-check my phone again. Ben Watson? Goal? It was something of a collector’s item given that it was his first Forest goal and three years since he’d scored previously. A lovely finish it was too but I’ll come onto that a little later.
On reflection, the game was a good advert for The Championship and I thought Barnsley played well. Yes Forest weren’t at their best but generally, I think we are improving game by game. It’s too early to get carried away but we are looking strong all over the pitch.
With Carvalho back, we looked really bright in the opening 20 minutes. It was interesting to see him out on the left hand side of the midfield. I wondered how Sabri Lamouchi would try to find a way of fitting him into his team given that he prefers his central midfielders to be more robust in nature. If you look at Carvalho’s assists and best moments from last season, many of them came from that area of the pitch. It looks a good option; we all know what he can do with the ball far outweigh what he can do without it. However, one piece of defensive work in the first half saw him tracking back to break up a Barnsley counter attack from our own corner. Winning the ball back just inside the Barnsley half, Carvalho then pirouetted and turned past four Barnsley players in the same passage of play. Joao must have taken the philosophy; that attack is the best form of defence quite literally in that instance! It was a superb piece of skill. The boy is so good.
Some of our first touch passing was excellent and Lewis Grabban could have got a couple of goals in the first half. He’d be disappointed with the chance he missed when put through on goal by Ben Watson. With Matty Cash and Yuri Ribeiro offering greater threat from the full back positions, I was really impressed with our style and set up. Sabri-ball continues to be work in progress but it’s improving game by game. If we can keep the consistency up then why can’t we be knocking on the door of the play-offs?
Barnsley were far from spectators. Their attacking play was nice to see as many teams set up to frustrate at The City Ground. Luke Thomas in particular looked a real threat all afternoon. It was genuinely nice to see that Dani Pinillos has put injury problems behind him. Decent left backs have been hard to come by since Stuart Pearce almost retired the Number 3 shirt at Forest but Pinillos fitted into the decent category.
Barnsley had finished the opening half the stronger side and started the second in the same fashion. Just as Barnsley had threatened from a corner, moments later and against the run of play; Forest went through the gears to score a sublime goal. One touch football from Carvalho, Silva and Watson broke through Barnsley’s press and allowed Cash and Lolley to advance into space down the right hand side; being picked out by an intelligent pass from Carvalho.
Interchange between the pair ended in a lovely weighted pull back from Cash into Watson’s path. Don’t underestimate the quality of the pass; it was there to be hit first time and Ben Watson flicked it into the net with a cultured finish. Where’s he been hiding that quality all of this time?!!
Watson is really enjoying a renaissance period in his career as Sabri Lamouchi has completely reinvigorated him as our holding midfielder. One of the Forest players likened him to the teams Quarterback a few weeks ago and I could see why yesterday. It’s the best game I’ve seen him have in a Forest shirt; he was excellent in the tackle and on the ball too. Watson and Sow on current form are an upgrade on Jack Colback and Pele who finished the season as our more competitive midfield players (although being deployed in slightly differently roles). Physically, Watson looks as fit and as sharp as he’s been since joining the club. It’s no wonder John Bostock can’t get a look in for the time being.
Forest were up against it for the remainder of the game. After Sammi Ameobi picked up a knock, Lewis Grabban dropped into the midfield to help the team out. It was great to see another big positive to take from the game; the players are fighting for each other. It’s a good sign.
Whilst Barnsley had their fair share of the ball, we didn’t look overly troubled. Brice Samba continues to gobble up balls into the box which breeds such confidence. Michael Dawson had a huge game at the back and was my man of the match. His last ditch challenge in the dying moments was everything that a leader should aspire to be; putting is body on the line to rescue his team mates. Aside from the goal, it was the moment of the match and secured the 3 points as the final whistle followed shortly afterwards.
Just watching the players celebrate after the game, you could see the togetherness within the squad. Brice Samba had every single one of his team mates cuddling him. The biggest embraces with our new keeper were notably with Michael Dawson, Joe Worrall and Ben Watson. Winning breeds confidence but it feels like something is building between them. Our defence is looking very assured and seeing games out like this is a massive plus. I dare say, promotion winning sides have this steel about them and we are starting to show that maybe we have some of these credentials. We are now seeing some consistency in our performances and failing to put back to back wins in recent years has been our biggest downfall. The next challenge is to build on from securing this feat for the first time of the campaign.
Team performance: 7 – encouraging signs are developing that we might well be able to pose a threat to play off chasing sides
Samba: 8 – Assured, confident and cocky too!
Cash: 7 – offers a great dynamic on the right
Worrall: 7 – consistently above average
Dawson: 8 – superb from the skipper. Flexed his muscles and showed off his true strengths throughout with his heading, tackling and distribution. He’s still got it in abundance.
Ribeiro: 7 – encouraging performance from the left back. Will push Jack Robinson all the way now for the left back berth. Healthy.
Watson: 8 – great game from Ben. Never gave the ball away!
Sow: 7 – here, there and everywhere.
Silva: 6 – Busy in the centre midfield, gives us more of an edge with his ability to play the ball quickly. Steadily improving.
Lolley: 6 – Looked more like his old self but still not hitting levels from last season.
Carvalho: 7 – still building fitness up but played a key part in the goal.
Grabban: 7 – worked hard even though he didn’t get rewards in front of goal.
Adomah: 7 – instant impact when he came on and threatened Barnsley each time he faced their goal.
Ameobi: 6 – took a knock moments after coming on which curtailed him.
Semedo: 6 – carried the threat to Barnsley in the last phase of the game with his physicality.