Over the length of the season, there are always going to be days where things don’t go to plan and last night’s draw was a stark warning to the manager and players of just how bad a side Forest can look when as a collective, they fail to do the basic things in trying to beat the opposition. We know all too well and similarly to last season, that when up against ‘better’ opposition, Forest can look a very good side. Against a struggling Middlesbrough team last night, I can only suggest that there was an air of complacency about us once Ryan Yates had opened the scoring on the half hour mark, with a cracking goal I hasten to add.
For ten minutes either side of half time, it’s like Forest had stepped into a time machine and fancied a stroll down memory lane to see how bad we can be in days gone by. In that period, it was synonymous with what was being served up under the Fawaz reign. I can’t give a more damning indictment than that. Joe Worrall’s post match summary couldn’t have been any better really; it was ‘pants’. His honesty was most welcome and I’m sure that reaction was toned down for the audience at home
— Joe Worrall (@JoeWorrall5) March 2, 2020
The loss of Tiago Silva and Samba Sow to the team is obviously a massive one, given their form over the season. What Forest won’t get with a midfield of Ben Watson, Ryan Yates and Alfa Semedo is invention and that was fairly evident for the first 70 minutes on Monday evening. The responsibility of carrying a genuine attacking threat lay in the hands of the Forest front three and whilst Lewis Grabban looked up for it from the off, Joe Lolley and Sammi Ameobi both had difficult nights.
An early Forest goal was going to be crucial with that set up and what made the night all the more frustrating is that we achieved this by the half hour mark. Alfa Semedo managed to recover the ball from a poor first touch in the Boro final third and as the ball fell to Sammi Ameobi, a quick change of footing allowed him to knock a quick pass into Yates, who had a bit of time to pivot and hit a cracking shot into the back of the net from a good 20 yards out. It was a decent finish from Ryan and you could sense the tumbleweed moment across the #nffc twitter timeline to silence a number of dissenters. Fair play to Ryan in producing that moment of magic and it really should have been the springboard for Forest to rack up another win on away soil. There seemed more empty seats at Boro than those being occupied and you could hear the crowd getting restless in supporting a team that hasn’t won at home since New Year’s Day and barely scored a goal in the process. Enter Rudy Gestede….
Clearly content with the goal and despite Yates signalling to his team mates to now switch on during his goal celebration, the message was lost on the team. Forest did the complete opposite; sitting back and allowing Middlesbrough to have the ball, conceding silly free kicks for them to lump the ball up to Forest’s ultimate Achilles heel in years gone by…that man Gestede. We were slow to stop crosses getting into the box from deep and it really was a shambles in terms of game management. Middlesbrough had resorted to lumping it and we offered no response. The players just weren’t at it and maybe there was a degree of fatigue that factored into a thoroughly lacklustre performance.
Middlesbrough were a team that looked completely devoid of confidence until Forest scored. There can’t be any excuses and Sabri was bang on the money that this was the worst away performance of the season. Charlton was as close it has been to that but on that particular night Forest were largely outplayed by a team high on the bounce of promotion and had made a great start to Championship life back in August. Middlesbrough were a team down on their luck and ravaged by injury. The team that Forest put out last night was good enough to win the game. Unfortunately, the lack of players to put their foot on the ball with any composure was our downfall. Both Yates and Semedo are young players and I thought their lack of experience showed at times.
That’s not to say that more experienced campaigners were any better. Ben Watson seemed to be giving away silly fouls, Tobi Figuerido was being bullied by his opposite number and Brice Samba was treating the football like it had contacted covid-19. It wasn’t a surprised when the first goal came; it had been coming for minutes before. How we got caught out on the break for the second goal was unforgiveable. There’s not a lot more to say other than it was a complete shambles.
We started the second half much as we finished the first by looking really fragile at the back. We weren’t up against world beaters. We were up against a plucky Boro side; who in fairness showed a great deal of character considering their form going into the game. It looked like they were playing for their young manager Jonathan Woodgate which from a purist’s point of view, I applaud. Not that I was applauding on Monday. There were gestures being made at the TV for sure.
Sabri changed things with attacking options off the bench and change by change, we looked marginally better. Whilst Adama Diakhaby continues to frustrate, he made an impact and both Joao Carvalho and John Bostock fought it out with Yuri Ribeiro for the man of the match award despite only being on the pitch for the final quarter of the game. Carvalho produced the type of performance in the last twenty minutes which we all know he can. He looked a threat with the ball at his feet, from set piece delivery and with some inventive passing. Bostock introduced composure; to find a player in a blue shirt and all of a sudden the pendulum of the game flew completely back into Forest’s favour.
Forest were building up a good bit of steam and I thought we got a deserved equalizer. Lewis Grabban’s goal was an absolute thing of beauty. If Sadio Mane does that, it gets replayed all week long. Anticipating a looping ball falling in front of the goalkeeper; Lewis manoeuvred himself in between the two, cleverly avoiding a foul and then top spinning the ball into the net with a beautifully sliced touch. What a goal. It truly was a striker’s masterpiece from the Forest marksman. To say he’d gone six games without a goal, the sheer confidence in his ability to pull the move off was superb. The referee deserves some credit also; you see those decisions going in the keepers favour nine times out of ten.
Forest weren’t quite done and I really fancied us to nick it at the death. Diakhaby wasn’t far off from coming home as Forests saviour. A well hit effort on the edge of the box looked to be bursting the net until it flew off Ryan Shotton’s last ditch block and an even better chance fell his way in the dying seconds; only for him to get his feet in a mess and miss the ball almost completely with the goal at his mercy. Diakhaby’s confidence looks shot. The twitter timeline was full of negativity towards him and it’s understandable to a degree but once again; the abuse over steps the mark.
Looking at it objectively, Forest really needed a signing to hit the ground running but with Diakhaby, there seems to be an awful lot to be done with changing his mind set that he can return to the heights he was at a few seasons ago. I’m not convinced that we’ll have enough games to see that fruition. We’re only going to see an improvement with more game time but it’s a roll of the dice when we’re targeting the automatic places. With the publication of the clubs accounts this afternoon, you can certainly see why a big name signing wasn’t made. Maybe that will be enough to silence those bemoaning the lack of transfer activity.
Sabri now faces Millwall up next and if I was a betting man, I’d put my house on Carvalho starting on Friday night. I thought he might after the QPR game when he did adopt the No.10 tactic. Sabri has tried almost every other option in the squad to find a winning formula at home and whilst 30,000 might secretly know it, the answer to his problems is right under his nose.
TEAM PERFORMANCE: 5.5 – Generally poor showing but did well to get a point in the end. Credit for that.
SAMBA: 8 – Erratic
CASH: 6 – Subdued
RIBIERO: 7 – MAN OF THE MATCH – Bright point
WORRALL: 7 – Recovered from 1st half.
FIGUIERIDO: 6 – Tricky night
SEMEDO: 5 – Struggled.
YATES: 6 – Good goal but still playing within himself at the moment.
WATSON: 6 – Worrying first half but recovered
AMEOBI: 6 – Couldn’t get going
LOLLEY: 6 – Struggled badly with set pieces.
GRABBAN: 7 – Great goal
DIAKHABY: 5 – Low on confidence
CARVALHO: 7 – More like it.
BOSTOCK: 7 – Composed.