Forest arrive at winning ways against Watford..

Earnie opens his league account with a calm finish against Poom...

Earnie opens his league account with a calm finish against Poom...

Nottingham Forest – 3
Watford – 2

I exited the City Ground with a big smile on my face, as did many around me.  Aside from promotion day, that hasn’t happened too many times of late.  Today I think I started to see the kind of football Smoulderwood wants to play, and if there’s to be more of that kind of attacking play on offer this season, then I’m very excited by the prospect.  It wasn’t all rosy, slack defending let Watford claim two well-taken but badly-defended goals – but equally at the other end with more decisive play we could have netted more than the three goals we scored.

Another disappointing attendance, a smidge over 20,000 with a decent (albeit very quiet) following from our visitors – having said that, I would rather have a lower crowd getting behind the team as was happening today, than to have an extra 10,000 on top but berating and booing – as was happening down the A52 at their rather cringeworthy beach party extravaganza.  Rumour has it that even now Kris Commons is still cruising around the carpark hoovering up left over sausages and burgers… 

… so anyway, on to more savoury (more savoury than a sausage or a burger?…), this afternoon was very pleasing indeed.  Wilson and McGugan were relatively late injuries, with McCleary and Breckin stepping in to cover, and more excitingly Tyson and Cole were fit enough to feature on the bench.  So we lined up in a slightly more balanced way, and I was particularly pleased to see Cohen back in the middle as I don’t really think he’s best utilised in a more advanced position as Smoulderwood had been doing to accommodate his different midfield options.

Smith
Chambers    Morgan    Breckin    Bennett
Perch
Moussi   Cohen
McCleary                      Martin
Earnshaw

So it looked a bit like that – now, anybody who has watched one of Smoulds’ teams will know that the formation is fairly, well, shall we say, ‘not rigid’.  Martin, McCleary and Cohen in particular were very mobile, and width was provided by the fullbacks (mostly Bennett).  I’ve never exactly been a convert to Smoulders’ systems of play, but today I started to feel like I could be a convertee, because at times our attacking play was tremendous compared to what we’re used to.

The game started well for Forest, McCleary fed the Moose who duly miskicked and almost spannered a shot out for a throw-in!  The niggly ex-Rotherham midfielder Lee Williamson had an opportunity at the other end but put it wide, and Harley was close with an over-head kick which went over (and would never have troubled Smithy in goal had it been on target either).  Watford put on a lot of early pressure, but didn’t create many more chances.

It was somewhat against the run of play that Forest took the lead; The Moose kept hold of the ball under the attentions of two Watford players, eventually playing the ball to Cohen whose pass to Martin looked to be too close to Doyley.  Luckily it reached Martin who cut inside from the left channel, before unleashing a tremendous curling and dipping shot beyond the massive Mart Poom – much to our delirium!

This spurred Forest on to a much more composed period of play, Bennett thundered a shot in a crowded box to win a penalty, Cohen should have slipped the ball to an unmarked Earnshaw after he’d got the better of DeMerit and was bearing down on goal – instead he shot from a tight angle with Mart Poom always favourite to stop the effort.  Earnie was furious afterwards, clearly desperate to get his first goal for the Reds.

The equaliser came after Watford had been fighting their way (literally in many cases – a very niggly and physical team, encouraged by an incredibly lenient referee) back into the game, and Forest were – I think – a bit unlucky, but also guilty of an unforgivable lapse in concentration.  Harley took a corner which was headed goalward by Bromby, Paul Smith pulled a tremendous save out the bag, and rather than cover the rebound, the Forest defence just seemed to watch and appreciate the save leaving Tommy Smith, the ex Sheep-botherer, to pounce and bury it.

This was only 22 minutes into the game, and it now opened up and became very end-to-end.  Cohen came close for the Reds but his shot was blocked, the nigglesome Rasiak headed just over at the other end.  Forest, though, were to take the lead again and in some style.  An absolutely delightful throughball from Moussi set Earnshaw free down the middle, as Poom rushed out the gap between the diminutive striker and the onrushing giant seemed too small, but he deftly lifted the ball over Poom and into the corner of the net.

Half time and the Reds had a deserved lead.  In attack we looked very dangerous indeed, although defending was a worry.  Morgan and Breckin dealt admirably with the aerial threat of Watford (aside from the corner leading to the goal where the defending was shoddy), but Watford’s rather direct tactics were rather worrysome.  Certainly the atmosphere around the ground was positive and the second half was eagerly anticipated.

The second half saw Martin try to replicate his earlier goal with a more powerful drive, unfortunately it went straight into the Trent End this time.  He’d found himself acres of space out on the left, and had been picked out by Perch.  Shortly after he connected with a Cohen knock-down but couldn’t direct it goalward again, blazing well away from the target.

Forest were looking threatening when attacking, but not creating clear chances – but were certainly started to look comfortable despite nearish misses from Rasiak and Smith for the visitors, at which point Boothroyd made some chances that appeared to immediately pay dividends.  He took off Harley (who’d been hammered into the advertising boards by Morgan) and Williamson (who’d had a tantrum when McCleary took the ball off him perfectly fairly earlier), for Francis and Priskin.

The equaliser came as a result of Tommy Smith’s quick reactions in the box, and our defence standing and watching again.  Doyley put in a decent cross which Smith pounced on to volley into the net from around 12 yards out whilst the defenders stood and watched.  A very unlucky 2-2 scoreline was of course the result, and it was good to see that Forest and the fans – rather than caving in – were up for redressing the balance back into our favour.

Tyson was introduced for the lively-but-largely-ineffective McCleary, and almost had an immediate impact – he put a low cross in which DeMerit put out for a corner.  His second involvement did yield a goal, Earnshaw expertly hit a freekick which Poom appeared to touch onto the post – the rebound fell very favourably for Tyson who was able to slot it into the back of the net with his second touch to give the game to the Reds.

His third involvement showed perhaps a touch of rustiness, he burst clear but was too slow to get a good pass to Earnshaw, giving Earnie less opportunity to pull the trigger from a dangerous position.  In the Forest area Priskin – clearly with the Olympic diving still at top of mind – tumbled to Earth under the most minor of contact with Wes, which was summarily waved away by the referee.

Emile Sinclair was introduced for the hard-working Earnshaw, and shortly after the excellent Martin was withdrawn for Andy (or Andrew) Cole.  Watford looked increasingly desperate, their only real chance where a Rasiak cross-shot was missed by Smith in a rare error, but Eustace on the far post was at too tight an angle to cause any trouble.  At the other end Watford’s defence was hopeless, and Forest were able to pass the ball at will and create a number of chances.

Sinclair had a chance well parried by Poom, but the best chance of the closing stages fell to Tyson who burst clear but dragged his far-post shot wide having got the ball past the big ‘keeper after a decent through-ball from Perch.  After what felt like an age of stoppage time (heaven knows what for) the referee blew for full time just as Smith had claimed the ball and held it, and the ground erupted – particularly as news filtered through that Derby had lost as well.

An excellent days work by the boys, there are undoubtedly still some areas for improvement – but my biggest concern this season was always where the goals would come from – and today I started to glimpse how Smoulderwood’s vision might just actually provide on that front.  Ironically the area I was less concerned about – defence – was the worrying factor today.  I’m not convinced by Chambers at fullback and we need to work on our concentration and reactions to get to rebounds after set pieces.

But I’m delighted with the result, and it felt so good to walk from the City Ground amongst smiling fans enthused by not only an effective, but an entertaining performance to boot.  That’s worth a lot, and it’s something we’ve not witnessed regularly for literally years – I’m hoping that we get to see some more of it this season!  Certainly this was the best possible marketing ploy for the Sunderland game going, rather than this green jumper nonsense.

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