Nottingham Forest – 2
Middlesbrough – 0
Ahh, that feels better doesn’t it?
It wasn’t a world-beating performance either, y’know – but even with fifteen minutes gone we were already turning to one another and observing we’d seen more completed passes and more positive football than ten games under McClaren.
What a difference a new Steve makes, huh? It was great to see Mr Cotterill get a good reception from the Forest fans, and he seems to have quickly recognised one of the the problems we’ve endured is a lack of width in midfield (and I don’t mean the kind that Andy Reid provides!) with quite an unconventional selection:
Chambers Morgan Lynch Hill
Gunter Moussi McGugan Majewski
That’s right. Four-four-fucking-two. Sure, Gunts and Maj aren’t wingers, but they’d clearly been very definitely told that that was where they were playing. The other difference was the workrate – our lads were up for it, big time. That of course puts question-marks over their culpability for the earlier games this season, of course – but let’s embrace the spirit of a new era and look forward instead.
I’ll be honest – I wasn’t looking forward to the game. Whilst they’ve stuttered with some draws, unbeaten Middlesbrough represent a tough opponent in this league, and if we couldn’t even muster a fighting performance against a team as bereft of confidence as Coventry with a new manager watching from the stands – what chance did we have, really?
Early doors was pretty frenetic and disjointed – Forest looked to press without too much end-product whilst the visitors found their feet initially by defending in numbers and looking for the quick break. The first half-chance fell to Tuds who pressured Hines into giving up possession, but the striker snatched at the chance to shoot from range and put it wide.
Another half-chance came for his strike-partner when a long ball saw the big striker chasing back with a defender who was composed enough to chest it back to Steele before Miller could get it. Forest continued to probe with some nice passing in and around the final third – but always struggling to put the final ball in (which we’ve become accustomed to in fairness), but it was good to see at least good intentions.
These good intentions paid dividends ten minutes before half time – some patient build up saw Lewis end up with the ball in midfield, he played a delicious through-ball to meet the excellent run of Gunts, who took the time to look up and drill in an excellent cross to find Tudgay whose run was perfectly timed to meet the ball four yards out and plant the ball into the net.
A lovely team goal – I can’t wait to see the highlights of it.
We were buoyed by the goal – a decent corner from Lewis found Chambers who headed goalward, only for a defender to block (I thought with a hand personally, but then I always think that!). It fell for Chambers again who couldn’t get much on it other than divert it into Miller and over the bar. A late chance almost netted us an own goal after more good work from Lewis and Gunts saw half time arrive.
Very pleasing – a confident performance, a balanced performance – a footballing performance. Of course the usual nervousness remained – being a goal up at half time is nothing new to us, and nobody was expecting Middlesbrough – as yet to have a shot on target – to remain quite as non-threatening as they had been so far.
Our fears were nearly realised early in the second half – a spurious freekick (don’t get me started on the referee!) was delivered inswinging by Robson, exactly the kind of delivery we’ve struggled to defend all season – and sure enough, the Boro players were queuing up at the back post to claim what looked like an easy goal. Lucky for us he missed it – amusingly a chunk of the Boro fans thought it was in.
It was a false dawn for Boro though, Lewis nicked the ball in midfield and burst forward, but elected to shoot from range when perhaps he could either have sought to play in Miller or take on the one defender remaining. His final effort ended up some way wide of the target which was a disappointing end after he’d done so well to create the opportunity.
Of course, we’d soon forgive him. Forest pressed again, Miller had two effort both of which were blocked, Majewski had one which was blocked too – before the ball found Lewis who evaded a number of desperate lunges from the Boro defenders, jinking his way into the box with consummate ease before sliding the ball into the goal from the D to send the home fans into raptures. Another cracking goal.
Could’ve been three moments later – a freekick from McGugan found Wes in the area who glanced a header just wide. This confident performance was like watching a different side to that we’ve become accustomed – I really can’t over-state that here. With fifteen minutes on the clock Cotterill replaced Miller for Findley – Miller getting a decent send off from the Reds fans who’d appreciated his physical performance.
Boro notched their first shot on target and first real work for Lee Camp moments later – saving well from Justin Hoyte’s effort at the far post. There were a few groans when Greening was seen warming up, which is a bit mean, he came on to replace McGugan and immediate got involved with a couple of decent passes and a crunching tackle – the what-started-as ironic cheers soon started to sound more genuine.
Just as we were complimenting the manager for not fucking around with the formation and just changing like-for-like to a degree, he did alter things a bit – he withdrew the hardworking Radi and put Derbyshire on, and rather than reshuffle seemed to opt for a 4-3-3. Possibly because despite falling behind by a second goal Boro were still providing very little threat.
They did start to threaten a late burst – but the defence held firm, with Joel Lynch again putting in a stand out performance with some excellent tackling and superb anticipation of where the ball was going to end up. The Reds mopped up a late threat from their number two, who had given Gunts the slip and got one-on-one from a tight angle – but Camp made a good save at his near post – and that was pretty much it.
More than anything it’s a relief – Forest fans showed the perfect attitude, they – after some considerable grumbling (including from me!) got behind the new boss from the off, and clearly the players have too. As he said himself, this is a great start – but there’s a lot of work to do, and he sounds like he’s going to really relish doing it as well. How refreshing that is to hear compared to the “I don’t know what’s going wrong” monologues from Steve McClaren.
Well done to the boys in Red. It’s a late start, but it’s better late than never – we’re out of the relegation zone which even this early in the season didn’t feel comfortable. Now the work begins for the new era.