Huddersfield Town vs. Forest preview..

Tomorrow sees us take the trip up to Huddersfield to take on the Championship newcomers.  Town haven’t been up at this level for more than a decade – with the kind of record in the play-offs that we can empathise with, they finally found themselves up against Sheffield United last season and overcame them to book their place in the second tier.

A tough opening day saw them put in a good account of themselves at Cardiff City – but despite a spirited approach to the game and plenty of opportunities to breach the Bluebirds (Redbirds?) goal they weren’t able to break the deadlock and ultimately surrendered a goal to the home side (which looked offside to me) to leave Wales with nothing.

Simon Grayson is at the helm now, and the former-Leeds manager probably doesn’t need any introduction to those of us that can remember his unsavoury side whilst at Elland Road.  Then again, maybe that’s just what’s expected there!  He’s been quick to reassemble the squad he inherited from Lee Clark including snapping up former Reds defender Joel Lynch whilst our takeover was still being awaited.

The most obvious threat from them is striker Jordan Rhodes who – thankfully for us – is recovering from an injury and unlikely to feature tomorrow.  They appear to play nice football on the deck which is too early to say whether it will suit us or not – but we could find we are passing each other to death a little bit.

Much like us they seem to rely on their fullbacks to give width – so we perhaps need to be wary with our often narrow midfield getting bypassed down the flanks and exposing our fullbacks – however, we tend to operate in a similar way so that might not prove too tricky.  Certainly they will be keen to get their home campaign off to a solid start.

As for us, well we showed a solid defensive performance at the weekend with perhaps work-to-do on attacking impetus (although at times we showed promise here too).  It’s too early to say whether we will see a difference in home and away tactics, depending on how match-fit Cox is I’m anticipating a similar line-up to the weekend.

Cohen is likely to remain out through injury, I’m not sure what the story is with Ayala – if he were available then he’d presumably be in contention for Halford’s centre half spot, although Greg had an impressive game on Saturday, as did Moloney and Gillett who might be the players he could replace should Ayala return to the side.

Predictions seem ludicrous considering we are talking about two teams who’ve undergone quite a bit of change – but certainly the Reds should approach this game positively and hopefully will be able to depend on the backing of a good number of vocal Forest fans.  I’m quite excited as it’s one of the diminishing opportunities I have to visit a new ground (easily pleased, me!).

Certainly I never recall O’Driscoll’s Doncaster side coming to the City Ground and camping out for a draw, so I’m hoping that philosophy of going for the result holds true here too.  With Fawaz confirming post-match at the weekend that we are in discussion with further players to bolster the squad it’s clear that we are still a work-in-progress, but certainly we should have enough about us to pose a threat on Tuesday.

Much like the squad, us observers on on a learning curve too to see how the SO’D revolution develops – much like normal, I find myself cautiously optimistic.

Win for O’Driscoll at home vs Bristol..

Reidy claims for a penalty for the foul on Cox whilst Guedioura keeps his head to stroke the winning goal into the net

Nottingham Forest – 1
Bristol City – 0

Well, it nearly rhymes…!  And it’s late and I can’t think of anything better!

It was good to wake up this morning – t-shirt and shorts weather, and a trip to the City Ground to contemplate for our season opener against Bristol City.  The pitch was looking stunning, the fans were in buoyant mood, and the stewards were fresh from their summer finishing schools and doing their best to quell too much over-exuberance.

A decent sized but quiet following from Bristol City made up the numbers in the ground, Forest fans wearing Arabic attire in slightly clumsy tribute to our new owners added to the atmosphere – particularly a line of around a dozen of them timing their entry to the ground late, marching in line down the front of the Main Stand to take their seats in B Block near a Kuwaiti flag being displayed by other supporters.

Kick off was delayed for reasons unrevealed, beforehand we’d been ‘treated’ to what I am sure was a very talented opera singer who was absolutely murdered by the awful public address system at Forest.  A pity really, but finally the teams were out and the game finally kicked off.  Sean O’Driscoll opted for a kind of 4-2-3-1 / 4-5-1 formation that looked something like this:

Moloney   Halford    Collins    Harding
Gillett   Guedioura
Majewski    McGugan    Reid

The midfield was pretty fluid though – McGugan dropped deep quite frequently whilst Gillett and Guedioura did push forward too.  The other observation is – and I’d be interested to see if anyone agrees, is that I think that the pitch has had a yard or so taken from the width of it down the Brian Clough stand side.  Makes sense really given our lack of wingers!

Whilst the first half was largely something that will be consigned to non-memory, Forest did have quite a bit of possession.  The chances we had weren’t clear though, a Majewski cross found Blackstock who hit the side-netting – it was the Polish midfielder who had perhaps our best moment of the first half, hitting a half-volley left footed on the turn which was dipping – but not quite enough – to drop under Tom Heaton’s bar.

Dex should’ve perhaps done better at the far post from a right-footed Reidy cross from the left – at the time I thought he’d been dragged down by a defender, but on seeing the highlights it appears he simply lost his footing and put his header off target.  Disappointing for the hard-working striker, but these things happen!

The atmosphere heated up somewhat thanks to former Forest loanee Greg Cunningham.  After Guedioura appeared to have been elbowed in the face the referee ignored the incident, but stopped the play for the head injury.  Cunningham feigned to kick the ball back but instead tried to start off a City attack – he was unceremoniously fouled and then confronted by Reidy.

A very unsporting way to go about things – something I don’t like to see at all.  The referee ended up booking both Cunningham and Reid for their confrontation.  We rode our luck somewhat in the area, City player Fontaine took a tumble in the area under the attentions of Collins who appeared to handle the ball too.

Half time brought more screechy warbling from the singing lady courtesy of the dreadful PA system, and a chance to catch up with the assorted folks who you really only see in the context of Forest.  First game back when you’ve been sitting in the same place for a few years is very reminiscent of returning to school after the summer holidays for me, it’s great to catch up with folks!

The second half saw the visitors causing us problems – Fontaine put a header just wide from a freekick played in by Cunningham, who was now being roundly booed by Forest fans each time he got the ball.  Moloney was really growing into the game, and getting forward the right-back got himself an opportunity to unleash a decent left-footed drive that curled wide, but was close enough to at least have Heaton diving.

Simon Cox was introduced from the bench for McGugan after 68 minutes.  Lewis had had a hard-working game, and just picked up a bit of a knock.  Cox was immediately in the action winning a challenge in midfield, and seemingly moments later was played right in the area by Reidy, cutting the ball back precisely for Adlene Guedioura to calmly stroke the ball into the Trent End goal.

Both Cox and Blackstock came close to doubling the lead, whilst we made late changes introducing Lascelles and Greening for Majewski and Reid to take up some time.  Anderson had been introduced earlier for City and received a mostly warm reception from Reds fans, that might’ve changed after he did well to control a deep cross and put the ball right across the goal.  Fortunately for us no City players were gambling, and it ran to safety.

All in all, a great result and a decent performance.  Apparently it’s our first opening day win in six years (!).  There were positive signs and our approach to the game were great, minimal hoofing, plenty of passing – patient building from the back (this was the first time I’d seen Gillett in action, and I do think we’ve missed that combative midfielder role), and, well – most importantly – three points!

There’s plenty of areas that I’d like to see improve, of course – I don’t think we created enough clear cut opportunities really – and those we did make weren’t always best used.  But it’s early doors in a season of transition with less than ideal preparations so to pick up a result under these circumstances is very good indeed.

McInnes whinging like a mardy bastard about the referee seems odd – for a start, his description of the Reid/Cunningham incident doesn’t match what happened, and whilst the he might have a point about the penalty, the referee missed plenty of similar claims for Forest too.  These things balance out.  So he should just take his medicine really and quite moaning, and to defend such unsporting conduct from Cunningham in the first place is shameful.  He’s right that it was a close game though, and either side could have nicked it.

But I am very pleased – and a trip to Huddersfield to face Simon Grayson’s Terriers to look forward to on Tuesday, it’s good to have the season back underway and a positive start.  Well done Sean and the boys – onwards and upwards!  Yoooooou Reds!

Forest vs. Bristol City preview..

Aah, here it comes – the start of the season.  Had the ownership remained uncertain, had the managerial reins still been in a grubby mitts of Steve Cotterill, well, this would be a begrudged and pessimistic post.  With ownership secured and Sean O’Driscoll at the helm it’s going to be cautiously optimistic with a healthy smattering of what might pass for realism in my head.

City were one of the few teams to finish below us in the league last season – one place below – and much like us will be hoping for a considerable improvement this season.  Part of their rebuilding has involved recruiting former Reds – released winger Paul Anderson and loanee Greg Cunningham were snapped up by Derek McInnes in the summer.

As for Forest, well we have plenty of new players to pick from too – it would seem from the friendlies and cup games that certainly Collins and Ayala are SO’D’s centreback pairing of choice, with Harding at leftback – it’s possible today’s loan arrival Hutchinson may feature at rightback – but then so could Moloney or even Halford.

Midfield is difficult to predict – likely to include Reidy and McGugan who were influential on Monday’s trip to Fleetwood.  Guedioura is likely to be in the mix, as is Halford if he isn’t included in the defence.  Blackstock will probably play, leaving a space for either another midfielder or potentially Cox depending on how he came through his ninety minutes for the Republic of Ireland.

In fact, we have no injury concerns at all – both Cohen and Gillett have returned to training following niggles.  So this second-guessing exercise is really rather futile.  If you were looking for a reasonably comfortable opening fixture then this would look like it on paper – but that would be a slightly over-confident attitude; much like us, Bristol City will be somewhat of an unknown quantity this season.

Certainly I’m hoping fellow fans are feeling excited like me and play their part in building the atmosphere and getting behind this new era of Nottingham Forest.  I’m really looking forward to see what the manager has up his sleeve and am quietly optimistic that it might be something good – I’m not getting carried away, there’s still work to do, but I’ve been impressed with the goings on at the City Ground this summer.

The other bit of news was the home draw against Wigan as a reward for beating Fleetwood which is, well, a bit underwhelming – but a good challenge for O’Driscoll’s side to face.  Forest are offering season ticket holders the opportunity to go to the match for just £8 which isn’t bad at all really – probably to combat the fact that the game is to be televised on Sky Sports.

And of course we should make note of Sam Hutchinson arriving on loan from Chelsea – following in the footsteps of John Terry and Ryan Bertrand.  Contrary to initial reports he’s here on a season long loan – he actually retired through injury in 2010 having made inroads into the Chelsea squad, but a dramatic improvement in his knee injury saw him sign a new deal with the Londoners.

Forest’s cup run Don’t Stop..

Dex celebrates snagging Forest’s first goal of the season..

Fleetwood Town – 0
Nottingham Forest – 1

Apologies for the delay, after the late trip back from Fleetwood I was more tempted by sleep than my laptop – plus I do get to be amused by Derby County’s exit from the first round this evening despite having been 3-0 up at half time, and 5-3 up after ninety minutes – eventually drawing 5-5 and going out on penalties after a goalless extra time against Scunthorpe United.

Hell, even Tyson scored!  Letting down five second half goals though, with two of them in stoppage time – ooh, the 6,000 odd Sheffield Wednesday fans travelling to Pride Park on Saturday must be feeling like they might get to see something quite exciting!

But anyway, I digress already!  Like most Forest fans we passed on the delights of Fleetwood early doors and went for the dubious pleasures of Blackpool instead, heading up the road to what the Forest fans unkindly dubbed ‘a bus-stop in Blackpool’ to the match – so aside from the inevitable Fleetwood Mac punning that I’ve certainly been indulging in since the draw, I don’t have much to say about the place!

Fleetwood’s Highbury ground is tidy enough, two small terraces behind the goals, a decent modern stand on one side, and small half-stand effort (which appeared to be built infront of the old stand, oddly) opposite – and a big video screen, and the most sinister looking mascot ever called ‘Captain Cod’.  He was good fun though, responding well to the travelling fans’ banter.

So, Forest started with a pretty strong and positive looking side, it was something like this at the start, with Guedioura and McGugan seemingly alternating in the holding role:

Moloney    Ayala    Collins    Harding
Halford  McGugan  Guedioura Reid

It was a pretty forgettable first half, in truth.  The home side closed down quickly and the Reds struggled to move the ball quickly so often lost it.  Fleetwood had the first chance of the game, a decent ball in found Jon Parkin who glanced a header goalwards and gave Karl Darlow – who’d had a great reception from the travelling fans – with a fairly routine save.

I’m struggling to remember much else at all aside from a number of balls getting booted out the stand, including nearly taking out a seagull, and lots of fun in the terraces with the inflatables purloined from the day in Blackpool many fans had.  Raddy had an ambitious effort after Halford had tried to force a shot through, but he put it well off target from a tricky angle.

The weather loomed sinisterly in the form of a big black cloud drifting toward the ground, but Forest appeared much more decisive.  Halford had moved more centrally into a holding role to try to get McGugan and Guedioura less deep in midfield, and Majewski appeared to be tasked with covering the right side of midfield.

Almost immediately we looked more impactful, a good delivery from a freekick from Lewis McGugan found Halford at the back post but if he managed to connect it was barely, ending up with a goalkick.  Closer still, another cross from McGugan found Blackstock in a difficult position but he dug out an effort that hit the cross bar.

From a ridiculous angle Guedioura – who’d just beaten a defender to get into area – struck a real palm-stinger which was well saved by Davies in the Fleetwood goal, he might’ve been better crossing it, but it would’ve been a pretty neat goal!  The goal came quite soon after – Reidy crossed well from the left to Blackstock who headed down, but Davies was able to save – but fortunately Dex was quickest on the draw in the box and fired the rebound into the goal.

Forest looked more comfortable now but without really massively threatening – a freekick was well-struck by Reidy but saved by Davies, Halford connected well with an overhead kick  but it proved an easy save for the home ‘keeper.  Lewis was working hard in midfield, and was almost rewarded when he burst through but dragged his shot wide from the edge of the area.

Meanwhile it wasn’t too touch to be distracted by the electrical thunder storm visible over the other terrace – with Forest fans sounding almost like the crowd at a firework show with lots of ‘Ooohs!’ and ‘Aaahs!’.  Luckily the rain never really properly got started, so the insubstantial roof over the terrace was sufficient to keep the travelling fans dry.

A Guedioura cross almost found Dex, but he was just unable to connect.  That was his last action with Tudgay replacing him, and the sub almost immediately made an impact meeting Reidy’s cross with a controlled header that he put just wide.  Shortly after it was Reid again providing to the replacement striker who headed straight at Davies.

Greening was a late change for the largely ineffective Majewski, and immediately sought to get involved – there wasn’t much more direct action, there was a long range scare from Gillespie late on but it was over.  All in all, a good result – Fleetwood looked a tidy side, as you’d expect given how they romped to promotion last season, and the Reds looked still a little less than match-sharp.  Unsurprising really.

All in all, a pleasing result – and perhaps can be considered a bit of an extension to the pre-season campaign.  It was good to keep a clean sheet with our defence being brand new, and a clean sheet for the rookie ‘keeper as well.  There’s still a lot of work for Sean O’Driscoll to do, but it would certainly appear that he’s making progress already with his squad – and that’s reassuring!

Now for the season proper to start – I can’t wait!

Work in progress..

Tonight was my first opportunity to take in Forest’s stunted pre-season, and if nothing else it reiterated what we should already know, Sean O’Driscoll’s era as Nottingham Forest manager is still very much a work in progress.  Of course, first things first, a belated welcome to Simon Gillett and Daniel Ayala who joined Forest over the last few days.

Ayala joins on a season long loan from Norwich City – I first remember him whilst on loan at Hull City from Liverpool in a game at their place.  It was the first time we played them in about eight million years, we threw everything at them but couldn’t score, not least because of the classy young centre half who seemed hell bent on thwarting our chances of scoring.

Subsequently he returned to Liverpool with an injury problem – but he did score against Derby for the tigers, so that’s not so bad.  He later joined the Rams that season once the injury situation was resolved and made seventeen appearances for them.  Norwich signed him from Liverpool around a year ago, but had a nightmare time of it with injuries.

So hopefully he can stay fit – because I rate him.  I must admit, I’d not really heard much about Simon Gillett before our interest in him.  He came through at Southampton but never really made it at the Saints, being loaned out to Walsall, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Yeovil and finally Doncaster before moving permanently to Rovers in 2010.

His contract at Donny expired and left him a free agent in the summer – and the gaffer has taken the opportunity to reacquaint himself with him.  He’s a small combative midfielder who plays the ‘niggly’ role that we’ve kind of missed lately.  I didn’t get to see him in action this evening, so haven’t really got much else to say about him!  It’s generally a role that I think is important though, and under-valued by most fans.

So anyway, as I said I got down to the City Ground for tonight’s friendly, which looked something like this in terms of line-up:

Halford   Ayala   Collins   Harding
Moussa   McGugan   Reid
Blackstock   McGoldrick

After a decent result against Villa and a decent half against County, tonight’s game was a bit of an anti-climax really.  Forest were disjointed and a little relaxed against a West Brom side who didn’t really have to work too hard either – an early lead was acquired through a hit from range by Mulumbu, it deflected slightly but I thought Karl Darlow in the goal should’ve done better than get a hand to it on its’ way in.  McGoldrick had a couple of efforts from range – they might’ve been our only shots on goal.

It was 2-0 and game over just after a quarter of an hour – Gera had an effort from range which Darlow again messed up a little – he parried it toward Shane Long who, as we know only too well, is a diving bugger – he fell over under no contact from Danny Collins but the ref pointed to the spot and Long picked himself up to send Darlow the wrong way with a well taken penalty.  Really, there’s not much else to say – it wasn’t a great match!

The second half was more even – Forest looked more useful in containing their opponents and getting a bit of possession in,  but there wasn’t much by the way of threat going forward.  Lots of changes came ten minutes into the second half – Al-Mutawa, Guedioura, Greening, Derbyshire, Majewski and Tudgay came on for Moussa, McGugan, Moussi, Reid, McGoldrick and Blackstock, as noted – it didn’t make much difference but Forest were containing the not-exactly-busting-a-gut Baggies.

Bader Al-Mutawa’s appearance was interesting – he didn’t even have a number on his shirt, he sat infront of Halford mostly and I thought looked a bit lost most of the time, but he did have some nice touches on the ball which is promising.  Lascelles came on for Collins as O’Driscoll looked to protect his defence, Moloney replaced Halford, then Taylor (a triallist) replaced Harding and Regan later replaced Ayala meaning we had a whole new eleven out by the end of the game.

Probably the best thing about the evening was the slight sense of arousal at having a number three with a blonde Psychoesque haircut.  Of course, Harding is no Psycho, but if you squint a bit then you could almost sell the idea to yourself.  It’s too early to judge anything or either take overly optimistic or pessimistic views from what we’ve seen so far – my friends who made it to the other friendlies reassured me they had been much better, so certainly it’s not doom and gloom.

With the season proper kicking off on Monday night at Fleetwood for the Capital One Cup and then we’re into the League season next weekend I can’t help but think we’re going to be basically having a bit of an extended preseason into the real one – it can’t really be helped given the level of rebuilding and disruption our usual preparations have undergone.  I do think that given the circumstances we’re taking the right approach, but we will need a bit of patience (certainly more than the two whinging sods sat behind me!) whilst the team gels.

Other things that are work in progress is the blog – I’ve been absorbed by a summer of sport so been less active than I might otherwise have been online, as the season starts it should galvanise me to get a bit more lively in posting on here!  Obviously Forest have been through a gigantic upheaval on and off the field over the last few months – but well, I wanted to stick to my ‘having some time away from it’ resolve, so stuck to it.  I could do with rejigging the look of the blog though, and obviously as the season commences there’ll be more impetus to write.

I did find a bit of time to moonlight for the Guardian for a preview of our season  though, which you can find here.