Nottingham Forest – 2
Charlton Athletic – 1
If the exciting transfer deadline wasn’t enough, spells of today’s game – big spells – were enough to test the resolve of the most cautiously optimistic fan. We played some lovely football and made a decent Charlton side look very ordinary at times. The caution should come in at the realisation that we mustered just two goals, both with an element of fortune too.
The opener from McGugan shouldn’t really have been a freekick – Simon Cox did well to nip infront of the defender but couldn’t keep it in play, I’m not convinced he was fouled – but well, we’ll take it. For Sam Hutchinson’s excellent winning goal it wouldn’t have been surprising, particularly from this referee, to have (incorrectly) given a foul against Dex – fortunately he didn’t.
To allow a player of Riccardo Fuller’s quality so much space in the box to be found by a cross is a worry – Camp was unlucky to have the ball bounce in off him, only his second real save to make of the afternoon. But don’t let me bring you down, as I’ve always said – we are a work in progress, and progressing very nicely indeed!
Sean O’Driscoll made some changes – Hutchinson came in for his full debut, Halford moved to left back as Dan Harding had a sleepless night becoming a father (congratulations to him and Mrs Harding). Lewis and Guedioura returned to midfield whilst the two new boys both had a place on the bench:
Hutchinson Ayala Collins Halford
Guedioura McGugan Reid
The game started with the strange sing-off between the travelling Charlton fans and the home fans, both adopting the Wings track Mull of Kintyre. Weight of number gave the home fans the edge (not to mention that they seem to sing it even quicker than us!) and that early nominal home advantage was soon replicated on the pitch as the game kicked off.
Lots of patient passing play saw Forest keep hold of the ball and barely give Charlton a touch, to delighted chants of ‘Sean O’Driscoll, he plays on the floor!’ – none of the idiotic impatience I witnessed from some of the fans in the midweek cup game against Wigan.
An expansive series of passing that went on for seemingly ages culminated in Cox finding the influential Andy Reid in the area, his pull back was perfect for Adlene Guedioura in space – the midfielder’s sidefooted shot was perhaps a little too ambitious, looping and hitting the bar and out. If you were being harsh then he didn’t really have to find the very corner, the Charlton ‘keeper was in a poor position.
Despite enjoying huge chunks of possession, Forest didn’t create rafts of chances – but did pick up the lead after a little over fifteen minutes. Cox was typically terrier-like, he nipped in front of Solly on the left, but couldn’t keep the ball inside the touchline, he went to ground and the referee gave a freekick – I think it was harsh, if I’m being honest – I didn’t see it as a foul at the time, and the replay on the Football League show corroborates that.
Lewis McGugan flighted the freekick towards the far post and Ben Hamer will be not wanting to see his strange non-attempt at preventing the shot from a tight angle going straight in and nestling into the far corner of the net. A little later Lewis again was the threat, his shot was heading on target at the near-post before deflecting wide for a corner. After that he had another effort from outside the area but this time straight at Hamer.
The remainder of the half went as the rest had – Forest enjoyed possession and passing, with the excellent Simon Gillett winning the ball back and moving it on – always available for a pass. I counted he lost the ball twice all afternoon, considering how often he’s involved in our play, that’s fantastic. Reidy and McGugan too really stood out in midfield for both their workrate as well as craft.
It’s difficult to judge the defence at this point in the game – because Charlton offered practically no threat at all. At half time we speculated whether we were really good, or Charlton were really poor. Perhaps a bit of both, as Charlton did improve after the break. The other concern is that despite our dominance in possession we’d only mustered a one goal lead.
Chris Powell obviously had a few choice words for his side in the dressing room, because the Addicks began the second half in much more positive fashion. Their first effort on goal came quite early in the half, a fairly tame shot by Cook not dealt with brilliantly by Camp who needed two grabs to claim the ball, although Collins was on hand to deal with the loose ball had the ‘keeper lost it.
After forcing a corner the visitors had another chance from the setpiece, with Yann Kermorgant heading wide. Forest began to get to grips with this new more energetic Charlton side. Guedioura, who’d picked up a booking for a rash looking challenge, fired a powerful strike that deflected over the bar from a defender, not that the referee noticed this – giving a goal kick for his troubles.
Simon Cox stung Hamer’s palms from a tight angle – a little bit greedy from the frontman, but I kinda like that in a way. As the keeper grabbed the ball Cox went through the ‘keeper rather unnecessarily and picked up a booking for this trouble, which was probably right – although the writhing around after the incident was rather unnecessary.
Forest still struggle from corners – although it was good to see some McGugan drilled efforts as well as the Reidy floaters over the course of the afternoon. Although eventually from one we fashioned a chance – after it was half-cleared Guedioura managed to get the ball back in and Halford just put his header just over the bar.
The goal that would ultimately win the game came though – Hutchinson played the ball up the line to Blackstock who did very well to hold off the attentions of a defender who ended up on the deck (more gym time for him needed, methinks). In the meantime Hutch had motored through, and Dex played a lovely little chipped ball to find him, Sam’s touch was good, and his finish calm as he nutmegged Hamer to double Forest’s lead.
Cox was withdrawn (fnar) on eighty odd minutes to a great ovation from the crowd, and replaced by Billy Sharp who got a tremendous reception from the supporters. He had a chance too, a nice bit of skill to nip the ball over the ‘keeper but before he could get his shot away the Addicks defence managed to get it away from him – if we’d scored at this point I think the roof would have come off and we’d have steamrollered them.
As it is, it didn’t go in, and we didn’t steamroller them. Moussi was introduced for McGugan shortly after, and the last change was Coppinger for Reidy. I don’t think it’s a reflection on Copps, but taking Reid away, who’d been running the show somewhat (it was between him, Gillett and Hutchinson for man of the match for me) seemed to coincide with Charlton really starting to come back into the game.
Solly crossed in and Riccardo Fuller had a ridiculous amount of space to place a header off the inside of the post. It came back across the line and made Lee Camp look a bit daft as it ricocheted off his feet and over the line, technically an own goal but one I imagine that Fuller will be more keen to claim than Camp will, so will probably go down as the striker’s.
They had a few more chances too – Dex, of all people, responsible for some crucial defending, Ayala too put a late block in with shouts of handball which would have been a harsh call for sure. Definitely a nervy finish though, and one that should have been comfortable considering the balance of play – certainly something for the squad to concentrate on as they go into a two week break thanks to International fixtures.
Once we start translating our play into goals then we could be on to something really special. It feels a bit unreasonable to be critical, so please realise when I am it is constructive criticism – I am still absolutely and utterly staggered at how quickly the club has recovered from what looked like a terminal decline at the end of last season – huge credit to the owners, the coaching team, the players and to the fans too.
Let’s keep pulling in the same direction – because when we combine our energy it’s a bloody heady brew. I’m loving the vibe at the City Ground at the moment, long may it continue!
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