As a new writer for The Football Family I am more than pleased to open my account with an appraisal of my beloved Nottingham Forest.
The weekend’s 4-1 victory against Blackburn Rovers saw the Reds stretch their unbeaten run to 10 matches in all competitions, and it is this consistency within the unpredictable and difficult Championship that could lead Forest to promotion to the Premier League for the first time since the 1998/99 season.
However it won’t be easy. Time and again we see that this amazing and perhaps unique football league can provide shocks, surprises, twists and turns. Much will depend on the transfer window. Much will depend on injuries to key players. With twenty games still to go everything can change, but that said Forest sit in a strong position, cemented within the play-off places with designs to gate-crash the top two come May.
Saturday was my first visit to the City Ground this season. Being from Essex it is difficult to make the long and expensive trip three hours north to the Midlands, but as it was Blackburn, my good friend’s side, this game had been earmarked since the fixtures were released last June. From the start we began to play some exciting yet simple football. Missing three of our first choice back four due to injury didn’t seem to deter us and in the middle and final thirds the vision and experience of players such as Andy Reid, Henri Lansbury and the exceptional David Vaughan (on loan from Sunderland) meant that we controlled most of the game from the off. Vaughan and Lansbury had both tested Blackburn goalkeeper Simon Eastwood from range before the former West Ham and Norwich loanee Lansbury drove home a penalty after he had been bowled over in the box. The decision to award a penalty was at best soft and at worst just plain wrong, but when Forest’s man of the moment Jamie Paterson was tripped inside the area twenty minutes later nobody could argue with the penalty award. Lansbury despatched this one much more convincingly than his first. Blackburn’s Ben Marshall curled a delightful effort into the right corner almost immediately after to halve his team’s deficit before half time.
To their credit it was Rovers who started the second half much brighter, their best chance coming back off the post as the home side struggled to match their fluent opening 45 minutes. Gradually however they wrestled back control of the tie. Right-back Gonzalo Jara Reyes’ sweetly struck effort from the edge of the box whistled just wide and Lansbury tested Eastwood again, the keeper’s save falling to Paterson who crossed delightfully for Simon Cox, who could only head wide from six yards. Blackburn brought on Jordan Rhodes but he lacked sharpness and a first touch, whereas silky skills from the 22 year old Paterson brought Forest their third goal and killed the tie. Shooting to recognition with a blistering 14 minute hat-trick against West Ham in the F.A Cup just over a fortnight ago, the former Walsall winger picked up a short pass from Reid, danced past two attempted tackles and drove right footed into the bottom left hand corner from the angle. In another similarity to the West Ham game it was Reid - captain in place of long term injury victim Chris Cohen - who would have the final say, lashing the ball into the top corner from just inside the D after a tired Blackburn defence failed to close him down.
Despite the confidence-boosting win there is still so much work to do for Forest to achieve their ultimate goal of promotion. 11 draws this season represent the joint-most in the league this season with Sheffield Wednesday, and the thought process within the stands at the City Ground suggest that a top class striker would turn these frustrating draws into priceless victories. Seeing Cox again fail to hit the target added weight to the theory, and the fact that Forest’s last 11 goals have been scored by players not recognised as strikers backs up the point further. QPR and Derby have an excellent striker each whereas Leicester City and Burnley have an excellent strike partnership each. If Billy Davies can find that striker, or two, then Forest fans may just be seeing Premiership football when August rolls round. Unfortunately for them, every team in the top half of the Championship may just be thinking the same thing.