November 30, 2015 by notjustpumpkinbread
Blimey. That was a turn up for the books. That’s not to say I wasn’t looking at anything other than a win for the Mighty Reds; it’s just that Reading’s lofty position in the table signalled a game of greater difficulty. On the evidence of Saturday’s performance, perhaps they flatter to deceive.
In fairness, we didn’t have it all our own way – the usual early-ish goal for the opposition meant we were chasing the game again – but Mr. Dougie’s tweaks to the starting line-up meant we were (perhaps) slightly better equipped to deal with such setbacks. With two changes from the team that dominated at Griffin Park but come away with a big, fat zero, our starting 11 saw a welcome return for Ben Osborn while Chris O’Grady was handed the opportunity to partner Nelson Oliveira up top. Liam Trotter dropped to the bench and Jamie Ward wasn’t included at all, but let’s hope the latter’s exclusion was due to him picking up a knock.
It was a cautious start to proceedings, with very little happening for the first ten minutes. We prodded and probed and generally looked quite comfortable, but never threatened in the final third. After about 15 minutes Reading picked up a free kick just inside their half, lumped it forward for Norwood to take a shot from distance with the deflected ball falling at the feet of Vydra. Despite looking like he was in an offside position, he duly accepted the gift and slotted home to put the visitors 0-1 up. Was it going to be another one of those days?
You could see Hobbs attempting to lift the team as they walked back for the kick-off. I think they’ve been there enough times this season for such a setback to galvanise their determination; almost to the point where the collective thought of “we’re not going to let this happen again” was their mantra for the rest of the match. There was nothing forced about their subsequent performance. Their belief in the formation, the tactics to be employed, their own abilities individually and collectively would be enough. Employing Ben Osborn on the left side of midfield, while pulling Mendes across to the right worked a treat. Osborn has the same pop and fizzle Jonny Williams possesses and using the right-footed Mendes on the right gave him cause to widen the play instead of cutting inside.
It was Mendes the creator on 20 minutes as he received the ball from Lichaj, powered forward and dispatched a low cross into the area for the advancing O’Grady. What followed happened so quickly, I’m not sure half the ground realised we’d actually scored. Which is a real shame, because on watching the goals online the cross from Mendes was met with a lovely first time shot from O’Grady. That it was virtually straight at the Reading keeper is really neither here-nor-there as it was the pace and power of the shot that caused Al Habsi to fumble the save and allow the ball to “trickle” over the line. In his failed attempt at keeping the ball from crossing the line it was very difficult to see if it actually had. Cue muted reactions from the City Ground faithful and thus a less than enthusiastic celebration of the Mighty Reds levelling the game. It was O’Grady’s first goal for his home town club, so it’s a shame it wasn’t met with the usual thunderous reaction. If blame were to be apportioned for this, I would lay it solely at the feet of Ali Al Habsi. Shame on you for spoiling the fun!
It was only what we deserved really. Reading didn’t look at the races and were – quite frankly – there for the taking. Efforts from a reinvigorated O’Grady – first a header from a Lichaj cross forcing a corner, then a turn and shot after good play from Lansbury – signalled the potential for more to come. And we didn’t really have to wait too long. Reading were awarded a corner, with the subsequent ball being picked up on the edge of the area by Mendes. That he sprinted down the right flank like someone released from the head of a queue on Black Friday with only a very large but cheap and nasty LCD TV in his sights would not be an exaggeration. Moreover, that there was a player in the Garibaldi as far up the pitch as him was just as much of a surprise. And we had surprises coming out of our ears, as Mendes looked up, spotted the advancing Oliveira and PASSED to him! I know, wonders will never cease, but this is the new-and-improved (hopefully) Nottingham Forest. Now, in my infinite wisdom (?!?) as a long-time football watcher – although I don’t possess any coaching badges, nor do I play Football Manager, so my tactical nous is virtually non-existent – I just knew, as soon as Oliveira received the ball, that he would score. A couple of touches, an opening of his body and a cooly stroked shot into the top right hand corner later and we were in raptures. We’d taken the lead and it felt sublime.
Reading were stunned, but it was no more than we deserved. Towards the end of the first half, a rare attack from Reading ended in Hobbs being booked for what looked like a routine tackle. The free kick was around 25 yards out and Norwood dispatched the ball goal-wards. It was pinpoint perfect, looking for all the world like it would hit the net as it approached that postage stamp area just inside the upright and crossbar. Dorus, of course, had other ideas and produced a save only Al Habsi could dream of. He hadn’t had much to do, but when called upon, he produced once again. So 2-1 at half time and we were looking good for it.
Was it more of the same in the second half? Pretty much, yes. But events transpired to change the course of the half – one could call it a half of two halves I suppose. It didn’t take long for some great play down the left to culminate in a nice interchange between Osborn and O’Grady. O’Grady then turned provider as he approached the touchline in the box and whipped a ball across the face of goal that a grateful Oliveira duly dispatched from about 3 yards out. It as a goal-poacher’s goal and one we haven’t seen at the City Ground in some time. Nelson was flying, a broad grin and fist pump to his fellow Forest players in evidence as he took his place on the centre circle waiting for Reading to kick off. Those kinds of moments are great for fans to see; he was clearly delighted with his brace and why wouldn’t he be? He’d doubled his tally for the season and perhaps proved some doubters that he was indeed a quality goalscorer.
We could have had a fourth as Vaughan decided it was his turn to whip a ball across the face of goal, but with Mendes flying in like he’d seen yet another bargain TV, his eyes may not have been on the prize as he missed the ball completely. Not long after, the referee decided he felt somewhat sorry for the abject Reading team and booked Hobbs for a second time. Once again, it seemed to all like a routine challenge and Hobbs momentarily forgot he’d been booked in the first half as he turned from the ref and walked towards the penalty area – ‘fraid not Jack. You’re off and we’re now entering a rearguard action phase. Which is what it turned into. Oliveira was sacrificed for Wilson, followed by Mendes for Mancienne and finally Trotter for O’Grady. We had 15 minutes to quash any thoughts Reading may have had of making a game of it. An injury inside the Reading area added to the tension of knowing all-too-well that the sending off was going to add a few minutes to the running time. So when the fourth official indicated 7 were to be added, that rearguard action tuned into a bit of squeaky-bum-time.
In days of old when knights were bold, such a scenario would have signalled fear and trepidation in the minds of the Forest faithful. But we looked like we had this covered and while a sense of apprehension may have pervaded, that two goal cushion belied any such fears of squandering a comfortable lead. A rearguard action it most certainly was, but it didn’t really turn into a squeaky-bum kind of end to the game. Reading were a bit toothless really. The only real danger was if the pernickety referee decided he’d seen something in the box that warranted a penalty. But we stood firm, two banks of 4 keeping any threat from Reading at bay. Cue the final whistle and we had resoundingly beaten a team who were 7th in the table. We’d played this well before and come away empty-handed.
Two wins in three games; back-to-back wins at home; scoring three goals for the first time in the league this season; managerless Fulham at home on Saturday. I’m not going to get carried away.
COME ON YOU REDS!!!