Alex McLeish gained his first win as Nottingham Forest manager as the Reds defeated Peterborough United 2-1 to stay within three points of the play-off places. Adam White offers a fan’s eye view from the City Ground.
I had personally billed the home fixture against Peterborough United as a ‘must win’ game. This was even prior to the humiliating defeat at the hands of Oldham Athletic.
‘Must win’ for a multitude of reasons, but none more important than the top five of the Championship were just beginning to establish a significant point gap from the chasing pack.
Forest’s debutant keeper Karl Darlow must have been heartened by the reception he received prior to the game getting underway as “Darlow, Darlow, Darlow” rang out behind him from the Trent End faithful.
The opening 15 minutes was nervy from both sides, with Peterborough probably settling down slightly earlier. New loanee Forest right-back Gonzalo Jara Reyes gave the ball away cheaply on a few occasions, but he was certainly not on his own.
Elliot Ward made a sliding block tackle from Posh’s Petrucci on the edge of the Forest penalty area. This shot was fiercely struck and it no doubt would have tested Darlow had Ward not intervened.
Forest started the game with a front five of Lansbury, Majewski, Cohen, Sharp and Cox so the importance of keeping the ball into feet and trying to get down the sides of the opposing centre-backs/full-backs with passing football should not have gone unnoticed.
The diamond formation always threatens to leave our play a little narrow through midfield so the athleticism and willingness of Harding and Jara to get forward would therefore be vital in getting behind Peterborough. I was proved partially right, though not entirely.
Lansbury started the game very well, working back and making good challenges to assist Jara. Everyone knows that Forest are yet to see the best of Lansbury, but the work ethic and touch he showed in the early part of this game indicated that this form may not be too far away.
Dan Harding made one or two marauding runs early, one of which carried him centrally towards the edge of the opposition penalty area. Harding laid the ball off to Cox and went on looking for the return pass that would have put him in on goal though Cox failed to find his teammate.
It was around the 17th minute that Forest began to take control of the game. Radi Majewki ran onto a cut back from Cox deep into Posh’s area that he should have dispatched to give us the lead.
This attacking passage of play though seemed to settle the Reds, with passes now finding their intended recipients. Forest began to probe the Peterborough defence, particularly down the left flank, with Cohen offering far more width than I had anticipated pre-match.
When Forest took the lead in the 28th minute from Greg Halford’s header, it was deserved. The assistant referee flagged instantly to confirm that Halford’s header was over the line… much to the dismay of Darren Ferguson.
Billy Sharp had been unusually quiet. Not for lack of effort though. Sharp really does put in a shift for the team and his endeavour was rewarded with two good chances in succession around the 40th minute of the first-half, but both were spurned. Sharp has obviously reserved a brace for Pride Park next week. Well, here’s hoping anyway.
The brightest part of the first-half for Peterborough came in the 43rd minute, as George Boyd got into a good position, effectively one-on-one with Ward down their inside left flank. Ward elected to keep Boyd on his left-foot but with an acute angle to shoot from. Perhaps he could have closed in on Boyd quicker, but ultimately Boyd’s shot was straight at the impressive Darlow.
It was inevitable that Peterborough would show more ambition in the second-half, but when you have more quality than the opposition and the game becomes more stretched and open, you should feel confident that your team will prevail.
Gillett was anchoring the midfield well and Majewski finding little pockets of space between their defence and midfield. Majewski ,when on form, is an absolute privilege to watch.
When Peterborough equalised from a corner on the hour mark I wasn’t unduly concerned, which was poles apart away from how I had felt as Oldham had made the scores level a week earlier. Forest have one of the most resilient records in the Championship and, despite a fortuitous Wootton goal from close range for Posh, we never looked as if we would capitulate in this one.
My confidence may have looked misplaced as an improving Jara, inexplicably cleared the ball straight to Boyd, who unleashed a thunderbolt from his left peg that had Darlow diving across his goal. The shot was just wide.
Despite Jara’s mistakes, he did show enough to suggest he will be a useful addition. As a professional footballer, if you have a name like Gonzalo Jara Reyes you have to be good; it’s the same as wearing white boots, isn’t it?
Majewski should have finished his performance off with the winner. Another wonderful precision cut back Cox for the second time in the game. Majewski never has been that clinical in those positions and so it proved again, as he blasted over the bar.
In the 83rd minute Majewski atoned for his two misses with a great delivery from a corner. It was whipped in with pace and accuracy and Ward did exactly what was needed. A header against the underside of the crossbar and down into the net. Forest in a lead that they were never going to relinquish.
Ward had made an excellent return to the City Ground and Forest had scored from two corners. Both of which have to be considered a cause for optimism.
Lansbury seemed to fade a bit in the second half. The introduction of Greening in his place was no doubt to try and utilise his experience to see us home. And 2-1 it finished, a much needed three points from a ‘must win’ game.
The build-up to the Derby game next Saturday promises to be an interesting one, with McLeish insisting in his post-match interview that the squad needs to be strengthened. Derby will be fired up for our visit I’m sure, but so will we.
You can follow Adam on Twitter: @Adam_White_31
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