Coming back from a goal down, Nottingham Forest picked up a point away at Bristol City in the first game of the new season. Thomas Newton made his way down to Ashton Gate
So, here we are again after a gorgeous summer in the UK and England’s better-than-expected performance at the World Cup in Russia. Domestic football was back after a long trip to the city of Bristol City, and the workshop of the man who is said to have built modern Britain… Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
And talking about building, Aitor Karanka has had a very busy summer assembling a very talented squad with the signing of 11 new players. The signings of Gil Dias, Joao Carvalho and Diogo Goncalves, is enough to whet the appetite of even the biggest sceptics. Plus the signings of Costel Pantillimon, Jack Robinson, Michael Dawson, Jack Colback, Hilal Soudani, Lewis Grabban, Tobias Figueireido and Luke Steele. This summer has been a huge sea change in the recent history of Nottingham Forest.
The huge surge of season card sales, the meticulous recruitment policy and the huge positivity shown by the club to get most of us on board, saw away tickets quickly sell out for the opening game against Bristol City.
Karanka basically picked the same side that started in the final pre-season game at home to Bournemouth: Pantillimom; Darikwa, Dawson, Fox, Osborn; Watson, Guedioura; Dias, Goncalves, Carvalho; Murphy. With the subs: Smith, Cash, Lolley, Colback, Grabban, Figuereido and Robinson.
Before the game started I was really impressed with the renovation job Bristol City have made to Ashton Gate, as the last time I went in 2010 the place was pretty ramshackle. The huge main stand towers over the pitch but the ground is very neat and well balanced and Bristol City have got a really nice stadium.
Forest started the game in positive manner winning a corner in the first minute. From the corner, whipped in by new signing Carvalho, Dawson and Murphy got in each other way and the first chance for Forest had been and gone. Forest looked bright and were knocking the ball with confidence and intensity.
But it was Lee Johnson’s Bristol City who drew first blood with a goal from ex-Derby County striker Andi Weimann. Yet again Forest failed to deal with the second ball following Callum O’Dowda having a half-volley saved by Pantillimon. As Bristol corner taker Elliasson sent in another cross, Weimann got inbetween two Forest defenders in which the ball hit the bar, but as the ball came back it hit Pantillimon and the giant Romanian couldn’t keep the ball out. 1-0 to Bristol.
Following the initial good start by Forest it was Bristol asking the questions with another chance was cleared off the line by Osborn. It seems Forest’s weakness of past seasons were coming back to haunt them, with the many crosses coming into Pantilimon’s 18-yard box.
As the first-half went on Forest started to settle down and started to create some half-chances. Darikwa powered past highly-rated full-back Joe Bryan to power a shot across the face of Bristol’s goal which was defended well.
Forest them seemed to relax and really get into their stride with Dias going close with a 25-yarder and Guedioura having a pop. The Reds were upping the tempo, winning a few corners as the first-half came to its conclusion. But the home side were defending well as Forest were asking more questions.
The best chance so far for Forest fell to Murphy, whose selection was questioned by some due to the acquisition of £6m man Lewis Grabban. After a fantastic run by Dias he fed Murphy, who hasn’t scored for the Reds since November. The former Irish international tried to switch it to his left foot and was quickly hounded out and a great chance to equalise had gone for Forest.
But as Forest settled down at the back, very few chances were created in the baking Ashton Gate heat. As the referee blew the half-time whistle, Forest finished the half well but a lot more would need to be shown in the second-half.
Forest attacked the magnificent away support of 2,700 Garibaldis in the second-half. The bloke in front of me, who had travelled from Plymouth, was juggling two hot dogs, four drinks and two burgers and had barely got to his seat as good work from Osborn saw Guedioura send a stunning ball into the area. Murphy found the corner with a delicate header and sent the Trickies into rapture.
From this moment on Forest controlled large periods of the second-half looking for the goal to put them into the lead. Murphy was then starting to become the striker we all want to see. Putting pressure onto Bristol’s two centre-halves time and time again. The pressure paid off as Ben Watson goal-bound shot was blocked off the line.
As the half wore of Guedioura and Dias were booked for challenges which incensed the away following as the referee seemed more lenient when Dias was hacked down twice in the same move earlier in the match.
But that booking didn’t deter Algerian International Guedioura as he was back to his old self as the industrious midfielder we loved before he left for Crystal Palace in 2013. His shot on 57 minutes which flattened a Bristol City player was followed up by shot in which Bristol City keeper Maenpaa got his body behind.
Pantillimon was then called into action when Bryan had his shot saved, in which Osborn then cleared from the danger zone. On 73 minutes Forest then took off Murphy, whose honest performance got him his first goal of the season. He was replaced by Grabban as Forest looked to get a late winner. After Grabban’s introduction Carvalho’s neat turn inside the box created a chance for himself but his weak left-foot effort was saved.
Lolley was then to replace Dias, whose performance was taste of things to come. The Portuguese star will soon become a fans’ favourite with his skill, awareness and, most importantly, work rate.
Lolley was soon playing where he left off last season, as he exchanged passes with Guadioura and Darikwa letting fly with a shot that Maenpaa had to push around his post.
Forest final change was to replace the tiring Dawson who produced a solid performance now back in a Forest Shirt. His replacement was Figueiredo.
Forest were denied a late winner in Bristol. But following a stuttering start, Forest ralled and got their equaliser early in the second-half and apart from a couple of moments they controlled the game. Forest will get better over the course of the season. But this was a decent start for a team whose record at Ashton Gate isn’t a great one. On Tuesday against West Brom we will see where it takes Karanka with his new-look Nottingham Forest.
Costel Pantillimon 7: Made some decent saves, pretty solid and be disappointed to concede early on.
Tedayi Darikwa 7: Slow start but grew in confidence, linked up with Dias pretty well.
Danny Fox 8: This guy’s turnaround is remarkable. 18 months he was slated every week and today fans chanted his name. Brilliant pro who has just got on with the job.
Michael Dawson 7: Solid performance by the 34-year-old. Colossal in the air.
Ben Osborn 7: Very consistent, 100% every game and dealt with everything that came his way.
Ben Watson 7: Doing what Ben Watson does best, keeping it simple.
Adlene Guedioura 9: Man of the match. Industrious combative performance, box-to-box just what is needed in the Championship.
Diogo Goncalves 7: Quiet start but grew into the game linked up with Osborn pretty well.
Gil Dias 8: This guy just loves the ball as his feet. Very technical and oozes class with some silky skills. Will be a key performer in the coming months.
Joao Carvalho 7: Again very technical loves finding pockets of space will only improve.
Daryl Murphy 7: Found it hard to get into the game but he took his goal well. Good, honest performance from him.
Joe Lolley 7: Nearly won it at the end with a great shot.
Tobias Figuiredo: 5 Hardly had any time on the pitch.
Lewis Grabban 6: A few nice touches but not enough time to really impress.