Despite not emulating Tuesday’s performance against West Brom, Nottingham Forest picked up their first three points of the season at home against Reading. Louis Moore was at the City Ground to witness Hillal Soudani’s winner
Buoyed by two further defensive acquisitions in Michael Hefele and Sam Byram in the build-up to Saturday’s game, it completed quite a remarkable transfer window for Forest where 13 new players have joined the club to complete what is the strongest squad at the City Ground in recent times.
As I reflected back on the performance on Tuesday night against West Bromwich Albion — in which the football, particularly during the first 70 minutes, was the best I’ve seen Forest play in years — Forest, unsurprisingly, went with the same 11 who caused recently-relegated West Brom so much trouble. However, Diogo Gonçalves dropped out the 18 with Matty Cash making the matchday squad.
Simply put, if Forest put in a similar performance against Reading then I could not see anything less than a first victory of the season for the Reds. The match started a little scrappy with Forest giving away a couple of early free-kicks. Reading’s Yiadom used his pace down Forests left-flank to cause Ben Osborn a few early uncertain moments. And Forest began to exert more influence on the match as the half progressed. Osborn found Dias with a great ball, although Dias was unable to fully connect with his attempt.
Half-time arrived and in truth Guedioura, Lolley, Dias and Carvalho hadn’t quite reached the same dazzling heights as Tuesday night. While Reading had one of two moments they didn’t particularly look threatening, more a stubborn outfit who Forest would surely break down in the second period.
As the second-half progressed those who had made the trip from Berkshire were just starting to find their voices as Reading grew into the game. As I was thinking to myself was it going to be ‘one of those days’, I looked up and noticed two subs were being readied and, as alluded to earlier, it was the strength of Forest’s squad which would ultimately be the turning point. Karanka withdrew both Carvalho and Dias on the 56th minute and brought on Hillal Soudani and Matty Cash.
Soudani, not long after coming on, gestured to another near capacity City Ground crowd to raise the noise levels and they heeded his call and responded. As he slammed the ground in disgust at a referring decision, he looked like he was either going to get sent off or score the winner. Thankfully, it was the latter as after just 12 minutes on the pitch Soudani curled home an impressive left-footed finish past Mannone and with that the City Ground erupted.
And it would be wrong not to mention Cash’s performance, sparking some much-needed energy in what was becoming a flat performance, with both men giving Karanka food for thought going forward.
The closing moments saw Pantilimon make a fine save from Bodvarsson from under his bar. But despite the performance not having the same free-flowing football and excitement as Tuesday the result this time would be different as Forest saw it out to gain our first three points of the season.
I could not end my review of the game without a special mention to Danny Fox who put in a man of the match performance at centre-half, winning every header. Not too long ago, when used at left-back, putting it mildly he was often criticised and in some cases deservedly so. Nonetheless since switching to centre-back he has gone from strength to strength and is now one of the first names on the team sheet.
I hope he can be seen as a source of motivation for some of the squad players when opportunities arise. If Soudani and Cash’s performances are anything to go by then they, like him, are ready to seize it.
Overall, the game against Reading as a spectacle will not live too long in the memory. Of significance was Forest being able to close out the game this time, as winning games when you’re not quite at it is not a bad habit to have. With the number of new additions it is, of course, going to take time to put in consistent performances and for players to fully adjust, gel and find their sharpness.
The strength in depth that Forest possess is now apparent and is going to be needed over the course of a long Championship season. And the early signs suggest Forest will be fighting at the right end of the table come May.