An early goal from Lewis Grabban couldn’t prevent Nottingham Forest losing — just their second game of the season — to Norwich City by two goals to one. Max Piesley was at the City Ground
I must admit, rather ashamedly, that it wasn’t until 2.45pm on Saturday that I remembered I had offered to write this piece. Watching a game of football whilst massively hungover does rather dilute the experience.
It goes without saying that Forest started brightly, with a well-worked goal from Lewis Grabban on five minutes. It was the second attempt at a dinked through ball to the in-form striker that had proved fruitful for the Reds. The next 15 minutes or so saw us hold the ball well, following up from the goal with some sustained pressure and running at a defensively organised Norwich.
For a brief moment, I really thought that this was it. This was the day we would thrash someone and go on a good run. On 13 minutes Joe Lolley, who seemed to have velcroed the ball to his feet before shimmying around two defenders, rifled a shot on to the crossbar. That was arguably Forest’s last bright moment of the match. I wonder how different a game we might have seen had that gone in.
Going back to my initial point about forgetfulness, it did seem as though that was Saturday’s theme. Forest seemed to forget how good an outfit Norwich are. They had started the afternoon just behind us in the table and they defended in a way Forest could only dream of. Aitor Karanka also seemed to forget that Ben Osborn, despite being one of our best players this season, simply isn’t a left-back. It may be controversial but I think Danny Fox would have been a better choice, given that we have Tobias Figueiredo and Michael Dawson waiting in the wings. It is quite worrying that Karanka doesn’t seem to have another game plan when things aren’t going our way, or when players are missing.
The next 20 or so minutes were stale. I naively considered that Forest were slowing the game down, maintaining possession and trying to force subtle openings. Perhaps though, it was Forest who were naive in thinking they were a good enough team to do that. We weren’t bad during this period, every player on the pitch, in particular Carvalho and Lolley, looked eager and never stopped running. We just didn’t really do anything when we had the ball, inviting pressure from Norwich, who clipped the bar and sent a shot just wide. A second goal before half-time would have been very welcome, but it didn’t materialise.
Just after half-time we saw more of the same. Costel Pantilimon received a yellow card for time-wasting over a free-kick, which was immensely confusing. I am not a very critical person when it comes to Forest. Perhaps this is down to the fact that at 20 years old the biggest achievement I’ve seen Forest make is finishing third in the championship under Billy Davies. I do, however, have to say that Pantilimon is an awful goalkeeper. I think he is the worst player in our match day squad. He was a breath of fresh air when he first signed, owing to Jordan Smith’s unfortunate demise, however he simply isn’t the standard we should be aiming for if we are serious about doing anything in this is league. Two very clumsy mistakes at Millwall should have been enough for Luke Steele to be given a start, and after Saturday’s performance I really think the change needs to be made.
Having defended some set pieces well in the first-half, with one in particular which saw Fox ping the ball 40 yards away with his head, Forest naturally conceded a free header from a corner. Watching from the Lower Bridgford didn’t help, but the amount of unmarked Norwich shirts in our box was appalling. It’s all well and good being 6’4” and having a large social media presence, but Michael Hefele spent more time dawdling about and deliberating over who to pass to than he did actually defending. The best player in our defence for me was Tendayi Darikwa. I’d seen some fans unfairly write him off before the game, but on his day he is just as good as Saidy Janko. He made some really good challenges and switched play well.
Usually I would continue with a breakdown of the match but I don’t think I need to. Forest lacked impetus after Norwich equalised and it wasn’t surprising when Timm Klose rolled in his second of the match. Like at Millwall, we squandered a relatively undeserved lead and for 70 minutes our defence was just not up to standard.
Going back to the point I made earlier, it is worrying that Karanka seems to lack a plan B (something Mark Warburton was heavily criticised for). Why did we stick with two holding midfielders when the score was 1-1, yet alone when it was 1-2? Why did Karanka take off Lolley and Carvalho, our two brightest players? Why the hell did we sign Claudio Yacob and Panagiotis Tachtsidis?
I know a write-up like this is probably supposed to attempt to answer questions, but Saturday left me feeling sober and confused. I’d really like to see us switch things up on Wednesday, especially considering who we are playing. I’d also like to see us play two up front. Just once Aitor, give it a go.