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Left Brian: Five Key Moments in Nottingham Forest’s Season So Far …

11 October 19 words: Gareth Watts
illustrations: Adam Poole

Our lad Gareth Watts gives us the low down on the season so far.

1. Matt Phillips’ Fluke for the Baggies 

The curtain-raiser at the City Ground against West Brom had got off to a fantastic start for the Reds with repurposed right-back Matty Cash striking from long range after just 8 minutes. I could already see the trophy, an open-top bus and ticker tape. Yet a Kyle Edwards equaliser just a few minutes later reminded us that we were playing against one of the toughest opponents in the league and that nothing is straightforward in the Championship. 

Then in the 26th minute, Matt Phillips was given the ball right in front of where I sit, on the right-hand touchline near the Brian Clough stand. He floated in what appeared to be a harmless cross which completely bamboozled our new 6ft 6in keeper Aro Muric and ended up in the back of the net. Significant, yes, because it was Forest’s first (and at the time of writing, only) league defeat this season. But in hindsight perhaps more significant that manager Sabri Lamouchi would soon consider his goalkeeping options and look to a safer pair of hands.   


2. Sammy Ameobi Disco Dancing  

The true horror of Forest’s fixture list became apparent with an away trip to promotion favourites Leeds United. Forest defended resolutely, with centre back pairing Michael Dawson and Joe Worrall looking fearsome and, for sentimentalists like me, providing a poignant reminder of the circle of life: I remember watching a teenage Dawson in a back four alongside legendary mentor Des Walker and here we were fifteen years (four England caps, and countless Champions League appearances) later with Dawson marshalling the young academy graduate into shape.

Leeds got ahead with an unstoppable Pablo Hernandez strike on the hour. Lamouchi responded with a positive substitution and introduced much-maligned free transfer signing Sammy Ameobi. 

Fortunately, Ameobi didn’t get the memo that Elland Road was a fortress at which you must pay your respect to Amazon Prime’s men in white. He just did his thing and carried the ball forward, beat a man, beat two, beat three. He danced, teased and for the first time in the game Dawson and Worrall got a breather and Forest dared to venture across the halfway line. Before you knew it, a corner, a goalmouth scramble and Lewis Grabban somehow bundling the ball in after 77 minutes. 

As hard-earned points go, this was probably the hardest. Forest were a tough team to beat, Ameobi a disco-meme sensation and the new gaffer had a keen eye for a canny substitution. 


3. It’s pronounced Brice as in geese 

 Aside from Tiago Silva’s powerful winner after 59 minutes, at the time there wasn’t much that was noteworthy about Forest’s stuttering cup win against Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town. With a raft of changes to the side, this was one of those early round cup games you just hope to get through unscathed.

However, with hindsight, it’s significant as the game that featured the debut of our other newly signed goalkeeper Brice Samba whose shot-stopping, accurate distribution and all-round confidence seemed unusual for a Forest goalie. A magnificent save from a freekick in the dying moments of the match suggested that this was a man who could be trusted in the big moments. 


4. It’s pronounced Sow as in Joe 

Regular readers (both of you) of this column will know that my main thesis on Forest’s 18/19 season was that they performed well against the big teams (victories against Leeds, Derby, Sheffield United, Middlesbrough) and those struggling at the bottom of the league, but never seemed to be able to perform against the middle third. 

This was a tier of teams who possessed physical prowess, kept the ball up in the air and frustrated our diminutive playmakers. Birmingham City had epitomised this approach and, as such, provided the first real test of the evolution of Lamouchi’s team. Goals from rampant Joe Lolley, shrewd Lewis Grabban and nostalgia’s own Michael Dawson resulted in an emphatic 3-0 win for the Reds. 

Yet more pertinently, what emerged from this game was the importance of our strong, tough-tackling midfielders, especially 30-year-old Malian, Samba Sow. Forest weren’t a soft touch in the middle of the pitch and were no longer at the mercy of mid-table bully boys. We had ball winners and resilience. I was going to have to come up with a new theory. 


5. The Perfect Goal 

I can always remember a friend at primary school who, smug after reading some sort of prehistoric football instructional manual in the school library would quiz me on what I thought the perfect goal was. “Maradona ‘86?” I’d ask. “Pearce’s free-kick against Man U?” 

No. According to this ancient tome the perfect goal was one where every player touched the ball: that it was worked from defence, through the midfield and finished off with accuracy by a striker. It was a goal that reflected all the qualities of the team, as football was a team sport. It sounded like the most boring goal imaginable. 

None of Tony Yeboah’s thunderbastards in the early nineties were team goals. Well, many years later away at table-topping Fulham, Forest scored this textbook definition perfect goal and it was indeed a thing of beauty. Brice Samba was handed his league debut and four minutes into the game he triggered the eleven-man move, with most players taking just one touch, Joe Lolley strung together a couple of excellent one-twos before finding Jack Robinson whose exquisite cross was met by a delicate Grabban volley. 

If I was on Facebook I’d have tracked down my fusty old chum and told him he was right. Forest had dug out a point away at Charlton and now they were giving a footballing lesson to the expensively-assembled Cottagers. I thought this 2-1 win would be the high point of the entire season. It wasn’t even the best thing to happen that week …

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