Phillippe Montanier has faced criticism from myself and many other Forest fans in the past few weeks. Results had been poor, with the defence being carved open by any team who put on a half decent show.
The most convincing performances had come against teams who never really showed up on the day, such as Birmingham and Leeds. However, the Frenchman has demonstrated an impressive adaptability in recent weeks. Five games ago, away to Reading, he set up with five at the back for the first time. Academy product Joe Worrall was given his Forest senior debut to provide an extra man in defence. Alas, the nineteen-year-old from Nottingham would find himself amidst another very worrying team performance, with Reading 2-0 winners.
— Joe Worrall (@JoeWorrall5) October 29, 2016
Montanier stuck with the system, however. After a shaky 1-1 draw at home to QPR, the Reds secured their first clean-sheet of the season when they faced an admittedly poor looking Ipswich side at Portman Road. Hallelujah, at the twentieth time of asking, Forest managed to put on a respectable defensive show.
Since then, Forest have secured two more wins against Barnsley and table-topping Newcastle. Despite just the one clean sheet, this feels far less worrying than it did earlier in the season.
Forest’s general performances have been far more convincing, the attacking play has a clear plan and you trust the new five-man defence to not capitulate whenever the opposition play some testing passes. You find yourself wincing a lot less when teams get the ball, because Forest are a lot more organised.
Now, Montanier has the chance to silence his critics once and for all, when Nottingham Forest face Derby County on Sunday. The three consecutive wins have given him the chance to perfect the new system. Forest were tested in all kinds of situations over the course of the past three games.
At Ipswich they showed that, when the opposition are having a bad day, they can take advantage before commanding the rest of the game to see out a win. Against Barnsley, they came up with plenty of goals even when the opposition were not playing that well, and despite the absence of first-choice striker Britt Assombalonga.
“ex-Forest keeper Karl Darlow looked set for a dream return to the City Ground when he demonstrated his excellent shot-stopping ability”
In their most recent game, Forest (eventually) showed how to approach the game when the opposition goes down to ten, and even nine players. It never seems easier to play against fewer men, especially when it encourages a strong Newcastle defence to sit back, but history tells us that is exactly the kind of situation Forest might find themselves in during the derby.
Jonjo Shelvey was shown the red card for lashing out at Henri Lansbury. The resulting penalty was weak by Bendtner, and ex-Forest keeper Karl Darlow looked set for a dream return to the City Ground when he demonstrated his excellent shot-stopping ability, this time to the frustration of Forest fans.
Rafa Benitez’s side were further disadvantaged when Lansbury was fouled yet again inside the box by Paul Dummett. But it was now clear that Forest were going to go about this game in the only way they ever would, with heaps of extra unnecessary stress. An equally pathetic penalty, this time from Lansbury, was saved by Darlow. Then with nine-men, Newcastle were fired into the lead by Matt Ritchie.
Whilst one ex-Forest boy looked set to break his old fans’ hearts, another came to the rescue. Jamaal Lascelles was sold to Newcastle along with Darlow in the summer of 2014, before both were sent back on loan for the following season. Lascelles is one to really watch out for when Newcastle inevitably return to the Premier League, but this was a day to forget for him. His eighty-sixth minute own-goal put Forest into the lead after Bendtner had prodded home the equaliser early in the second half.
The game also revealed a few points where Forest need to improve though. For the Derby game I would make few changes to the team that beat Newcastle. Bendtner has been fantastic, but if Assombalonga is fit then he has to play, with the striker netting in both of his appearances in the Brian Clough Trophy. Playing both strikers would risk upsetting a working system, however.
:”If the defence continues to be solid and Assombalonga is given the service, Steve McClaren will hopefully see his recent run of results brought to a crushing end”
Osborn and Lam have fitted perfectly to their new attacking and defensive midfield roles respectively, so expect them to keep their places. In Matty Cash, Forest seem to have produced yet another quality academy graduate, to add to the likes of Osborn, Worrall, Oliver Burke and, of course, Lascelles and Darlow.
Cash was played at left-wing-back last game, but if Daniel Pinillos is available it makes sense for him to return. However, Cash should instead be played in midfield, taking Pajtim Kasami’s place. Forest have yet to see the Swiss really settle in to a game, and demonstrate his ability to dictate the play that got so many fans excited when he was loaned from Olympiacos.
Thankfully, Montanier appears to be getting things right before this massive game. If the defence continues to be solid and Assombalonga is given the service, Steve McClaren will hopefully see his recent run of results brought to a crushing end.
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