For the third time in four games, Town succumbed to a team fighting to stay in the division as they wilted in beautiful Spring conditions under an onslaught delivered by an impressive Forest who performed far beyond their league position.
Harried to the point of exhaustion, Town rarely got in to their stride and their usual fluency and instinctive possession based style was severely disrupted by an aggressive, determined and unified home side who rendered much of the visitors play mechanical, predictable and tired.
Even Hogg – the rock upon which the victory over Norwich was built – struggled in the face of Forest’s relentless energy, which lasted the full 90 minutes and gives great hope to the City Ground faithful who haven’t had much to cheer with apparently haphazard ownership and uncertainty over the past year or so.
Solid at the back, hard working in midfield and often dangerous on the flanks, Forest earned their victory with high levels of energy which prevented Town gaining any momentum and, sometimes, you just have to hold up your hands when defeated by a superior force on the day.
Town’s play, which didn’t start out too badly, became increasingly laboured and the absence of a quality number 10, as in other games recently, was painfully obvious. Mooy can play that role, as demonstrated in the second half on Wednesday, but it deprives the team of his close partnership with Hogg and when Billing is as languid as he appeared for certain portions of this game, the dynamics of the team are diminished.
This is, perhaps, to take too much away from Forest who dictated in all areas of the pitch and, but for two magnificent saves from Ward, a goal line clearance from Wells and wayward finishing, could have inflicted a very heavy defeat on Town, who would have little room for complaint.
In a first half dominated by the home side, Town had one decent chance for Kachunga following good work from Wells and an easily saved shot from Billing while the other goal was under siege. The early threat came down Town’s left with Holmes-Dennis – deputising for the rested Lowe – caught out once or twice before settling, but it was down the usually reliable Smith’s flank that Forest found most joy.
Twice, the home side outnumbered Smith to create very presentable chances. Ward, initially too hesitant in the challenge, managed to thwart the impressive Osborn at his near post but was beaten by a Worrall header only for Wells to clear impressively from under the bar. Brereton then failed to convert an excellent low cross from Ward, but the pressure was too much for the visitors when yet another foray down the left saw Brereton provide Lichaj with a tap in for a deserved lead.
In his pre match interviews, David Wagner had insisted that Forest had no surprises in their locker and pointed to their ability to score and vulnerability at the back. Being mostly right all season, he could be forgiven for being completely wrong for this encounter. As he admitted afterwards, Forest DID spring a surprise by playing 3 at the back and overloading midfield, while their forward line failed to put Town away in a dominant first half and their defence was rarely troubled.
With two changes made at half time to even up the midfield by sacrificing a full back (Holmes-Dennis who, in fairness, was more effective defensively than Smith) for Whitehead and replacing the rather peripheral Van La Parra with Lolley.
While far from glimmering, Town gained a little of their customary control at the beginning of the second half without causing serious threat to Forest’s lead and there seemed a little hope that they could build a foundation to rescue something from the game if they could undermine the home side’s high confidence levels.
However, and even in this brief period of competing more effectively, Forest created the best chance when Ward, unmarked in the box, screwed his effort wide.
The all too brief, and largely illusory, period of parity was abruptly ended by a mix up between Whitehead, who ballooned a defensive header, and Schindler, who failed to react to Ward nipping in and advancing on his namesake before finishing the chance and the game.
A couple of long range efforts aside, Town couldn’t match Forest’s determination and energy and a deserved defeat was assured long before the final whistle.
A late appearance by Quaner offered little and Town desperately need the boost of a Palmer and/or Brown return if they are to safely negotiate some tricky fixtures and secure their play off place.
Revitalised, Forest look well equipped to secure their Championship status and, if we are ultimately unsuccessful in our promotion challenge, Nottingham is always a pleasurable away day even if the football can intervene to put a damper on it.
The worry is that after apparently banishing the thought that Town are beginning to run on fumes with a good victory in midweek, the uncertainty has returned with this lacklustre display. The chances of a complete collapse still seem slim, but form remains worrying, Norwich (who bounced back quite strongly!) notwithstanding.