Perhaps the reasonable showing in the second half against an excellent Bournemouth side who were, admittedly, playing well within themselves, injected some belief in to a squad reeling from a torrid week as they picked up 3 vital points at the City Ground.
More likely, the surprise and hugely welcome return of Toffolo finally allowed Corberán the luxury of two established and accomplished full backs. For all the ills of 2021, and they are legion, searching for a solution to Toffolo’s absence has severely hampered the struggle against the drop.
That one injury could have such deep ramifications, with disruption unbalancing selection after selection, is a major problem the club must resolve in the Summer but, for now, the return of such a pivotal player for the last 4 games is a massive boost.
Not that it appeared so in a torrid opening 20 minutes for the Terriers who repeatedly handed opportunities to Forest with sloppy errors. Keogh, Holmes, Hogg and Toffolo himself misplaced passes, got caught in possession or failed to clear, only for the hosts to be as profligate as their opponents were negligent.
Ludicrously pedestrian possession along the back line simply pinned the visitors in their own half and Forest just had to wait for the errors, which duly arrived. Criticism of the back 4 should be tempered by noting the lack of movement in front of them. Even Hogg seemed reluctant to show for the ball in the spaces which would allow the opportunity to open up the game and the fear and trepidation was palpable.
Somehow, Town survived their torrid period with Forest’s openings ending in wayward shots, a decent Schofield save and general scrambling around to thwart the rampant hosts.
After the game, Corberán credited the switching of Holmes and Rowe as the turning point and Town did gain a foothold from around the 20 minute mark, and a likely looking defeat was postponed. Holmes, who was having an awful spell, seemed more comfortable on the left with the support of Toffolo and O’Brien, and improved to a level of adequacy, bar his set piece taking.
The team as a whole became competent and put together a few reasonable passing moves but not enough threat, though Holmes could have laid a ball to match Bacuna’s intelligent run rather than fire a weak shot towards Samba who saved easily.
Perhaps it was unsurprising that the breakthrough came through error, but it was ironic that Forest, who had spurned so many opportunities to capitalise on Town’s blunders, should be the ones to gift a goal. James Garner’s maverick ball behind his central defenders was seized upon by Rowe whose calm, excellent finish was a fitting example of his improvement this season.
A half time lead was welcome if not entirely deserved over the 45 minutes, but it was a gift not to be the subject of a mouth examination.
Overall, Town earned their victory in a good, if not flawless, second half, by throttling Forest’s increasingly plodding attempts to get back on terms. The easy flow which accompanied their dominant spell at the beginning rarely featured and Town were able to disrupt and frustrate them for long spells.
On the hour, an attempted pass forward hit Toffolo and fell to Holmes who moved the ball forward to Ward. A replacement for Campbell, who had succumbed to a shoulder injury late in the first half, Ward finally made a telling contribution by setting Bacuna free and running at the home back line. There was still a lot for the mercurial midfielder to do, alone, as he took the ball nicely in his stride and advanced with menace before unleashing a shot from 20 yards with such power that Samba’s arms went up after the ball was past him.
Frustrating as he is, Bacuna is always capable of delivering quality strikes. The coach who harnesses his skills to discipline and intelligence will have a highly valuable asset on their hands. It remains to be seen if this will be possible, but the quality he possesses is beyond doubt.
Protecting the lead proved to be relatively straightforward and only a couple of self inflicted errors threatened it.
Pipa, who was booked for that most infuriating and avoidable offence of kicking the ball away after being penalised, was lucky not to receive a second when he pulled the shirt of the tricky Mighten who had troubled the Spaniard on quite a few occasions. The referee’s leniency was arguably over generous, though he had witnessed Knockaert slap Toffolo a couple of times in a first half tussle so he may just have been in a good mood.
Late on, Schofield, otherwise secure, misjudged a high ball which he fumbled and dropped. Keogh covered the error well, allowing the young keeper to gather before a Forest player woke up to the opportunity.
For a team who had suffered a very poor week including a thrashing, a highly fortunate point against a relegation rival and a football lesson from Bournemouth, this was a good, valuable response. Their win was deserved – if anything, Town looked more likely to increase their lead with Keogh missing a very good chance and there were other opportunities.
Escaping relegation is not a cause for celebration (when it happens) but the end of a pitiful season, blighted by injury crises, cannot come soon enough. The inevitable rebuilding to come needs to be professional, comprehensive and shrewd. That is the opportunity for the Chairman and his team to begin rewriting their reputation and deliver on their progressive promises.
Safety, meanwhile, is close.