“Bring it on. Thank God for it. I am glad it is on Sky, because I want to show people how well we are playing. I want to show people that we can play as well as we did tonight.”
The words of Dougie Freedman, straight after Nottingham Forest’s 1-0 away defeat at Preston North End – their third successive away loss, and their eighth match without a win.
The topic Freedman was talking about was the next fixture against high-flying Derby County, who having spent £20m in the summer transfer window, had finally started to put a run of form together, and had gone 10 games without defeat.
Perhaps understandably, the majority of the Forest faithful took issue with Freedman’s comments, with some going as far as saying he should be sacked following a horrendous run of form that was worse than Stuart Pearce’s when he got the chop.
Come half nine at night on November 6 however…and those people were very quiet – as were the majority of the lot down the A52. Nottingham Forest beat their hated rivals 1-0, claiming just their second home league win of the season.
But Freedman was right. Forest didn’t just merely win the match and take the points – not one person watching at home or sitting in the stands could leave that match and claim that Forest didn’t deserve it, as his side were superb.
The win was in complete contrast to the one under Pearce last season, as when Ben Osborn stuck the ball in the Derby net in the 92nd minute to give the Reds a 2-1 win, Forest had successfully dragged the Rams down to the level they were being asked to play at on a consistent basis.
Derby didn’t know what to do – they lost their game plan, they lost their shape, and they lost their discipline, which played right into Pearce’s hands as Forest could scrap away and get something, which they subsequently achieved.
On this occasion however, Paul Clement was tactically outclassed by the Forest boss. Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, Forest created the better chances and defended heroically. They looked organised, solid and imperious. Matt Mills and Jack Hobbs were both colossal in the air and ground, marking prolific danger-man Chris Martin out of the game completely, while full-backs Dani Pinillos and Eric Lichaj completely neutralised the wing threat from Johnny Russell and Andreas Weimann.
Slightly further up in midfield, Henri Lansbury and David Vaughan dominated the middle of the park – with Vaughan proving to be an impenetrable force and Lansbury dictating the play around Derby defensive midfielder George Thorne, making him anonymous.
Derby’s midfield in general couldn’t cope, with Bradley Johnson – a recent £6.5m signing from Norwich City – repeatedly trying to switch the play but ended up giving the ball away more often than not, and Jeff Hendrick shooting from range as he simply couldn’t find a way through.
Not only had Freedman motivated and disciplined his side for this game, but the players – who clearly fight for him given recent displays, and not just Derby – carried out his tactical plan to every last fine detail, similar to how Forest defeated Bournemouth under the Scot’s stewardship last season.
It was a Freedman signing that settled the game as well, as Portuguese international Nelson Oliveira’s shot came back to him after being set up by Jamie Ward, and the Benfica loanee made no mistake the second time, with his low drive taking a slight nick off Derby defender Richard Keogh as it found its way into the bottom corner.
Oliveira’s incredible, Premier League class, hold-up play was also a key factor in the win, as he did his best to be in the heart of every attacking move, while terrorising both Keogh and hisdefensive partner Jason Shackell with his trickery and skill.
Credit goes where credit is due, and on this occasion, Freedman deserves every plaudit he gets for that result. But it is only one result. What Freedman has to ensure is that we don’t see a repeat of what happened last time we beat Derby – completely capitulation.
In the very next game after the 2-1, within 35 minutes, Forest were 3-0 down, as Fulham exposed every glaring hole in Stuart Pearce’s tactical set-up with ruthless efficiency. That can’t happen again.
What has to happen now, is that Forest need to build on that result. They need to take confidence from not only winning a game, but claiming a clean sheet – and doing so against one of the best teams in the league. If they can do that, then hopefully the Reds can attempt to press on to try and make a fight out of this season. The test will be their next opponents in Brentford away from home.
That win against Derby was spectacular, but one swallow doesn’t make a summer and Freedman is far from out of the woods when it comes to possibility of Fawaz Al-Hasawi’s gun shooting him down.