Martin O’Neill won his first game as Nottingham Forest’s manager at the weekend, but will it be a case of horses for courses regarding future team-selection?
At 2 pm on Saturday, there was a frenzied reaction to the announcement of Forest’s teamsheet versus Wigan at the City Ground. The Reds named three defensive midfielders to face the Latics, which incorporated the shock recall of Ben Watson for his first league start since October, 2018.
Needless to say, social media went into meltdown before a ball had been kicked. Even I was surprised at O’Neill’s player selection, if I’m honest. However, the negativity dissipated after 19 minutes when Joe Lolley rediscovered his shooting boots and blasted home a beauty from distance.
Although not quite firing on all cylinders, Forest’s display was an improvement on the previous week’s defeat to Bristol City. But in various pockets around the ground, I could spot the odd fan waiting for a reason to moan and groan. Their wishes were granted when Costel Pantilimon allowed Josh Windass’s powerful shot to squirm underneath him and send the sides in level at the break.
The conversations in and around the concourse during the interval were laden with concern and bewilderment at the placement of Joao Carvalho and Lewis Grabban on the substitutes’ bench. Completely valid opinions, to be honest. Regardless of whether you think that our record signing is performing to the best of his capabilities or not, he is the most creative player in the squad on his day, and creativity was somewhat absent the previous week. The selection of Daryl Murphy ahead of Grabban was a bigger shock for me personally, given that the latter had previously set the league alight with his catalogue of goals in a Reds shirt.
As it transpired, Forest looked more accomplished in the second period and put the game to bed thanks to long-range strikes from Matty Cash and Adlene Guedioura. Despite not being dominant or expansive in their play, the Reds were disciplined and professional in the way they managed the game and secured all three points.
It’s at this point that many will still question the integrity of the win and the manner it was achieved. The eternal optimists among us will tell you that this is the turning point and that we will go forth and conquer all that lie in wait. The cynics will undoubtedly pick holes in every aspect of the performance. A minority of them might even have prayed for a defeat to vindicate their disdain for the manager.
My take on the proceedings doesn’t fall into either of the above categories. We beat a side, who had won one of their previous ten games, with three strikes from outside the box. It wasn’t fluent or very creative, but it was disciplined and, importantly, it yielded three more points. Compared to the Preston, QPR and Millwall games, was it any worse?
Of course, I’m not naive enough to think that, with this kind mentality, Forest will succeed against the Championship’s elite. If the Reds stand any chance of beating the likes of West Brom, Derby, Sheffield United and Middlesbrough, O’Neill will have to play the likes of Carvalho and Grabban. Deploying the side that beat Wigan against any of those teams will undoubtedly end in defeat.
As I said last week, O’Neill hasn’t been in charge at Forest for long at all and is still getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of his playing staff. He elaborated upon this in his post-match interview and dropped strong hints that he is very likely to rotate his squad sooner than later. If O’Neill makes any more signings during the imminently closing transfer window, the calibre of those
coming in will be a tangible indication of his proposed style of play.
Regardless of how the Forest supporters dissect the player selection and overall performance against Wigan, the overriding fact is that we took maximum points. Which got me thinking: will O’Neill switch his playing staff according to the attributes of the opposition and select horses for courses?