FOR­EST UP AND RUN­NING

ONE MO­MENT OF GEN­UINE QUAL­ITY IS ENOUGH TO BREAK THE DEAD­LOCK

Nottingham Post - - FRONT PAGE - The Post’s For­est writer looks back at three hard-won points PAUL TAYLOR

TWO ex­cit­ing, en­cour­ag­ing per­for­mances, a host of sum­mer sign­ings and a packed, close to ca­pac­ity City Ground crowd, bol­stered by 21,000 sea­son ticket sales – all com­bined to en­sure the sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­pec­ta­tion was crack­ling ev­ery bit as much as the at­mos­phere on the banks of the Trent.

It was per­haps greedy to ex­pect both at once but, hav­ing im­pressed with some elec­tric foot­ball against Bris­tol City and West Brom, in two games that had en­ter­tained, but had also not gar­nered the re­sults they had mer­ited, what un­folded on Satur­day af­ter­noon felt some­how fit­ting.

It is of­ten said the mark of a good side is the abil­ity to win foot­ball matches when they are not at their best.

If that old adage is true, then there was cer­tainly plenty of ev­i­dence to sug­gest Ai­tor Karanka’s Not­ting­ham For­est side are at least on the right path to­wards be­com­ing some­thing good.

The pic­ture of in­jus­tice Paul Cle­ment painted af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle was not en­tirely ac­cu­rate – this was not in the same bracket of day­light rob­bery as his well-or­gan­ised, but ul­ti­mately tooth­less Read­ing side had suf­fered at the hands of Derby County, on the open­ing day, in front of the tele­vi­sion cam­eras.

But it was a closely con­tested, hard-fought af­fair in which one mo­ment of gen­uine qual­ity was enough to break the dead­lock, as well as the Roy­als’ re­solve, and to de­cide things in For­est’s favour.

For­est were marginally the bet­ter side and they just about de­served their nar­row vic­tory, even if they only pe­ri­od­i­cally found top gear. They did enough. They got the job done. You get the idea.

Joao Car­valho and Gil Dias had pre­vi­ously been the beat­ing heart of the prom­ise Karanka’s new-look side had shown. But, against Read­ing they were more sub­dued, less of an in­flu­ence.

But just as their two pre­vi­ous per­for­mances had not es­tab­lished, with any de­gree of cer­tainty, they will be a run­away suc­cess this sea­son, nor does one less con­vinc­ing dis­play prove they won’t be.

What was en­cour­ag­ing for For­est was that the two men who re­placed them off the bench took the op­por­tu­nity to step into the void and up to the plate.

Hil­lal Soudani, from his first per­for­mance in pre-sea­son, has played with the en­thu­si­asm and en­ergy of a teenager; he has the de­meanour of a man who is ex­cited to have the op­por­tu­nity to prove him­self in Eng­land – and who is de­ter­mined to do ex­actly that.

The Al­ge­rian in­ter­na­tional might be 30, but he still pos­sesses the kind of char­ac­ter and per­son­al­ity on the pitch that could quickly make him a favourite among the fans.

His goal, swept em­phat­i­cally and pre­cisely be­yond the reach of the goal­keeper and into the cor­ner of the net, af­ter a split-se­cond sight of goal opened up for him will not do him any harm on that front.

While his fel­low sub­sti­tute, Matty Cash, had an equally big im­pact on the game, with the two of them, to­gether, in­stantly lift­ing the tempo and the sense of ur­gency in the For- est ranks. Cash, al­ways a dy­namo, might have had a goal him­self, if not for a com­bi­na­tion of a good save and, from the re­bound, an awk­ward bounce which guided his se­cond shot over the bar.

And that came af­ter he made a hash of things with his very first touch, hav­ing been picked out in the cen­tre by a fine cross from Ben Os­born, who was of­ten For­est’s most dan­ger­ous at­tack­ing out­let, Cash lifted a shot over the bar with the goal at his mercy.

Os­born’s range of pass­ing and ac­cu­racy of de­liv­ery was also the cat­a­lyst for good chances for Lewis Grab­ban and Dias,

His his own work-rate and de­ter­mi­na­tion also al­lowed him to ful­fil his de­fen­sive du­ties when it was re­quired.

The big price tags placed on the heads of Car­valho, Dias and Diogo Gon­calves led to the feel­ing that, if For­est were to be suc­cess­ful this sea­son, the foun­da­tions for that might just be from Por­tu­gal.

For­est spent 15m euro to sign Car­valho and it would cost even more, if they want to sign Dias and Gon­calves per­ma­nently in the fu­ture. The very early ev­i­dence is it might well prove to be a wor­thy in­vest­ment.

But in the last two games, those roots have come from Al­ge­ria, with Ad­lene Giedioura net­ting the For­est goal against West Brom on Tues­day night and Soudani, who cost roughly £2m when he joined from Di­namo Za­greb, both show­ing their own qual­ity in key mo­ments.

When For­est face Bury on Tues­day night in the EFL Cup, it will be dif­fer­ent play­ers again who get the op­por­tu­nity to take the spot­light, not least be­cause Karanka has hinted he might change the en­tire start­ing XI.

If he were to do so, it would be no sign of dis­re­spect to the League Two club. In­stead, it would be a re­flec­tion of the squad Karanka now has at his dis­posal.

For­est now have a group of 24 or 25 play­ers who could all come into the side, with­out weak­en­ing it very much at all.

With the im­pres­sive sum­mer trans­fer busi­ness they com­pleted, what For­est have done is give their man­ager the level of strength in depth that has not been seen at the City Ground in many years – and along with that, a great deal of op­tions.

When Dias and Car­valho looked just slightly qui­eter than they had done in pre­vi­ous out­ings, Soudani and Cash took their op­por­tu­nity to shine. The ex­pe­ri­enced trio of Michael Dawson, Ben Wat­son and Daryl Mur­phy had only a watch­ing brief from the bench.

Play­ers like Luke Steele, Joe Wor­rall, Gon­calves, Ben Br­ere­ton and Liam Brid­cutt could not force their way into the squad at all – and new sign­ings Michael He­fele and Sam Byram will hope to make their mark in the near fu­ture, af­ter sign­ing in re­cent days.

When For­est head to Wi­gan next week­end, to re­turn to Championship ac­tion, To­bias Figueiredo and Danny Fox could feel hard done by if they do not re­tain their place in the heart of de­fence, with Fox in par­tic­u­lar stand­ing out as a dogged, de­ter­mined per­former against Read­ing, with the ban­dage he fin­ished the game with wrapped around his head the per­fect metaphor for the brav­ery and com­mit­ment with which he had played.

The same can also be said of full­backs Ten­dayi Darikwa and Os­born, who con­tinue to do a grand job of find­ing the dif­fi­cult bal­ance be­tween at­tack­ing width and de­fen­sive cover. He­fele and Byram might have to be pa­tient for just a lit­tle while yet, along with quite a few other qual­ity play­ers, within the ranks of the squad they have joined.

You could work your way down the pitch and make fur­ther sim­i­lar ob­ser­va­tions about Gue­dioura, Jack Col­back, Joe Lol­ley and Grab­ban.

But these are the brand of dif­fi­cult, but wel­come de­ci­sions Karanka will have to make ev­ery week, for the rest of the Championship sea­son. As he ob­served him­self af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle, For­est’s suc­cess or fail­ure will not be de­cided by what they do as in­di­vid­u­als, but by what they do as a team and, more ac­cu­rately, as a squad.

Danny Fox hurls him­self into a chal­lenge

PIC­TURES: RITCHIE SUMPTER @ JMS PHO­TO­GRAPH

Gil Dias just fails to keep the ball in play for Not­ting­ham For­est in the 1-0 vic­tory over Read­ing

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