Nottingham Forest bounced back from their League Cup horror show at Burton Albion by knocking the Championship leaders off their perch, and moving back into the play-offs by doing so.
Reds boss Aitor Karanka came under considerable pressure from NFFC supporters following the woeful cup exit last week, which magnified the importance of the Sheffield United game and the return to Championship football.
But, as per usual, the Spaniard answered his critics in the best way possible by pulling the proverbial rabbit out of the hat. And, perhaps the biggest critic of all last week was me, as I vehemently condemned the attitude of the players during the cup debacle.
Ironically, my bone of contention with the cup defeat was mainly aimed at the performance as opposed to the result itself. So, it was of paramount importance that the Reds put in a shift when they faced the Blades on Saturday.
And, it’s fair to say the majority of the 28,000 in attendance at the City Ground were satisfied with the application of their team. A word that featured prominently on social media after the win was “solid,” which I think was very apt indeed.
In my opinion, although it couldn’t be described as cohesive or expansive, I thought that Saturday’s victory was one of the most balanced and professional performances of the season to date.
Some will argue that Sheffield United didn’t really offer much in the form of an attack but to counter that you could say it was because we didn’t let them. There was a passage in the second half that really impressed me, when despite being a goal to the good, Forest relentlessly pressed the visitors in their own territory for sustained periods.
It wasn’t just one or two busting a gut to suffocate their opponents, but a collectively organised movement that I had a perfect view of from my position in the commentary box. Such was the success of the home side’s endeavours that the Blades defence, wing backs included, were besieged on the edge of their own box for minutes at a time.
Another influential factor in Saturday’s victory was the debut performance of Claudio Yacob, who slotted straight into the Forest midfield as if he’d done so a hundred times or more. The Argentinian, who has waited patiently for his opportunity, marshalled the lower midfield and did the simple things very well indeed.
Jack Colback has performed well this season but now has serious competition for his place, which is great for the club in general. When Aitor Karanka signed Yacob I was a little surprised given the number of midfielders at the club, but on Saturday’s evidence, it looks like a very astute bit of business.
Despite the collective organisation and balance, Matty Cash appears to be stuttering a little of late. He seems somewhat agitated and I’ve noticed that he’s committing a lot of needless free kicks. Full backs are sticking tighter than ever to him and applying more physicality than before. Having started the season so positively it may be a case that opposition managers have gotten wise to him, especially in the last month or so.
His duel with Lucas Akins of Burton was a prime example, despite Cash’s best efforts, he was well and truly thwarted by the make shift left back that evening. Sometimes, wingers need to revaluate their game plan and do things differently.
I vividly remember an academy manager saying to me, when I couldn’t get past the right back: “Your job is to go past him, I don’t care how you do it, dig a tunnel under him if you have to but get to that line and start putting crosses into our box.”
In layman’s terms, try a different approach!
Next up for Forest are Stoke City, which will be another stiff test I’m sure, it’ll be interesting to see if they can achieve back to back league wins for only the second time this season too.
Even though Karanka’s men have produced the odd disappointing performance of late, it’s encouraging to know that they have the resilience to bounce back and put things right when it matters most.