There’s a saying in football that you make your own luck; after Friday’s victory over Newcastle, I believe that to be true.
The game was one of the craziest I’ve witnessed at the City Ground and I’m sure many will agree.
Having won the two previous televised matches by sticking with the same formation, Philippe Montanier once again opted for the 3-5-2 approach. With Britt Assombalonga still not one hundred percent fit, it was a chance for Nicklas Bendtner to stake his claim as the number one striker.
After a cagey start by both teams, Matty Cash, playing as a right wing-back, latched onto Eric Lichaj’s brilliant cross-field ball and forced a great save from Karl Darlow.
From that moment on it became the Jonjo Shelvey show; the former Liverpool and England man was the outstanding player on the pitch.
Despite Newcastle not having created many chances, you felt that he would be the man to make things happen. That said, the away side’s first real effort on goal wasn’t until Yoan Gouffran’s shot fizzed the wrong side of Stojkovic’s post in the 26th minute.
Referee Stephen Martin, who looks like he fancies himself as a weight lifter, seemed to be avoiding the cautions and letting everything go. That was until Shelvey and Henri Lansbury tangled off the ball; Shelvey was deemed to have kicked out in the penalty area. Lansbury made a meal of it, enabling the referee to send the Newcastle man off and award a spot-kick to Forest.
The Reds midfielder certainly applied some theatrics but you can’t kick out these days. Like the dismissal of Marley Watkins for Barnsley last week, it was a feeble excuse of a kick but for a modern ref it’s a red rag to a bull.
Had that been Gascoigne and Webb back in 1988, the ref would have laughed at them both and waved them on their way.
Nicklas Bendtner stepped up and saw his penalty well saved by former Forest keeper Darlow; followed by a chorus of “Lansbury should have taken that” by everyone in earshot.
Bizarrely enough, Newcastle began to galvanise following Shelvey’s dismissal and almost went ahead in the 36th minute but Ciaran Clark’s header was controversially ruled out for a foul.
The men in stripes did get the goal they’d been threatening to score in the 44th minute though, courtesy of Cash’s inexperience. The young starlet was caught dribbling out of defence which resulted in a twice deflected cross being smashed home by Matt Richie.
What happened in the stoppage time that followed was pure madness; Lansbury was clumsily bundled over in the box by Paul Dummett. A second sending off and subsequent penalty was awarded, along with a yellow card for Karl Darlow as he psyched out the Forest captain.
With Bendtner nowhere in sight Henri Lansbury also saw his kick brilliantly saved by Darlow; I was almost expecting to hear the crowd around me saying “Bendtner should have taken that”.
Credit where credit’s due, Montanier wasted no time in bringing on Britt Assombalonga at half-time and changing the shape of the side too. The home side correctly morphed into a 4-4-2 formation which meant that Michael Mancienne was sacrificed for the cause.
I thought Mancienne had a cracking game and shackled the league’s top scorer Dwight Gayle extremely well. It took Assombalonga just six minutes to make an impact though, heading across goal for Bendtner to prod home at the second attempt.
The ball from Lansbury to pick out Assombalonga was of real quality and seemed to be the platform from which to build for the skipper.
With half an hour to play the Forest faithful became increasingly impatient, groaning at any pass that couldn’t be deemed as forward in motion.
I must admit though, if you can’t find a way past nine men in 30 minutes, there is something seriously wrong. That said, the Toon still popped up with the odd chance, Gayle forcing a save from Stojkovic on a rare foray into the Reds’ defensive third.
As the minutes began to tick down I wondered if Montanier would attempt a 4-3-3 and utilise all three of his strikers at the same time. He did bring on both Vellios and Mustapha Carayol but stuck with the formation to maintain the width, which was understandable.
And it was a deft headed flick by Apostolos Vellios that created the winning goal four minutes from time. The Greek striker flicked on a corner which was put into his own net by Jamaal Lascelles; ironically the former Forest man said that he’d celebrate if he scored in the game.
Much has been said about the referee, Newcastle supporters and the return of Darlow and Lascelles. I don’t think Stephen Martin is fit to officiate at Championship level and should probably spend more time at the gym, perhaps working on the lower body.
As for the Toon Army, I have great respect for their supporters stemming from the nineties when I spent a lot of time in Newcastle. Notably when my mate Andy Haley took me into the Three Bulls Heads public house, wearing my Forest shirt - the only Forest shirt in there - 200 or so black and white shirts around me never made a single bad comment as I nervously supped my beer.
Lascelles will wish he’d not made the comments he did, I’m sure of that. But we must remember that neither him nor Darlow ever asked to be sold. Encouragingly, they both looked like they’ve improved as footballers and I wish them well.
Whatever you attribute our recent winning streak to, playing the same formation has certainly helped. It’s fair to say that we did receive some good fortune against Newcastle United but for the first time in a long time; I think we’ve made our own luck of late!