Nottingham Forest came from behind to beat bottom of the table Luton Town to move 5 points within the second automatic promotion spot with a game in hand, that game ahead is on Wednesday Night against Reading at The City Ground.
The prospect of that gap being 2 points is quite remarkable when you consider it was as big as 14 points in December when Forest were in the midst of a traditional slump during that month. However, unlike previous seasons, the slump has not continued post-Christmas – Forest winning 4 and drawing 1 since then. Along with second-placed Leeds going through another traditional slump in form has meant Forest are not out of the automatic promotion contention.
However, if they are to achieve this target they will have to improve performances, today’s match was another example of Forest not dominating the play but finding a way to win. They started slowly and allowed Luton early possession and pressure which led to Luton taking a deserved lead through Harry Cornick after 23 minutes. The goal came from the area where Luton were looking most dangerous, with a cross from the left-hand side from Potts.
The first half was a physical battle in midfield which Luton were largely winning, however, when Forest’s Ben Watson won one of these battles, Luton complained it was a foul but Forest played on and a superb cross-field pass from Yuri Ribero found Joe Lolley who ran at his full-back and fired a shot which was not handled by Luton keeper Simon Sluga, who should have done a lot better.
Forest improved massively after the half time break being on the front for much of it, the pressure told when Lolley scored with a fantastic strike into the top corner from outside the box after Watson’s good pass found him on the right-wing from where he cut inside before finishing. Lolley was a constant threat in the second half, running past players every time he got the ball. He created more chances to extend the lead and put the game beyond doubt but efforts from Tiago Silva and Sammy Ameobi went just wide.
Luton came slightly back into it in the last 10 minutes but Forest won a penalty with just minutes remaining when Silva’s free-kick struck Sonny Bradley’s hand in the wall. Lewis Grabban converted to get grab his 15th goal of the season to secure the 3 points.
A fixture which has seen more draws in the last few years than an other score-line, fans on both sides would have been hopeful for more than just a point a piece.
Following this weeks news of star striker Bradley Dack being ruled out for the season due to injury, a heavy weight laid upon a Blackburn side who were looking to continue their unbeaten run dating back to 9th November. For Huddersfield, Danny Cowley made two changes to the Boxing Day starting line up which included the return of left back Jaden Brown who came in to replace Flo Hadergjonajat.
As expected, the beginning stages saw both teams very open in defence with both sides having chances in the primary stages. Danny Graham was the first to capitalise one of these chances for the visitors as he headed past Grabara, leaving the Huddersfield players to simply watch as he nodded down to the near post. Up at the other end shortly after referee Andy Woolmer waved away penalty claims as Karlan Grant was brought to ground in the penalty area. Woolmer was keeping the game flowing choosing not to be disciplinary with cards where other officials might have been during the first half.
Shortly before half time a whipped in free kick from Juninho Bacuna reached six yard box to be met by Town’s centre half Jon Gorenc Stankovic who recorded his home turf debut goal with a bullet header to make it 1-1. Stankovic arguably Huddersfield’s best player of the day was up against Blackburn’s Sam Gallagher who caused problems for the home side on multiple occasions, a great contest to watch throughout the 90 minutes.
It was Huddersfield who fought back in the second half to take the lead through a skilled strike from Steve Mounie who, from middle distance, struck the ball into the top right hand corner of the Blackburn net in the latter quarter of the game. A good strike which turned out to be the winner for the Terriers, however this wasn’t before Huddersfield’s keeper Grabara was needed to pull off a close range save to deny Rovers an equaliser.
Nine minutes added on for injury time led to a majority nervous atmosphere at the John Smiths but the home side managed to cling on to their one goal advantage. A good game of football from both sides with some real glimpses of talent in youth players from John Buckley for Rovers who showed intent to get the ball forward and supply his strikers. Similarly, Lewis O’Brien who balanced maturity and desire to attack well, stepping up to replace the injured Jonathon Hogg.
In one of the busiest footballing periods of the calendar year, the festive season brings battles at the bottom and top of the Championship.
Interchanging at the top spot are Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion, with only goal difference separating the two clubs, the Christmas fixtures could set either club on their way, if successes fall in their favour.
On paper, it would seem West Brom have the most comfortable run in with visits to St Andrews and Oakwell to face two lower table sides in Birmingham and Barnsley. Their toughest test in upcoming weeks is set to be against 7th placed Brentford on the Saturday before Christmas.
Arguably, Leeds have a trickier winter run in with a trip to London to face Fulham preceding Christmas, followed by hosting Preston North End on Boxing Day. With several games in quick succession, player determination and fitness could take toll and any slip up could have drastic effect on form going into 2020.
Sitting at the bottom of the table are a few teams with potential risk to be in a relagation battle come the spring. Falling further adrift are bottom club Barnsley, who have documented defeats to all the clubs around them so far this season, a factor which could prove poignant come the end of the season. Barsnley will be hopeful of a Christmas miracle as they take on West Brom who could be sitting top of the Championship on Christmas Day.
Four points into the relegation zone are Wigan and Stoke, two teams who have equally difficult festive periods ahead with a combination of lower and higher table opponents to face.
The fluidity at the bottom of the table is set to come into play, there is no predicability about who will be snatching points in games which are set to be close called.
Looking specifically at the bottom clashes of Middlesbrough and Stoke; Wigan and Huddersfield; Middlesbrough and Huddersfield, who also meet on Boxing Day, there is potential for season defining games to commence.
The Christmas period is expected to be as busy as ever, but this season we could really see vital points being gained or lost at either end of the table, making and breaking the New Year’s opportunities.
With Izzy Brown’s winning goal against Charlton reviewed post match as handball, would the Championship be better off with VAR?
But would the implication of VAR have made the night any less frustrating for an unlucky Charlton team? It is clear that VAR is yet to be perfected in the Premier League therefore if it was to be used in the Championship it would be certain to cause further controversy.
The Championship, known for its intensely contested and physical football, would be in for interval filled games if VAR was too be established before its system is perfected.
It can argued the biggest downfall of the VAR system at the moment is the time it takes to come to a decision, whether it be correct or not. Without doubt this would lead to disgruntlement from the fans, players and managers surrounding the fluency of the 90 minutes.
Despite this, in cases such as the Hatter’s ‘illegitimate’ match winning goal, managers especially argue that VAR should be in place for one hundred percent accuracy of the game. Which yes, if VAR was in use the goal would have been reviewed, but as we have seen in the Premier League it is not always correct. Raheem Sterling’s goal against Chelsea was wrongly ruled out for offside through the process of VAR, with the officials proving they are still able to make a wrong decision during a live game. VAR is just not yet at without it’s flaws.
With this is mind it seems dubious to introduce VAR to another football league as the system appears just as unpredictable as football would be without it.
Nottingham Forest made it 3 consecutive east-midlands derby wins for the first time since 1990, by beating the Rams 1-0 at the City Ground. The win also means it is 8 consecutive visits and 7 years since Derby’s last win in Nottingham and keeps Forest in the Top 6 whilst Derby stay in the bottom half of the league table.
The goal came following a mistake by Derby right back Jaden Bogle, when a loose pass across his defensive line went straight to Grabban who smartly finished first time into the bottom corner. Grabban spoke about the goal:
“I had a little glance at where the keeper was and it looked like he hadn’t covered the near post so I just tried to aim for that and fortunately it went in.” He added: “The main thing was that we got the win. It was good for the fans, so I’m very happy. Their support gives us that little bit of a boost.”
In scoring, Grabban upped his tally for the season to seven, meaning he has now scored 80 times in the EFL since the start of the 2013-14 campaign, four more than any other player.
The match started evenly amid a raucous atmosphere at The City Ground and it was Forest keeper Brice Samba who was the first keeper called into action, doing well to keep out Tom Lawrence’s shot from inside the penalty area following a good run by Bogle. Lawrence was unsurprisingly constantly jeered by the home faithful following the drink driving scandal, however, he was probably Derby’s main threat and handled the reception well. That was until a second-half challenge on Yuri Ribeiro which he saw yellow.
It was extremely competitive, with both sides fighting for the ball and putting in committed challenges. Bogle and Ben Watson were both shown yellow cards for fouls on halfway, whilst Ryan Yates was somewhat fortunate not to be added to the list of booking’s following a challenge on Clarke, who had to be replaced.
Forest were effective in pressing the Derby backline and won the ball high up the pitch a few times, possibly leading to the goal. Forest’s best efforts in the first half both came from winger Sammy Ameobi who shot twice from the left-hand corner of the penalty area to force Derby Keeper Roos into decent saves.
The second half started with The Reds firmly in the ascendancy, applying plenty of pressure on the Derby goal. Several crosses were fizzed into the area, with only glancing headers from a Derby defender keeping the ball away from danger. It was just before the hour-mark when Derby were their own worst enemy in making the costly mistake which gave Forest the lead.
Forest sensed they could put the game beyond doubt as Derby were on the ropes following the mistake, but couldn’t find the second goal. Derby came back into the game towards the end and the closest they came to an equaliser was when Jack Marriott had a sniff of goal, but The Reds defended resolutely to hold onto their one-goal lead and claim a brilliant victory against their arch-rivals.
Man of the match
Tiago Silva – The Portuguese midfielder put in an outstanding performance, he had great energy, tenacity and put in some great tackles. Along with that, he showed his skill with some lovely touches to beat opposition players. When Silva was signed from Benfica in the summer many forest fans assumer he would an alternative to fellow Portuguese playmaker João Carvalho, however, he has shown he is a more all-round midfielder than João.
Forest head coach Sabri Lamouchi was delighted to claim victory in his second East Midlands derby of the season. Lamouchi was satisfied with his side’s second-half display which he believed was a marked improvement on the first 45 minutes. Speaking after the game, he said:
“It was a difficult, emotional game and maybe that is why we found it difficult in the first half. The second half was much better and fortunately, they made a mistake at the back and Grabbs produced another fantastic finish like the killer that he is. It was important for us to be compact, patient and focused and in the end, I think we deserved the victory because in the second half we went out for the three points. After the goal, I put more attacking players on the field to try and get that second goal but it wasn’t meant to be. It has been a good day, the perfect way to spend my birthday, and I am happy that our supporters could enjoy it too. When we play with this sort of attitude and character then we can always win games like this. We know we can still play better and control the ball better but it is important that we take three points when we don’t play at our best. It is a fantastic result and I’m happy because we’ve made our fans proud of the players. Now we can go into the international break with a positive mentality before we come back to play Bristol City.”