SinceI last wrote about Nottingham Forest quite a lot has changed, not at least their manager, new signings departures, and a new style of play. All of these were done with the right intentions and looked like positive changes at the time, and still yet maybe, but have resulted in a poor start to the season which leaves Forest languishing towards the wrong end of the table.
The managerial change was half expected as Sabri Lamouchi’s positive spell in charge declined dramatically towards the end of last season and even more so with 4 defeats to start the new campaign. Sabri had brought positivity and hope back to Forest Fans and left with a message of thank you from the fans. His replacement’s record in the Championship is second to none and I believe his availability and willingness to take the job contributed to the change. It seems like Chris Hughton must have been in discussions with Forest for a while before the change as it was announced almost immediately after Lamouchi’s departure.
The nature of forest’s signings were along the lines of Hughton type players, by this I mean experienced quality championship players. Anthony Knockaert was the only official signing made by Chris but the likes of Luke Freeman, Harry Arter, and Cyrus Christie fit this mould. Knockaert is in my opinion a top Championship winger whose delivery cannot be beaten at this level and Houghton got the best out of him at Brighton. He also tried to bring in Kamil Grosicki, a player forest have been linked with ever since January, however, after a long wait they discovered last Thursday that the deal was completed marginally past the 5 pm transfer window deadline. When you look at the squad it’s very strong and the strongest I’ve seen at Forest for about 10 years.
So what’s gone wrong?
Firstly there was a massive hangover from the failure of getting into the playoffs when it seemed certain they would. Then came the uncertainty over the manager’s future during the break and then big changes to the playing and coaching staff. I think the squad has changed too much over the summer break, last season was based on a tight-knit group in which Ben Watson, Thiago Silva, and Matt Cash played a big part. Loosing these 3 is a big blow, their replacements of Jack Colback, Luke Freeman, and Cryus Christie have been good, but the team spirit and togetherness takes time. When you add 13 new players to a squad with a good spirit you risk changing the togetherness and getting a squad that is too big and not everyone feels involved. I would have much preferred to have kept as much of the same squad together as possible and adding extra bits of quality. For example, the signings of Cafu and Fouad Bachirou in particular seem unnecessary.
There has also been a change in the style of play to get used to, Lamouchi stated he wanted to add more creativity and attacking options to the side which he did by bringing in Freeman and Lyle Taylor. But to achieve this a less compact defensive was attempted and this ultimately failed and cost him his job.Hughton is adopting a similar approach with the team playing much higher up the pitch and trying to control possession more than last season. This is ultimately the style of play fans want to see however it will take time to change and perhaps a more pragmatic approach is needed to get results on the board to build confidence.
Games are staring to come along quickly as the Championship rolls on. Readings good form continues as they lead the table. Bristol City remain second but there are just four points between them and 14th placed Huddersfield.
East Midlands Derby
Friday night saw the East Midlands derby between Nottingham Forest and Derby County. It was the 108th meeting of the long time rivals.
The two side were up for this game, Lyle Taylor shot forcing a good save from David Marshall. Marshall’s opposite number Brice Samba was also tested in the first half. Graeme Shinnies curling shot met by the diving hand of the Forest Keeper.
It was Derby who scored first after 30 minutes. Martyn Waghorn’s with a free kick the self-isolating Wayne Rooney would be proud to claim. Waghorn lifted the ball over wall and it clipped the inside of the bar to go in the net.
Derby thought they had won it when some clever footwork from Tom Lawrence allowed him to slide a ball into Jozwiak who found the net. Jozwiak wheeled off in celebration but the assistant’s flag was up. Waghorn in an offside position was deemed to be interfering with play.
Forest Manager Chris Hughton told BBC Radio Nottingham:
“I wasn’t too happy with the first half performance. I thought we needed to be better on the ball and our movement needed to be better against a team who were happy to defend in a really good shape”.
After seeing his side second goal ruled out Phillip Cocu told BBC Radio Derby:
“I don’t see any offside. The goalkeeper reaches for the corner where the shot goes, so the view is not blocked. The frustration is quite big here”.
Reading Go Five Clear
Championships leaders Reading won their sixth game of season clinically beating Rotherham 3-0. Reading took the lead towards the end of the first half though Yakou Meite.
The striker doubled the home side lead on 74 minutes, with an overhead kick. From a corner he control the ball with his chest before performing an overhead kick into the top corner of the net. A good win was finished in stoppage time with a Lucas Joao penalty.
Reading manager Veljko Paunovicsaid:
“What we saw in our team was the consistency of getting the job done, doing your job for the team. You also have to be patient, have a strong mentality and not get frustrated if our game plan is not working. And don’t ever give up”.
Rotherham drop to 18th place and manager Paul Warne told BBC Radio Sheffield:
“We were away from home against top of the league and had lots of possession in the first half and we were the only side that played on the front foot. We passed the ball really well without creating enough clear cut chances and obviously for them to score the first time they were in our box was a massive sucker punch”.
Mepham Saves a Point
Late drama as Chris Mepham’s 94th minute goal saved a point for Bournemouth. Watford had lead since the 12 minute from Stipe Perrica’s first goal for the club.
Bournemouth’s Lloyd Kelly was lucky to only see a yellow card for his poor challenge after just two minutes. Lunging in late on Ismaila Sarr catching the Watford player above the knee.
Watford’s goal came after Sarr’s ball across the box from the right was met a sliding Perrica who simply directed the ball into the net. Ismaila Sarr had the chance to make it too but his shot was stopped by a strong right hand from Asmir Begovic.
Begovic kept his in it again saving from Quina before quickly pushing the ball away from Pedro. Bournemouth pressed for an equaliser but found resilient Watford defencing and a in form Ben Forster.
Josh king saw his late header turned over the bar by Forster. However Bournemouth got their reward from the corner. Forster punched the ball away but the return ball in the box was turned in by Mepham.
The draw means Watford stay in 3rd and Bournemouth 4th.
There were away wins For Blackburn (4-0 v Coventry), Luton (1-0 v Sheffield Wednesday) and Preston (2-1 v Huddersfield) on Saturday.
Coventry were reduced to 10 men after 14 minutes with Michael Rose receiving a straight red for a push in the box. Adam Armstrong scored from the spot. Armstrong got a second after 49 minutes getting on the end of Brereton’s though ball. Harvey Elliott made it three on 62 minutes assisted again from Brereton. Rovers wrapped up a fine display with a fourth on 88 minutes from Sam Gallagher.
Sheffield Wednesday remain bottom after a 1-0 home defeat to Luton. Wednesday’s Joost van Aken saw red for a reckless high challenge. The hatters took advantage of the extra man to get the win with Pelly Ruddock scoring on 74 minutes.
While they can’t win at home Preston are still unbeaten on the road. Frazier Campbell’s 8th minute goal gave Huddersfield a half time lead. A curling effort from Alan Browne levelled the game on 51 minutes. Just two minutes later Browne found the net again. This time looping a soft punch from the keeper back into the goal. Naby Sarr got a red card for pulling down Riis Jakobsen.
Stoke up to 8th
Stoke stormed into a 3-0 lead after an hour. A free head for Steven Fletcher after nine minutes, was followed by a James McClean low shot into the near post. On the hour mark Tyrese Campbell made it three cutting inside to the edge of the box and curling a shot into the far corner. Brentford pulled two back thanks to sub Marcus Forss but Stoke held on to take their unbeaten run to seven games.
Norwich got their third straight league win after beating pointless Wycombe 2-1 at Carrow Road. Timo Pukki gave Norwich the lead early on. Scot Kashket got the goal that got Wycombe level after some poor Norwich defending. Wycombe may have thought they had their first championship point but there was late drama. Mario Vrancic 91st minute free kick went straight into the top corner with the Wycombe wall seamingly rooted to the floor. Adam Idah was shown a red card for appearing to push Joe Jacobson to the floor.
Middlesbrough left Cardiff with a point on Neil Warnock’s first visit to Cardiff City Stadium since leaving the Bluebirds. It was a classic Warnock display from Boro’ who set out early to slow the game and frustrate Cardiff. The visitors took the lead with George Saville’s header lopped in the Cardiff goal. Cardiff took the game to Boro in the second half but could not find the final touch. Their hard work did get them level with Sheyi Ojo second goal since signing from Liverpool.
Jamal Lowe smashed in on 51 minutes to give Swansea the lead at Ashton Gate. It was his second goal for Swansea. Putting it in off his left foot turning towards goal. Bristol City equalised from a Nahki Wells penalty. Conner Roberts judged to have brought down Semenyo Antoine just inside the area. A soft penalty but dispatched down the middle with power from Wells. The result sees Bristol City remain in second and Swansea in 6th.
At The Den two goals in two minutes at the end of the first half saw Millwall and Barnsley share the points. Alex Mowatt stunning volley from the edge of the area gave Barnsley the lead. Just a minute later Jake Cooper rose above everyone else to head home for Millwall.
A goalless draw at The Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium as QPR met Birmingham City. Scott Hogan did find the net for City but was ruled offside. QPR are 16th while Brimingham are 17th.
The championship rolls on to Tuesday and Wednesday again this week with Blackburn hosting leaders Reading and Bournemouth v Bristol City as the stand out games.
Sixth placed Blackburn welcome Cardiff City to Ewood Park this Saturday in matchday four of the Championship. Rovers come into the game in good form following big wins over Wycombe and Derby (5v0 and 4v0). Cardiff lost for a second time this season last time out falling to Reading 2v1. Last season the sides drew 0-0 at Ewood Park while Blackburn won at Cardiff City Stadium 3-2. The Bluebirds are without a win in Blackburn since 2012 so will face a huge task to pick up the points.
Cardiff manager Neil Harris confirm that Lee Tomlin and Josh Murphy would be unlikely to play 90 minutes. The pair could make an appearance from the bench again as they did against Reading, Tomlin scoring for Cardiff. There could be returns for Joe Ralls and Joe Bennett, with harris saying:
“Both trained today (Thursday) which is really good news”. “Hopefully they train tomorrow and be ready for the weekend”.
As for Blackburn Corry Evans and Sam Gallagher have both trained this week with Rovers boss Tonybray saying:
“Corry Evans has come back training this morning (Thursday), Sam Gallagher has trained this week“.
“Tyler Magloire is another two weeks and there are a couple of other younger players on the route back”.
Joe Rankin-Costello is ruled out with a slight hamstring strain.
Cardiff boss on Blackburns good start:
“Blackburn have been in good form the last couple of weeks, scored some good goals, every opportunity they’ve had has gone in”.
“They’ve got good players and attacking players, good continuity. They’ve added two or three. They are a dangerous side at the moment, Adam Armstrong a top striker at this level”.
When asked about a lack of creativity:
“I think that’s a fair assessment. When you play at home and its 0-0 and you haven’t started great you want the fans to get behind you”. “We have had moments but not sustained periods”.
“We had it at Nottingham Forest our best 45 minutes of the season. Against Reading we were the better team, dominated the stats, but didn’t win the game”.
Tony Mowbray focus on his players speaking about Sam Gallagher:
“As long as he comes through training today. He’s trained all week, he’s trained a little bit at the end of last week and if he gets through today he’ll be in some form of contention this weekend”.
For Blackburn Adam Armstrong is in fine form scoring four in Blackburns last two wins, with a total of five for the season. With Gallagher doubtful they will be looking for Armstrong to lead the line.
Cardiff most likely without Tomlin from the start and possibly no Joe Ralls will have to find a solution to fill the gap in the number 10 role. With callum Paterson leaving this week to join Sheffield Wednesday, Leandro Bacuna will be the man tasked with sparking some creativity for the Bluebirds.
Prediction: Blackburn 2 v 0 Cardiff
Blackburn have been scoring for fun and Cardiff will do well to stop them. A lack of service for Kieffer Moore has seen the striker playing off scraps. History is also against Cardiff, this should be a comfortable win for Blackburn.
For the first time ever the final round of fixtures in the Championship will be completed midweek on a Wednesday evening.
Although Leeds United have been confirmed as champions, there is still a scrap for the one other automatic promotion spot.
West Brom, Brentford and their London rivals Fulham are the three sides in contention for the one place available.
The Baggies go into the final game only a point clear of Brentford and Fulham a further point behind.
On paper it looks likely that all three sides could win their final match, but as we know on the final day of the regular season there is always many surprises.
Brentford and Fulham will be praying that fellow London side QPR will be able to do them a favour by winning at The Hawthornes. West Brom’s form has slipped of late after not winning for three games. Despite a 4-3 victory against Millwall, Rangers form after lockdown has been poor with the club winning just twice in their last eight games.
Brentford, heading in to their final game looked the likely side who would go up with Leeds after a scintillating run of form which has seen the Bees win eight games in a row before suffering a setback with a 1-0 defeat against Stoke at the weekend.
The visitors to Griffin park are Barnsley who start the day one of the bottom of the table and two points from safety. The Tykes travel to London on the back of a fine victory at the weekend over Nottingham Forest. They know on Saturday they must win and hope other results go their way for them to be playing Championship football again next season.
Fulham make the long trip to Wigan on Wednesday and will be facing a resurgent Wigan side who are unbeaten in their last four matches. The Latics received news this week that the EFL have confirmed that Wigan will have their twelve point deduction handed out after Wednesday nights final round of matches- provided the Latics appeal against the decision, due to be heard before 27th July, isn’t upheld.
In terms of the play-off picture it is much clearer with Forest already guaranteed a play-off spot ,baring a 5 goal swing with Swansea, either Cardiff or Swansea will join them .
Cardiff entertain Hull City at the Cardiff City Stadium with Swansea facing the trip to the Madjeski Stadium to face Reading.
As it stands The Swans will have to beat Reading and hope struggling Hull can beat Cardiff. A tough ask for the Tigers who are bottom of the table. However, if they could pull of a shock it would put pressure of the other sides facing the drop along with Barnsley. Both Luton and Charlton are the two sides in most trouble, with Middlesbrough and Birmingham virtually safe.
The Hatters are at home to Blackburn Rovers, whilst Charlton travel to Leeds. Luton have hit good form of late with the Hatters unbeaten in their last four including a massive victory over Hull City on Saturday.
Charlton travel up to Yorkshire without a win in their last six games and won’t enjoy playing the newly crowned champions.
So, plenty for most teams to play for in the most competitive league in the world. Come around 9.30 on Wednesday evening we will have a clearer picture, with plenty of nails being chewed by nervous fans around the country.
Said Benrahma is the name on every Championship fan’s lips this season as a series of sparkling displays have highlighted just how talented the 24 year old is.
A quick search of his name on YouTube and you’ll find some of the finest highlight reels in football, including an ingenious double nutmeg on Middlesbrough’s Lewis Wimg this term.
He is so good at sliding the ball through a player’s legs that Brentford B coach Sam Saunders recently told the Guardian:
“He could nutmeg a mermaid.”
Yet, Benrahma is so much more than just a tricky winger.
He has been the Bees creative force this season, forming an impressive attacking trio alongside Bryan Mbeumo and Ollie Watkins (who have been christened Brentford’s BMW) netting fifteen goals and providing six assists in the league.
Routinely deployed on the left wing, Benrahma loves to cut inside on his right foot and deliver a cross or have a shot on goal. He is one of the most technically gifted players in the division, with his dribbling often leaving defenders in knots.
His contribution to Brentford’s promotion push since the restart has underlined his importance to the Bees, scoring five and assisting one as Thomas Frank’s side have won all of their games since the break to sit just two points behind second place West Brom.
Three of those strikes came in the weekend’s game against Wigan, with the winger clinically dispatching the relegation threatened side with relative ease. His first was a well timed volley, the second an inch perfect cross come shot after he had tormented Byrne and the third a well placed shot into the far corner giving Marshall in goal, no chance.
Manager Thomas Frank was full of praise for the winger’s display, stating in his post match press conference:
“I think in general he has had a good season so far, but he has absolutely hit the ground running after this coronavirus break.
“He has added extra to his game, such as arriving in the box, and these last four games he has been getting better and better, with his passing and his finishing.
“I have to praise him for his work ethic. He worked extremely hard. He has been good, he needs to keep it up.”
A Benrahma inspired Brentford then came from behind against Charlton at Griffin Park to continue their march towards promotion with a 2-1 win. Benrahma won and coolly converted a penalty to equalise before the Bees scored a second to pick up all three points.
He caused problems for Charlton all evening as he occupied a more central role, picking the ball up in between the lines and playing neat interchanges with Watkins.
His form this season will come as no great surprise to those who watched him at Griffin Park in his maiden campaign in England last season. He managed ten goals and fifteen assists last year as Brentford finished 11th but Benrahma has taken his game to new levels this year.
He represents another shrewd bit of business from the London club, as he was picked up in the summer of 2018 from Nice for a fee of £2.8 million, after catching the eye on loan in Ligue 2.
Having come through the youth ranks at Algerian side NRB Bethioua, Benrahma moved to France, linking up with Balma SC Colomiers and then moving on to Nice. He made his debut for the first team in 2013, aged just 18 but spent the majority of his time at the club in the reserve side before going out on loan. He left Nice having made 17 appearances, scoring three goals.
His first loan spell came in Ligue 1 with Angers, then he dropped down to Ligue 2 and had stints with Gazélec Ajaccio and Chateauroux. It was at the latter, which he first started to show his undoubted potential and came to Brentford’s attention. He scored nine goals in 31 appearances, aged just 22 and Brentford decided to take a risk and snap him up that summer.
He hasn’t looked back since and the Algerian is now surely worth at least ten times the fee Brentford paid for him. With a host of Premier League clubs sniffing around him, Benrahma is likely to leave if the Bees don’t make it out of the Championship this time around, having already talked of his desire to play in the top flight.
A full Algerian international, Benrahma has won three caps for his country and comparisons are often drawn between him and compatriot Riyad Mahrez. Both started their journey in Ligue 2 before lighting up the Championship and both are silky wingers who enjoy nutmegging opponents and creating chances.
If Benrahma, who was nominated for the Championship Player of the Year, manages to emulate Mahrez’s career trajectory he may well go down as one of the best bargain signings the Championship has ever seen.
For now, his focus will be on finishing the campaign strongly and propelling Brentford to the big time.
With just four games left of the regular season and potential play off dates to come if Brentford can’t pop West Brom to second place, now is the time for Benrahma to show his quality and provide for Brentford when they really need him.