In a week where India launched their first mission into space -amid much public furore - it warmed my heart to see David Nugent try to launch an object of his own into orbit, with his 70th-minute penalty.
Saturday was our first watershed moment of the season. The team had been much maligned after a dismal dip in form, and with their collective backs pressed against the wall, they produced something special. Maybe 2-0 flattered us a little, considering how relentless Leicester were in attack, but there was absolutely no questioning our commitment and desire... As a man who’d rather see romance on a football field than a movie screen, I was happy to see those qualities guide us to a crucial victory.
The result pleasantly surprised a lot of us, and after writing that ‘we should settle for a draw’ last week, I very much resemble a UKIP politician on a BBC panel show, by making myself look like a pillock.
So, with a slightly different format than usual, here are the four things I think we learned this weekend:
Karl Darlow Improves With Every Game:
When he made his début in January - only a week before a clash with Derby - his maturity and awareness belied his age. After almost a year as an ever-present in the team, he now has the experience needed to help him progress even further.You can’t knock his ambition, either... He’s already declined an invite to play for Wales, and seems to have his heart set on an England berth.
What’s really endearing about Darlow is his progress through the academy. There’s nothing more wholesome to a Forest fan than seeing a young lad emerge through the ranks, and then establish themselves in the team... But how often do we see it from a goalkeeper? Not since Mark Crossley, playing his first game in 1989, have we seen ‘one of our own’ take the number one spot with such self-assurance.
His contribution on Saturday was vital, and his confidence doesn’t breach the boundaries of arrogance (unlike the man whose departure paved the way for Darlow’s rise). His somewhat seamless transition to Championship football has been one of the brighter, more understated stories of the last 12 months, and it is perhaps now that more than just the Forest faithful will be aware of his potential.
Buying Henri Lansbury for £1m Was Daylight Robbery:
He was a little indifferent last year, and with valid reason, as it was his first season where he hadn’t been loaned out or shipped off to different clubs. Now with his feet firmly on the ground, he looks like one of the best signings we’ve made in the last decade... Although, when your acquisitions in that time include Andy Impey and Eugene Dadi, that may be more of a backhanded compliment.
His marvellous, resolute display against Derby had a certain grace about it; a player you’d associate with creativity and incisiveness changed his game completely, and broke up any sort of fluency the Rams could muster. After deservedly winning October’s player of the month award, his mesmeric form continued against Leicester, the highlight of which was a sumptuous 50 yard, cross-field ball to Andy Reid, in the build up for Simon Cox’s opener.
If he maintains this level of performance, I’ve no doubt he will be in the Premier League next year... With or without Forest. I’m aware that eulogising a player to such an extent creates a mythic, unrealistic expectation of how they should play every weekend, but his development in the last year has been great to see. It’s just a shame his barnet isn’t as immaculate as his footwork.
When Billy Get’s it Right, It’s a Delight:
There were a few whispers doing the rounds recently that Davies doesn’t have a depth of tactical knowledge. Of course, it’s so easy to lament the gaffer when things are going wrong... But he does have a lamentable personality.
However, he got it spot-on this time around. Jamie Paterson’s reintroduction to the first time gave us a dynamic we had been missing in the last few games. He’s lively in and around the box, and has a cooler head than Djamel Abdoun. Whilst Reid and Lansbury can dictate the play from wider, deeper areas, Paterson uses his license to run at defenders to it’s full potential, and it was a joy to watch. Billy kept faith in Jamie Mackie too, whose faultless endeavour gave an under-pressure defence an outlet to clear the ball towards.
Resolve Has to be Our Mantra:
All the talk of this Forest team in the first few weeks of the season was of a siege mentality. So perhaps going into a game where we’d be constantly under-threat, rudely un-fancied, and wholly written off suited us perfectly. It’s typical Forest really; struggle in the games we expect to win, and catch everyone by surprise at the least-expected moment. Basically... We ruin bets.
Our discipline was under a bit of scrutiny too. Sloppy mistakes cost us against Bournemouth and Yeovil, and an individual lack of discipline aided our failure against Blackpool. What we saw against Leicester was a side working for each other, with Jack Hobbs in particular doing a great job of marshalling the back four. We have enough quality further up the field to create goals, so a greater resolve in defence is what will define our season this year. If we can defend this well (and have the same degree of luck), we will have something to celebrate by the end of May.
With a weekend off due to an international break no-one really wants, Forest have the chance to build on this rediscovered positivity. I personally cannot wait for the game against Burnley, and not just because Sean Dyche’s voice is the manliest thing in the world. If you want to be the best, you beat the best. Imagine what a psychological boost consecutive wins over the league’s top two sides could give us. This is the best time to face the Clarets, and I feel we have nothing to fear...
Well, nothing apart from a kinder looking December fixture list, where we’ll conspire to upset the odds once more.