Nottingham Forest 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur (EFL League Cup Round Three)
It’s not business but pleasure tonight, a club I’ve supported man and boy, going back to the mid eighties when under the days of the great Brian Clough, the City Ground had me hooked watching the likes of Neil Webb, Des Walker, Brian Rice and Tommy Gaynor.
Back then of course, Nottingham Forest were a top league club, and these days, this season, alas, they are also a top league club, but struggling at the foot of the table after signing 111 new players in the summer transfer window.
I’ve been a few times this Premier League campaign already, I was there to watch the win against West Ham… I was there to witness frustrating losses against Bournemouth & Fulham, I turned down a ticket for the win against Liverpool, on the basis that I didn’t fancy seeing the side I loved get beat and outplayed. But I really fancied seeing Tottenham, under the lights, in the Carabao Cup, nothing much on it in the grand scheme of things, a chance to play without the pressure on, staying up this season is Forest’s motive, for Spurs they probably have their eye on Champions League qualification, and trying to get as far in that competition as they possibly can.
I’m picking up Kighty at 4pm before an Uber to the Test Match pub in West Bridgford, an art-deco style boozer a good fifteen minutes’ walk from the City Ground.
Kighty’s hungry and there’s a new Turkish place open next door, so we have a quick couple of Madri’s before eating a lovely mixed grill washed down with another two Efes.
Times flying, It’s already well past seven so we get a march on towards the stadium, walking down the Avenue, through the leafy West Bridgford and past pretentious eateries with the odd franchise thrown in.
We cut down the back of the Trent Bridge Cricket Ground walking past the Larwood & Voce pub, across the Radcliffe Road and up the terraced street of Colwick Road towards the Bridgford Stand and into the car park towards our turnstile, where the queue to get in is bloody massive.
“This can’t be right” I say to Kighty, there’s some issues with the ticket scanner and as Mull of Kintyre is being blasted out there’s hundreds still lining up to get in. We sneak around the side and get in ten deep, I’ve never understood the English love for queuing, there’s four doors and one bloody queue?
Without an ounce of guilt, we’re up the steps of the Brian Clough Stand and at our seats in the upper tier shortly into the game, I’m sitting next to Chinese Tourists, the Premier League already taking its toll on the calibre of club attendee.
The City Ground is stunning, and viewed high up in the Clough Stand, built on the back of the clubs championship and European winning success in the late seventies/early eighties, you see the more modern sloped roof stand of the Bridgford End housing away supporters to the left, the famous Trent End to the right and opposite, the old Main Stand which is soon to be knocked down and replaced with a modern all singing and dancing corporate entertaining affair.
Forest have made nine changes from the draw against Brentford at the weekend but on paper, this team probably looks the best gelled side that Manager Steve Cooper has put out all season. Spurs only make three changes from the side that lost against Liverpool, Harry Kane in attack, their style questioned of late for being too negative, Antonio Conte looks to have set his side up with three holding midfielders. I have it as 3-6-1 as Forest play what looks like a diamond style 4-4-2.
Jesse Lingard is having a good game, buzzing around behind the front two, he’s enjoying himself and seeing a lot of the ball, Mangala in behind is exceptional, as are Ryan Yates and Lewis O’Brien, I really like this midfield quartet.
Forest almost take the lead with a fortuitously deflected effort off Taiwo Awoniyi, the ball seems to cannon off him, on to the post and the rebound is saved by Fraser Forster, who also denies Joe Worrall shortly after, who should probably have done better to smash his effort straight at the goalkeeper.
Forest the better side in the first half although we don’t see the final five minutes of it as we head down for two luke-warm bottles of Carling at a price of £10.
I’ve only just taken my seat five minutes into the second half when a slick passing move ends with Lingard sliding to feed Renan Lodi who cuts in from the left and onto his right foot before curling a beauty into the goal before celebrations of joy.
Forest almost go two up as Lingard plays Surridge through to race away from his marker, the tall and lanky striker strikes straight at Forster to be denied but moments later it’s all forgotten, Aurier crossing, Surridge nodding back and Jesse Lingard heading home his first goal in Garibaldi, the Forest fans, of which I’m one, go mad, hugging and bouncing, cheering and singing. The Chinese are also getting in on the act.
The atmosphere is wild, the decibel levels increased, there’s a buzz around the Forest team as they play with swagger, the fans in full confident mood are also giving it some, “Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that” is echoed to the humorous response from the Spurs fans of “you weren’t even born”.
England captain Harry Kane is substituted to jeers following a largely redundant hour of football, his replacement Richarlison of Brazil gets a chorus of boos, he upset Reds fans in the recent league game where his ball juggling failed to get the approval of Brennan Johnson.
Djed Spence enters the field of play for Tottenham, a star on loan from Middlesbrough last season at the City Ground, still very much loved by the Forest faithful, his applause much warmer than Richarlison’s who is shortly after tackled by Mangala, already on a yellow card, the Referee quick to send off the midfielder who was only booked a few moments earlier.
That leaves Forest seeing out the game for the final fifteen minutes as changes are made to thwart any Spurs attack, who bar a Richarlison header which goes in, whilst standing five yards offside, the away side are out with a whimper, beaten by a much better team on the night.
Jesse Lingard is the man of the match and he looks to enjoy the freedom he’s given in a role that suits him, playing up to two strikers and in front of three midfielders who all do the dog work, Forest look a better team when Mangala is in it, Ryan Yates and Lewis O’Brien will run forever, the gel of this particular midfield just works, but defensively their players are faultless too, Joe Worrall and Willy Boly can be proud of their performances at centre half, Renan Lodi down the left and Serge Aurier down the right, also impressive, technically good and quick, Wayne Hennessey in goal hardly having a save to make.
For Tottenham, it’s a difficult night, they never really looked as if they fancied it from the off, one eye on their league match with Leeds on Saturday, one eye on the World Cup for many of their players, not wanting to get injured too near the pinnacle of all football competitions which starts in just a couple of weeks time.
Oliver Skipp provided a couple of decent moments, prepared on the odd occasion to drive with the ball, but other than Fraser Forster whose saves kept the score down, none of their starting eleven exactly covered themselves or their club in glory.
Off the bench, the sight of Djed Spence in full flow got me questioning, why is he not playing more regularly? His willingness to run with the ball and carry it forward with pace and power must by now have Tottenham fans asking for his name to be on the team sheet more often, he has to be better than Matt Doherty and Emerson Royal? Perhaps there’s another reason why Conte won’t play him?
Richarlison, the party villain who everyone would have at their club, is a player who has exceptional qualities and a hard-working endeavour, a bit of a loose cannon, he’s in the Brazil squad to go to Qatar, that doesn’t stop him putting in a shift and challenging and racing for every ball in the half hour he’s on the field. A throwback player with a touch of panache. The man you love to hate.
No club has ever done what Nottingham Forest have done and stayed up, but that’s more reason to believe in what they are doing is going to pay off, the players are certainly playing for the manager, for the badge, for the fans, and I wouldn’t be so hasty to write them off just yet.
I feel for Spurs, they’ve gone from a good footballing team that never wins anything, to becoming a poor footballing team that is probably not going to win anything. I’m never one for style over substance, but I hardly feel there’s much substance in their makeup either, perhaps Conte is on borrowed time? It was always an odd decision to hire him, considering the Spurs fans despised the football played by Jose Mourinho, the stuff under Conte, has often been worse.
The City Ground faithful, on getting through a Carabao Cup third round tie against opposition who weren’t that bothered, were absolutely bouncing. It feels everyone is singing on the same hymn sheet and every win counts as much as the last one, let’s hope it’s not too long until we’ll be repeating the celebrations in the league. Starting against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Nottingham Forest: Wayne Hennessey, Serge Aurier (Neco Williams 62), Joe Worrall, Willy Boly, Renan Lodi, Ryan Yates, Oriel Mangala, Lewis O'Brien (Morgan Gibbs-White 79), Jesse Lingard (Steve Cook 78), Taiwo Awoniyi (Brennan Johnson 62), Sam Surridge (Jack Colback 79).
Tottenham Hotspur: Fraser Forster, Davinson Sanchez, Eric Dier, Clement Lenglet, Matt Doherty (Djed Spence 65), Oliver Skipp (Dejan Kulusevski 59), Yves Bissouma, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Rodrigo Bentancur 46), Ryan Sessegnon, Ivan Perisic (Richarlison 59), Harry Kane (Bryan Gil 59).
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 9th November 2022, City Ground, Nottingham (att 28,384).