Nottingham Forest 0-1 Burnley (EFL Cup Round Two)
I’m meeting the lads at 6pm, the Embankment pub on Awkwright Street just over the River Trent is destination to kick off proceedings, no business tonight, just pleasure, probably passing to pain in the morning from a heavy head filled of alcohol topped with a late night kebab.
The young uber driver drops me outside the doors after I’ve given him a lecture on how to get on the property ladder, I’m ten minutes early and on form my boys are usually ten minutes late, so I order a pint of Madri and sit with a couple of old Burnley fans who’ve made the trip south to see their team play. We talk of late nights following football and motorway closures, one of them tells me of the time his flight back from Tenerife was diverted from Manchester to East Midlands because of snow, and getting home 36 hours later.
PJ’s first to arrive, then Joe, Daz just misses out on me ordering a second pint as the team news is leaked upon his entrance… Forest playing a 5-3-2 formation tonight at home, to lesser opposition, in the cup, does Stevie Cooper have one eye on Saturday at Chelsea? I’m surprised he’s so negative for a match that hardly matters!
Burnley under Vincent Kompany won promotion to the Premier League with 101 points last season, they like Forest of year last have splashed the cash in the summer… 13 in 20 out and that doesn’t even include loans.
A third pint sunk we exit the boozer to make the walk over Trent Bridge and down Pavilion Road to the Main Stand Car Park as the congestion of football fans in scarves and stone island build towards the turnstile entrances.
PJ’s whatsapped my ticket barcode to me and I’m in on first attempt, the right corner entrance to the Peter Taylor Stand, the oldest of the four stands at the City Ground built in the 1960’s it’s tired looking and soon to be replaced, but always a good atmosphere in the infamous ‘A’ block although we’re opposite ends tonight, with the footballers wives and children in what a huge red sign states is the ‘family enclosure’.
Tucked in the corner close to the two-tiered Trent End stand which seemed to have the glass missing from the recently redeveloped middle rows, it’s not a bad view, unusual for the Main Stand, no posts obstructing as you get a sweeping insight of the City Ground dance floor, green carpet midst packed stands the Brian Clough which olders will remember as the Exec or East Stand opposite, the draping roof of the Bridgford End adjoined, quite a few Burnley fans in fairness, the stadium around 90% full.
Mull of Kintyre is sung by all with scarves aloft and the odd phone on record ahead of match proceedings, Forest in red and white, Burnley yellow and black, the game however starts flat and the fans in attendance aren’t up for it either, tickets hard to come by these days you get the feeling a lot inside the stadium (like me) are those that don’t usually attend league games, Burnley are back here in a couple of weeks and tonight is the prequel, not really important, win or lose hardly matters, neither side has much ambition to attack.
In fairness to Burnley, they’ve tried to have a go on the front foot, but Forest’s 5-3-2 formation is one that regularly disrupts flow in opponents football philosophy, Coopers tactical approach to stifle the opposition, make things hard, to nullify attempts, it works, but at a cost, Forest can’t get it over half way as they have only two attacking players in their make-up. Kouyate with their best attempt blazing over from the edge of the area, Burnley’s best effort similarly over the bar as Brownhill curls one into the supporters behind the goal.
I’m discussing with Joe the frustrating approach to Coopers plan “Why so defensive” in a cup game that hardly matters, against opponents that are hardly Barcelona, the cautious philosophy we agree “might be the Managers undoing” if he’s to continue this season to set up his side this way.
In truth though, the Manager is probably pleased with his teams first seventy minutes, as discussion evolves to “isn't this supposed to be the entertainment industry” we shrug shoulders at the lack of invention from a team who Elanga aside has nobody with a forward-thinking edge to their play.
Then suddenly the shackles are off… Brennan Johnson and Morgan Gibbs-White are unleashed off the bench with under twenty minutes remaining… replacing debutant defender Montiel and midfield blocker Cheikhou Kouyate… Time to have a go… the game suddenly has some flow.
A neat pattern of play has Elanga sent racing down the left, he crosses into the onrushing Ryan Yates who at full length dives like Keith Houchen in 1987 underneath the twin towers to head inches wide, the best move of the game, finally some life sparked into matters.
But as it all dies down and goes flat again we discuss the thought of leaving ahead of the long inevitable penalty shootout as the board reads nine woeful agonising minutes to endure, the ball is bouncing in the Forest box though and substitute Zeki Amdouni finds space to take a touch on his chest and volley home, it’s a surprise goal, Burnley and the games first effort on target, that impulses a few to leave for the exits, we soon follow, a couple of minutes later, hardly bothered for any late pending drama despite there being still plenty of time for Forest to take the game to spot kicks.
In the end they don’t, we end up hearing cheers and jeers as we walk back over Trent Bridge for another pint, where already fans stand at the bar, disappointed, that Forest ‘never went for it’ in a game they should have won.
Willy Boly was home team man of the match and he will be an important defender alongside Moussa Niakhate and the returning from injury Felipe of Brazil in the coming weeks, Forest rarely keep clean sheets but they rarely stick with the same defensive trio (or pairing) and the best three are those mentioned with Joe Worrall suspended and Scott McKenna injured, Serge Aurier who played as the other centre back on the night is perhaps better out right and he’ll have to contest with new loanee Gonzalo Montiel, the man who smashed home the winning penalty in both the World Cup final and the UEFA Europa League last season. He's small, gutsy, typically Argentinian, but can be beaten on his outside.
In midfield there was a debut for technically talented teenager Andrey Santos on loan from Chelsea, who did ok in the holding role, Ryan Yates was busy and is Forest’s equivalent to a cheap Bryan Robson, whilst Elanga looked a great outlet with pace he's positive and direct, left isolated far too long with not much to link with, Chris Wood put a shift in against his old club and he’ll be a useful asset mainly off the bench this season, the Reds subs Gibbs-White, Johnson, Awoniyi, not given enough time to impact the game.
For Burnley, it was a neat performance in midfield from the bald headed Nathan Redmond which caught the eye as one of the few players decent on the ball, he played well alongside Josh Brownhill who comes under the old fashioned Burnley player stereotype whilst defensive pairing Dara O’Shea and Hjalmar Ekdal dealt with everything they had to do. Youngsters Al Dakhil and Amdouni caught the eye off the bench, as did the size and stature of Sander Berge who’s a bloody big bloke.
I wonder that the tactics used with one eye on stifling Chelsea’s attack at the weekend had the game at the City Ground played in training format, regardless of opposition, for Cooper to work on defensive structure and if it was down to that, he’ll take credit that as long as Forest played their five across the back, that their line was not breached, until the latter stages when the match opened up, that’s when Forest, and Burnley for that matter, became more defensively vulnerable.
Only Cooper will know if it was the right thing to do, when Saturday comes I suppose a result for the Reds at Stamford Bridge will suggest whether those tactics pay off, or not, but personally, and back to the ‘entertainment industry’ thing… I felt Forest could have played with the shackles off, from the start, with a more attacking approach to try and win a game of football.
Pundits have three worse teams in the Premier League than Forest and Burnley and I think.. Both will be ok.. But from a Reds perspective they have a better team than what we are currently seeing and that is slightly frustrating from a fans point of view.
Whilst Burnley like Forest did last year will take not having to go to the final day of this season needing something to stay up, they’ll shock a few teams with some of the good football they play, they have decent players at Vincent Kompany’s disposal and might even enjoy a healthy run in the Carabao Cup this season. Up next for them in the fizzy drink sponsored KO comp a winnable tie away at Salford City.
Nottingham Forest: Matt Turner, Serge Aurier, Moussa Niakhate, Willy Boly, Gonzalo Montiel (Morgan Gibbs-White 71), Cheikhou Kouyate (Brennan Johnson 71), Andrey Santos (Brandon Aguilera 90), Ryan Yates, Neco Williams (Harry Toffolo 70), Anthony Elanga, Chris Wood (Taiwo Awoniyi 88).
Burnley: Arijanet Muric, Vitinho (Ameen Al Dakhil 35), Hjalmar Ekdal (Josh Cullen 59), Dara O'Shea, Charlie Taylor, Nathan Redmond (Zeki Amdouni 78), Josh Brownhill, Johann Gudmundsson, Aaron Ramsey (Sander Berge 51), Jacob Brunn Larsen (Wilson Odobert 78), Jay Rodriguez (Lyle Foster 78).
7:45pm Kick Off. Wednesday 30th August 2023, City Ground, Nottingham (att 27,766).