We’re accustomed to losing to Barnsley at Oakwell. Maybe a 2-0 defeat there on Saturday was inevitable. And maybe losing 2-0 away to a recently relegated Bournemouth, who managed to keep many of their best players, was also inevitable.
But, of course, the question that rears its head is: what is inevitable? Last night’s poor showing against a side that have now only lost one game in 13 — demonstrating a clear, settled style of play and vastly superior movement off the ball — was a test. And a test we failed.
The next four games are also against teams in the top six, and Sunday’s match at home to Swansea — also on Sky — could see us kicking off level with the bottom three, clear only on goal difference. These are also tests and if Chris Hughton didn’t know what he’d let himself in for, then he certainly does now.
With just nine goals in 13 games — despite our xG being superior to last season — Hughton has to solve the conundrum of unlocking the attacking ability that is clearly there. However, last night clearly demonstrated many of our issues. Confidence, something Hughton did recognise on his arrival, is key to our troubles — and in a league where confidence is often the only thing dividing teams, it is paramount to turning this season around.
There was much speculation on the formation when the team was announced — is it 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1? — but it was soon clear that former Cherries player Harry Arter would be deployed behind Lyle Taylor in a 4-4-1-1 formation. Whether Hughton thought Arter would respond to returning the south coast where he spent a decade, or whether there was some other kind of tactical plan, this approach was in tatters within the first two minutes of the game.
David Brooks, who impressed hugely for Bournemouth in midfield, lofted a ball from the half-way line through to Junior Stanislas who, having evaded the defenders, was clean through on goal and slotted easily past Brice Samba.
Stanislas, running from deep, was picked up by neither Cyrus Christie nor Tobias Figueiredo — both players who seem to have come under much criticism this season. Sadly, highlighting players’ individual mistakes or analysing their body language is not productive in isolation. These are merely emblematic of the wider problem — that of the situation we’re in. Good players don’t suddenly become bad players, but good players do become ineffective or prone to errors when a club is lacking strategy, direction and purpose.
Forest did have the occasional foray forwards with Sammy Ameobi and Taylor offering a threat. But with Bournemouth’s movement on another level, a fluidity to their play we couldn’t match, it could’ve been worse. And with just 34% possession after half an hour, the Reds’ now compact shape was containing Bournemouth if nothing else.
Two minutes into added time it should’ve been two, but the ball was cleared off the line by Scott McKenna. Forest were second best to everything, slow and laboured, with a complete lack of ideas. But at just a goal down there was some hope that a goal from somewhere, anywhere, could rescue a point.
As it was, we weren’t even five minutes into the second-half when Jack Colback brought down Dominic Solanke on the edge of the box. It was a dubious penalty decision, but nonetheless a clumsy challenge and one Colback didn’t need to make.
Stanislas converted the spot-kick for his brace, and it was only ever going to be an uphill battle for Forest now.
Anthony Knockaert came on for Lolley after 60 minutes, and the away side began to come back into the game, with more possession, and more opportunities — an Ameobi strike on 70 minutes, and then a Ryan Yates header over the bar from Knockaert’s cross.
The Reds continued to press into last 10 minutes but, like previous matches where we chased the game, the home side remained in control. And then there was a penalty claim that probably should’ve been, and that would’ve seen Bournemouth three goals to the good.
Hughton, no doubt, will get us there — but it will take time. Time, it appears, that nobody has any patience for at the moment. But it is time that, realistically, is needed for this new manager and all these new players to figure out what our identity, our new identity, is. Because at the moment it is inevitable that they will take the blame for problems that lie deeper within the club.