What a change a week can make. The 0-0 draw with Barnsley last Saturday brought some stability after losses to Middlesbrough and Swansea City. But the additions of James Garner and Glenn Murray have made the kind of immediate impact Chris Hughton must’ve hoped for.
Garner’s performance in the 2-1 win over Coventry City in midweek showed the kind of passing range Forest have missed all season. And while yesterday required more grit, he was man of the match for many. Murray was officially man of the match and, belying his age, brought all of his experience to score a brace and inspire the team on his debut.
With Lewis Grabban and Sammy Ameobi missing out though injury, Murray and Luke Freeman made the first XI — the latter performing better than he did against Swansea, but still looking slightly off the pace.
Wycombe showed signs of an early fight as Uche Ikpeazu looked to be a handful for the back four. But it was just seven minutes before Forest took the lead. Gaëtan Bong lofted a ball down the left-wing, which dropped over the heads of the centre-backs into the path of Murray. From the edge of the box, the veteran striker chipped it over the outstretched hands of Ryan Allsop, who’d come off his line, and he was off the mark.
Forest looked fluid in attack with Garner, Filip Krovinović and Anthony Knockaert linking up well. But the home side began to dominate as they continued to attack, pressing the Reds back in their own half.
Chasing an equaliser, Wycombe looked sharp and lively in their movement — their height in the box an advantage. A free-kick just over the crossbar on 32 minutes, followed quickly by a goal ruled out for offside, were both warning signs.
Forest were sitting back, playing deep and looking ponderous — evidently missing the presence of Samba Sow or Ryan Yates at this stage of the game. And the response in the second-half was going to be important.
A Garner header in the early minutes was close, and he would’ve wanted to have connected better. But it was barely five minutes later when Tobias Figueiredo, just inside his own half, punted a long free-kick up to Murray who chested it down in the area before being bundled over by two Wycombe defenders. And he quickly stepped up to convert the penalty, giving Forest the cushion they desperately needed.
The away side now looked a lot more comfortable in their stride, the midfield composed and playing with purpose. And the final half-hour was almost incomparable to the disjointedness of the first-half — a little swagger to Hughton’s side.
Joe Lolley’s introduction for the final 20 minutes, replacing Freeman, added vigour to the attack. And his half-volley, within seconds of coming on, was just wide of the post.
And minutes later Garner played an exquisite cross-field ball, with the outside of his boot, that set Lolley free on the left. His square ball was met by Knockaert on the penalty spot, and his shot was fired into the net.
The Reds were now in command and the level of confidence and drive in midfield evidently down to Hughton’s additions. Brice Samba was alert to everything and all credit for the clean sheet to the back four, who were resolute throughout — Joe Worrall, in particular, was impenetrable.
Hughton added after the game: “It has been an important week for us because of the teams we have played and their positions in the league. It has also been a big week because we had been on a good run which was stopped by Middlesbrough but we’ve bounced back really well. Having worked hard to get three points at Coventry, it was vital that we came out with the same attitude to back that result up.
“Wycombe are fighting for their place in this division and they showed lots of qualities today which prove they will continue to fight. So it was a really tough game for us today and I’m delighted to have come through it with three goals and a clean sheet. This season in particular is so competitive and that is why it’s so imperative that we continue to fight hard and try and win as many games as we can.”
In the past 11 league games we’ve now only lost one, won six, scored 15, kept six clean sheets and gained 22 points. In the next 10 games we face the top six and… Derby. It’s crunch time.