There are fine margins in the Championship. Luck and confidence are all that separates 18-20 teams… well, maybe there’s more to it but the cliché that ‘anyone can beat anyone’ remains true.
Nottingham Forest are much improved on the start of the season — when we couldn’t beat anyone — and while most games the defence is solid and the performances are competitive, scoring more than one goal generally remains beyond us.
And so it was today, when Reading punished us for this Achilles’ heel. But while it’s easy to complain about conceding, about not creating or finishing, it’s still a good sign that a 1-1 draw — with a side that has been in the top six since at least anyone was allowed to go the pub — feels like two points lost and not one point gained.
Maybe this inability to get on the end of crosses, to shoot in the box (not outside) and to find that killer pass is all that we’re missing, and it’s the only margin we need to address. Perhaps we won’t figure it out this season, but it might not matter…
If we can continue this level of performance, improve on the growing confidence, find the right players in the summer… With 41 points and 10 games to go, relegation should be a distant threat.
You’re entitled to find your glass half-empty or half-full. You’re entitled to question the manager’s tactics, the player selection, many of the signings… but the mess we’ve been in for years now will continue to require patience.
Forest started the game with real purpose in the opening minutes, pushing into the Reading half. The away side soon settled in their play, comfortable in possession and playing neat, tidy football. But the Reds pressed when they could, trying to force the visitors to play long, and there was a sense that the game would present chances.
A great break, with a threatening cross from Cyrus Christie to the near post, resulted in a corner that saw Sammy Ameobi shoot over after 16 minutes. Filip Krovinović had a shot a few minutes later, following good play in the build-up. And a Gaëtan Bong cross saw Glenn Murray get to the ball first, with Rafael Cabral saving at the near post.
A strong run on 26 minutes from Lucas João, after skipping past several Forest players, resulted in a weak shot easily collected by Brice Samba. And then Joe Lolley did the same at the other end, with his shot just wide. Given that the Reds didn’t manage a single shot on target against Watford last Saturday, there was a clear improvement with five in the first half-hour.
Lolley then pulled up with his hamstring, just as he looked like he was coming back into form and confidence, and was replaced by Anthony Knockaert on the left — hopefully it’s not the last we’ve seen of Lolley this season.
And just minutes later it was a small miracle that João didn’t score after a short corner, as he hit the post having sent Samba the wrong way following a miskick.
It remained fairly even at the break, and the game continued in much the same vein. Reading had a free-kick just outside the box and then a Knockaert cross onto Krovinović’s head came close.
The decisive moment for Forest came after 49 minutes as Samba clipped the ball to Christie close to the half-way line. His header back to James Garner saw the on-loan midfielder send a ball down the wing on to the feet of Ameobi who danced into the box and drove the ball across the goal which Murray turned into the net — although it was later acknowledged as a Tom Holmes own goal.
The chances continued for both sides, but the home side looked stronger as the half went on — riding their luck at times but finding space, working the ball well and looking particularly strong down the right with Christie and Ameobi.
But with Reading coming close on several occasions — hitting the post again after 75 minutes — those crosses that reached nobody, shots from afar and pressure with no end result, felt like they’d count.
And the inevitable equaliser came just nine minutes before the end as Yakou Meite was played through and shot from the edge of the box, seemingly through Samba’s hands. Having kept the visitors at close bay, it was galling to concede so close to the end.
Hughton said after the match: “I think it’s a good point in the end. We had a period in the second half where I thought we were going to hold on but they’re a team with a lot of good players and they made offensive changes and they created chances. They probably looked a bit more threatening with the players that they’ve got but at one stage I thought we were going to stay strong and win it.
“Sometimes you have to appreciate that with the quality they’ve got in front of goal, we’ve done well not to concede too many goals this afternoon. It has continued a good defensive run for us where we’ve not conceded many goals but the next part for us is to go on and win these games. We got ourselves into good positions and I’ve certainly got no complaints about the effort and the commitment from the players.”