Ipswich were once again found wanting up front as a screamer from Lewis McGugan saw Forest run out deserved 2-0 winners.
Following the unimpressive display against Watford, Roy Keane made several changes to the lineup for his return to the place where he began his career in English football 20 years ago. Marton Fulop made his return from a back injury to replace Brian Murphy despite a decent performance from the Irishman on Tuesday, while Troy Brown was replaced by Jaime Peters at right-back. Carlos Edwards was brought back into the starting lineup after impressing from the bench at Vicarage Road with Andros Townsend also reintroduced on the other wing, Jake Livermore and Tamas Priskin the men making way. Despite lacking a forward threat in midweek, Keane still opted for a lone striker, Jason Scotland operating between the wide pair.
In similar fashion to the Watford game, Town did not start the match too badly. Fulop did well to gather up the ball after diving in bravely at the feet of Chris Cohen to deny Forest an early opener, while at the other end, Edwards just timed his pass wrong for Scotland who was ruled offside. Though Town had done little of note, there was nothing to suggest that they wouldn’t make it a decent contest.
Unfortunately, they found themselves 1-0 down just five minutes later. Radeslaw Majewski played a good ball down the left wing to Cohen who left Peters for dead as he crossed deep into the Town box, where David McGoldrick ran in ahead of Tommy Smith to tap home from six yards. It was a neat enough move by the hosts, but it all seemed far too easy, and for the third game in succession, the Blues were facing the challenge of coming back from behind with just 12 minutes played.
Town tried to get back into the game quickly, with a long corner by Grant Leadbitter headed well wide at the far post by Gareth McAuley. However, it was Forest that were looking much more threatening coming forward, carving out another chance of their own a minute later. Smith and Damien Delaney could not cope with the skill of Majewski as he jinked into the box on the right before dragging a low shot narrowly wide of the far post. Lewis McGugan also had an opportunity just shy of the 20 minute mark, but his effort went well wide of the right-hand post. There was no doubt however that the hosts were looking the better side.
Just as Forest were getting on top however, Town then had their closest effort of the entire match. Jack Colback made a run in from the left wing and neatly touched inside past the defender before driving low towards goal. Lee Camp came out to make the block, but the deflection sent the ball looping towards goal. Chris Gunter just about managed to race onto the goal-line and nod the ball out off the crossbar. With Camp still stranded, David Norris darted forward and smashed a shot from the rebound, but power over placement saw his strike thump away off the back of Luke Chambers before the danger was cleared. That was probably enough to leave some thinking that it just wasn’t going to be Town’s day.
Town continued to push for an equaliser but without really threatening as much as they had done during that scramble. Townsend pulled off some fantastic individual skill to keep the ball as he pressed towards the Forest box before being brought down by Majewski, but Leadbitter wasted the resulting free-kick by hitting it too far and straight out of play. Forest meanwhile were looking to extend their lead and had another chance on the half-hour mark, McGugan coming inside from the right and beating two defenders before shooting wide of the left-hand post.
As the game approached half time, the Blues were still huffing and puffing but had failed to give Camp much to do. Norris looked rather optimistically for a penalty having gone down in the box after 38 minutes but unsurprisingly nothing was given, then a blocked Townsend cross two minutes later fell into the path of Leadbitter but he blazed way over.
Leadbitter, who by his standards this season was having a pretty poor game, was starting to show signs of frustration, and he let it get the better of him five minutes before the break. The former Sunderland midfielder was rightly shown a yellow card after tripping Cohen and conceding a cheap free-kick 35 yards out. Regretfully, as the old saying goes, the cheap ones are often the most expensive, and so it proved to be. Lewis McGugan – who we named as Forest’s Man to Watch – stepped up to take the set-piece with what seemed like an awful lot of clear space between him and goal, with only Scotland and Norris forming a two man wall ahead of him. Sure enough, McGugan ran up and powered a brilliant drive which swung around Scotland and beyond the despairing arms of Fulop straight into the top-right corner of the Town goal. It was unquestionably an absolute wonder strike, but the path of the ball clearly raised the question of why there hadn’t been another man in place on the inside of the wall to block the shot. As it was though, the Forest midfielder was able to celebrate his 7th goal in 8 matches and put the hosts 2-0 up just before half time, leaving Town in the same situation as they had been at Vicarage Road and the fans desperately chanting for Keane to drop the 4-5-1 formation and change to 4-4-2.
Surprisingly, the manager’s reaction at half time was not to put an extra man up front, but simply change who the lone man was. Scotland went off and on came Connor Wickham, with some eyebrows raised as to why he hadn’t been on from the start following his game-changing performance at Watford. With the change made, Ipswich began the second half reasonably well, Townsend having a shot blocked and Smith getting onto a loose ball from the resulting corner, but the defender struck straight at Camp. Play was then stopped after the Forest keeper seemed to pick up an injury, but he was able to continue after a few minutes.
The break in play seemed to halt Town’s momentum somewhat and they could not create anything of note for much of the next fifteen minutes. Keane made two changes in that time with Jake Livermore replacing Jaime Peters before Ronan Murray was rewarded for his display at Watford by coming on in place of Townsend, although the timing of that change was somewhat questionable after the Spurs loanee had just made an excellent run down the left wing.
With an hour played, Cohen had another shot blocked as Forest looked to extend their lead further, but the wave of substitutes now looked as if it had begun to shift the play in Town’s favour. Wickham flicked the ball neatly to Murray but his pass from the left was blocked for a corner, then Leadbitter struck a free-kick at Camp after McGoldrick had handled just outside the Forest box. McGoldrick was soon up the other end and lashed well wide of the left-hand post, but with 70 minutes played, Forest were beginning to find their chances limited.
As the game reached its last fifteen minutes, Ipswich began to take hold of the match for the first time – albeit frustratingly late in the day once again. Wickham struck wide of the near post from the edge of the box but play was called back after Colback had been brought down in the buildup. From the resulting free-kick, Leadbitter curled around the outside of the wall but Camp managed to parry the shot wide of the right-hand post for a corner. One minute later, Wickham had another chance from a tight angle but was denied by the Forest keeper.
Still without a goal so far this season, substitute Wickham now seemed to be involved in every move that the Blues were putting together. The teenage striker had another shot as he came forward one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but Camp managed to stick a leg out to save before pouncing on the ball just before it could spin out of play for a corner. Wickham then turned provider, laying the ball nicely to Colback who made a decent run forward before firing a fairly weak shot low across goal and narrowly wide of the right-hand post.
With the clock running down fast and Town failing to rescue anything from the game with their late chances, Forest then started to regain control. Edwards lost possession and a cross was played from the left-wing to substitute Nathan Tyson who managed to bring the ball down for the shot, but Fulop came forward and stood his ground to deny the Forest striker. The hosts were challenging again a minute later as a pass from the right was drilled hard from the D by Cohen, but went straight into the arms of Fulop.
Having lost their last two matches 2-1, Town tried once again to snatch a goal back, but this time their efforts were in vain. A long ball by Edwards from the right was headed down towards Colback, but the Sunderland loanee could only send his shot wide of the left-hand post. Livermore then sent a cross deep into the Forest box towards Murray running in at the far post, but Camp timed his intervention perfectly to snatch the ball out of the air away from the youngster’s head as the game ran into five minutes of stoppage time. The added minutes did little to aid Town with Forest having most of the possession in the last stages, substitute Dele Adebola turning his defender and striking from the D with Fulop getting down to save before Anderson miscontrolled Adebola’s knockdown and smashed well off target. That was to be the last chance of the game as referee Andy Woolmer blew the final whistle to seal a comfortable 2-0 win for Nottingham Forest.
It is now three straight losses then for Ipswich for the first time under Roy Keane, and having slipped right down to 14th, the positive start to the season seems very much over. Once again it seemed to be a case of too little, too late from Town who didn’t seem to wake up until the last 10 minutes. With credit to the manager, his substitutions did again spark an improvement for Town at the City Ground just as they had done at Vicarage Road, but this will not make any difference if the Blues continue to find themselves already out of the match by half time. Scotland’s opener against Leeds at the start of the month remains the only first half goal that Town have scored in the league this season, and the issue of a lack of cutting edge up front continues to dog our attempts to press for the top six. 15 goals from 13 games is not good enough however you look at it, and Keane’s repeated use of a lone striker in such circumstances is frankly baffling. This had not mattered so much when Ipswich were defending well, but having conceded only 9 goals in their first 10 games, they have now leaked 6 in the last 3, and this surely cannot simply be down to the loss of Darren O’Dea. It is a worrying trend which might start to bring some pressure back on Keane, with the odd few visiting fans on Saturday making renewed calls for his head. To be fair, such calls were immediately lambasted by the majority, but it is a sign nonetheless that there is growing concern among the Blues faithful of a return to the struggles of last season. Ipswich are far from those troubles as yet and with Forest just two points off the playoffs having occupied 13th place prior to this game, it is safe to say that the table is tight enough for this recent slump to make little difference to Town’s hopes of a top six finish. Losing runs are a difficult habit to break however, and a win against Millwall next Saturday is surely a must if our league campaign is not to take a sour turn.
Nottingham Forest: Camp, Chambers, Morgan, Wilson, Gunter, Anderson, McGugan (Adebola 83), Cohen, McKenna, Majewski (Tyson 67), McGoldrick (Moussi 73) – Not used: Darlow, Earnshaw, McCleary, Blackstock
Ipswich: Fulop, Peters (Livermore 56), McAuley, Delaney, Smith, Leadbitter, Edwards, Norris, Townsend (Murray 62), Colback, Scotland (Wickham 46) – Not used: Murphy, Brown, Eastman, Priskin.
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Forest 2-0 Ipswich: Two Topple Toothless Town
Ipswich were once again found wanting up front as a screamer from Lewis McGugan saw Forest run out deserved 2-0 winners.