Nottingham Forest were soundly beaten by Aston Villa on Wednesday, but the craziness of the Championship still offers a promotion opportunity.
The Reds stepped out at the City Ground in front of a sixth sell out crowd in the last seven home matches, it was the classic six pointer but as I’ll explain in finer detail, currently, almost every game played in the division seems to fall under that category.
The carrot dangled tantalisingly for the home side as they aimed to achieve back to back wins for the first time since September 2018, and the prize for doing so would be a return to the play off places with nine games remaining.
And after Jack Colback’s fluke goal just three minutes in you’d be forgiven for thinking the script was written. However, what followed was a clear indication of the contrariety between the opposing sides as Villa’s quality began to dictate the affair.
The mood in large sections of the crowd was buoyed by the inclusion of Joao Carvalho in the starting line-up for the first time by Martin O’Neill, and the subsequent exclusion of Daryl Murphy. So, what could possibly go wrong for those who’ve been telepathically influencing the manager from the terraces for the last two months?
The away side slowly took control courtesy of their midfield three of Jack Grealish, Conor Hourihane and John McGinn, in contrast Ryan Yates and particularly Pele were shadows of their recent selves. Maybe I put the kiss of death upon Pele after ringing his praises against Hull but nevertheless you won’t face many better midfields than Villa’s in this division.
Most expected Grealish to be the architect of Forest’s downfall but it was two brilliantly taken goals by McGinn that did the damage.
For their part the Reds had half chances here and there but were mostly second best in this affair. The lack of balanced width didn’t help but with Matty Cash injured and Jack Robinson suspended the manager’s hands were somewhat tied.
Some NFFC supporters again rallied for Arvin Appiah to be thrust into the side but in my opinion his time will come thick and fast next season as opposed to this, why? My personal take is that he needs an Oli Burke bulk up over the summer to physically compete in the rough and tumble of the Championship.
The only thing that depreciated my respect for Aston Villa during their City Ground victory was the needless time wasting and theatrics deployed by some of their players. I can understand Neil Warnock or Gary Rowett enforcing such tactics but not Dean Smith’s side, especially given the abundance of quality they possess.
Which brings us nicely to the man in the middle, Mike Dean.
A large portion of Forest fans were quite rightly critical of Dean for not acknowledging and eradicating the gamesmanship of the opposing players. The chants of “It’s all about you” tell you everything you need to know about the man in question; he has a colourful past to say the least. But here’s where I’m about to upset a large majority of fellow Reds and alienate myself for the foreseeable future.
After several replays I thought the ref was right to disallow Yohan Benalouane’s goal in the second half. I know, I know, call myself a Forest fan? Mr Dean was stood just yards from the incident and had a direct view. In slow motion you can see Benalouane give Kortney Hause a two-handed push in the back just as he attempts to jump for the ball. It’s only light but it’s enough to create a bit of space between the two men and allow the Tunisian to head home. The reaction of the Forest player backs up my theory too, he doesn’t seem too disgruntled after the initial protest.
Forest go again at Ipswich on Saturday and if it were any other season promotion opportunities would be long gone. However, this is without doubt the most openly contested division I’ve ever witnessed in 33 years of watching the Reds. Even Brentford in 14th place could realistically finish in the top six as things stand.
I’m certainly not naive enough to think that any side who can’t produce back to back victories since September will prevail come the month of May, but the fact of the matter remains; unbelievably, the Reds are still just one win away from the play offs with 27 points still to play for. The Championship is simply crazy!