Sunday, 3 May 2015

Osborn Supremacy showed the way forward

It was damp - and unnaturally chilly - squib that brought the curtain down another ultimately disappointing campaign at the City Ground. The gloom of a flat and pretty pathetic 2-1 defeat at the hands of Russell Slade's Cardiff was only broken by two rays of light.

The first of those came from a man who grew used to bringing us out of our seats. This time, Garath McCleary proved able to get the crowd roaring from 25 miles away as news of his third goal for Reading against Steve McClaren's choking sheep drew a slightly surreal - yet raucous - cheer. Was it a little sad that D***y's demise was all we had to cheer at 2-0 down and heading to 14th? Probably. But did that make it any less joyful? Nope.

And the truth was there was one other glimmer of light to come. Yes Dexter Blackstock netted to reduce the arrears and confirm his own better-than-expected comeback but the real star of the last 20 minutes was Ben Osborn.

First though. let's be brutally honest, Dougie's team selection for this game was best summed up by one inflatable that was thrown around the Lower Bridgford - a cock up. Having the right footed Mancienne - who has spent the last few weeks out of position at right back and central midfield - at left back was a recipe for disaster. The early substitutions were a little bizarre too - Chuba Akpom looked like he had absolutely no idea where to run when he came on and capped off his miserable loan spell with a shot so bad it drew laughs when he was presented with a golden chance. Paterson too came into a confused and disfunctional forward set up on the hour mark while the 90 minutes saw five loanees involved, seemingly wasting a chance to utilise players we will actually have on the books next season.

Worst of all was the omission of Osborn, and he hammered home that mistake with a superb cameo. The midfield trio of an out-of-sorts David Vaughan, sloppy Henri Lansbury and a not-quite-fit Gary Gardner lacked the energy and drive that young Ben has in spades. He came on, took the game by the scruff of the neck and was involved in everything. His arrival sparked the team into life, having a noticeable impact on Todd Kane who marauded forward with great purpose and Paterson - who was suddenly able to pick up the ball in his favoured areas. Osborn was positive, drove forward, passed accurately and must surely be destined to be a starter for next season.

His continued progress has been a joy to watch and its about time we stopped seeing him as the player who can easily be dropped - both Pearce and Freedman have been guilty of this - and realised he's a vital part of the midfield, especially in the current formation.

It's also worth considering - as was pointed out to me - that you can, if you want, consider Osborn's magnificent winner at the sheep dip as the goal that ultimately cost them the play offs. Now tell me that didn't at least draw a cheeky smile??

Worryingly, if the rest of the players were out to earn their Forest futures then there wasn't a lot to be positive about. Dexter battled hard and probably earned his goal but beyond that none of the starting XI will have done anything to further their cause. The football was one-dimensional too. Basically the only tactic seemed to be 'give it to Antonio and hope he can beat the two/three men surrounding him'. It was a bit of a slight on the wily Burke that the plan seemed to bypass his talents.

I worry that we may well have squandered a decent chance in the last few games. We haven't given Hobbs and Mancienne a chance to gel as a partnership, haven't given Osborn the extra responsibility he's deserved and could've seen more of Tyler Walker. The back four was a bit of a shambles and Cardiff, who have themselves been thoroughly underwhelming this season, didn't have to break too much of a sweat to get their lead, even if both finishes were clinical.

Dougie's early games in charge involved progressive attacking football - and brought him a richly deserved longer term contract. Unearthing a few more Ben Osborns will be the key to re-finding that and might ensure we're cheering our own stars - not relying on our old flames to warm us up. Freedman's seen the good and bad of all his charges in his 18 games - it's just a shame that there was so much of the bad in this defeat.