Sunday, 8 May 2016

Brilliant Britt strikes to end the season on a high

It was the perfect way to end a decidedly imperfect season. Britt Assombalonga stepped off the bench, bagged the winner for a 10-man Forest and left us all singing his name as the curtain came down on the 2015/16 season. Perhaps only the home win against the Sheep could rival this as the campaign's most satisfying moment.

Ending the season on an Assombalonga winner was heartwarming but also fitting too. Ordinarily, if we'd been pegged back to 1-1 and then reduced to 10 men then the very limit of our ambitions would be to cling on to a point. In fact, even with 11 men we've struggled to turn draws into wins and defeats into draws. With Britt we had the firepower we'd so badly needed to make a difference.

Look at the final table and you'll notice that we conceded just two more goals than Sheffield Wednesday and four more than the Sheep  the sixth and fifth placed sides. Yet we scored 23 goals fewer than both sides. Of course it's too simplistic to put this solely down to one man, but the Britt shaped hole in our strike force is there for all to see. That he returned with a goal in this game at least gives hope that he can return to his deadly best from the start of next season.

The identity of the first goal scorer also helped to make the occasion special too. Chris Cohen, for so long a treatment room buddy of Britt as he recovered from a third serious injury, rose to head home a superb curling cross from Ben Osborn.

At that point, Paul Williams' men looked capable of running riot at the expense of their already-relegated hosts. The home side's midfield gave up far too much time and space to allow Forest to play in. Cohen stepped forward very ably into Henri Lansbury's usual advanced midfield role and Chris O'Grady returned - presumably for a last appearance - and made a nuisance of himself.

Oliver Burke, let loose at last, was also making hay down the right flank, beating Dean Lewington for pace and strength and generally warming to the task in hand.

Then came two setbacks that shaped the game. First Nicky Maynard - who spent the summer on trial at the City Ground - swept home after the brightest and breeziest bit of some bright and breezy MK play. That caused the visitors to doubt themselves all over again. The passing was less crisp and the decision making slapdash. Josh Murphy, the architect of the goal, had the beating of Eric Lichaj and looked dangerous.

Then, renaissance man Danny Fox harshly saw red for a sliding challenge. From my vantage point it certainly looked like he'd won the ball and while he had undoubtedly slid in so too, surely, did Jordan Spence. Fox's main crime seemed to have been to win the ball and tackle. Still, his reaction probably didn't help too much when the referee made his decision.

That left Williams with a tactical headache. He resolved the issue with the first of three well-timed substitutions on a day that was surely his finest showing as manager too. On the face of it, shifting the effective Burke up front, hauling off O'Grady and putting Mancienne at the back could be seen as a negative move, with no recognised striker left on the pitch. However, the interim boss realised that he needed all of his ten men to run hard and display the sort of movement, pace and energy that isn't O'Grady's game.

That's not to say Burke was completely effective on his own up front. The young winger ran at defenders, twisted and turned and put in a good shift but did lack support from his colleagues.

The hosts continued to be bright and breezy, firing in plenty of shots and crosses but mostly to little avail. That said, Kevin Long and especially Nick Maynard - him again - should've done better with their chances.

It was clear something needed to change and Williams, to his credit, delivered again around the hour mark. Robert Tesche was replaced by Britt Assombalonga and, soon after, Burke was replaced by Ryan Mendes.

The Cape Verde man's fresh legs breathed life into the ten men, with his pace and trickery proving a real handful for the Dons back line. He capped off one cracking run with a shot that seemed goal bound. The fact it kissed the bar summed Mendes up. So near yet so far.

Luckily his fellow sub proved more clinical. The winning goal began with an outrageous flick from Ben Osborn which got him past his man and allowed him to tee up Assombalonga. With time, Britt weighed up his options, fooled the keeper and stroked the ball into the corner of the net to send 4,000 travelling Trickies into raptures.

A goal from Britt, the calming influence of a mature and fit again Cohen, three points and an away win. It was a small glimpse of what we hope to see next season. Now we just need a manager, a CEO and a few signings. Another quiet summer then...

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