Friday, 23 September 2016

Montanier will hope fortune favours the brave

The hotly anticipated Arsenal clash has been and gone, but now it can't be a case of 'after the Lord Bendtner's show' as Philippe Montanier's men get back to the bread and butter of the league.

The Arsenal game already feels something of a blur - although perhaps I'm still mesmerised by the ultra-impressive slick passing on display from Arsene Wenger's men.

Yes, it wasn't a first choice Gunners XI, but it was far from a band of kids thrown together by the long-serving Frenchman. Indeed, the fact that Granit Xhaka and Lucas Perez - signed for a combined £50 million - arrived with a point to prove and a place to secure meant this was a highly motivated and classy visiting team. Throw in Oxlade-Chamberlain, Elneny, Gibbs, Gabriel and Holding and you've got a side with quality far beyond 'Championship standard'.

The Brian Clough Stand was lit up green to mark the 12th anniversary of his death

That said, the first half saw a spirited performance that should have been enough to have seen us level at half time. It would have done too if Pajtim Kasami had had some shooting boots on or the aforementioned Bendtner had been able to apply more curl to a dangerous looking long range effort.

As with the clash against Norwich on Saturday, the second half was the killer. In both cases, the away side stepped things up a gear, showed their quality and earned a deserved win. Yet while we were outclassed against the Canaries, we still carried a threat. On Tuesday, however, the game descended into a chastening chasing exercise.

We have to hope it won't have knocked the stuffing out of the side, physically and mentally, going into the trip to Sheffield Wednesday.

The Owls clash represents the start of a tricky trio of fixtures before the international break, with Fulham at home and Bristol City away to follow. Both of those sides have looked better than expected and will be no pushovers, while Wednesday are stirring after a slow start.

Philippe Montanier has, so far, knitted together a buccaneering side full of attacking intent and character. He has been brave with his tactics and team selection - and his team has mirrored that bravery by 'going for it' in a succession of exciting games.

Nowhere was this more evident that in the entertaining trip to Villa Park. Despite the hosts firing in shots galore and having much of the ball - and despite the loss of Matty Cash to injury, his replacement Thomas Lam to another injury AND his replacement Hildeberto Pereira to an unjust red card we still emerged with a creditable 2-2.

Amid the chaos, the side had the character to pull through - taking the lead through Apostolos Vellios and equalising through Henri Lansbury after newfound cult hero Pereira's lung-busting surge.

The Villa game was the season in a nutshell - goals at both ends and good fun. Much of it didn't make sense, but it didn't matter too much.

Saluting the players after the full time whistle at Villa Park

Yet, the character of the side and Montanier's continued bravery will come under the spotlight in the fixtures to come.

The eighth league game of last season was, like Norwich this time around, also a 2-1 defeat at home to a classier side, in that case Middlesbrough. The Boro defeat, slightly unfortunate in my book, started off a run of eight games without a win as the deadline day loss of a star man took its toll.

You have to hope history won't repeat itself, but it's a warning of how quickly one result can lead to a bad run in this division. August's 'five wins in seven' can so quickly become 'five without a win' on Saturday.

A few bad results will inevitably lead to criticism of Montanier's tinkering and his side's defensive deficiencies from the impatient among the fans. He's assembled a League of Nations of a team - with 16 different nationalities representing even more than the 14 of Arsenal - that is very much a work in progress. It will need to carry on that progress to maintain the well-deserved goodwill it has received.

It feels like the manager is starting to settle on a defence at least, the one part of the side that probably needs the stability of consistent selection. Yet we should be under no illusion that it will take time for the team to gel. I hope he can find a role for David Vaughan in the coming weeks - who strikes me as just the sort of cool headed player that we've needed to inject some calm and quality into the action. The return of Britt Assombalonga and having an ever-sharper Bendtner could also help to put teams to the sword.

You'd have to be a pretty miserable person not to have found some enjoyment in the early days of Montanier's reign. He'll be hoping that by staying brave and keeping up his attacking outlook he'll earn some fortune, pick up points before the break and ensure the Arsenal game doesn't dilute the positivity around the City Ground.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Nottingham Forest Cheese XI

Despite the defeat to Norwich on Saturday and the distinct lack of a clean sheet, the start of the season under Philippe Montanier has certainly been fun.

The new manager has earned some goodwill by his team's sense of derring do. However, I don't know about you but I can't help but have extra respect for a man who knows his cheese. So, given that our new boss treated the press pack to some fabulous fromage on Friday, it's surely the perfect time to dream up a Forest cheese XI, right?

Photo: Unsplash

This team would form an ambition 4-2-4 formation, meaning those midfielders will need to spread the ball around well. I hope they won't crumble under pressure and, if so, I'm sure they'd get grate results. Anyway, here goes...

Peter Stilton

Eric Dairy Lichaj

Wensleydale Morgan

David Ne-Edam

Ian Brie-Kin

Lee Meltier

Kris Commonbert

Jack Red Leicester

Rafik Djeb-Boursin

Parme-Stan Collymore

Dougie Freed-Manchego


Monterey Jack Hobbs

Cheddar Sheringham

Philadelphia Starbuck

Who said all puns were cheesy? I'm sure I've missed a couple of crackers so please do send your suggestions to the cheese board in the comments below or via Twitter @andrewbrookes84