A win’s a win as Forest show growing promise in cup success

Forest boss Aitor Karanka.
Forest boss Aitor Karanka.

Two wins in four days at the City Ground served to lift some of the not-quite-gloom, more a feeling of underwhelmedness which had descended on Trentside in recent weeks.

Performances may not have been scintillating, but a win’s a win and tiredness may have had something to do with it.

Indeed, manager Aitor Karanka intimated as much in his programme notes.

“The character and mental toughness to keep going, when some of our players were physically tired, pleased me most about the win,” he said about the three points ground out against Rotherham.

But tiredness would be no excuse as attentions switched to the League Cup against fellow Championship side Stoke City.

Forest made eight changes - only Ben Osborn, switched to left back, Ben Watson and Gil Dias retaining their places.

Stoke, struggling to adapt to relegation from the Premier League, made nine, but still boasted a team of star, albeit fading names, including Wales captain Ashley Williams, former Manchester United stalwart Darren Fletcher, former Liverpool midfielder Charlie Adam, former England international Peter Crouch and former Barcelona starlet Bojan - the former prefixes perhaps an indication of how their and Stoke’s stock as fallen.

Although not in the case of former Forest loan flop Tom Ince. The £10m summer signing - a pre-season statement of Stoke’s promotion ambitions - rested to the bench.

After seeing off Premier League side Newcastle United in the previous round and on the back of those two wins, Forest fans arrived in a relaxed and confident mood.

Indeed, the pre-match chatter was more about Stoke boss Gary Rowett’s trainers and the desire to see the latest Academy starlet Arvin Appiah get a run-out after being named on the bench again, as well as new signing Claudio Yacob who made his first appearance in a matchday 18, more than any concern about the result.

However, there was not much to smile about early on, Forest struggled to adapt to Stoke’s new look 3-4-2-1 formation as Bojan and Saido Berahino chased, harried and frequently found space in behind Crouch, while Daryl Murphy ploughed a lone, fruitless forward furrow for Forest.

But it was Forest who took the lead when Adam Federici - another former Forest loanee, albeit ended before it had begun with injury in his first training session - dithered before lashing the ball against the fast-closing Ben Osborn only to see it rebound into the empty net.

One-nil is a dangerous score is an over-used footballing cliché. And, with hindsight, completely untrue in this match.

Forest grew in confidence as Stoke wilted, with Liam Bridcutt, as he was against Newcastle, the standout midfielder, the 29-year-old head and shoulders above the veterans of Forest’s 33-year-old Watson against 32-year-old Adam and Fletcher, 34. in the centre of the park.

For all Forest’s dominance - Diogo Goncalves guilty of spurning a couple of good chances and the impressive Joe Lolley denied by a good save - it was another defensive dalliance which allowed Forest to double their lead.

Williams slipped and Murphy showed a turn of pace even he didn’t know he had to burst through and lash the ball into the top corner.

Any dream of a Stoke come back seemed to be ended within five minutes of the restart as Joe Lolley cut in from the left to shoot low across Federici and in off the far post.

But this is Forest. And Stoke.

A Stoke side who fought back from 3-0 down to 3-2 on Saturday, only for Berahino to miss a penalty to equalise.

An injury to Crouch brought Benik Afobe into the action along with the roundly-jeered Ince and a change to 4-2-3-1 formation. Stoke immediately looked more comfortable, with Adam beginning to take charge.

Afobe stabbed a goal back within five minutes of his introduction.

Goncalves was then sent off for a studs-up challenge, presumably given by the fourth official under pressure from the Stoke bench, after the ref had initially waved Goncalves to play on.

Berahino poked in at the far post with seven minutes to play and Forest were left clinging on.

Cross after cross was launched into the box only to be repelled by the head of Dawson and substitute Danny Fox.

Until, on 90 minutes, Berahino found himself unmarked on the six-yard box with the goal gaping. He headed wide.

Forest clung on.

For the first hour, Forest were as good as Rowett’s trainers and Stoke were awful. The last half-an-hour was a different story.

But that’s cup football and Forest are through. Just.

We’d all love to see 90 minutes of scintillating, high-tempo, high-press, quick passing football. But this is the Championship. We’re seeing it in increasing flashes as players bed in and adapt to each other’s game. Something to build on.

And, at the end of the evening, a win’s a win - something none of us will complain too loudly about if we hear it regularly until the end of the season