OPINION: Building a Nottingham Forest team in the current climate will be a big challenge for Chris Hughton
Against Barnsley, the first half performance showed endeavour, promise and an attacking threat, qualities that have been sorely lacking away from home this season.
Yet at the same time, Barnsley would no doubt point towards the height of the crossbar as evidence of their superiority since were it just a few millimetres higher, they might have put the game to bed long before they eventually did so.
To evaluate the state of the team after each performance when games are so frequent arguably tells us little. After all, given the relentless fixture schedule this season, consistency is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve for all concerned.
The trick, one suspects, is to scrape some kind of result even when playing well below par. This season, more than any other season, will see every team turn in the occasional stinker. And this performance was far from being a stinker from Chris Hughton’s perspective.
Perhaps it is more profitable to look back at how Forest have evolved over their last three performances at Oakwell. On the surface, not well. After all, this was their third consecutive defeat in South Yorkshire in the last four months and what’s more, the most recent was the least favourable scoreline.
And yet for all that, this latest performance against the Tykes was the perhaps the most convincing of the three in terms of attacking threat.
Fans of Xg will point towards just how much improved Forest were going forward and such a measure certainly offers hope that the team is more than capable of producing presentable goal-scoring opportunities.
At the same time though, failure to convert such chances means increasing pressure to keep a clean sheet at the other end. Without a goal, a team is only one minor slip away from being on the end of a defeat, or in this case, a stunning finish from the opposition.
Such things happen from time to time: you play reasonably poorly yet win and on other occasions, you play reasonably well but lose. Football is not a cause-and-effect machine dispensing sporting justice; it is a game that for all the meticulous preparation, sports science and tactical insight, is often decided by chance.
Against AFC Bournemouth, Forest again played reasonably well in patches but quite simply were up against a superior team: one which retains a Premier League backbone and perhaps more significantly, David Brooks, who is a delightful footballer to watch.
For Hughton, the task remains a challenging one: to forge and build a brand-new team in difficult circumstances, which in some ways is like being tasked with organising the delivery of a ring into Mordor’s fiery furnace – an arduous task as it is what with fending off hordes of orcs and the like - while also having to work out who your best combination of ring-bearers is without having time to see what they are made of after each step of the journey.
And all the while, the orcs just keep on coming from all angles, or at least from the division’s currently high performing teams.