Despite 90 minutes of attractive, exciting football from their young side, Nottingham Forest fans left the City Ground frustrated after yesterday’s 2-0 defeat by high-flying Cardiff.
Forest’s football was a delight to watch, especially some of their one-touch passing in tight situations.
But the gritty Bluebirds stood firm to repel everything the Reds could throw at them and delivered a couple of sucker punches.
The sides were like chalk and cheese and it will be fascinating to see where the two styles take the clubs by May.
Neil Warnock is a gifted football manager and he has taken a very average Cardiff side and made them highly effective, making the most of the material he has been given to work with.
Cardiff lacked ambition and finesse, but they won ugly in expert fashion and Forest could have no complaints in the end.
Despite the pretty approach play, Forest could still be playing now and would not have scored.
Cardiff’s two banks of four were a solid brick wall that Forest’s youngsters are going to need to work out how to get past in future games like this.
Boss Mark Warburton likes to play the ‘Forest way’ and has no time for a Plan B.
But, when Plan A is not working, sometimes you have to swallow your pride and try something different.
With the game all but lost, it may have been worth a punt to throw Ben Brereton or even Joe Worrall up front alongside Daryl Murphy and send in a few long balls down the centre to see what might happen.
It was laudable they kept playing their football to the end but it achieved nothing on the day.
So if that is to always be the case, then these players have to learn how to get through or round a brick wall if they are not allowed to try to go over it.
The game was very tough viewing over the 90 minutes, especially as Cardiff’s time-wasting tactics began as soon as they had scored through Junior Hoilett’s 24th minute header.
Every throw, every corner, every free kick took an eternity to take and their three second half substitutions made home fans want to scream as the players clapped their fans and walked painfully slowly off the pitch.
Referee Peter Bankes could and should have nipped all this in the bud earlier on or at least added the appropriate time on at the end of both halves.
But his inaction led to the game becoming even more painful to watch than it already was.
He also failed to give Forest what looked a certain penalty when they were only 1-0 down, a stage of the game when Murphy also missed a vital chance.
But no one in the ground could argue with City’s second goal – their only real moment of genuine attacking flair – as Danny Ward cut in from the right and sent a stunning 20-yard finish into the top left corner over the keeper.
It was a goal worthy of winning any football match.
Cardiff stayed second and Forest dropped to ninth, five points off the play-off spots.
But the Reds had won their last four home games and not many sides will have the steel of Cardiff to repel them when they play their football in top gear.
There is still a long way to go and, despite Cardiff’s current position in the table, few Forest fans would want to swap styles with the Bluebirds and watch that every away game.
Despite the result, with experienced David Vaughan pulling the strings in the middle of the park, there were some excellent performances, notably Everton loanee Keiran Dowell.
If these young players continue to mature together, Forest’s future under Warburton remains very bright.