AFTER their last two outings, a point against Forest was a significant step in the right direction for Wanderers – but a crucial ingredient is still missing from Dougie Freedman’s recipe.
You can’t fault this bunch of players in the effort stakes, and it was the old intestinal fortitude that made sure they hung on to a point in the second half against a side surely destined for the top six.
Twice the Whites held the lead through Joe Mason and David Wheater, twice Britt Assombalonga pegged them back.
But when a manic first half gave way to a tense second period, it was character that saw them maintain the status quo.
Hard work and honesty should guarantee that Wanderers avoid a repeat of last season’s catastrophic start; it won’t, however, see them rubbing shoulders with the likes of Forest in the play-offs next May.
Freedman needs to sprinkle a bit of magic dust around the Macron Stadium soon to lift the mood, for his own sake if nothing else.
The manager knows full well there is an undercurrent of frustration around the terraces – perhaps that stopped many fans celebrating this as a point earned rather than two lost.
With money tight, he needs to pull another proverbial rabbit out of the hat in the transfer market and give supporters something to get excited about.
Prior to kick-off you could have heard a pin drop as the players were being announced, that is until new arrival Joe Mason’s name came over the speakers.
His header from Jay Spearing’s free-kick less than four minutes into the game set pulses racing for the first time this season.
All of a sudden, the stadium sounded alive again.
Mason showed some glimpses of silky skill that pricked the fans’ interest but to ask him to spearhead Wanderers’ attack would be a big weight to put on young shoulders.
He may have found an unlikely ally to share the workload in Craig Davies, a man who looks intent on saving his Whites career.
The big Wales international could have been the hero, missing a second-half header at 2-2 from Kevin McNaughton’s cross, but nevertheless should be commended for covering every blade of grass.
Stamina is not a quality we have often been able to associate with the former Barnsley man but tracking down defenders with the menace of a certain other “Davies” – he has made a mockery of summer reports he was heading out of the exit door by starting the first two league games of the campaign.
Whether he has the genuine goal-scoring threat remains to be seen, but should his partnership with Mason develop further it would be like manna from heaven for Freedman, who could use a stroke of good fortune.
Adam Bogdan, replacing Andy Lonergan in goal, rewarded his manager’s faith with a great double save from Andy Reid and Matty Fryatt.
The Hungarian stopper was a commanding presence throughout but won’t have been happy about some of the defending in front of him in the first half.
Chris Burke and Jack Hunt over-ran Tim Ream on Wanderers’ left, while the excellent Assombalonga and Fryatt were giving Matt Mills and David Wheater a difficult afternoon in the middle.
The warning signs were there as Forest got themselves back into the game.
Hunt’s cross from the right saw Michail Antonio beat Kevin McNaughton at the far post before £5.5million man Assombalonga pounced on the loose ball ahead of Mills to sweep home his first goal for Forest.
Wanderers fans hardly had a chance to complain, as less than two minutes later their side had restored the lead.
Forest failed to clear a free-kick from Spearing and Ream delivered a smart cross from the left that seemed to catch the defence napping before being passed home from close range by Wheater.
The big defender joked later that his neat finish had actually been a tackle, rather than a shot at goal.
At 2-1, this was the chance for Wanderers to protect what they had until the break.
Instead, a rare error of judgement from Spearing gifted Forest an immediate chance to equalise.
Quite what the midfielder was thinking as he over-stretched for a tackle on Assombalonga on the edge of the penalty box we may never know – or at least have to wait until his refreshingly honest programme notes on Tuesday night.
But referee Eddie Ilderton pointed immediately to the spot and Assombalonga picked himself up to drill the penalty under Bogdan’s legs to level the scores again.
Whereas we hardly had chance to draw breath in the first half, the second was played at a much more manageable pace.
Forest had the lion’s share of possession and Assombalonga came desperately close to a hat-trick with a glancing header that skimmed the far post.
Wanderers’ best chance was headed over the top from Davies.
To the fans’ chagrin, an order came soon after that chance to bring on Darren Pratley and Liam Trotter to shore up midfield rather than go on the offensive.
Jermaine Beckford’s arrival two minutes from time was too late to spare Freedman the grumbles that his actions had been negative.
And so fans walked away from Winter Hill discussing yet another draw – the 12th of the last calendar year – and assessing the relative values of a point at home.
Freedman argued it was a game his side would have lost last year, and you would tend to agree.
This side are made of stronger stuff.
Does he have someone who will make people fill those empty seats, though?
Not quite – but he’s working on it.