Whites' late late show: Nottingham Forest 1 Bolton Wanderers 1
GATECRASHING Billy Davies’s homecoming party at Forest was all well and good, but can Wanderers keep making these fashionably late entrances and get away with it?
Just as he did against Burnley a week earlier, Dougie Freedman plucked the answer to salvation from his subs bench, and once again it came in the form of strike duo David Ngog and Craig Davies, who combined to equalise Andy Reid’s earlier effort.
Had Marcos Alonso not been given a harsh sending off 10 minutes from time, then a winner looked on the cards. But a man down, Wanderers were left clinging on for a point at the end.
That gave a slightly unfulfilled feel to the result, and begged the question – if Wanderers can dominate the latter stages in such a way, why did they labour so much for an hour? Patience is clearly the key under Freedman, who has organised his defence to such a degree that such containment is possible.
Adam Bogdan had been a much busier man than he was against the Clarets, and brushed off any of the criticism he got that afternoon with a fantastic performance.
Had he not made four good saves in the first half, then all of Wanderers’ defensive effort would have been null and void. But though Reid beat him with a fine half volley, there was something genuinely encouraging about the way he, Zat Knight, Craig Dawson and co were defending their own penalty box.
Forest had built-up “King Billy’s” return to ridiculous lengths, and a cynic might suggest that was to mask over the concerns elsewhere in the club after last week’s much-publicised and rather brutal internal staffing changes.
His pre-match video address from the big screen tugged on every heart-string, even harking for a “return to the Cloughie days” – and so it was against a pumped up crowd, as well as the Forest team, Wanderers had to contest.
Early on, the message was clearly to hold tight. Jay Spearing and Darren Pratley screened the back four leaving Mark Davies – back in action for the first time since early December – Steve de Ridder and Chung-Yong Lee to try to make ground on the break.
Up front, skipper Kevin Davies returned to the side as a platform to hold up the ball, but this was one of those days in which very little stuck for the big man.
Bogdan set his stall out with a terrific double save after only four minutes, pushing away angled efforts from Radolsaw Majewski and Henri Lansbury.
He was then called upon to deal with another nasty dipping shot from Majewski, and a similar strike from Reid, who was a constant menace playing in a narrow diamond midfield in behind the striker.
But for a brief scurry from Mark Davies, which ended with a shot clearing the bar by a foot, there was nothing to write home about for Wanderers in an attacking sense.
And on the stroke of half time, Bogdan completed the best of his quartet of saves by diving low to block Simon Cox’s shot after he had wriggled past Knight on the edge of the box. Wanderers are certainly made of sterner stuff these days under Freedman, and the desire to hold firm was summed up by a great block by Darren Pratley on the penalty spot as Lansbury fired yet another strike in on Bogdan’s goal.
De Ridder briefly flickered into life to drag a daisy cutter towards goal and force Karl Darlow into his first save of the day, but something clearly needed to change for Wanderers to become a force and it was little surprise when the Belgian was withdrawn for Chris Eagles. Unfortunately, no sooner had the change had time to take effect than Bogdan was picking the ball out of his net.
Reid seized on to a flick by Lansbury on the edge of the box to rifle a low volley into the bottom corner and ignite the City Ground into celebration. This was now a thorough test of Wanderers’ mettle.
Kevin Davies had a chance to respond immediately when he ran on to an awful backpass by Chris Cohen and looked to have rounded Darlow until the Forest keeper stuck out an arm to grab the ball.
Ngog’s arrival for the captain was not long in coming, and just three minutes after the Frenchman had joined Craig Davies on the pitch, Wanderers were level.
Spearing broke up play on the edge of his own box allowing Pratley to spray a superb ball out for Ngog to raid down the right wing. His perfect low cross found Davies plumb centre, and the former Barnsley man turned the ball in from close range for his second goal in as many games.
For a moment, the stage was set for Wanderers to grab another goal.
A decision 10 minutes from the end from ref Keith Stroud ended any hopes of three points, however, as seconds after the official deemed that Craig Dawson had felled Reid on the edge of the box, Alonso cleared the ball – an act deemed unsporting behaviour, which earned the Spaniard a second yellow card.
You couldn’t help wondering if the occasion had played its part in Stroud’s decision, but nevertheless Wanderers suddenly needed to kick back into defensive mode, and quickly.
Tyrone Mears was shifted to left back and Spearing moved back into defence to try and plug the gap, and though Forest sub Darius Henderson went close with a header, the Whites did well to repel the waves of attack that followed without major incident.
It had not been the display many were hoping for after the Burnley drama, and the wait for back-to-back victories goes on. But it was by no means a disaster. There may be moans and groans but at least they are being accompanied by a point.
With a near fully fit squad, Freedman has plenty of options and with that inevitably comes disagreement about what his best side really is.
Working from the back, the Wanderers boss seems to have nailed down a formula that has stopped the leakage of goals but going forward he is yet to find a convincing mix – over the course of 90 minutes, at least.