YOU’VE got to hand it to Forest. They played some of the best football seen at Hillsborough this season, writes Paul Thompson.
But Dave Jones could justifiably point the finger at Premier League referee Michael Oliver for not awarding the Owls a penalty.
The fact that visiting manager Billy Davies cheerfully refused to comment on the issue maybe suggested that there was some substance to Wednesday’s claim that they should have had at least one spot-kick.
In two second-half incidents when the Owls were applying pressure, the ball definitely made contact with the left arm of centre-half Danny Collins when a Danny Pugh free-kick dropped on to him, and with the right arm of sub centre-back Jamaal Lascelles after Gary Madine flicked the ball on.
I tend to believe that it is harsh to penalise the defender unless there is obvious intent - impossible to prove on Saturday - but Lascelles’ escape in the 85th minute was the more dubious and I do not think it would have been a surprise if he had been penalised.
Would Wednesday have deserved an equaliser? Maybe not, especially as they were fortunate to be only one down at half -time after a classy 45 minutes from Forest, but while ever they were only one behind there was a chance of them extending their unbeaten run to eight games.
They forced Forest on to the back foot in the second half and got plenty of balls into the box.
But they rarely looked like scoring, which is why a penalty decision going their way would have been so important.
“We just didn’t get that break, that luck,” said Jones, disappointed with the outcome on his first anniversary as manager.
“I’m confused,” he added. “I was talking to the assessor and the referees’ sports psychologist before the game. I’ve
always believed that if it’s deliberate handball then it’s a penalty. They tell me if the ball changes direction, it’s a penalty.
“A handball was given against Jeremy (Helan) when the ball was blasted at him and he was a foot away. Yet the boy (Lascelles) lifts his arm, the ball moves, and nothing is given.”
There could be no disputing Forest’s first-half dominance. Using a 4-1-3-2 formation, they had the upper hand in midfield, moved the ball swiftly and accurately and supported one another closely.
Andy Reid found space and pulled strings; Adlene Guedioura protected the back four yet also came forward with purpose. Wednesday could not get hold of the ball often enough to dictate the game or build an attacking tempo and when they did win possession they gave it away too often.
An early, tame header by Connor Wickham from a Danny Pugh cross was the Owls’ only notable raid of the first half.
At the other end, Collins was inches away from connecting with a cross by Reid, and striker Simon Cox volleyed wide from a Guedioura pass.
A run by Reid sparked the goal. He nutmegged David Prutton then slipped a ball to Cox, who cut inside Anthony Gardner and Miguel Llera before teeing up the unmarked Radoslaw Majewski for a tap-in.
Wednesday changes began at half-time when Wickham made way for Jermaine Johnson.
“We weren’t retaining the ball,” added Jones. “JJ will pick it up and drive at people. I thought my forward line would be quicker than their back line, as it proved, with Jeremy, JJ and Michail going at them. When we got into those areas, we’ve got to pick a pass out, like Forest did for their goal - we’d have probably taken the shot.
“We’ve got young players. It’s something we’ll keep working on and learning from.
“I can’t fault them because they had right good go. The changes were made just to see if we could do something different. It wasn’t that they were playing badly. Sometimes you have to change it.”
Pugh’s withdrawal in the 66th minute saw Helan switched to left-back, Michail Antonio moving to left wing and Kieran Lee going on to the right flank - which gave the team a more attacking look, as did Gary Madine’s later introduction in place of Prutton.
Amid some second-half pressure there was also hope that a goal might come from a set-piece. But Forest keeper Karl
Darlow commanded his six-yard box well, and his collleagues defended stoutly, particularly when drives by Prutton and Antonio were blocked.
A shot by Lita was deflected and looked as if it might loop over Darlow, but he caught it; and Antonio drove a left-foot effort over the bar.
Majewski drove a chnace wide from a pass by Reid, and Blackstock headed wide from a Reid cross.
Jones gave Forest due credit: “We came up against a team with a lot of good players. When you look at the money they’ve spent and the strikers they’ve spent money on ...we’re trying to aspire to that.
“They were more composed on the ball than us, certainly in the first half when we looked a bit erratic in our passing, In the second they were just glad to get a breather and clear it.
“We were probably lucky to come in at half-time 1-0 down. We didn’t play as well as we have been doing. In the (Kirkland) hasn’t had a great deal to do.
“We needed better quality to go into the box. It was always going to be get it in there and see if we can get a break.
“But the disappointing thing for me is that whether you deserve it or you don’t. he (the ref) has got to give one of them. That then becomes your lucky break.”
Davies beamed like a man who is unbeaten in four games since his return as Forest boss and has led his team to three successive wins - their first such run of the season..
“Our first 45 minutes was outstanding,” he said. “We scored a great goal and should maybe have been one or two more in front.
“Second half, we knew they would take us back towards that end (the Kop), with that crowd. We knew we would have to change our gamed slightly and start to head and kick better.
“I’m proud of the performance.
“Let’s not take anything away from the home team. They put you under pressure, They kept putting balls on top of our back four and it makes you drop deeper and deeper. Our young keeper handled it very well and our back four were very competent.”
“This was a real test for us. They’re a big, strong side and hadn’t lost for seven games; that tells you how difficult this game was.”