As it happened, Francis was out on a precautionary basis for a tweaked hamstring, so Smith made his second starting home debut. Stanislas began instead of Pugh, a reward for taking his goal so well on Saturday.
Forest kicked off towards the North Stand, and Smith was felled early. Forest looked to move quickly down the wings; Smith & O’Kane were alert. O’Kane slung a great pass out to Ritchie; this aspect has improved since last season. Stanislas won a corner, Ritchie put it in & Cook just missed a header. Forest played a sort of midfield diamond; this allowed Boscombe to surge forward on many occasions, mounting wave after wave of attacks throughout the half. Kermorgant linked well initially, but fell away later; Arter made some telling interceptions and passes but sometimes didn’t concentrate (no surprise there…). Daniels is a little slower these days and had to adjust his game against the ex-Brum winger Burke. Smith was breaking well, and his shot from well in but narrow was saved; Ritchie won a corner from which it bounced out & O’Kane hit it at the keeper from 22 yards.
The game was fluid; Wilson received a great through pass and won a corner resulting in pinball. Stanislas & Wilson were on the shoulder of their markers, always ready to surge forward. Forest did come forward occasionally, with Smith & Cook having to tackle back well. Forest defenders began to panic through a series of corners. Daniels sent Wilson on & he put Ritchie through on the keeper who conceded a corner but Ritchie really should’ve done better given the time & space. Boscombe had become totally & utterly dominant (and wonderfully well, a delight to watch), doing everything but score. Approaching the umpteenth home corner, one felt the cold, clammy hand of that feeling: the away side nicking it late on…
Arter hit over from a Stanislas header back (with all 11 opponents in the area to defend the corner), with Forest still trying to find their way; O’Kane was very effective and the experienced Reid lost & floundering. But Kermorgant made a couple of mistakes, allowing Forest to cross; the header was wide. Smith started a lovely move; the 3rd pass saw him receive it well in but again Forest were able to concede a corner. Whereas Francis goes for the outside, Smith attacked the corner of the box. Forest had a free wide left which gained a corner; the home side & fans went in at the interval feeling frustrated as Boscombe had had 70:30 of the play. HT: 0-0
Stuart Pearce made 2 astute changes for the second period, changing the side’s shape. Most influential was the 38, Osborn, who proceeded to do what Anton Robinson did for us in recent years – close down the avenues, cut off supply. This evened it out to 50:50. Wilson stumbled wide left in the area, but no pen awarded. Too “honest”? The 4-2-3-1 of Forest enabled them to press more, but Kermorgant managed to spread the ball wide, heading just wide from the return cross. Smith did superbly to take it towards the flag and come out from the attention of 2 defenders to feed Ritchie. His cross caused consternation in the away box and Wilson nicked it. 1-0, 58, crowd delirious!
More fluid play ensued, with more pinball in the Forest area. But then the otherwise solid Elphick was penalised near the home corner, and Ritchie was yellowed for holding on to the ball. Very silly. The cross came over and Assombalonga’s head met it, with an apparent deflection as Camp was back on his heels as the ball bounced in to his left. 1-1, 67. In response, Wilson took it through well, going round outside the left-back to win another corner. But now the home midfield was sitting deeper and Forest coming on. From Daniels’ area came a cross to the back stick. One striker was baulked, but Fryatt appeared to bundle over Smith as the former headed just inside the post. 1-2, 72. Away fans sang, “2-1 to the famous team”. This led to O’Kane bursting through more, but changes were necessary: Fraser & Pugh replaced Ritchie & Stanislas (who had faded) on 76. Soon after (80), Rantie came on for Arter who was beginning to lose it. This produced a 4-1-3-2 with O’Kane sitting & Kermorgant central behind Wilson & Rantie.
The latter and Fraser certainly ran at defenders, but others didn’t take their efforts on to the required result. Pugh’s cross was caught by the keeper, and Kermorgant’s passes were too often under-hit, giving his colleagues problems in all areas. Boscombe twice put it in the side netting in the last period; Forest just the once at the end. Cook was yellowed for upending the no.9. Lots of late huff’n’puff but no equaliser. FT: 1-2
Gutting, but we must not assume, expect, or presume, a similar advance as over the last 2-3 seasons. There were several other “surprising” or “unpredictable” results this evening, showing any team can beat any other, and Forest were just good enough tonight. But the reasons for the 2 Forest goals will need a lot of analysis & work to prevent in future – as well as the style & quality of home corners & why & how forwards didn’t connect with them. More generally, this & the Brentford game showed how the first-choice line-up is stymied by the opposition’s 4-2-3-1, so alternatives must be explored. One step at a time – or, in this case, 2 or 3 steps forward, 1 step back.
Smith was superb going forward, but the platform for – especially – the first-half performance was the steadiness & passing of O’Kane, to whom this observer grants the award.
AFCB: Camp; Smith, Elphick, Cook, Daniels; Ritchie (Fraser, 76), Arter (Rantie, 80), O’Kane, Stanislas (Pugh, 76); Wilson, Kermorgant
Subs:Flahavan, Cargill, Gosling, Harte, Fraser (for Ritchie, 76 mins), Pugh (for Stanislas, 76 mins), Rantie (for Arter, 80 mins)
Peter Wicks, Bulford
Peter Wicks, Bulford