The Thursday Preview: West Ham Vs Nottingham Forest
Having lost only four times this season, the Tricky Trees have never been out of touch, but recent weeks have seen a honing of the strategy – five wins have been rolled off including a lairily celebrated double over Derby and a first ever win at the PP arena, an efficient 2-0 triumph at the Cardiff City Stadium and the kind of breathy, last gasp turnaround against Pompey that most promotion bids are fuelled with.
A central midfield axis of Chris Cohen and Guy “The Moose” Moussi has shone this January and Lewis McGugan has thrown off the attentions of his putative replacement David McGoldrick with a dazzling six months – ten times opposing custodians have been beaten.
In Lee Camp and Chris Gunter, Forest possess perhaps the best players in the division in their respective positions and their loss of the East Midlands unofficial Championship in November has done nothing but inspire them. A rattling good team last season, the stats are mounting up this, and underline that this is certainly no sudden rise. For Forest have now gone 32 matches unvanquished at the City Ground, provoking memories of a more famous campaign-straddling run more than 30 years ago now.
So the Trentsiders will be relishing the trip to West Ham, a club who, on the face of it, are experiencing a winter of discontent.
If the platitude that “Scotty” (it’s never simply “Scott”) Parker has become ubiquitous enough to provoke a little minor Bill Grundy action, the East Londoners have been a shadow of themselves since inexplicably deciding that Gianfranco Zola didn’t cut it. League Cup respectability notwithstanding, their EPL times have been scattered with performances abject, including maulings at Newcastle and Liverpool and at home to the Arsenal.
If the Olympic Stadium farrago has painted the Hammers as the good guys (aside from the blogosphere, where Orient are the afficionado’s choice), even this has been mired in controversy centring on an agreed upon £40 million loan from Newham Council and their charming owners upsetting the new tenants of their erstwhile base up the M40. On the pitch, Gary O’Neil has come in for Valon Behrami – a back to basics move that does little to assuage the embarrassment that Victor Obinna has scored just the once and Freddie Sears has been recalled out of desperation, despite doing diddly squat at three Championship clubs.
This Sunday’s FA Cup meeting will bring to mind a semi final encounter in 1991 – the now newly boss-less Tony Gale receiving his marching orders despite the softness of his challenge on Gary Crosby. Forest went on to win four to zero although the sympathetic media love in for West Ham was matched only by that afforded to Spurs in a final that saw Gazza practise a little taekwondo. Two decades on, this one will be a draw.