Nottingham Forest returned to winning ways in the Sky Bet Championship on Saturday afternoon, defeating Blackburn Rovers 1-0 at the City Ground.
The Reds suffered late heartbreak in the 1-0 defeat to Swansea City in midweek, despite putting in an impressive display in South Wales.
Although their performances levels weren’t replicated on Saturday, Chris Hughton’s side picked up a deserved three points against a Rovers side who have now lost their four successive league games.
Alex Mighten scored the game’s only goal, firing in a deflected effort from the edge of the area to give Forest a lead on 25 minutes – his first ever goal at the City Ground.
Blackburn did grow into the game in the second half, and they missed a golden opportunity to level the scores when Adam Armstrong saw his penalty saved by Brice Samba.
Forest were worthy winners, though, and after hitting the woodwork in either half, the Reds held onto their lead and put further daylight between themselves and the bottom three. Here, we take a look at three things we learnt about the Reds after their 1-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers…
Anthony Knockaert continues to improve
As each game goes by, we are starting to see more of the Anthony Knockaert who helped Brighton win promotion under Chris Hughton back in 2016/17. He won the Player of the Season award in the Championship that year, and the confidence he played with back then is starting to creep into his game more often nowadays.
At the weekend, Knockaert proved to be a constant nuisance for Amari’i Bell, carving an excellent chance for himself early in the first half where he played a slick one-two with Glenn Murray, before dancing his way round a few challenges and having a goal-bound effort denied on the line.
Knockaert’s set-piece deliveries possess so much quality, too, and it was one of his free-kicks which led to Mighten grabbing his goal. When you have towering figures in every area of the pitch, that is only going to be beneficial going forward.
Defensively, though, Knockaert does lack concentration at times, and it was his header which led to Brice Samba bringing down Nyambe and Keith Stroud awarding a penalty. Thankfully for him, Samba was equal to Armstrong’s spot-kick, and Knockaert’s blushes were spared.
But it’s the attacking influence that fans will remember Knockaert for, and if he can add a few more goals to his game between now and the end of the season, Forest have a decision to make on the Frenchman’s future come the summer.
Samba steps up when it matters
One positive that has come from Forest’s recent run of fixtures is that Samba has barely had anything to do in-between the sticks. Even in the defeat to Swansea last Wednesday, he had very little to do other than pick the ball out of his net after Connor Roberts’ late winner.
However, when Samba was called into action at the weekend, the 26-year-old rose to the big action.
Diving to his right, Samba produced a strong hand to palm away Armstrong’s effort from 12 yards, before getting up and reacting to the danger soon after.
Samba has recovered from a poor run of form earlier on in the season. He was left with egg on his face when he rather lackadaisically failed to deal with a cross into the box in the away defeat to Reading, subsequently leading to a penalty for the Royals and the start of a tough afternoon for the Reds.
But as they often say, form is temporary, class is permanent.
Cafu – a part of the furniture
Much of the talk over the last couple of weeks has been about the impact James Garner has made since arriving on loan from Manchester United in January.
Cafu has played alongside Garner in every game he has played so far, though, and the Portuguese midfielder has been one of the Reds’ most consistent performers.
Whilst Garner’s passing range and play in-between the lines has been key for Forest, Cafu’s ability to break up play and help recycle possession has gone unnoticed by many.
All of a sudden, despite a host of injury concerns in the middle of the park, Forest have found a midfield duo who compliment each other well, and more importantly, works.