OPINION: Ben Brereton receives high praise for FA Cup brilliance, as Nottingham Forest deservedly knock out Arsenal
Nottingham Forest's thoroughly deserved win over Arsenal in the FA Cup, saw Ben Brereton receive plaudits from former, two time winner Ray Houghton after the game.
The retired Liverpool and Republic of Ireland star was full of compliments for the 18-year-old when I caught up with him after the Reds stunning 4-2 victory over the Gunners.
Incidentally, it was the first time that Arsenal had suffered defeat at the first stage of the famous old competition under Arsene Wenger’s reign. And off the top of my head, I think that it was the first time the holders had been eliminated at that stage since Coventry City, back in 1989.
Forest were on fire last Sunday and thoroughly deserved their place in round four, but it wasn’t just the fact that they won, it was the compelling and dominant manner in which they did it. Caretaker manager Gary Brazil must take huge credit for the energy levels and commitment of the Forest players in both of the games he took charge of last week.
From the outset, every one of the NFFC players worked their socks off and looked like they’d run through a brick wall had it been placed in front of them. What really intrigued me was the deployment of Ben Brereton as the lone striker, and how he’d cope against the Gunners pairing of Holding and Mertesacker. At full time it was evident that he’d destroyed the pair of them, especially the former German World Cup winner.
I asked Ray Houghton what he made of Forest’s eighteen year old and he had this to say, “He played on the shoulder of the last defender really well and utilised his strength, which is his pace. He’s still a little raw, at eighteen he’s still got a lot to learn but he’s a very good prospect. Forest will be lucky to keep hold of him because they’ll be a lot of people looking at him.”
Quite a compliment from a man who’s racked up 153 appearances for Liverpool and won a staggering, 73 caps for the Republic of Ireland. As far as goal scoring goes, Houghton knows all about finding the net in big games, having scored at both the World Cup and European Championships too.
For me personally, it wasn’t the fact that Brereton scored against Arsenal, but the application he showed when the Reds needed it most. The period I’m referring to is the fifteen minutes after half time. Arsenal were just beginning to assert some authority on the game and looking to level after two great goals from Eric Lichaj.
From my position in the commentary box, I began to repeat the words “Forest need an outlet if they’re going to win this tie.” And that outlet came in the form of Ben Brereton, who alleviated the growing pressure on his own defence by demanding the ball at every opportunity. I counted at least three instances where he darted towards the ball on the half way line before drawing fouls out of the Arsenal back four. In that fifteen minute period, he effectively won the game for the home side. Once that storm had been weathered, the teenager returned to playing on the shoulder, as Ray Houghton pointed out. From there on he was unplayable in his natural habitat, as he peeled off and rinsed Mertesacker for pace at every opportunity.
One of Brereton’s biggest fans is club legend Gary Birtles, and he won’t mind me saying that Ben’s performance on Sunday was very similar to his own against Hamburg in 1980.
Finally, I asked Ray Houghton what he’d made of Forest in general and once again it was rather complementary, “it was a deserved victory and they did what was asked of them. They were very committed and had a great attitude; they played on Arsenal’s weaknesses and they reaped the rewards.”