OPINION: Big game players turned up when Forest needed them most


Nottingham Forest will be playing Championship football next season, thanks to the performances of what I call big game players.

Jordan Smith, Britt Assombalonga and Jamie Ward were the difference between second and third tier football this afternoon v Ipswich.

Especially Assombalonga, whose recent resurgence has been admirable; the fans certainly played their part too and packed out the city ground in a sea of red and white

You could feel the tension around the stadium today, so I paid particular attention to the players as they warmed up and then made their way down the line of awkward handshakes with the opposition.

A few lads clearly looked nervous but Britt Assombalonga waved to the crowd with his young daughter perched in his arms. For me, it’s those little tell tale signs that reassure you a player isn’t going to be fazed by the enormity of the situation.

I wrote a similar thing about the body language of Jordan Smith prior to his debut earlier in the season, he looked like he’d played a hundred matches beforehand. Forest were somewhat unconvincing in that first forty five minutes but went in ahead thanks to the afore mentioned players.

Smith’s unbelievable save in the 37th minute will be remembered as fondly as Peter Shilton’s at Coventry back in 1978.

It was the platform for Forest to build on, which they did so thanks to the quick thinking of Jamie Ward and the coolness of Britt Assombalonga’s spot kick.

Despite brief flashes of positivity from Jamie Ward in that first half, he really came to life in the second and was a constant thorn in Ipswich’s side.

Remember that this lad has played against the World Champions Germany, in the last 16 of the Euros. There was no way on earth that he wouldn’t be able to handle a relegation play off of sorts and he proved his worth for sure.

When the evergreen Chris Cohen had rifled home a deflected effort in the 56th minute, you could hear the collective sigh of relief from the City Ground to the city limits. His goal was a testimony to his frustrating career in a red shirt and came about thanks to the unsung hero of the game, David Vaughan. The Welshman broke things up and gave the simple ball time after time this afternoon, and certainly deserves a mention.

You could visibly see that a few players, like the supporters began to lose their shackles after the second goal, and that’s why I’d like to pay particular tribute to the ones that were on it from the start. That’s the telling difference between a big game player and a decent pro, the latter only spring to life when the nerves settle in games like these. Throw in the fact that Blackburn and Birmingham had taken commanding early leads, it certainly cranks up the pressure a notch or two further.

Such was Forest’s dominance in the second half that they earned another penalty, again engineered by Ward but this time Assombalonga was thwarted by former Notts County keeper Bart Bialkowski.

A lesser man would have been running the ramifications of his penalty miss through his brain for the remainder of the match, but not Britt. The burly forward effectively ended the contest and allayed any relegation fears just three minutes after his spot kick failure. He powered past his marker and nearly ripped the goal net as his smashed home Forest’s third; Game Over!

The joyful celebrations on the pitch after the game were a sight to behold, it was all in good nature and the only red mist came from the odd flare being sneakily lit among the fans.

I said a couple of months back that we’d stay up by virtue of being the best of the worst. Surviving by goal difference certainly proves my theory but when it came to the crunch, the big game players not only saved the day, but the season too!