Band of brothers spirit stands out

Chris Lakey Nottingham Forest 1, Norwich City 1: John McGovern is a fair judge of a player and a team - as you'd expect of a player who twice lifted the European Cup and became one of the legendary Brian Clough's closest playing allies.

Chris Lakey

Nottingham Forest 1, Norwich City 1

John McGovern is a fair judge of a player and a team - as you'd expect of a player who twice lifted the European Cup and became one of the legendary Brian Clough's closest playing allies.

Nowadays he can be found working for BBC local radio at Forest games, as he was on Saturday, when City were unlucky not to make it the worst start Forest have had to a season in half a century.


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McGovern was, apparently, full of praise for the Canaries post-game. It was a feeling that permeated the ground: stewards, a few fans in front of the media box, some hacks inside it who had seen it all before. And Billy Davies, the Forest manager, who could do little else but hold his hands up and admit: Forest were fortunate to get a point.

So how far have City come in just four games?

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Don't forget, Forest finished third in the Championship last season and Davies has stuck pretty much with the same side. It was probably seen as the most difficult of City's early fixtures, but from the start they set about dictating the tempo, the pace and the atmosphere inside the ground. They performed as if they had risen to what was expected to be a tough challenge - and beaten it.

The only thing they didn't do, of course, was win, but while the single point was scant reward for their efforts, Paul Lambert will take an awful lot of positives from the game.

Like he said, the team have come an awful long way in the past year - they have accepted the Lambert ethos, his way of doing things, and perhaps the one player who exemplifies that more than any other is Chris Martin.

A year ago Martin was embarking on a crucial season for him: he had to show he had grown up and was capable of scoring goals for Norwich. He scored the goals but it's probably fair to say his most difficult task was to convince supporters that he wasn't a lazy player. Sometimes his body language suggests incorrectly that he looks too relaxed. Fast forward a year to the City Ground on Saturday and Martin is a very different player.

He worked tirlessly for the cause, his touch is exemplary, his attitude first class. He's clearly benefited from playing alongside Grant Holt for a season, but it's the way he reflected the team as a whole that's interesting. The word team is highly relevant here, because Martin was one of several candidates for the nomination as man of the match - perhaps we should be twee and name “Man of the match: all 11.” It's a cop-out, but there were so many performances that were so good that it proves when things are done in unison, rather than piecemeal, things happen.

The team attacked as one, the team defended as one: sure, when they go forward there are certain individuals whose particular skills come to the fore. Ditto defensively.

With fans barely settled, Martin almost put City ahead as he latched on to slack work in midfield by Forest skipper Paul McKenna only to curl the ball around Lee Camp and against the angle of bar and post. A minute later he rattled the bottom of the same post with a low free-kick. The chances came because City moved forward as a team: Andrew Crofts' presence in the middle of the park was like a huge barrier to opponents, Korey Smith and Andrew Surman either side ensuring that alternative routes were fraught with danger.

With Forest sticking to a 4-4-2 formation and opting not to man-mark Wes Hoolahan, they were outnumbered in midfield. City were picking them off - and with Forest unable to get their wide men into the game with any great effect - with full-backs Russell Martin and Adam Drury pushing them back with some excellent support play - it was the visitors on the ascendancy.

When Martin and Holt attacked, Hoolahan was in close attendance, with the three midfielders backing up: Forest were on their heels and struggling to cope with City's crisp passing. There was a discipline that reduced mistakes, leaving Forest little to feed off.

Sod's law would have it that when you're doing well, someone interferes, and in this case it was referee Scott Mathieson, who had some big calls to make - and perhaps got them wrong. He didn't give Holt a second glance when he went down under pressure from Luke Chambers, but when City new boy Leon Barnett delayed over a clearance and ended up kicking Dexter Blackstock, he really should have given his whistle some stick.

It was close enough to suggest that next time Forest got inside City's area there was no margin for error. Paul Anderson knew the script and when he took possession on the left of the box when City struggled to clear, the sight of Russell Martin's arm proved just too tempting. He went down like a bag of spuds and Mr Mathieson was given the opportunity to atone for his earlier error. City protested, Blackstock kept his head and slotted it into the right-hand corner, only an inch away from John Ruddy's hands. Close, but no cigar.

The angry aftermath might have been destructive, but City are more disciplined than that and within five minutes they were level. Andrew Surman, enjoying his best outing for City to date, swung in a free-kick from the left. Chris Martin got his head to it, but succeeded only in ballooning it up in the air. He chased a second time and did extremely well to beat Ryan Bertrand to the second header and twist himself enough to turn it towards Crofts, who flicked it over Camp's head. From then on, City were never anything but the better team. Even when Forest attacked, the defensive side came into play: Barnett, on his debut, hardly put a foot wrong, tracking Blackstock well, refusing to allow him any clean ball, while you look at Elliott Ward and wonder how on earth he couldn't get into the Coventry side last season. A footballing centre-half, he passes the ball out whenever he can, but it's his timing of the tackle that is so impressive. The pair of them drove Earnshaw across the box rather than into it, and with the full-backs cutting down the number of decent crosses, City's back four again looked strong.

Holt might have had another penalty soon after the break when he was upended by Wes Morgan, and closer to the end could have claimed the win but for Camp, who stuck out his left leg to turn the striker's shot away.

It would have sent the 2,532 visiting fans behind the goal wild with delight; their contribution was enormous.

While they were making the difficult trek to Nottingham, with the traffic jam starting in Norwich and ending at the Trent, just 60 visiting fans were witnessing Wigan's 1-0 win at Tottenham. Perhaps there's a spare place in the Premier League for a town or city that deserves it.

Lambert suggested after the match that City could surprise a few this season - was this game the Leeds of last season? City were cruelly beaten at Elland Road, but the performance was arguably the one that made people realise they were as good as anyone else in the division. They proved it, they won it.

No one's suggesting they will win the Championship, but the evidence of the weekend suggests they won't be far away.

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