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The plan that shows Nottingham Forest are on the right track – whatever happens this season

Whatever happens between now and May – and there’s still everything to play for – Nottingham Forest are on the right track regardless.

Saturday’s performance against Bristol City was a clear indication of that.

If this is Steve Cooper’s plan, the identity he seeks to forge, one way or another, the future is bright at City Ground.

The pace, the work rate, the linking play, the passing movements, it was all a joy to watch. On top of that, the focus and intensity remained until the end, even when the Reds’ opponents had almost enough downed tools.

In the short term at least, it was a crucial victory. Anything else, and while the race for the top six wouldn’t be over, it would be much harder to win.

As things stand, Forest have kept in touch with their rivals. Just three points from the play-off places with a big game at Sheffield United coming up on Friday.

It was also important that they shake off the flat feeling of Tuesday night when they were far from their best – although the result could have been worse than the 0-0 draw they came away with from the trip in Preston. North end.

Cooper admitted there was an air of disappointment in the locker room after that one; a feeling that the majority of the team had not played to their potential.

No such charges could have been brought this weekend. Quite the opposite, in fact. So much so, there were several contenders to be named man of the match. It really could have been anyone.

To say it was a comfortable win really doesn’t do it justice.

From the first minute to the last, and back and forth, Cooper’s men were superb. In perfect control. And without really hitting full throttle.

Keep playing like this more often than not, and Forest still have a chance to do something special this season.

between posts

Ethan Horvath didn’t have much to do, but with clean sheets in his two appearances as Brice Samba was suspended, he will have given his manager food for thought.

City never really tested him. The only time the American looked potentially in trouble was when he almost got himself into trouble with the ball at his feet a few times in the first half.

Those times aside, however, he could have had his feet up for most of the afternoon.

Still, he was confident when calling for balls in the box, didn’t look restless and made good decisions.

Even if Samba does return after the match at Bramall Lane, he will know he cannot afford to relax if he is to remain first-choice longer term. And that’s not a bad thing.

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The visitors gave Horvath an easy ride, but that was also largely thanks to the work done by those in front of the goalkeeper.

More on midfield shortly, but Joe Worrall, Steve Cook and Scott McKenna’s backline/brickwall looked superb. They didn’t even sniff the Robins.

Defending is a work of art for these three, and they were nearly perfect on that front on Saturday. But on top of that they are also great on the ball and have shown it.

McKenna burst down the left before combining with Max Lowe for James Garner’s goal is up there with moments of the season so far.

Cook, too, was always looking to move forward. And he came close to scoring what would have been a stunning goal.

Forest’s attacking intent starts from the back and they have three centre-backs all capable of driving the team forward.

This game also really showcased the Reds’ wingers.

Brennan Johnson of Nottingham Forest celebrates after scoring her team's first goal during the Sky Bet Championship game between Nottingham Forest and Bristol City
Brennan Johnson of Nottingham Forest celebrates after scoring her team’s first goal during the Sky Bet Championship game between Nottingham Forest and Bristol City

Djed Spence was back doing Djed Spence things after disappearing midweek. The first half was up there with his performances in the FA Cup when it came to terrorizing the opposition, capped off by a delightful assist to set up Brennan Johnson. There’s no doubt that these two are destined for the Premier League one way or another.

Meanwhile, Lowe has shown how much he will miss when he is sent off against his parent club next week. A decisive pass for him too, as well as many test runs, while remaining solid.

When Spence and Lowe are in good form, this team has a nice balance.

Selection dilemma

Cooper admitted afterwards that it had been difficult to know who to leave out, in order to bring Philip Zinckernagel back to the team.

The Dane helped address the lack of creativity that Forest suffered at Deepdale. It made a difference to get him back in the XI.

The inclusion of Zinckernagel, however, meant that Garner, Jack Colback and Ryan Yates had to retire to the bench. Not an easy call to make when all three have been excellent.

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The decision was incredibly tough for Yates. Just as it would have been if one of his teammates had missed.

If they felt the need to justify getting the green light, Colback and Garner were brilliant.

The former rushed into the ground to win the midfield battle, constantly making tackles. And Garner was able to dictate the game by being back in a deeper role. He also completed a fine move for a well-worked goal, cushioning the ball into the back of the net.

Lowe’s absence next week means Colback is most likely to replace left-back, with Yates returning to the starting line-up. But for the rest of the campaign, this fight for a place in midfield will be fierce.

Intent to attack

Keinan Davis continues to prove he was a bargain for the Reds in the January transfer window.

Such is his strength, he can easily fend off defenders and then use his power to dash forward. He scored more than once doing just that, creating chances for Spence and Johnson.

Only a good save from Daniel Bentley – who spared his side an embarrassing scoreline with some fine saves – prevented the Aston Villa loanee from scoring.

Spence and Cook were also denied by Bentley in the first half as the hosts swarmed across the city, while Zinckernagel was thwarted late.

It was a very entertaining game throughout, helped by Cooper making it clear in the interval that he wouldn’t be content with his team just getting through the rest of the game.

He wanted more goals. But for Bentley, Forest could have had them. It wasn’t for lack of trying.

And with Depeche Mode’s triumphant return at the final whistle, all is set for a tasty trip to Bramall Lane on Friday.

What did you think of Forest’s performance? Have your say in the comments below