Nottingham Forest display fight and guile
A TRIP to Charlton was always going to be the toughest test yet faced by Billy Davies, as he embarks on his second spell as Forest manager.
The people at the Valley may be friendly, providing hot soup to help fend off the biting cold. But, out on the pitch, the welcome is anything but.
A playing surface that could have been plucked straight from no-man's land at the Somme and a freezing wind sweeping through the south-east London valley in which the ground is situated was not a recipe for flowing football.
And that all comes after having to fight your way through the hell that is central London traffic to even get there in the first place.
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But, the manner in which Forest came through this testing afternoon, in many ways, should be considered the most encouraging performance yet of the Davies' return.
The 2,000-plus fans who trekked south to witness it will probably have testified as much, as they cranked up the heaters in their cars for the journey home
Because, not only did the Reds demonstrate considerable fighting spirit, they also managed to complement it with considerable guile and creativity.
Despite the elements, the rutted, bare and sand covered pitch, and the best efforts of a Charlton side that, while too often unconvincing in possession, did not lack conviction or desire, Forest never looked like losing.
Even before Yann Kermorgant was red carded for a foolish, angry kick at Greg Halford in the 37th minute, Forest were the dominant force in the game.
When the half-time whistle blew, Chris Powell will have been frustrated to find his side a man down, but relieved not to be a goal down, as Forest spurned several golden opportunities.
Radi Majewski twice found himself with the chance to shoot from 12 yards, but blazed one effort over the bar and failed to properly connect with a second, leaving Ben Hamer to make a simple save.
The Polish midfielder was performing with all the pep and menace that had seen him net a stunning hat-trick against Huddersfield six days ago.
And his frustration at twice failing to make the most of his opportunities will have been brought to a halt when, following a mistake from Scott Wagstaff allowed him to fight to make the room for a shot, from close range, which he duly prodded beneath the advancing keeper.
Henri Lansbury, a whirlwind of toil and incisiveness, was rewarded for his tenacity, as he closed down the keeper following a shot from Simon Cox, which Hamer failed to hold, leaving the former Arsenal man with the simple task of sweeping the ball into an empty net.
From that point on, the game was as good as over. Charlton were barely allowed to threaten, with Powell bringing on two strikers in an effort to claw their way back into the game, but succeeding only in allowing Forest to take an even greater strangle-hold in midfield.
And this, in the last three matches, has been their greatest strength. Davies had told Lewis McGugan that he would need to clean his boots, as he would be playing a lot under him.
But the talismanic midfielder may have to remain patient for a little while yet, because there is currently no obvious route for him back into the team.
Majewski produced the same imperious performance as he had against Huddersfield, Andy Reid's quality and confidence on the ball shone through, Adlene Guedioura provided a strong, athletic barrier in front of the back four and Lansbury covered every blade of grass on the pitch – all 627 of them.
Afterwards, Cox cut a frustrated figure, having notched up a 16th game for Forest and Ireland without scoring a goal.
But he and Darius Henderson could both have held their heads high as they came of the pitch, having provided the foundation stone for a commendable win.
Henderson demonstrated why Alex McLeish had been so keen to bring him to the City Ground, carving out several chances with his physical strength and aerial ability.
While Cox's tireless running was one of the reasons why Charlton were so nervous on the ball because, from back to front, Forest just didn't give them the time to linger in possession.
Davies may have a wealth of attacking talent available to him, with Billy Sharp, back to full fitness following a heel problem, and Dexter Blackstock on the bench. Both players would walk into most other Championship sides – and that is without considering the honest endeavour of Marcus Tudgay, who is working his way back to fitness following a broken collar bone.
With Chris Cohen excelling at left back – an area that McLeish had wanted to strengthen by bringing in some competition for Dan Harding – all of a sudden, it is hard to see which areas Forest need to strengthen in now.
Davies, who previously bristled at a perceived lack of backing in the transfer market during his last spell at the club, may even be tempted to stick with what he has got, rather than plunge into the loan market to bring in a player who may not even be involved.
His priority, instead, may be to look at making the signing of Gonzalo Jara and Elliott Ward more permanent.
Jara is the first right back to have matched the quality of Chris Gunter, since the Welshman was sold to Reading and, given that he should be available for nothing in the summer, when his West Brom contract expires, Forest would do well to try to tie up a deal for him sooner, rather than later, if it is possible. Even if they cannot yet officially tie him to a pre-contract.
The same applies to Ward, who is out of contract at Norwich in the summer and could also be available on a Bosman.
Both are players who have experienced a promotion from the Championship; both look to have slotted easily into the Forest ranks.
And, with Davies – another man who knows the formula for success at this level – having seemingly also eased his way seamlessly back into the dugout, there is every chance that this current run could continue.
Hillsborough, next weekend, will provide another stern test of Forest's character. But, from what we have seen over the past few weeks, that is one quality they suddenly seem to have in abundance.
There are many more tough tests to come on the horizon. But, every team who faces Forest between now and the end of the campaign should be braced to face one themselves.