Sean O'Driscoll's tactical tweaks pay off for Nottingham Forest
LAST week, Sean O'Driscoll was stopped in the street by an angry fan demanding that he justify his team selection.
The Forest manager admitted he was genuinely surprised by the reaction to a single performance, against Hull City, which saw him castigated, in many quarters, for playing only a single striker.
This week, he can do his shopping in peace, without having to explain anything, after seeing goals from two front men secure what was, in the end, a deserved victory over Burnley.
Games in the Championship are frequently decided by the slimmest of margins and, while the refereeing decisions went against Forest when they faced Hull, this time the questionable moments in the game went decidedly in their favour.
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Having been beaten by a debatable penalty and a goal from a clear handball one week, they benefited from some lenient refereeing the next, as a goal from Dexter Blackstock was allowed to stand, despite the fact the striker had used Jason Shackell as a primitive step ladder to attack Andy Reid's cross.
That is no criticism of Blackstock, who took his goal superbly. Nor is it a suggestion that the win was anything less than merited, on an afternoon when O'Driscoll's tactical tinkering paid off.
The manager used his programme notes to outline his desire to get into a position where Forest are 'consistently and attractively' winning matches, while also taking the unusual step of using the majority of the rest of his column to explain away the tactical plan they had utilised against the Tigers.
But he will have been happy his players did the talking for him on the pitch, against a Burnley side whose position in the table perfectly demonstrates the closely fought nature of a remarkably tight division.
Had the Clarets won on Saturday, they would sit in the ninth position Forest now occupy. Instead, defeat left them in 17th place. Still, only five points separate them from Watford, who sit in the final play-off place with 33 points, 11 positions above.
Over the next two weeks, Forest travel to face both the Hornets and, this coming weekend, Brighton, two of the sides immediately around them in the table, knowing that a win could lift them into the top six for just the second time this season.
Gus Poyet's side have lost only twice on home soil so far this season, but then, Forest have lost only twice on their travels and, following a performance that was full of attacking menace, inspired by the rejuvenated Andy Reid, they will make the long journey south full of confidence.
O'Driscoll's critics will argue the inclusion of two strikers was key to Forest's success, particularly given it was the composure and confidence of Billy Sharp that secured the all-important second goal, as he latched on to another superb ball from Reid to break the offside trap, before dispatching an accurate finish beyond the advancing keeper.
But Forest's success was based on more than just that as the Forest boss seemed to take the view that attack was the best form of defence – particularly when it came to nullifying Burnley's own strengths.
Brian Stock is a player O'Driscoll knows well, having managed him at both Bournemouth and Doncaster.
But fielding Lewis McGugan in an advanced role gave the midfielder defensive responsibilities and denied him the opportunity to control the game as he is capable of doing.
Instead it was another 30-year-old, in the form of Reid, who stepped into the spotlight and dictated proceedings, as Forest, in patches, produced some flowing football.
As O'Driscoll testified before and after the game, there is still work to be done. His side are far from the finished article. But, on Saturday, they looked more like the team that flew out of the blocks early in the campaign.
They did not have things all their own way, with Charlie Austin firing over in the second minute and, after Blackstock had given Forest the lead, then forcing a smart save from Lee Camp, while Martin Paterson fired a shot into the side netting.
But, with Alan Hutton and Dan Harding pushing forward to provide attacking support down both flanks, it always felt as though Forest would ultimately make the breakthrough, with Reid, Harding and McGugan, in particular, frequently linking up well.
Before they scored, McGugan came close with a driven free-kick and with a curling effort that flew narrowly high and wide.
And, in the second half, the midfielder might have done better with a wild shot, following a clever knockdown from Blackstock.
Ultimately, however, two smart finishes from two strikers were enough to see them bounce back from consecutive defeats, against Ipswich and Hull, and pitch themselves right back into the play-off chase.
Just over a year ago Forest travelled to Brighton with a very different goal in mind, as they looked to pull clear of trouble at the opposite end of the table.
Steve Cotterill's side dominated almost entirely, but returned home empty handed, after Will Buckley netted in injury time to give the home side a 1-0 win.
It says much of the changes that have taken place since then that, as they prepare to return to Falmer, the only member of the starting line-up that day who is certain to start for Forest next weekend is Lee Camp.
Otherwise, six players from that team have left the club, two have gone out on loan and Guy Moussi and Radi Majewski are likely to be substitutes on the south coast.
The team that beat Burnley included seven of the 14 signings O'Driscoll has made since being appointed by the Al Hasawi family amid a period of significant flux for the club.
In the circumstances, the fact that Forest are on the periphery of the promotion race is a commendable achievement.
There is room for improvement, without question. But they have given themselves something to build on.
On Saturday, O'Driscoll achieved one part of his ultimate goal, as Forest secured a win while playing some entertaining football. The next step is for Forest to do that consistently.
If they can do that, the next time O'Driscoll is stopped in the street by a fan, he might receive a pat on the back, rather than a flea in the ear.
Championship results: Derby 3 Leeds 1, Charlton 2 Brighton 2, Crystal Palace 2 Blackpool 2, Huddersfield 2 Bolton 2, Ipswich 3 Millwall 0, Leicester 2 Barnsley 2, Peterborough 2 Middlesbrough 3, Sheff Wed 2 Bristol City 3, Watford 1 Hull 2, Wolves 1 Birmingham 0.