First league defeat raises a few questions for new-look Reds
IF last season's 7-3 success at Elland Road had been a rare foray into footballing brilliance under Steve Cotterill, then Saturday's return visit must be viewed as an unusual dip in standards under Sean O'Driscoll.
Nottingham Forest might well have staged another battling comeback to snatch a point amid a suitably no-nonsense, blunt encounter in Yorkshire.
But, in the end, a 2-1 defeat, for the first time, raised a few question marks over O'Driscoll's new-look side.
The manager did not get carried away as the Reds started the season with the longest unbeaten run in the Championship. And nor is he likely to get too worked up now, on the back of a single, solitary reversal.
But, as skipper Danny Collins testified afterwards, what is clear is that Forest have strayed off the path a little, when it comes to producing the kind of football that had injected the entire club with a sense of optimism during an encouraging first few weeks of the campaign.
What looked, for most of the second half, likely to give Forest a route back into this match was not the fluid, flowing football that had become their trademark under the new manager, but a rather more robust, direct approach.
When Dexter Blackstock beat Paddy Kenny to a huge, arrowing throw in from Greg Halford to head the ball into the back of the net, it looked as though Forest might complete an increasingly familiar escape act; that they would again claw their way back from behind to salvage something from a game in which they had not been at their best.
But, unlike Crystal Palace and Birmingham, this time there was to be no equaliser, despite the best efforts of a Reds side that produced a vastly-improved second-half display, albeit one that saw them lured into a physical battle with a Leeds side that bore all the traditional hallmarks of a side managed by Neil Warnock.
Even the first had begun in positive fashion, as James Coppinger advanced purposefully down the right before carving out a decent opening for Simon Cox, who forced an adept save from Paddy Kenny.
But, after that, the composure and comfort which Forest normally possess on the ball deserted them, as they found themselves tormented by the probing, roving figure of El-Hadji Diouf.
The forward was at the heart of things as Leeds took the lead, escaping the attentions of Dan Harding down the right, before sending a cross to the far post where Sam Byram's knock-down was swept high into the back of the net by Luciano Becchio.
In the 25th minute, some uncharacteristically hesitant defending from Daniel Ayala allowed Becchio to ghost into the box and, while the striker lingered too long before shooting, Dominic Poleon was far more decisive, pouncing on the loose ball to sweep a shot inside Lee Camp's near post.
By the interval, Forest were fortunate not to be further behind, with Becchio spurning another outstanding opportunity – although the visitors were also aggrieved that a goal, headed into his own net by Rodolph Austin, was chalked off for a supposed push from Blackstock.
That was not the only questionable decision from referee Andy D'Urso, who also riled Forest by failing to show a second yellow card to Jason Pearce, after he had hauled down Cox as the striker threatened to burst into the box following an outstanding turn.
But, as inconsistent as the match official was, it was Forest's inconsistency that was of more concern to O'Driscoll.
The former Doncaster and Bournemouth boss again demonstrated his willingness to adapt and change things, when required.
At Palace, Forest's three-man central defence was put under pressure by the home side's three man front line and O'Driscoll's decision to change formation was at the heart of their revival.
At Elland Road, after starting with an orthodox 4-4-2, O'Driscoll boldly made a double change at the interval, with Lewis McGugan and Henri Lansbury introduced, as well as pushing Simon Gillett into his more familiar role, sitting in front of the back four.
And again, the tactical tinkering again provoked a positive response, with McGugan coming close to a goal on three separate occasions – most notably with a vicious free kick that bent just wide of the post and with a precise, curling effort that Kenny did well to push around the post.
While Lansbury, as well as McGugan, provided the confidence and guile on the ball that, for once, Forest had been missing in the first period, when possession had too often been surrendered.
In the end, with Cox seeing an effort cleared off the line by Kenny and Halford having a close-range effort blocked, it was not to be for Forest, and they suffered their first taste of defeat in the league.
But, though the disappointment, it must be remembered that this is very much a work in progress, as a new manager looks to stamp his influence on a squad that includes no fewer than 11 new signings.
Seven of those were included in the starting line-up on Saturday and, by the final whistle, nine of them had played a part in proceedings including, in Lansbury, a player still short of match fitness.
In March, when Forest handed out a remarkable hammering in Leeds, it suggested, in emphatic fashion, that they were more than capable of clawing their way clear of relegation trouble.
But this result should not hold the same level of influence. One defeat should not erase all the optimism that has been created since the remarkable events of the summer first unfolded.
As they prepare to face another of Brian Clough's former clubs next weekend, Forest will need to improve if they are to avoid another disappointment.
But we are talking about minor tinkering, rather than a dramatic overhaul. As Collins put it so neatly, Forest just need to find a plan B.