Stuart Pearce’s brief and unsuccessful first stint as Nottingham Forest manager, almost 18 years ago, began with a home victory, so best not to read too much into one result and this was a performance that might have been expected from a side that included six debutants, with plenty of room for improvement.
Yet a packed City Ground revelled in it. The spell Pearce had in charge after Frank Clark resigned may not have gone well but it will take more than that to tarnish the heroic status he earned in his 401 matches as a player. The roar that greeted his emergence from the tunnel made that plain enough and if his second coming ends with his resignation after three months, it will not be because the Forest fans are on his back.
What happens off the pitch is another matter. Pearce wasted no time in smoothing things over after his chairman, Fawaz al Hasawi, neglected to tell him that he had sold two of his players to Newcastle last week. He stressed again last night that all was well, preferring to shoot the messengers, those underlings at the club who “left me out of the loop” rather than the chairman himself. Nonetheless, it does not augur well.
He preferred to focus on the positives, particularly the reception he was given. “I don’t think any manager can have had an affinity with a club like the one I have had over decades,” he said. “They have been outstanding for me in my career and it was very pleasing, more so because I think the players grew from the atmosphere. There won’t be many games if any today that were played with that sort of euphoria and it pushed the players to give a performance.”
He acknowledged the applause with waves to all corners, to the disappointment of those who hoped he might run to the Trent End, thrusting his arms, fists clenched, above his head. That belonged to his “Psycho” days and he is a more measured character now, although he could not resist showing one clenched fist to A-Block, stronghold of Forest’s die-hards, at the final whistle.
Pearce was quick to point out, though, that these are first steps for his new side. It might be argued that beating Blackpool in their present circumstances is not much to shout about anyway, given that manager Jose Riga had only eight players on his rota scarcely two weeks ago. In the event, ripe to cave in after conceding both Forest goals in the space of five minutes inside the first half-hour, the side in Tangerine organised themselves surprisingly well, for a bunch of strangers. In Pearce’s own words, “if it were a boxing match, Blackpool would have won the second half on points”.
Nathan Delfouneso, the one-time Aston Villa and England Under-21 striker, probably should have headed them in front in the first half, putting the ball wide from John Lundstram’s free-kick. It was rare, however, for Blackpool to venture meaningfully into Forest territory.
The first goal came after Andy Reid, picking up a ball given away cheaply 30 yards from goal, hit the right-hand post with a left-foot shot that rebounded nicely towards Michail Antonio, advancing on goal from the left. The former Sheffield Wednesday winger might easily have blazed the ball over but kept his head down and hit it cleanly, guaranteeing that when Pearce took him off with a little over half an hour to go he would leave to an ovation as the first to score in the new era.
Five minutes later, another long-range strike doubled Forest’s lead, this time from the left foot of Chris Burke, Pearce’s other new wide man, signed from Birmingham City, who made an angle for himself to curl a lovely strike beyond the reach of Joe Lewis, the goalkeeper who teamed up with Blackpool only last Tuesday on a season-long loan from Cardiff.
Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Darlow; Hunt, Mancienne, Fox, Harding; Burke (Osborn, 78), Cohen (Lichaj, 87), Reid, Antonio (McLaughlin, 57); Fryatt, Assombalonga.
Blackpool (4-2-3-1): Lewis; McMahon, Daniels, Clarke, Perkins; Mellis, Lundstram; Zenjev (Telford, 88), Orlandi, Cywka; Delfouneso.
Referee: Tony Harrington.
Man of the match: Antonio (Nottm Forest)
Match rating: 7/10