‘This is exactly what Mark Warburton has been aiming for from the moment he arrived’ – Nottingham Forest produced best performance in years to blow away QPR – Paul Taylor


Illness had inspired the QPR manager, Ian Holloway, to watch the majority of the first half from the self-imposed quarantine of a place on a television gantry, high in the roof of the Peter Taylor Stand at the City Ground.

He may well have wished he had stayed there.

But, as he made his way down to the away dugout shortly before half-time, Holloway responded to some stick from the Forest fans by indulging in a little jig on the touchline. It was the fanciest footwork offered by anyone connected to the London club all afternoon.

And Holloway’s malaise will only have been worsened by what unfolded on the pitch in front of him, as he saw his side torn apart by one of the best Nottingham Forest performances of recent years.

The much-travelled Bristolion was not used to the taste of defeat on the banks of the Trent, having won four and drawn two of his previous six visits here as manager, with Millwall, Crystal Palace and Blackpool. But he had to swallow a huge, unfamiliar spoonful of disappointment on Saturday afternoon, one that will have tasted just as bitter as any medicine.

There are many among the Reds faithful who will have revelled in that too, if only because of his persistent habit of referring to them as ‘Notts Forest’. A small, but unforgivable sin in these parts.

Ian Holloway watches from the TV gantry

It had been Mark Warburton who has had more cause to feel sick in recent months, following a start to the season that has offered as many downs as ups, where Forest are concerned.

Tyler Walker celebrates scoring his second goal and Forest’s fourth against QPR

But, while numerous positive performances have not been rewarded with positive results, this was an afternoon when things finally fell into place for the Reds. Emphatically so.

You could almost hear a physical ‘click’ echoing around the stands, as another rampaging performance finally resulted in an emphatic win to go with it.

This was, you sensed, exactly what Warburton had been aiming for, from the moment he arrived as manager at the end of last season; this was the brand of football, the mentality and ethos that he has been trying to instil for months.

This was not the first time Forest had produced this level of performance. They had done so against Barnsley at Oakwell and against Fulham on home turf. But both games had ended in defeat because of a failure to make the most of the numerous chances Forest created.

If you wanted to be overly critical, that was again a minor fault to be picked at again on Saturday afternoon. Even Warburton allowed himself to indulge in a little greed, admitting his slight frustration that Forest had not won by an even bigger margin.

But more goals would only have added a second cherry to an already well decorated, tasty cake – and his minor complaints were made through the broadest of grins.

What is certain is that Forest have now set the bar for themselves; they have shown what they can do, in brutal fashion.

The challenge now is to find some consistency; to produce a run of form that will take them from being on the periphery of the play-off places, into the top six.

Kieran Dowell adds a second for Forest against QPR

There remains a hugely long path ahead of them, we are not even at the halfway point of the campaign – and Forest remain far from the finished article.

This remains a youthful Forest squad that is brimming with potential and quality in abundance, but also with a few imperfections.

While the recent run of five defeats in six games during September prompted hugely premature calls from some sections for Warburton to be replaced, it would conversely also be too easy to get carried away following the four wins in six games since then.

This young side will still have their off days, as they continue to find their feet amid the Warburton way.

But this was still unquestionably a response to Warburton’s critics; a performance that provided physical proof Forest are on the right path, proof they are capable of flourishing when they do things the way the manager wants.

This was a tantalising taste of what might be possible, if Forest can find some consistency; if they can reach these heights on a regular basis.

Barrie McKay scores Forest’s third goal of the match

Because it is no exaggeration to say this was a level of performance that would have seen Forest outclass most other teams in the Championship. It was as well as they have played since the first spell under Billy Davies, before the circus had come to town.

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And while Warburton was understandably trying to keep some sort of lid on the excitement and expectation levels after the final whistle, Forest will head into the international break feeling a renewed sense of optimism.

Barring any injuries on international duty, this was certainly the kind of display that merits an unchanged team when Forest head to Birmingham City, to face former Reds boss Steve Cotterill, when they return to action after the international break.

Because, while the already intense fight for places will only be enhanced when David Vaughan and Tendayi Darikwa return from minor injuries, this was a starting XI that looked perfectly balanced.

The partnership of Liam Bridcutt and Ben Osborn sat in front of the back-four within the now familiar 4-2-3-1 formation was central to it all, with Bridcutt sitting deep to offer protection and Osborn performing like a quarter-back, making Forest tick with his passing, vision and workrate.

The back-four and keeper also deserve a mention, despite the scoreline, with Michael Mancienne and Joe Worrall imperious in the heart of defence. Mancienne in particular was a colossus in the first half, seemingly winning every single challenge he contested.

While the fact the four goals came from the three forward players playing just off lone striker Daryl Murphy, told a story of its own.

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The first was a lesson in unselfishness from Kieran Dowell, who fed a perfect pass into the path of Tyler Walker, who controlled before driving a crisp finish low into the corner of the net.

The second – just after Holloway had announced his arrival on the touchline with that little dance – saw Osborn deliver an exquisite ball into the path of Dowell, who kept his head to round the keeper and deliver a precise finish of his own, between two players on the line.

Jamie Mackie, a half-time substitute for QPR, had the chance to pull one back immediately after the break, but fluffed his lines as he sent a great headed chance wide of the target.

And that was basically that, once Barrie McKay had latched onto a clever cross from Osborn, to power home from close range.

The fourth goal summed up Forest’s display perfectly, as McKay produced some playground football, knocking the ball beyond Alex Baptiste and driving into space, before sending the perfect ball looping towards the far post, where Walker hammered home his second of the game.

If Dowell continues to perform to this level, he may well find himself in the side at parent club Everton next season. He is a young man with a very bright future.

But Forest can take great solace from the fact players like Osborn, McKay, Walker, Ben Brereton, Jason Cummings, Zach Clough, Joe Worrall and Jordan Smith are very much permanent fixtures at the City Ground.

This is a group of players that will only get better; that will only improve, given the benefit of some time and patience.

And, following a performance like the one they produced on Saturday afternoon, that is a truly enticing prospect for Forest and one that could well have the rest of the Championship looking on with a growing sense of caution.



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