Thirty years ago this year, Nottingham Forest were in the middle of the greatest period in their history. Brian Clough had arrived at The City Ground in January 1975 with Peter Taylor joining him at the club eighteen months later. By 1978 they were the champions of England, and within a year they were the champions of Europe. Clough remains the only English manager to have won and successfully defended the European Cup or Champions League. As Clough arrived in Nottingham, Queens Park Rangers were set to embark on their greatest season, missing out on the championship themselves by just one point to Liverpool in 1976. As Nottingham celebrated its first European triumph three years later, though Rangers were slipping quietly out of the First Division.
Since those heady days, both clubs have had their moments in the sun again. Forest won the League Cup in 1989 and 1990, while Rangers were regulars in the middle of the Premier League until their relegation in 1996. Since, then, though, both clubs have also suffered their own financial traumas. Forest were of the clubs the most seriously affected by the collapse of ITV Digital in 2002, while many of the stories emanating from Loftus Road during the first part of this decade might have come straight from the script of a Guy Ritchie movie. Both clubs are now comparatively stable, though Rangers have made few friends since Flavio Briatore took them over in 2007 and Forest have been feeling comparatively flush recently and spending quite heavily over the summer.
Both clubs have, therefore, started this season with relatively high hopes. Things haven’t, however, gone exactly gone to plan for either of them so far. Rangers hired Jim Magilton during the summer, but he hasn’t brought them a league win yet, and they have started with unconvincing draws against Blackpool and Plymouth Argyle, followed by a 1-0 defeat at Bristol City. Forest began their season with a draw as well, at Reading, but two successive home defeats – at the hands of West Bromwich Albion and Watford – have taken them into the Championship relegation zone.
This, then, is two clubs with history and tradition but, on an uninspiring weekend of fixtures generally (one suspects that the Football League and the Premier League didn’t much fancy taking on the final Ashes test), there was an air of lethargy around Loftus Road on this warm, sunny Saturday afternoon. There were a lot of empty seats and a crowd of only just over 13,000 had turned out on a weekend that saw football face competition from the tail end of the summer holidays as well as the cricket. The sense of mustiness even extended to Loftus Road itself. It was the height of modernity in the 1980s after becoming one of the few stadia in the whole of English football to be extensively redeveloped during the 1970s, but time has stood still a little in W12 and the old place feels a little dated now.
If there was a degree of listlessness surrounding this fixture, no-one had bothered to tell the Nottingham Forest players, who started much the stronger of the two teams, with Radoslaw Majewski and Joe Garner both denied by QPR goalkeeper Radak Cerny and David McGoldrick’s angled shot rolled barely six inches wide of Cerny’s right hand post. QPR were the second best team, but took the lead out of the blue after twenty-five minutes when Mikele Leigertwood curled the ball around goalkeeper Lee Camp from twenty-five yards. Forest, however, continued to press forward in search of a quick equaliser but continued to be frustrated by Cerny, who saved well again five minutes from half-time, from a Radoslaw Majewski free-kick.
Forest got the equaliser that they deserved twelve minutes into the second half, and it came when they sacrificed the neat and tidy for a more direct approach. A long clearance from Camp was flicked on by Dele Adebola and, with the QPR defence suddenly flat-footed and Cerny slightly hesitant to come off his line, David McGoldrick found some space and fired the ball into the roof of the net. From here on, the two teams seemed largely content to cancel each other out, though there were sporadic chances at each end. Substitute Dexter Blackstock saw his shot smothered by the onrushing Cerny whilst, at the other end of the pitch, Heidar Helguson headed a cross from Akos Buzsaky with twelve minutes left but after this the game fizzled out, with both teams demonstrating how they have managed to go four matches each without winning a league match so far this season.
Queens Park Rangers and Nottingham Forest both seem to have too much about them to be relegated this season, though both sides are clearly still suffering slightly from the adjustments made to their squads over the course of the summer. Forest remain defensively brittle, but QPR managed to create more chances on goal without troubling Lee Camp as much as the Forest forwards troubled Radak Cerny, without whom Forest would surely have taken all three points. In the modern age, there is a tendency to panic after the first couple of matches if a win has not been registered, but both QPR and Nottingham Forest supporters should show a little patience with their players. It seems unlikely to say the least that Forest will ever win back to back European Cups or that Rangers will push Liverpool to the final day of the season for the English championship again, but both of these teams are surely too good to go down and, if the players that they have acquired click, a push for the play-offs in a tight division still doesn’t look beyond either of them.