Having Covered Notingham Forest during the 1970s and 1980s when Brian Clough was manager,I have watched football matches at the City Ground many, many times. Always from the press box, until now.
Former Forest captain John McGovern has usually been a few seats away from me, commentating for local radio with coffee and biscuits laid on in the press room at half-time.
It is, though, far more fun among the Bluebirds faithful, backing their team with passion, chanting, singing and occasionally dancing. The 1,500 City fans were behind a goal and badly wanted to cheer the teams first away team – and the players granted their wish.
Nathaniel Mendez-Laing scored the only goal after 14 minutes, firing in after a beautifully constructed move involving Lee Tomlin.
Away supporters were able to pay tribute to Mendez-Laing after he was replaced by Callum Paterson and referee Robert Jones told him to leave the pitch on the far side from the Cardiff dug-out.
He walked in front of the away section, applauding the travelling fans – and they chanted his name in tribute. The atmosphere was excellent after that goal and the Cardiff faithful made it clear they were having a great day.
Manager Neil Harris, too, is a big admirer of NML and revealed he was keen to take the winger to Millwall, saying: “I tried to sign him in the past as a manager. So when I came in, he was one of the players I was really looking forward to working with.
“Of course, I was looking forward to working with the entire group, but he was a player I wanted before and Nathaniel showed why he is here.”
Harris and his Bluebirds have earned seven points from three matches since he took charge and now have a home fixture against Barnsley at Cardiff City Stadium next Saturday.
“Building up to Christmas, it’s going to be important to keep our run going,” said Mendez-Laing. “For me, it’s about playing the way I play with confidence. We know we’re capable of winning games when we’re on it and going forward.
“I had a bit of a slow start with an injury early in the season and it took me a while to get back on track. But I’m feeling more myself now.
“The manager spoke to me personally when he came in and told me what he wants from me and where I can improve. Hopefully that’ll continue to show on the pitch.
“We were obviously sad to see the former Gaffer go and wish him the very best, but the new manager has come in and given all of us a big lift. It’s been great and the place is buzzing again.”
Harris was delighted with the win, but was fed up with referee Robert Jones’ handling of the match – particularly the harsh treatment handed out by Forest defenders on centre-forward Gary Madine.
Jones penalised Madine time and again, but Harris was angry that Forest players seemed to be given more leeway.
“The protection he got from the referee was a disgrace,” said Harris. “The referee gave him absolutely nothing.
“He went up against two central defenders plus a holding midfield player, Ben Watson, in front of him and he was better than the three of them put together.
“He got nothing from the referee. The referee had made his mind up before seeing Gary that he was going to give fouls against him.
“Unfortunately, that’s what that referee does.”
Harris was, though, happy with his team and said: “It was a great three points. We’ve come to a team that had only lost three games all season before – and recorded our first away win of the campaign.
“For the players I am delighted, because they have come close to winning away from home previously and the longer it goes on the more it builds up in your mind, I am sure.
“”I’m really proud of them. We had to dig in at times, but I don’t remember our goalie having to make too many saves or Forest having any real clear cut chances in the 18-yard box.
“Our organisation and defending was outstanding. We blocked shots and put bodies on the line.
“When you have done that, you need moments of quality. Nathaniel provided that moment of class for us with his goal.
“I just asked the boys for discipline, structure and to work for each other. We were really solid and reliable. At the moment we look like a proper unit.”
Forest have an awful record against Cardiff and have now lost nine of their past 10 meetings, including the last five at the City Ground.
The home team, who included former City player Sammy Ameobi, are fourth in the SkyBet Championship table, but they were shut down by visitors who worked together and showed tremendous team spirit.
Harris’ team are 10th, four points behind their hosts and two adrift of Welsh rivals Swansea City going into their clash Barnsley at home next weekend.