First and foremost I’d like to take the opportunity to wish all at today’s game a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’m sure most of you would agree that for all the wonderful trinkets and gizmos you’re sure to have received, no present will be as welcome as a Boxing Day victory.
There’s no denying it’s been a dreadful season so far but there are, I believe, genuine reasons to feel optimistic about the rest of the season and the future of our football club. One of these reasons is the return of Dexter Blackstock, after over a year on the sidelines.
In what was a frustratingly fruitless encounter with Crystal Palace, the appearance of Dexter as a second half substitute provided a cold and cloudy day with a much needed silver lining. The rapturous applause that greeted his comeback is testament to the huge amount of respect and adoration the Forest faithful have for him.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing players who you haven’t seen play in a while through rose tinted spectacles, and it’s sometimes the case that players who are out injured are suddenly perceived to be ten times better than they ever were in reality. However, I simply don’t think this is the case with Dexter. If anything I think fans may have forgotten what a fantastic footballer he is.
I remember his home debut against Bristol City during the 2008/09 season. At the time we were precariously flirting with relegation and in desperate need of what seemed an unlikely win. Blackstock, who was on loan from QPR at the time, provided the presence and know-how, which we had lacked up-front throughout that season. It was his refreshing debut performance that triggered our survival charge.
It was 2-2 in the dying seconds of the game and Forest had the momentum. The ball was marooned into Bristol City’s penalty area and they were unable to clear the danger. The ball seemed to hang in the air for an eternity, flitting between heads before eventually coming back down to earth, just shy of the penalty spot.
There was Dexter … on hand to ruthlessly volley the ball into the back of the net. It was a moment to savour, and it’s part of the reason he will always be held in the highest regard amongst Forest fans.
But my faith in Dexter Blackstock goes far beyond nostalgic sentiment. Forest have been crying out for a striker who can not only score goals, but can hold the ball up and make things happen in the final third. They are in desperate need of a threat in the penalty area; a focal point for their forward play. Dexter is all of these things … and his return could not be more timely.
Throughout the successful Billy Davies era, Dexter was our first choice striker. Whether playing a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 formation, he would always play in the important games. We all know how much Billy liked to rotate his strikers and yet Blackstock was always viewed as an imperative part of the starting eleven, right up until he suffered the horrific knee injury. I also believe that had he have been fit for the entirety of the 2010/11 season we may well have been promoted automatically.
I suppose there is always a question mark as to whether a player returning from a lengthy lay-off will be as good as before. We will only really know in the fullness of time, and it may well take time for Dexter to get back to his best. However the early signs are good and I think we should all take great encouragement from the fact that one of our prized assets is back in the proverbial melting pot.
I genuinely believe we have an excellent squad of players and, since Steve Cotterill has taken charge, the performances have greatly improved. I think we’re only a couple of players shy of having a team that can excel in the Championship. One of these players could well be on the books already.
We’ve been dominating, but not winning games, because we lack something that a player like Dexter Blackstock can provide. For all our possession, the centre backs of opposing teams have not had a torrid enough time this season. With Dexter back, there will be more purpose and menace to our attacking play. With Dexter back it won’t be long before we start scoring goals again.