Championship Analysis – Dexter Blackstock stars as Nottingham Forest stun Birmingham
Nottingham Forest produced the shock of the weekend, defeating Birmingham 2-1 at St Andrews, the Blues’ first league defeat in 15 matches and also the first at St Andrew’s this season. The Forest hero was Dexter Blackstock, who bagged both goals and lifted his team to 20th, three points clear from the relegation zone.
Blackstock could be a key man in Forest’s bid for Championship survival. The powerful striker spent over a year on the sidelines and feared his career would be over after suffering a horrific knee injury while scoring Forest’s second goal in a 2-0 win over Cardiff back in November 2010. But after extensive physiotherapy in America, his knee responded, and he was so delighted he splashed out over £2,000 on iPads for each of his doctors when he returned to first-team football in December.
Blackstock has mainly been used as a sub following his return to the side, but a fine second-half performance in the previous weekend’s win over Coventry earned him a start on Saturday. He took the opportunity with aplomb and left Steve Cotterill purring.
"There have been signs over the last three weeks that he has been coming back to his old form," the Forest boss said.
"All credit to him to come back from the injury. It has been amazing. He has had a real bad injury and has shown great character. He has done remarkably well to come back and play. That is how bad the injury was and it could easily have finished him," he continued.
Goals have been a massive problem for Forest all season, with 15 blanks in their 32 league matches, including six in a row between 29th November and 2nd January. It left the club with the lowest goal tally across the whole Football League. Six goals in the last four matches, however, have lifted them above Doncaster in that regard, though Donny are a game or two behind those immediately above. The Forest faithful will be hoping that Blackstock, still only 25, will remain fit for the rest of the season and help fire the club to safety.
Forest’s win took them above Bristol City, who are now once again looking nervously over their shoulders. Derek McInnes’s side have lost five of their last six matches, with only three goals to show for it. Coventry, following a last-gasp win over Barnsley, are just three points behind and have a superior goal difference. Doncaster remain bottom, but they too could overhaul the Robins if they win their two games in hand.
The title race took another twist this weekend as West Ham’s patchy home form continued. Having thrashed Blackpool away from home in midweek, the Hammers could only stutter to a draw against Crystal Palace at Upton Park, allowing Southampton to return to the top with a stylish win at Watford. Nevertheless, Sam Allardyce’s side still have a game in hand and a four-point buffer in second, albeit over an increasingly imperious-looking Reading side who recorded their fifth successive win and clean sheet.
The battle for the play-offs remains as tight as ever, with only three points separating Birmingham, who dropped to fifth, and ninth-placed Hull, who have at least one game in hand over all above them.