Forest, home 2012-13: illustration by Adam Poole
Alright, youth. Sorry for the delay in getting this out; think I had a dodgy batch of mushy peas at Goose Fair last weekend and left myself not too dissimilar to Forest’s form since we last spoke: getting gradually worse, culminating in a sickening display at home, then bouncing back a bit later to go out on and get a result.
OK, tenuous linkage to Gooseh over, Forest have been rubbish since we last spoke, having lost at Leeds, lost at home to Derby, styled a 0-0 draw at home to Blackburn and eventually earned three points away at Peterborough. All in all, four points from 12 isn’t really promotion form. It’s not relegation quite form, either. It’s just kind of blasé form, mid-table-obscurity-and-not-that-exciting form. It’s better than if-we-had-a-manager-called-Steve form, but not as good as Billy form.
In football, when times are bad, you start thinking about small wins as being alright. Last season we yearned for mid-table obscurity, and at the start of the season many people talked about building and avoiding being in a relegation scrap. However, football fans are pretty fickle, and always like to moan and find something we should be doing better. Many people would love promotion, safe in the knowledge that a first season in the Premier League would be difficult. However, those same fans saying that now would begin to criticise the team if we were in a top-flight relegation scrap next season. That’s kind of where I am now. I’m an eternal optimist, and I make no apologies for being so. When we got promoted, despite it being ridiculously unlikely that Cheltenham would get the result that meant we could go up, I always believed it would happen. I bet on Forest to win 5-0 pretty much every game (the exception being 3 seasons ago at home to QPR, as I was late to the A Block and the queue for the bookies was huge), and I go into every season expecting us to be in the playoffs at least. The question is, how is my optimism, and the collective optimism/pessimism, playing out this season?
Optimism? Pessimism? [illustration: Jake Goretzki]
There are a string of plus points to the season so far, and relatively few negatives. Yes, we lost to Leeds and Derby, but realistically they’re both decent sides who will be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. Blackburn couldn’t break us down, and they’re supposed to be the best in the league. And Peterborough are down at the bottom yet we could only score one.
On the positive side, we were playing nice attractive football, opening up teams with our slick passing game. On the negative side, teams like Leeds and Derby were able to give us a slight kicking and our nice passing game seemed to collapse. Dexter Blackstock got himself sent off for elbowing a Derby player while trying to get to a ball hoofed in his general direction. Probably a poor decision, but the real point is why, 20 seconds into the half, were we so devoid of ideas that we were already lumping it long? At times against these sides I had to check that we had a brown-shoed Sean O’Driscoll in the technical area and not a gold chain-and-tracksuit clad West Country hoofball merchant dishing out orders to his ageing squad to play it long. You’d have thought with that style of dress, Cotterill’d have been keen to get the kids in.
So, what’s changed? At the start of the season we were awesome; we were fluid, we were dynamic; we were retaining possession to such a point that whoever we played were chasing shadows. Then something happened (and I don’t know what) that made us want to play the ball long. Don’t get me wrong, at 0-1 down and chasing the game in the last ten minutes, by all means chance your arm with a long ball to see if anything comes of it, but it is a last resort. It’s a Plan Z, not a Plan B or, as is more recently the case, a Plan A.
At the back we’ve started to look shaky, too. I attribute this to the injury to Sam Hutchinson, who seems to have disappeared from the club to the extent that in the team photo they had to superimpose his head onto someone else’s shoulders just to include him. Has he gone back to Chelsea? Is the problem related to the injury that has already ended his career once? Will we see him in a Forest shirt again? I hope so; he’s a terrific player and when fit has been not only the difference between winning and losing, but the difference between playing out from the back and playing it long from the back. Much of that would have been attributed to Reid, but realistically, if the defenders aren’t bothering with the midfield, Reid isn’t going to get the ball much. With Hutch in the side so much play went through Reid; without him, our strikers have been trying to win headers against 6’4” defenders.
Blackstock: Derby derby controversy
Speaking of strikers, am I the only one starting to get a little concerned about the lack of goal threat from Billy Sharp? Is he maybe not what we had hoped, or does he just need the one goal to kick-start his season? With Blackstock suspended for elbows, and Cox suspended for picking up his fifth yellow card (which he got for standing still, 5 yards away from a goalkeeper – I must check the rules, but I don’t think that’s even a foul), Sharp had his chance to shine against Blackburn. Unfortunately, the chances were few and far between, Robinson made one good save, and Sharp created an opportunity for himself that showed what he was capable of, but in hitting the side netting from 5 yards out, also showed what he’s been producing thus far in a Forest shirt. I’m not going to write him off just yet. I think he needs a bit of game time and he’ll come good. That grace period is slowly running out though.
In other news, and I don’t know whether it’s positive or not, Forest have seemingly continued to employ Justin Lee Collins as chief scout, who must be making a ‘Bring Back Forest’s Moderately Successful Teams’ series. After seeing the return of Marlon Harewood (flop) and Andy Reid (success), Forest have decided to bring back Jermaine Jenas, fresh with new surname pronunciation and everything. He’s come in on a month’s loan from Spurs, though I’d guess they’re looking to extend that – a month’s loan when you have an international break in the middle of it isn’t that great. He looked to be quite sharp when he came on against Blackburn, and even managed to get the ball in the net against Peterborough, though the goal was ruled out as apparently it had gone out of play before being crossed to him. Still, he’s a proven talent who can help bolster the squad. That does make the midfield even more competitive to get into, though. With Reid, McGugan, Gillett, Cohen, Majewski, Lansbury, Greening, Moussi, and Coppinger all competing for the space that Jenas has come in to fill, there will likely be some disappointed faces most Saturday afternoons.
We currently sit very much mid-table, with 14 points from 10 games, 3 points off the playoffs, 8 points off top (Cardiff are top, in their new red kit, and are Forest’s next visitors to the City Ground), and 6 points off relegation. One point ahead of Derby too, which is nice. Suffice to say, it’s a very tight league, everyone can get results from everyone, so we need to make sure we’re picking up as many as possible. Nothing is guaranteed, and there really are no easy games. Of the 24 teams in the league, I’d estimate that 18 of them went into the season with serious designs on a playoff spot at least, with a further 4 thinking they may have an outside shot. I can only think of two teams in the league who probably started the season with survival as their primary objective. I think the Championship is the most competitive league in the world, to be honest [what, more than either the Bolivian Segunda or Azerbaijani Premier? – Sports Ed.], and we need to be on our game to get results every week.
Polish football fans show it's important to keep a sense of humour...by cumming at the poilce
That said, how much do our new owners agree with that? They’ve not come here to be mid-table, and despite their comments about being here for the long term, realistically, how long do you think they want to be outside of the Premier League? I’m just speculating here, but it seems the most trigger-happy of owners are foreign investors, who don’t tolerate being second best to anyone. For me, the manager should be secure and be able to develop the job he’s doing. Will the owners be giving him a great deal of time if we’re in the mid table? Having lost to Leeds and Derby, I thought that a loss to Blackburn could see O’Driscoll’s job be in the balance come the Peterborough game. Luckily we got results in both of those, so maybe it’s little more than food for thought, but what do you think it would take for the owners to lose patience with the manager?
SOD has the fans on his side, including this one, and I don’t think anyone who has been a Forest fan for a long time will be too disappointed with what we’ve seen so far this season. But what are the owners’ feelings on it? What would be the catalyst for the owners to bring in someone else? I heard a rumour the other day – and I emphasise rumour as it’s probably nothing but wishful thinking from a certain sector of the fans – that the owners had been having conversations with a certain wee Scotsman [I think, and I must stress that this is only a rumour, that Strachan’s happy doing the Champions League Highlights Show – Sports Ed.]. Are they merely hedging? If you recall, there were strong rumours for month before Calderwood was axed that Davies had been having conversations with the club – is history repeating itself somewhat? Would SOD welcome the Billyisms if he came in as a director of football? Would you welcome the recommendations and advice that would inevitably accompany his arrival? Could the owners pull off one of the most ironic manoeuvres and install Billy as the head of a transfer acquisition panel? Who knows. Interesting times ahead, though.
OK, enjoy the next few games and Hallowe’en, me duckehs, and stay safe on Bonfire Night.