illustration: Adam Poole
Ayup, youth. It’s been a little while since I graced these ‘ere interweb pages, so thought it about time for a first proper Left Brian of the season [what actually happened was I held him at gunpoint until he’d finished – Sports Ed.]. For those who read the season preview, you’ll remember that I said there hadn’t been a lot of transfer movement. Well, it seems the new Kuwaiti Overlords decided to try and make a fool of me by bringing in eleven new faces and binning off some of last season’s donkey derby racers. With the transfers have come good results and better performances, and as we enter the international break we’re sitting pretty in joint-third place with an unbeaten-in-the-league run and a 100% home record. Certainly, our best start to a season in Miller's– …sorry, donkey’s years.
So, I guess it’s best to start off with who we’ve brought in. Rather than talk you through them all, I’ll tell you who they are, and then give you a bit of a run down of the top few, if that’s all right.
In: Simon Gillet, Greg Halford, Sam Hutchinson, Danny Collins, Dan Harding, Henri Lansbury, Adlene Guedioura, Simon Cox, Daniel Ayala, James Coppinger, and Billy Sharp.
Out: Garath McCleary, Chris Gunter, Ishmael Miller, David McGoldrick, Luke Chambers, Wes Morgan, Joel Lynch, and Paul Smith.
Of those who’ve left the club, I don’t think I’ll be alone in thinking that only McCleary and Gunter could possibly be missed. However, I have to say that Sam Hutchinson playing at right back is, in my opinion, a step up from Gunter, and while we’ve not brought in an out-and-out right winger, our midfield is so competitive now that I don’t think G-Mac would get a game.
Simon Gillet could be revelation – he’s playing like a young Paul McKenna with more footballing ability. He’s breaking up play, and making simple passes to players like Reid and McGugan who are firing on all cylinders this season.
As well as having the greatest barnet at the club, Sam Hutchinson is a player I’m disappointed to say we may struggle to hold on to after his loan ends at the end of the season. He was a rising starlet at Chelsea where, before his career seemed to have been terminated by injury, he was famously touted as the ‘next John Terry’ by some Special Portuguese manager (no, not AVB), and not because he was fond of using racial epithets in a ‘jokey’ manner or copping off with his teammates’ missus, we are led to believe. However, a miraculous and inspirational fightback saw him step on to the field in blue last season and I think Chelsea are keen to see if he can remain fit for a full season. Hopefully he can, as his composure on the ball and footballing brain can only be an asset to us. You never know, they may even extend his loan into next season if we get promoted. It’s only an opinion, but he, along with a number of our players, will be plying their trade in the Premier League next season – hopefully with us.
Jake Goretzki takes a peek through the transfer window
Simon Cox signed for a fee in the £2m range from West Brom and looks to be worth every penny. He’s already scored two great goals, one of which, against Wigan in the cup, could be entered in the Lewis McGugan Goal of the Season competition (though Lewis has a few entries already!). He seems to put himself about, works tirelessly, and really takes the game to the opposition. He could bring a lot to the side this season: he’s exactly the kind of striker we’ve needed for a long time.
Daniel Ayala is possibly the coolest centre back I’ve seen down Trentside since Michael Dawson. At 21 years old, he could go on to much bigger things than Dawson, too. He already has some Spanish under-21 caps to his name and was bought as a teenager by Liverpool from Sevilla (where he played some La Liga games) before loaning him to Hull and Derby, then eventually selling him to Norwich, who have loaned him to us. He certainly has some been blessed with Iberian poise and technical ability, and gives our defence a confidence that we’ve not seen for many a year.
I’ll give a brief run-down of the other players over the coming columns, as I’d like to run through the games we’ve played. Suffice to say, that with out new owners, we did pull off a bit of a coup with Henri Lansbury (no relation to Angela) coming in from Arsenal, and we were active on deadline day, bringing in Sharp and Coppinger, both of whom will only serve to strengthen our threat to the other Championship clubs.
So that was the transfer window. The season itself started positively, with a comfortable 1-0 win over Bristol City. While the scoreline may not have been emphatic, the performance certainly was. In a team still gelling, we took the game to City and perhaps should have run away comfortable winners. Failing to take gilt-edged chances has already become a bit of theme, but hopefully new gaffer, Sean O’Driscoll (SOD to me and you), will have looked to fix that with the loan of ‘fox in the box’, Billy Sharp.
We followed the win up with a disappointing two points dropped away at Huddersfield due to a last minute penalty in a 1-1 draw. We then returned north for a 2-2 slugfest away at Bolton, impressing everyone in the ground, except Owen Coyle – known for taking a one-eyed and ludicrously upbeat view of proceedings, as once spoofed by my LeftLion Sports Editor in this (possibly real, possibly imaginary) response to a 13-1 defeat by Man City:
“I thought we started the game really brightly and were sharper than they were for those first 47 seconds… Anyone who was at the ground today, they will tell you we were by far the superior side in that period. By far. But if you don’t take your opportunity to touch the ball before the opponent scores, you’re going to be in trouble. Goals change games. And four in the first 10 minutes gave us a mountain to climb, having shot ourselves in the foot. And climbing a mountain is difficult enough at the best of times, without a bullet wound in a major limb. I can’t fault the players for their honesty and we certainly came back into the game – dominating it for long periods while Balotelli, Silva and Agüero had that game of poker in the second half, as I think anyone who was at the game will tell you – but we’ve simply got to be more clinical about turning three-pass moves into opportunities to get one pass away from a speculative 30-yard strike on goal. We’ll get back to the training ground and work hard, don’t you worry about that.”
Anyway, both games saw us guilty of not putting teams to the sword when we were on top. Bolton especially, were played off the park for the first 30 minutes, going 0-1 up with a 35-yard McGugan special, letting everyone know just what kind of season he’s intending to have. Unfortunately, we seemed to run out of steam a little, and when a blatant push by Kevin ‘Stray Arms’ Davies wasn’t spotted, Bolton managed to equalise. A rare defensive error early in the second half handed an undeserved lead to the Championship newcomers, but some excellent play and a remarkable finish by Andy Reid ensure we walked away with a point, while Andy Reid walked away with the man of the match trophy. Owen Coyle, however, seemed to watch a different game, thinking his Bolton should have been “five or six goals up at half time”.
Much as with the Bolton game, we controlled much of the first half in the Capital One Cup (League Cup, that is) second round tie at home to Wigan. Unfortunately, once again we ran out of steam after around 30 minutes, and a very impressive Wigan team took their chances, on three occasions, to take a comfortable lead into the break. The half-time talk seemed to work, as we came out all guns blazing for the second half and worked ourselves back into the game with a wonder strike from Simon Cox. Unfortunately, in the dying minutes, as we pressed to try and get something out of the game, Wigan caught us on the break and slipped in a fourth goal to round off a well deserved win, albeit with a scoreline inflated by their clinical finishing but perhaps harsh on our endeavour. We must take lessons from that in taking your chances, though. There is a reason Wigan are in the Premier League and manage to stay there – we need to look at that reason and learn from it.
Contrasting fortunes for Wigan and Charlton by the Trent [image: Tom Maddick for LeftLion]
Ahead of the international break we welcomed Charlton to the City Ground. When I say “welcomed”, I mean we let them run around our pitch for 45 minutes trying to chase a ball we didn’t seem to want to share. At half time the stats showed a staggering, Barça-on-steroids-esque 85% possession (!!) to the boys in red, though the stat that mattered was only 1-0, thanks to a Lewis McGugan free kick driven in from the left hand side, having been won by some good, honest hustle by Simon Cox. Perhaps we didn’t learn the lesson in being clinical after all.
After the break, Charlton were more into the game but we remained too strong, Hutchinson doubling the lead with a wonderful run and finish from the right. An own goal by Lee Camp – the ball ricocheting back from the post on to the ‘keeper and in – gave Charlton hope for the last ten minutes, and gave the Forest faithful cause to rue the lack of clinical finishing in the first half. O’Driscoll decided to use the opportunity to hand home debuts to Coppinger and Sharp – the latter receiving an ovation like a returning hero, so long has the name Billy Sharp been synonymous with our rumoured transfer activity over the years. He almost capped of the debut with a wonderful goal, pouncing on a loose ball to round the goalkeeper, only for the Charlton defender to clear from the line. If this is the shape of things to come, I can't wait.
We go into the international break now full of confidence and ready to face a difficult September, with games against Birmingham, Palace, Leeds and Derby to come. Plenty to play for, and a long way to go, but on the evidence shown so far, we’re only getting better.