Forest 2015-16 [illustration: Natalie Owen]
Sometimes it’s easier to take cover, hide, and wish it would all end. Unfortunately for Dougie Freedman, that’s not really an option. As the pressure mounts on our manager, perhaps it’s time to reflect on what he’s achieved here, and more crucially, where he’s fallen short.
I think there are two opposing views to reckon with: one where he receives the benefit of the doubt, the sympathy of the supporter, and the backing of the chairman; the other where he is measured solely on performance on the pitch irrespective of constraints and contingencies. Let’s have a gander from both angles now.
The negative view
Dougie came to the club knowing the situation. He knew there was a lack of ability to spend money; Neil Warnock told everyone how difficult working under Fawaz would be; and he inherited an expensively assembled squad that should be capable of winning enough games at this level to be in the playoff hunt at a minimum.
Nevertheless, the tactics are dour and there seems to be no desire to score goals when we’re on top. All too frequently, decent performances are undone by a short lapse in concentration resulting in a goal for the opposition. Brentford away at the weekend was a perfect example of this. Despite having the better of the play for 80 of the 90 minutes, Brentford came away having two periods of five minutes where they were on top and scored in both. Quickly equalising when a team is reduced to 10 men should give us the impetus to go on to win the game, but under Freedman that never seemed likely. The only thing that came as a surprise was that Brentford took until stoppage time to regain the lead.
Whichever way you slice-and-dice it, results have to stand up to scrutiny, and unfortunately for Dougie, and indeed us, 17 points from 17 games puts us in a relegation scrap. Being only two points off the relegation zone as we head into the congested winter months doesn’t give us much hope of turning things around. Indeed, we’ve only won once since the middle of September, and while that win was against Derby, we all know the form book goes out of the window in those games. If we exclude that game, our form is clear: single-goal losses with the odd lucky draw thrown into the mix. With games against Reading, Fulham, Wolves and Blackburn on the horizon, things look mighty bleak on Trentside with Dougie at the helm.
We have to remember that sacking managers is not new to Fawaz. Indeed, since he took charge of the club no manager has survived being lower than 12th for any period of time, and now Dougie has us sat in 18th with very little light at the end of the tunnel.
It’d be easy to say there are reasons for the failures, mitigation, but really the squad is more than good enough to be competing much higher up the league. Sure, Dougie may have been limited in being able to add to that squad, but he has brought in Olivera, Mendes, Pinillos, Ebecillio, Trotter, Ward, and O’Grady. That’s not exactly a small gathering of players. Add to that the players already here and man for man we have one of the best squads in the league. At times we’re actually playing some decent football, but why aren’t we taking the chances? Why aren’t we scoring while we’re on top? The buck has to stop with the manager, and it’s clearly time for a new one. After throwing away the game to Brentford in stoppage time, it’s clear that Dougie is living in his own stoppage time and Fawaz is about to blow the full time whistle.
blue sky thinking
The positive view
Have you ever tried to do a job with one hand tied behind your back? Dougie is trying to manage a football club with both hands tied behind his back, both feet tied together and the chairman barking orders at how high he has to jump.
While we have a great squad, long-term injuries to players like Reid, Cohen, and Assombalonga would deplete even the best teams. That’s the real spine of the team, and their absence changes the entire dynamic. It’s unrealistic to believe that anyone could get this team to work under these conditions, and there’s a school of thought to say that Dougie actually has us outperforming ourselves. Take the three best players out of any side – be that Barcelona or Boston United – then tell the manager he has no money to replace them, and see what you get. No manager could create a winning side under those conditions, and it’s testament to Dougie’s abilities that he’s managed to at least give us some entertainment of a Saturday afternoon. The signings he’s made would be exciting signings even if we had no embargo at all, players like Mendes and Oliviera are fantastic acquisitions at this level, and had we paid many millions of pounds for them we wouldn’t be disappointed.
Dougie came into this job knowing the constraints, and it could be said that had we not had a manager so good at working under these conditions we wouldn’t be a relegation candidate so much as a relegation certainty. He’s paying the price for the last few years of mismanagement from the top, and is keeping us at least competitive on the field. Glass half-full, glass half-full.
Reid: sorely missed
Results haven’t been too bad, either. While we may have been losing games, they have all been by narrow margins. Victories against QPR, Birmingham, and Derby show that we’re capable of competing with the best that the league can offer, and with the anticipated returns of players like Cohen, Reid, and Assombalonga, we should look forward to the bright future under Dougie.
This might seem like an exercise in fence-sitting, or schizophrenia, but things are rarely black-and-white, cut-and-dried. If pressed, I’d say I probably fall more into the former category than the latter. Yes, we got a great result against Derby, but we did exactly that last year under Stuart Pearce too. The fans are not being enthused or excited; it’s becoming a bit of a chore to support Forest under Dougie, though I don’t necessarily think he’s the problem. For me, the owner is at fault, as he has been for a long time. People have bought into his vision, but unfortunately his vision is blurred.
It doesn’t feel like we’ll ever go up under Fawaz. The best we can hope for is stagnating in the Championship and avoiding relegation. If we don’t avoid relegation then I have no idea where or how the club will move forward. Luckily, we’re supposed to be coming out of the embargo in the summer, and should have our injured players back – though for how long who knows. If we’re able to keep them fit, and make one or two crucial additions, then maybe everything I’ve just said won’t matter and, as every fickle fan out there will no doubt agree, we’ll be back on board the big red train all the way to the Premier League.
It’s a depressing time to be a Forest fan, but it could be worse. We could have lost to Derby.
I’ll see thee.