Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Comedy of Errors

Left Brian: The Nottingham Forest Column - January

15 January 16 words: Richard Crouch
"It would seem a ten-game unbeaten run is only good for a two-place climb"
alt text

illustration: Natalie Owen

Ay up, youth

I’ve always found the idea of spin – the notion that one can view an event in a certain way, while another views it somewhat different – to be quite fascinating. We frequently see this with referee’s decisions: our own bias clouds our judgment and can lead to misinterpreting situations. The ref has a difficult job here: where we see a perfectly reasonable challenge, the opposition may see a career threatening lunge. These are quite subjective issues, which I’ll talk about in a bit, but what’s currently griping me is the spin based on stats that alludes to us being an improving side.

We’re currently unbeaten in ten games in all competitions. Does this even need any spin?

alt text

The place for blue-sky thinking?

That’s a pretty good stat. Indeed it’s one that any manager would wear with pride and remind people of whenever he’s questioned. Yet what does it really mean? Yes, no one has beaten us, but we have dropped points. If we exclude the cup victory against QPR we’re unbeaten in nine league games now, however we’ve only taken 15 points from that possible 27. Draws with Charlton, Leeds, Cardiff, Blackburn, Wolves, and Birmingham represent the 12 points we’ve dropped. It’s without irony that I say we could, and should, have won each and every one of these games.

Our 3-1 win over Reading, which was the beginning of our unbeaten run, saw us climb to 16th in the Championship. As we now reside in 14th, it would seem a 10-game unbeaten run is only good for a two-place climb. To put this into perspective, Wolves were only a single place, and a single point, above us when we were 16th in the table. Over the same period as our unbeaten run, they have lost twice (Leeds and Sheff Wed), but have risen to 10th in the table, now 5 points clear of us. So, while we celebrate our unbeaten run, and Wolves look at their losses, they have bagged 4 more points than us. The question is: Why?

Forest Draw 1-1 (at Wolves)

How have you viewed our performances? Personally I think we’ve been a little unlucky not to have won the games we’ve drawn, and I think we’ve been quite convincing in the games we’ve won. We were dominant against Fulham, Reading, and MK dons. Even before this run started, we beat Derby in a convincing display and have shown real signs that we can compete with anyone in this league. It’s the small mistakes that are costing us points. We’re not scoring enough when we’re on top to ensure victory, because we are consistently conceding while on the back foot. That’s not a great recipe for success, and is testament to the seemingly negative football that Dougie is sometimes setting us up for that we’re defending slender leads when we’ve gone ahead, rather than capitalising on the sway of the game to build stronger leads.

Why are we doing this? Well, first of all we still miss Britta Assambalonga. With him on the sidelines and our embargo still hanging above us we’ve been unable to bring in an out-an-out goalscorer to replace him. Don’t get me wrong – other players have chipped in, with goals coming from midfield, but for a team to build unassailable leads we need our strikers to be prolific, which is currently a struggle. Hopefully his return, which could be toward the back end of the season, is in time to get him some much needed match fitness going into the summer break.

Forest draw 1-1 (at Dirty Leeds)

Our embargo is a contributory factor in our current mid-table position, and should always be kept in mind when considering the plight of the current side. It’s fair to suggest that perhaps a weaker manager than Dougie Freedman would have struggled to work within these constraints, and that sitting mid-table, unbeaten in nine league games, is a consequence of the team outperforming itself. This is a matter for conjecture, but would someone like Billy Davies have been able to generate the same results as Dougie given the same set of circumstances?

One boost to the squad has been the return of stalwart Chris Cohen. While not yet fully back in the fold, his FA Cup appearance whetted the appetite for his imminent return. I have always thought we looked a significantly better side with him playing than not, and I cannot wait for his full return to first team action. Dougie has said that he is not intending to rush him back, which may be frustrating to the fans, but it is the right decision. We can get a good few more years from Cohen if he manages to stay injury free. After three serious layoffs it’s fair to say that another serious one would likely spell the end to what has, thus far, been a career devoid of the triumphs the player deserves.

Forest draw 1-1 (at Cardiff)

Dougie’s wheeling and dealing has been the talk of the town over the last couple of weeks. With injury to Danny Pinillos, Dougie has quickly, and impressively, been able to find a replacement in Slovenian international Bojan Jokic. In addition to this he has been able to bring back Gary Gardner to the City Ground, in what proved a strangely prophetic move with the devastating news that Henri Lansbury will now be out for the remainder of the season. So, as we hit mid-January our First XI has taken quite the turn already. Hopefully Gardner, Cohen and Jokic will be able to help us take that next step in games we’re drawing, allowing us to push for victory.

The sanctions put in place due to our transfer embargo are actually pretty severe. They limit the amount we can pay in loan fees, the wages we’re able to pay, and crucially the size of squad we’re allowed. At present we have one space remaining, but it is rumoured that bringing in an unattached goalkeeper and sending out Dimitar Evtimov on loan would generate another space. I’m not sure how that works, but Colin Fray said it, so it must be true!

Forest draw 1-1 (at Charlton)

That unattached goalkeeper looks like it may well be former England stopper Paul Robinson, who is currently training with us. Dougie has said that he has invited Robinson down to training with a view to finding out if he still has the desire for the game he once had. At 36 years old and with 41 senior England caps in his locker it stands to reason that this is not a goalkeeper who is finished with football. He would bring with him a wealth of useful experience and, crucially, some much needed competition for De Vries, competition that is not currently offered by young Evtimov.. Only time will tell if Robinson still has the desire to play, but I hope he does.

Going the other way, Kyle Ebecilio returned to FC Twente earlier this month after a rather disappointing period down Trentside. The youngster made very few appearances for us, perhaps most notably following in the footsteps of Premier League legend Ali Dia for being brought on and subbed off within 17 minutes in our 1-2 victory at QPR.

As you may have gathered, I like to keep my eye on a few ex-players and what they’re up to. Karl Darlow made his Newcastle debut and was roundly panned on Match of the Day, prompting an immediate return to the bench, where he has resided ever since. He seems happier to sit on the bench than Patrick Bamford, who took it upon himself to cancel his loan spell at Crystal Palace due to lack of first team chances. Interestingly, if he is back available in the loan market perhaps he could be just the goalscorer we need to push us up the table.

Forest beat QPR in the FA Cup!

With a look ahead, it’s clear to see that we desperately need that goalscorer to come to the fore. A home game against Bolton should be a banker, though we’ll likely continue our run of draws. That then leads to some tricky games. A visit to Middlesbrough is quickly followed by our third game of the season against QPR, before we welcome Watford in the FA Cup to round out our very congested January.

I was a little disappointed with the FA Cup draw, if I’m honest. It can often be a penal distraction from the league for a promotion chasing side, but given this season’s mid-table mediocrity I feel like a decent cup run would be an ideal substitute for realistically challenging in the league. I’d have liked to have drawn a team we were likely to beat, or a huge Premier League side, rather than a team who we played relatively recently in the league anyway, but who are more than capable of putting us to the sword. Who knows: we are at home, so maybe we’ll get a result (I’ll be betting on 5-0) and the cup march will continue. I genuinely don’t remember the last time we really got anywhere in the cup. However, I barely remember the last time we got anywhere in the league either.

I’ll see thee.

Nottingham Forest Football Club website

We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now