At the risk of provoking some serious ire from devout supporters of Stuart Pearce, I decided to make this opinion piece to discuss Nottingham Forest’s topsy turvy start to the season and see if I could get to the bottom of why things particularly in the past few weeks have been so poor.
First and foremost, I honestly believe that Forest haven’t gotten out of first gear at all this year despite having some of the best players in the Championship. Football as we know is a results business but the style and the quality of Forest’s play has been lacking all season, even when they lead the pack earlier and had the likes of Cohen, Reid and Hobbs in the team so it unfortunately didn’t come as a surprise when Forest peaked and began to decline midway through September.
Forest were quite fortunate to have an easier run of things in the early stages. The romance of the returning favourite son as manager and opposition that struggled to name a full substitute bench meant opening day was as close to a formality as was possible. Forest managed to dig out results against both Sheffield Wednesday and Bournemouth but neither game sold Forest’s dominance. Bournemouth will have been kicking themselves for their defensive lapses on that occasion and some how Forest managed to leave Yorkshire with three points. The game against Bolton in truth could have swung either way and while the win against Reading was emphatic, Reading experienced much of the horrific issues with injuries that plagued us last season.
It was at the turn of August that things seemed to slowly begin to descend. The local derby against Derby was a pretty even fought contest but the home game against Felix Magath’s Fulham was a sign of things to come. Forest took the lead but let Fulham back into the game and found themselves staring down the barrel of a first defeat before a late rally delivered a scoreline that flattered the Reds. At this point, it seemed like Forest had cooked all their eggs in one pan and for the next three league games, they struck out in front of goal. Yes, Forest got something from the Ipswich and Watford games but in both games, it would be difficult to depict Forest as the dominant side.
Defeats by Cardiff, Blackburn and Brentford for me lifted the veil for me and showed me that we are underneath it all, fragile. There is very little in the way of a Plan B and Plan A seems to no longer be yielding the desired effects. Defensively, they are too individual and seem to lack a cohesive understanding about not only their own roles but those of players around them. Brentford was an excellent example of this. For the first goal, Danny Fox failed to close Odubajo’s space to run into and Wilson couldn’t intercept in time. The second goal courtesy of a baffling back pass seemed like Lichaj was not only uncomfortable in possession of the ball but also, unsure of whether he was passing to Lascelles or Darlow. The third goal courtesy of a penalty was in a similar vein to the first in that Fox failed to close Gray’s run and despite heading away from goal, Wilson panicked and levelled him.
Offensively seems to be just as poor. Forest have brought in Tom Ince from Hull on loan. A player known for his trickery and also, for being able to pick out a cute pass. If no one is making the runs, his impact is significantly decreased. Lansbury hasn’t quite found his form yet this season and I don’t believe his best position is the central attacking midfield role. He is an engine, perhaps the engine of the team and in my view, should be deployed further back to collect the ball from defence and deliver it further up the field. By him doing this instead of the likes of Wilson and Lascelles, Forest remain in control of the ball more and thus the game. The omission of Jamie Paterson also seems to be a difficult one. You would be hard pressed to be able to justify Antonio not playing considering his impression goal scoring run but Paterson having demonstrated his own qualities in the second half of last season is a player who wants to create and play football every time he plays. If he’s not getting into the team on the wing, it might be worth trying him behind the striker as in my view, he has the skills to hurt teams there like Lewis McGugan did.
I don’t like to compare managers but under Billy Davies, Forest simply kept the ball better. Players without the ball would be making the right movements to continue. It’s an obvious fact if you have the ball, the other team cannot score. The Norwich game despite the result was still a very poor game for both sides and while the outcome was the desired result, the team play is still very lacking. If Forest can keep the ball better, the defence aren’t having to work so hard and by proxy, don’t have the opportunity to make as many individual mistakes. It also means players the strikers are going to enjoy more of the ball and with more opportunities to score, there is room for error. Assombalonga especially has the quality to with the right service be absolutely lethal this year but if Forest are constantly encamped in their own half, being pressured by the other team, you might as well have Eugene Dadi up front.
In closing, I’d like to say that despite a very negative and frustrated article, I’d love Stuart Pearce to be the one to lead Forest out of this league. It would be extra special. I believe Forest do have the players to match any team in the league and with a few tweaks here and there, Forest can not only begin to find their form again, they have players capable of playing fluid, attractive football and if that happens, it’s a whole different story. Forest are now into the international break and have some kinder fixtures if such a thing exists coming up so if they can refocus and regroup, we may yet see the Playoffs again before Christmas.